The Berlin to Leipzig bike route is a 250km one-way trip that takes you through both cities, some delicious countryside, remote villages, and desolate allure, all captured within a feeling of lostness and delicate isolation.
As soon as I had heard about the bike route from Berlin to Leipzig, I started to obsess about it. Planning my way from one German city to the next. If you’re planning on doing it, there are a few key things you need to know. There are two main bike routes connecting the two cities, there’s a shorter route that runs through Potsdam along the Europaradweg R1, which is supposedly less picturesque. The Berlin to Leipzig route is also poorly sign-posted, so factor in a schedule that will allow you to get lost. (The fact that the website was recently taken down too, points towards a lake of investment in this particular route.) There are not many places to refuel, grab lunch, or water either - so take enough of both. A lot of people I know who do this route free-camp, but there are plenty of campsites you can pitch up, but none directly on the way, so you’ll have take minor detours to get to them.
Aside from that, its flat, and it’s full of trees.
Part 1 - Leaving Berlin
The first 50 kilometres only take you through and out of Berlin, but it’s almost the best part of the trip. It takes you along the Berlin Mauerweg, the route that was the former wall separating East from West. Once you’ve cycled through the inner-city and out of Neukölln, the route becomes a bike-path proper, through fields, along streams and neighbourhoods you never knew existed. You know, the ones listed as the end routes for the S-Bahn, that you’ve never been to. There are numerous farms littered alongside the route, and lots of horse riding centres. The neighbourhoods vary from high-rises, to suburbanite-like detached houses you would expect to see in the States. You cross through woods, over the motorway, literally around the airport, and down by the river where the city’s industry is based, where ships are being loaded, and more. The route runs alongside the motorway, where bikers race, and people go for miles on rollerblades.
It’s a side of the city you never knew existed. Living and working within the ringbahn, I rarely venture outside to the city’s edge, but when I do it always feels so rewarding. There’s always so much to learn and to appreciate outside the city, and it makes you realise how cut-off from the 'real world' you are when you just stay in your neighbourhoods. It also makes you realise how fast the inner city is developing compared to the areas on the periphery. It also makes you realise how big the city actually is, and the how many other people live here.
Part 2 - To Juterbog
After about 40 kilometres, once it looks like you’re about to start heading back into the city you, then comes the first Berlin-Leipzig Radweg sign.
The sign that points out of Berlin, points you in the wrong direction. There are options to follow the highway, cycle through the fields, or journey down a picturesque country road. I still don’t know which was the right route to take. I only know that I chose the wrong one. After Blankenfelde, you should come around on the right hand side of Ransdorfer See — a picturesque party pool — which is surrounded by lush green countryside. Through Zossen, you follow an old railway track that is now only used by tourists using hand operated trolleys. The route takes you through Sperenberg, home to a disused and very photogenic military base and airfield - which should have been the new location for Berlin’s controversial new airport. As I approach Stülpe, my gear cable snapped, and my chain came off, getting caught in the gear and the frame. At the side of the road, while trying to fix everything, a biking tour group of 60 year old women stopped by to help me. Having all the tools necessary to take bits of, pull of the chain and reattach it within a matter of minutes, the helpfully-aged went back on their way. Still operating with only one gear ratio, I plodded on, albeit a bit slower and now knowing I find to find somewhere to camp within the next few hours.
One you get to Stülpe and Luckenwalde you immediately come to one of the area’s weirdest installations - the Flaeming Skate - a 230km long cycle and skate track that takes you through and around the whole area. Apparently people flock from the entire region to skate around this thing. Anywhere, you go along this for for a while, past country houses, estates, horses and more. Cycling past my elderly-saviours (having finally caught up with them), the recommended a camp site that was particular for skaters in the region just outside of Juterbog in Oehna. Alas, as it raining, and a public holiday, neither the swimming pool or the cantine was opened. So I pitched up tent (EUR 7), brought some nuts and some fizzy water and called it a night.
Part 3 - Juterbog - Lutherstadt Wittenberg
Already 220km covered, and there is yet more pain regarding the lack of sign posts. As the rain clears up, the clouds are still fall of greyness, contrasting massively with the sprawling fields of green. I bike up to the village of Dennewitz and find a local cafe for breakfast. A typical German feast of various meat slices, a white brötchen, some jams, and a sausage. Throw in a black coffee and some OJ and it’s only EUR 5! On the way out of the village I pass through a field next to a lake full of what looked like beavers, except they had no tails. Were they capybara - native to Latin America? Were they woodchucks? I have no idea - they definitely had no problem with people though - just chilling, hangin’ out.
Anyway, back to the road, or the weird 200km skate path that seems to be the region’s most defining feature. There’s a whole bunch of windmills to pass, a lot of tiny villages and cobbled roads until you reach the town of Zahna, where the route takes a detour through the back of supermarket car-park - just after the town hall. Although it’s not clearly signposted and not immediately obvious. Following the rail line, the route brings you to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, an ideal stop for refreshments, and refuelling. Lutherstadt, obviously makes the most of its connections to the area’s biggest superstar after Back - Martin Luther - the old reformist. In the city of town there’s an old guest house, like castle, some fancy gardens, and weird mirror bridges. Alas again, once you make it into the old town, the sign posts dry up. Here you just need to follow the Euroradweg R1 to and undertake train station, along the highway, over the Elbe (or hey, join the Elbe Radweg and take a quick detour to Dresden) and down to Bergwtiz.
Part 4 - The last 80k
Bergwitz feels like it might be the oldest town ever - at least it’s old cobbled roads give off that impression. When going around the lake, there’s an option to take a right turn and head down to Ferropolis, the old industrial mining centre that’s home to Melt! Festival. If you haven’t seen this orge of 50ft high steel monster cranes, then it’s well worth the detour. The radweg meanwhile cruises around the lake’s calm blue waters, takes a mad detour left and off to Kemberg, at which point I seriously lost it (the route that is). At one point the signs point right, and after cycling for a kilometre uphill I ended up in a town called Rotta - which wasn’t supposed to be on the route. Trying to make up for it, and find somewhere else that was supposed to be on the route, I accidentally ended up in the Dübener Heide - a large section of pine woods, with wood chip cycling and hiking routes. Not such a bad detour, accept that the route and my lack of gears did not gel well. Some paths also just disappeared into overgrowth, as if they forgot what they once were. Emerging from the woods a few kilometres outside of Bad Düben, that last major town before Leipzig, I plodded on, hoping that I hadn’t missed anything spectacular due to my woodland detour.
Joining the radweg in the town centre in the late afternoon, it was now the last 40k stretch. Following the highway, then detouring into the woods (for real this time), the route takes you through old, quaint villages with somewhat desolate vibe. The closer you get to Leipzig, with this orbital, surbaban communities, the more life and history you start to see. Cottages, windmills, old factories, sports halls, wineries. Sadly the route into the city isn’t the most scenic (or well sign-posted, but that should be a given) - it misses the parks, and museums, but as you etch closer to the train station and start to see the rickety trams from the 70s, Turkish markets, and the city skyline, it really starts to give you a feeling of the place. The plan was originally to find somewhere to stay in the city and kick back for a bit, but having arrived at 7:30 in the evening, I decided to get a train ticket straight back home, but not before grabbing a celebratory-schnitzel in the old town.
Along the way I read Murikami’s 1Q84 - which I would wholeheartedly recommend you avoid.