The former symbol of Berlin's division has become a symbol of unity -- and now, of fitness. The Mauerweg, or Wall Trail -- a 160-kilometre path following the footprint of the infamous barricade -- is nearing completion, transforming the Cold War corridor into a green belt.
"The route takes in very important places whose names evoke historic events: Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate and Bernauer Street," says Michael Cramer, a German member of the European Parliament and a Green activist who has championed the path over the past five years. "Most people think of the Berlin Wall as the border that ran through the middle of the city, dividing it into East and West Berlin. But there was also a 120-kilometre-long border that you can ride between Berlin and the neighbouring state of Brandenburg," he said.
The Citizens of Berlin Wall Trail Project was launched in 2001 after Cramer organized bike rides along the Wall's former path to mark the 40th anniversary of its construction. The city's then-governing Social Democrat-Green coalition placed all vestiges of the Wall under historic-preservation status, and funds were set aside to construct the multimillion-dollar Mauerweg.
Over the past year, the finishing touches have been put on the pathway -- parks, plants and pavement, with signposts and information boards installed where once there was a barricade of 45,000 concrete slabs. The Wall Trail is made up of 20 individual bike routes, complete with maps and interpretation. Signposts have been completed for the final six routes that reconnect outlying suburbs of Berlin.
The beauty of the Mauerweg is the way it has been folded into Berlin's urban life. Wherever you are staying, you can be sure that a part of the trail and the various subcultures linked to it -- street artists, walking and cycling clubs, wheelchair and history groups and café associations -- will not be far away.
The European Parliament is pushing for a similar route to span the entire length of the Iron Curtain, "a 6,800-kilometre green ribbon from the Arctic Sea to the Black Sea," Cramer says.
For more information, visit http://www.die-berliner-mauer.de.