Every good ride starts with a good coffee, right? On Strava Local’s first trip to, and first ride around Berlin, we stopped off at Standert, a bike shop and café in the Mitte district, for a caffeine hit before we got in the saddle for the day.
Mitte, now one of the city centre’s most exciting districts, was formerly in East Berlin, and the whole of our ride would take place in the former German Democratic Republic. For West Germans, before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, there weren’t many options for bike riding and the favourite spot – the Grunewald forest west of the city – is still very popular with the city’s cyclists today. In fact, Germany’s most popular segment is there.
However, our guide Max Faschina, a local racer whose father and uncles also raced as East German amateurs, was taking us on some of his favourite little-known and varied roads. Our other ride leader was also called Max: Max von Senger, owner of Standert and the man behind the coffee machine.
We left town along the trendy Kastanien Allee in Prenzlauerberg. It’s sometimes dubbed ‘Casting Alley’ because of the fashion show put on by the too-cool-for-school locals, but it was quiet for us as we pedalled in the early morning sun. Carefully dodging the tram rails, we took a long, wide straight road out of town and the city melted away behind us.
Soon we were on some of the region’s excellent bike paths next to the roads, before turning off on to one of the day’s first forest tracks, the low spring sun gently falling in shafts through the tree trunks. Logs were piled high over our heads by the dirt track, and the countryside looked spectacular in the low sun. The lanscape around Berlin is gentle and a hundred different shades of green, from the pale birch trees and rich grass to the dark pines. It’s also very, very flat. When, during a ride, you count Autobahn overpasses as significant climbs, you know that you’re not in mountainous country. And, for our ride at least, what they call ‘Dutch mountains’ in Holland – the strong winds that whip across such flat country – were absent, making for a pleasant, fast ride in a strong group.
Other than its forests, the Brandenberg countryside is famous for its lakes, and our route took us alongside several, as well as through quiet farming villages that in spirit seemed a million miles away from the bustling metropolis close by.
After a short stretch of riverside singletrack, we neared our lunch stop in Oranienburg, though not before stopping to pay our respects at the memorial to Adolf Huschke. Huschke was a German cycling hero in the 1910s and ‘20s, and a winner of the Rund um Berlin, the Tour of Berlin, a 400-kilometre pro race looping around the city that was run until 2000. Huschke won the race, that was won in more recent years by local legends Eric Zabel and Jan Ullrich, in 1911 as a 20 year old. For the 1923 Rund, he traded in his fork for a lightweight one, but the new one failed mid-race. He came off his bike on a cobbled corner just outside Oranienburg and later died of his injuries.
After typical German lunch of Schnitzel and Wurst, we got riding again – a little slower maybe – only to be stopped by a broken pedal, which was thankfully fixed at an amazing café, Forsthaus am Schloss Sommerswalde, a chance find that not only had a very well-equipped toolbox but also very good coffee.
Once the repair was completed and espressos drunk we departed, with a little bit more spring in our step, and plunged back into the forests, surprising stags along sandy tracks and riding gravel roads, concrete farm tracks, perfect tarmac and also cobbles to rival anything in Belgium.
Our proposed route was to be 180km, heading towards Jens Voigt’s training grounds near his hometown just outside Berlin, before heading back to the city through the Grunewald. But we were running short of time due to the mechanical, so we took a more direct route back, emerging from the trees to find ourselves surprisingly close to civilisation. Soon we were on the long straight roads heading to the heart of the city. Even at rush hour the traffic was light compared with many other major capitals.
At Standert a burger from Tommi’s, one of Berlin’s best burger restaurants, awaited. And this time Max was pouring beers, not coffee.
For more local information – events, rides and top stops – head to the Strava Local pages. We’re in Berlin, London, Paris, Barcelona, Milan ad Amsterdam in Europe, and key cities in the US and Australasia.