During his stay in Berlin, David Bowie rediscovered his privacy. He was surprised by how it was possible for him, already world famous, to go out for a simple bike ride or stop for a coffee. The respect of Berliners allowed him to enjoy a daily life that brought him back to life. In Berlin were born three albums that marked his career and the history of music—”Low” (1977), “Heroes” (1977) and “Lodger” (1979)—the so-called Berlin Trilogy. I’ll never be as famous as Bowie, but like him I also enjoy the calm and serenity of this easy-to-visit, easy-to-ride, easy-to-enjoy German metropolis.
I’ve been to Berlin several times, and the question that I ask myself is always the same: “Where was the Wall?” The location of the Berlin Wall is documented in very few places, because immediately after its fall in 1989 and according to the predominant feeling of the time—”the Wall has to fall”—it was taken down so thoroughly that almost all traces of the border were erased. Today, most people agree that this was a mistake, and I think so too. It is always a mistake to erase the past from the memory of people, so I decided to trace the entire path of what was one of the most moving and symbolic structures of the 20th century.
The infamous Wall, built in 1961 to divide East from West, has become a symbol of connection, with walkways, cycle paths and canals that unite many of the German capital’s defining places: the refined Mitte district, the tourists’ Checkpoint Charlie, the revelers’ Kreuzberg, the multi-ethnic Neukölln, the green suburban parks, the beauty of Potsdam, the pharaonic villas of Kladow and the endless forests of Spandau and its big lakes.
The entire route is practically free of climbs and therefore suitable for everyone; you can ride it in one day or divide it to give yourself time to explore the surroundings. Most of the route is paved, along with a few dirt sections, but always well beaten and suitable for all kinds of bikes.
Glienicker Brücke (the “Bridge of Spies”), which connects Potsdam with Berlin, was one of the most renowned monuments of the Cold War but above all was the point of exchange for secret agents of both political systems who had been taken prisoner. Riding over it is somewhat easier today; you can approach it freely from both sides, you can cross it in either direction or stop in the middle to check out the scenery. And you know why? Because by definition bridges are built to connect, not divide. That may seem banal now, but it wasn’t in that dark period when the Wall existed.
Nature and history intertwine and characterize the whole route; the emotion doesn’t come from breathtaking landscapes or memorable roads, but simply from the awareness of cycling along the traces of recent German history. The fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated all over the world as a sign of openness and peace. The horrors of the past are distant memories where, today, families cook frankfurters on portable grills, couples paddle canoes along the canals, street performers do their thing and electronic music drifts through the air from the eastern side.
The first concept album I listened to was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It talks about the walls we build inside us and that isolate us from the rest of the world, bringing us to solitude and madness. To build walls is never a good choice, inside or out. I don’t know exactly why, but when I ride my bike in places like Berlin, far from my daily routine, I break down those little walls inside me one pedal stroke at a time.
This article originally appeared in issue 82.