During the cold war, the Berlin Wall defined not just the city's maps, but its very identity. Not long after Germany's reunification in 1989, however, even locals struggled to remember where it was. That's because politicians, eager to emphasize unity, tried to have as much of the concrete bulwark knocked down and carted away as quickly as possible. Most of the Wall's path thereafter was marked only by a double trail of cobblestones embedded in the ground. But Michael Cramer, a longtime Berlin resident and spokesman for the Green party's transport committee in the European Parliament, felt the cold war symbol needed a more experiential memorial.
A passionate cyclist, Cramer, 58, dreamed up the idea of creating a bike path along the Wall's former course. After much persuasion on his part, the city government agreed to build it, and after five years of construction, the Berlin Wall Trail is now a cyclist's dream. Well signposted and punctuated by historic information boards, it features tunnels that enable riders to follow an uninterrupted footprint of the Wall.
Sights along the 160-km trail, which circles old West Berlin, include Checkpoint Charlie, where the standoff between Soviet and U.S. tanks in 1961 marked one of the most tense moments of the cold war; and the East Side Gallery, at 1.3 km the longest surviving stretch of Wall. Located in old East Berlin, the gallery is decorated with colorful murals by international artists. About 20 km from the city center is Glienicker Bridge, where, until 1986, the occupying powers exchanged captured spies. "The trail offers a mobile experience of Berlin's history, culture and politics," Cramer says.
Cramer offers weekly guided tours during the summer, and for those who prefer to explore the trail at their own pace, English guidebooks are available at www.esterbauer.com. To retrace the course of the path online, go to www.berlin.de/mauergedenken/mauerweg/index/index.de.php