Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Path of the Berlin Wall

56 years ago, on the 13th of August, 1961, 30,000 soldiers surrounded West Berlin and put up 160km of barbed wire overnight, separating the entire city. Thousands lost their jobs, families were separated and even their homes. This was another turning point in Germany's troubled history, one that is still felt today. The Berlin Wall grew, going from a barbed wire fence guarded by soldiers with guns, to a fully secured border zone, almost impossible to cross. At least 138 people lost their lives in Berlin trying to cross and only about 5,000 managed to escape into the West.
It's been 27 years since the Wall fell, and its damage can still be felt in the capital. A scar runs through the entire city, marking where the Wall had stood, and memorials scattered along it, mourning its victims.
Sunday was the 56th anniversary of the erection of the Berlin Wall and many gathered to remember those who died trying to escape or even guard the Wall. Every year since 2011, an ultra marathon is held in Berlin, over the entire course of the Berlin Wall. Either solo or in teams, the runners run a distance of 160km, or roughly 100 miles. The record, by the way, is of 13 hours and 6 minutes!

I know I could never run that far, but cycling seemed possible. Some colleagues and I decided to try and cycle the entire length of the Berlin Wall in one day. If people can run it, we could cycle it. Our leader, William, offers to do about half the length as a tour with When in Berlin, so at least we had someone with us who was familiar with the course.
Photo credit: William Mollers
We set off at 6am, starting at the Brandenburg Gate, a historic place where many Berliners came to celebrate the fall of the Wall on November 9th, 1989. We headed south and slowly made our way around the entire length. We started off at a good pace, stopping every so often at important sights and memorials, and taking breaks when necessary.
Here, Germany and Europe were separated until the 13th of November 1989 at 6pm.
Watch Tower near the Havel River

We passed Checkpoint Charlie, the famous American checkpoint in the centre of the city, and Checkpoint Bravo on the outskirts of the city, separating East Germany and West Berlin. At Wannsee (a big lake in southern Berlin), we took the ferry across and stopped for lunch at a Biergarten. After a beer and some hearty German food, we headed out once again, this time at a faster pace. Some of the roads after lunch were quite rough, some not paved at all, but mostly beautiful. We cycled through forests, next to canals and rivers, on roads and finally back into the city, ending our journey 13 hours later right where we starting, at the Brandenburg Gate.
Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Bravo, or Dreilinden

In total, we cycled 140km (we skipped a 20km detour around Wannsee and took the ferry instead), which took 7.5 hours. With all our breaks and stops, our journey took exactly 13 hours, just as we had planned.

Five days later, my thighs (and butt) are finally not sore anymore, but my head is still spinning. I learned so much that day, about “unofficial” victims, what the Wall really looked like outside the city centre, remnants still standing, how much was destroyed in order to have this built, and how much is still left to rebuild because of it. It definitely gave me a renewed appreciation for how lucky I am to have been born in a country like Canada and how fragile it all is.
Near the very first Checkpoint to have opened on November 9th, 1989

I'm alive!!!!

The route itself was gorgeous, well marked and easily to follow. Other than a few parts that were quite rough on the bikes (big, uncared for cobblestones paths, for example), but for the most part, it was smooth sailing. You can be sure I will be doing this next year again!

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