CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
How do you like to explore a city? Do you find a high place and scope it out from there? Do you jump in head (or feet) first? Do you research as much as you can so nothing is a surprise? Do you wing it?
Recently we visited Berlin for the first time. Berlin is a sprawling city with tons of history, which is not necessarily marked for tourists. So at the suggestion of one of my husband’s work colleague we decided the best way to see the city was with a bike tour.
He suggested Fat Tire Bike Tours. He had used them to tour with his family. He said it was a great way to get an overview of the city and help make the decision of where to come back to learn more.
We took his advice and hit Berlin on one of the hottest days the city had seen for the past year. There is one tall tower in Berlin, the TV tower or Fernsehturm. It’s pretty easy to see since it’s the tallest tower in Germany and there are very few tall buildings in Berlin. If you can find that tower, you can find the Fat Tire Bike Tours building and the tour starting point.
If you know when you’ll be in Berlin and when you’d like to take the tour, you can book and pay ahead of time on their website. If you just show up, it’s no big deal; they’re cool like that. This seems to be the general vibe of the company – a relaxed set of expats from all over the English-speaking world who enjoy showing people the city, but don’t sweat the details. This in no way means that you’ll get an unorganized, poor tour, just a relaxed atmosphere.
We chose to take the Berlin All-In-One Tour. It leaves from the base of the TV tower at 1100 every day from March until November (Wednesdays and Saturdays from December until February). From May until then end of September there is also a 1600 start time available. There were quite a few people there on a beautiful Monday in June. As we waited we were offered use of the free bathroom in the store as well as the free sunscreen. Inside the store there were also bottles of water or sports drink for sale. As a big group we were given a quick orientation to Berlin by one of the tour guides and then we broke up into small groups (20 or so) and we got our bikes.
All of the bikes did, as advertised, have fat tires. These were heavy duty three-speeds with a rack on the back if you wanted to fasten down your purse, bag or water bottle. Each bike had a bell and a crazy squeaky toy. We had a family in our group and they outfitted the nine year old with a youth bike and attached a “chariot” to dad’s bike for the five year old. As soon as we all had our bikes adjusted and ready to go, we were off!
Luckily for us, we were there on a German holiday, so the streets were pretty empty, but most of the roads had bike lanes. Also we pretty obviously looked like what we were – a group of 20 tourists on bikes. The cars gave us wide berth.
Tanya our tour guide was awesome! She described herself as part American, part German. Members of her family had lived in Berlin during and after World War II and the stories she had been told made it into the tour. She had a big job on her hands – bring a group of strangers through the city, stopping along the way to make sure that we knew what we were looking at along with the history behind it. She obviously knew her stuff, was entertaining, and informative. Before we got to Check Point Charlie, she sat us down and used sidewalk chalk to explain the history of East and West German, East and West Berlin, the occupation and the wall.
Half way through the tour, we stopped at a Beirgarten in Tiergarten and had a chance to grab some local brews and some lunch (traditional German, Euros only). It was a great chance to talk to the other members of the tour and park the bikes for a bit.
So besides Check Point Charlie and The Beirgarten, what did we see?
- Brandenburg Gate
- Berlin Wall
- Luftwaffe Ministry
- Victory Column
- Museum Island
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
- Potsdamer Platz
By the time the tour ended it was 1600, a little longer than expected. We’d ridden about 6 miles, seen the highlights of the city, and were ready for our next adventures.
Fat Tire tours offers some specialized tours as well:
- E-Bike City tour (a longer tour with some additional sights from the All-in-One, on electric power assisted bikes)
- Berlin Wall and Cold War Bike Tour
- Third Reich and Nazi Germany Bike Tour
- Raw: Today’s Berlin Exposed Bike Tour
- Evening Food Tour by Bike (food included!)
- Gardens and Palaces of Potsdam Bike Tour (same meeting point, but start with a train trip to Potsdam where the bikes are waiting)
- Segway Tours (if biking isn’t for you, try a Segway)
If you have done one tour with the company the second tour is €6.00 off! For some of the specialized tours, reservations are recommended or required.)
After your tour, if you’d like to rent the bike, you can do so at the store for a discounted rate. Also available at the store is free wifi to tour guests, free luggage storage, free bathrooms, and not free (but reasonably priced) souvenirs.
Tips For Your Trip:
Fat Tire Bike Tours website
Here you can see all the tours available and their scheduled times.
This company also offers bike tours of Barcelona, London and Paris.
The store is just west of the Alexanderplatz Station.
We parked at the large underground garage by the Galeria Kaufhof.
What to Bring/Wear:
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. No need for tech gear. They will ride rain or shine so dress appropriately for the weather. (€1.00 rain ponchos are available at the store.)
Bring a water bottle (also available for purchase at the store), Euros for the biergarten, and your camera.
Our tour was €24.00 per person. There is a discount for multiple tours (even if they are not on the same day). The price for the tour varies depending on length and what else is included.
What else can you do in Berlin?
- Eat at Dolores Burritos
- Shop at the Mauer Park Flea Market
- Make your own chocolate bar at Ritter Sport
- Check out some of the sites a little more in depth