The former capital of East Germany, in the far northeast near the Polish border, once again presides over a united Germany.
Few cities in Europe are quite so heavy with 20th-century history, but it’s the future that seems to draw people to Berlin today. Thanks to some unique economic circumstances — including famously cheap rents — it’s blossomed into one of the world’s great creative centers.
The city’s relative isolation dragged on for a few years after the wall came down, but the new Brandenburg airport, set to open in 2013, will usher in a new era of accessibility.
First-time bikers in Berlin might be surprised to note that relations with drivers are generally warm and respectful. Be sure and keep up the pace, however, if you’re in heavy bike traffic, or you might catch an earful from your fellow riders.
It may not quite be in Copenhagen or Amsterdam’s league, but it’s not far off. Berlin is flat, its streets are wide, cycle lanes abound and there’s a public transport system that works, all the time, on time, which means the roads are clear, night or day. Add to this the sight of helmetless locals wheeling nonchalantly through crowded shopping plazas, or large tours of visitors trailing through lunchtime traffic, and the impression one gets — from a cyclist’s perspective — is that of a city at ease with itself.
At ease, and packed to the rafters with bike rental shops, cycle guides and specialized routes. Private or public bike tours are excellently serviced by a large number of very fine bike tour operators — Fat Tire and Berlin Bike Tour, for example — but a day’s cycling through Berlin need not stick to a precise itinerary. Instead, for the less timetable-conscious, there’s a third, more free-form, option: that is, hiring a hotel bike, downloading a decent mobile app guide (either Berlin Inspires or berlin.unlike) and striking out alone. An easy starting point is a ride through Treptower Park, alongside the River Spree. And if you’re feeling particularly active and the weather is cooperating, you could start off at the Plänterwald, then cross over to Treptower Park and finish up with a dip in the Badeschiff — the city’s floating public pool on the east side of the River Spree.
Both Nhow Hotel and Hotel De Rome do a fine and competitive line in magnificently sedate cruiser bikes, single-gear beauties, heavy but smooth, and deeply comfortable. And advice is easy to come by; the staff at either hotel is extremely bike savvy, and budding cyclists can kick off into the streets of the city whenever they like. Casa Camper boasts its own fleet of stylish bikes, and it’s hard not to get in the mood — the streets surrounding the hotel are thick with cyclists on their way to work in the nearby galleries and PR firms. Set your own pace, and choose your own route: the initial lost-tourist butterflies are practically negligible when you’ve got technology at hand.