I wanted to be one of those cool Berliners (or tourists) breezing through the Brandenburg Gate on a bike and today I was. What a kick! For six euros (less than a 6.50 transit day pass) I rented a sturdy thick tire bike from a bike shop near my hotel and pretty much rode from 11 a.m, until 7 p.m. I rode all over the place, checking out new places on my list and revisiting others I had already seen. And I was impressed at how well laid out this city is for cyclists. There are bike lanes all over the place, some in the street, some in the sidewalk (it took me awhile to figure this out but I just followed other bikes along a narrow corridor in the sidewalk that apparently is for riders.) I had a vague sense of where I was going (mainly east and then south) and when I occasionally had no idea where I was, another helpful tourist information sign would appear (ex: Alexanderplatz 1.2 and an arrow pointing the direction).
The best part is that I could cover so much ground in a few hours, see so many things and get a feel for how different parts of the city connect with each other, something you don’t get when you are popping and out of the U bahn (underground subway). From my Wilmersdorf home base I rode east through the Tiergarten, sort of a Bavarian Black Forest version of NYC’s Central Park or even of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, with lush green lawns, lots of trees, dirt paths to ride, a lake or river in there somewhere, although I never found it. Next stop, Brandenburg Gate which was even more packed with tourists than yesterday, if that’s possibly. Along with the tourists were fashionistas attending Berlin Fashion Week nearby. (My new geriatric German sandals, bought today at an orthopedic shoe shop located, as fate would have it, around the corner from my hotel…would make the fashionistas shudder. See photo below, along with yet another photo of the view from the roof where I have been enjoying my late evening meal.)
Onto the Holocaust memorial and then Checkpoint Charlie where this time I found another “wall” documentation center of sorts, focused on “terror.” Next stop, a return to the other worldly Alexanderplatz and its Jetsonesque tv tower and famous lumpen world clock. This time I found Karl Marx Allee, famous for its drab communist era concrete high rises. Then I suddenly found myself in Kreuzberg, a bohemian bordering on seedy at times neighborhood with a big Turkish population. I ate donar kebab and drank chai at a well known Turkish restaurant, Hasir, and stopped for a Turkish pastry at the equally well known Turkish bakery Melek Pastanesi nearby. Then onto the East Side Gallery, another stretch of remaining wall that has dozens of bold murals by various artists on one side and more of berlin s remarkable graffiti on the other side. Both sides were well worth a look.
I returned to my neighborhood and had a soda at a little cafe where the owner asked where I was from. “You’ve probably never heard of it, Iowa,” I said, fully intending to give my standard explanation, I.e. near Chicago. But instead the guy responded with a knowing smile, “des Moines?” Turns out he had visited dsm several times, in his previous life in Computer software. So glad I decided to come to Berlin!