the long distance runner’s guide to (west) Berlin

Now, I’ve got a pretty big head, but I’m not delusional enough to think that I run Berlin (and I don’t think I’d want to). I know that this is the Social Democrat Party’s job, helmed by mayor Michael Müller. However, whenever I do a city run, it makes me think “I run this city.”

I’ve most likely mentioned this before, but as a runner I’ve always appreciated how easily navigable Berlin is and the ability to cross more than half the city in a 2 hour run, seeing a lot of the major monuments and landmarks in the process. As a point of reference, I ran 18 miles through London back in July and still only saw about 1/5 of the city’s major landmarks (albeit, I also got lost a bit and repeated some stretches).

Despite being in Berlin for two years now, and many times many summers before 2016, I finally managed to take my camera on the run. Below, you can see my last run through Berlin before heading back to Florida for the rest of the semester break and I’ve numbered the locations of the photos I’ve taken and included in this post. It’s important to note that, seeing as I turned south and then west again at the Brandenburg Gate, this post only covers interesting points in former west Berlin. There are a lot of equally interesting and important monuments and landmarks in the former east as well! I also didn’t include the Grunewald or Wannsee, which easily make up a long run in themselves. But here goes: a guide to running this part of Berlin.

Map of running (west) Berlin

  1. Schloss Charlottenburg
  2. Schlosspark Charlottenburg
  3. Siegessäule  or the Victory Column
  4. Statue of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
  5. Großer Tiergarten
  6. Soviet War Memorial
  7. Brandenburg Gate
  8. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
  9. Entrance to the Zoologischer Garten
  10. Breitscheidplatz, ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and remains of the European Track and Field Championships

Start at Theodor-Heuss Platz, which is the western end of the Kaiserdamm that begins in Berlin Mitte as Unter den Linden and extends straight for about 4 miles. This little green-covered plaza is marked by a nice blue monument that turns clear to allow the late sunlight to come through in the evenings.

Heading east, you can run by with the Convention grounds and central bus station mere houses away to the south. Head east until you get to aptly named Schloßstraße, which will get you to Berlin’s largest castle with grounds that have a circumference of more than a mile.

After running through the Schlosspark, which features mausoleums, flowers galore and even some sheep (royal properties are expensive to maintain, need to save somewhere), one can head out east again, this time on the Spree River that runs through Berlin. Factories often got placed on rivers in the 19th and 20th centuries, so one can find Nivea, BMW, and other well-known names running back towards the Kaiserdamm, which has now changed to Strasse des 17. Juni. One can continue to head east here until one reaches the golden angel which stands on top of the Victory Column.

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This is easily one of the most well-known monuments of Berlin. It features a 270 step climb to a viewing platform that I wouldn’t advise to visit on the run, but could deserve a separate visit. Instead of visiting the column, one could continue along the round about, featuring other famous monuments to pre World War generals and, of course, Bismark.

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These sculptures and the Tiergarten in general add to the feeling of a Berlin before the destruction of the World Wars. The park initially served as hunting grounds for the king before being transformed into a green space in the middle of the city where one could see and be seen (or not, it was also a hiding spot for some illicit activity as well) on weekends and in evenings.

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Continuing through the Tiergarten, one eventually comes back onto the Strasse des 17. Juni, where one eventually happens upon a monument to the Soviet’s role in World War II. The history of Berlin during the war deserves it’s own post, but it may suffice to say that Berlin was one of the last battlegrounds of the war, and the allies had agreed to the Soviets advancing on the city first, trusting they would split control of the city after the war. The war memorial just south of the Reichstag reminds of this role and of the many Soviet soldier’s lives WWII took.

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Like most post-war Soviet memorials, the display features impressive life-size tanks and a larger than life model of a soldier.

Now, while I didn’t do this on this run, one can easily skip a little north of this memorial and see the home of the German government (Bundestag) in the Reichstag. Instead, one can also just continue heading east to find THE German monument par excellence: the Brandenburger Tor.

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Now, unfortunately, there’s some construction going on the right side, but at least there are not a lot of people. This is only because it is 7 AM. Come anytime after 8 AM and you won’t get a people-free shot. This is why it’s recommended to be an early-rising runner.

It’s also recommended because then one can beat the crowds in this part of Berlin, which is Berlin Mitte and very popular with the tourists, politicians, and business people. It’s also near a lot of important embassies such as the French, USA, UK, and others.

To continue, one can head down the east or west side of the Brandenburg gate to come back around to the front of the US embassy. From here, one can see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

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Placed on about 4 acres of land, this memorial is one of a few memorials in Berlin to victims of the Holocaust, though this memorial is specifically to the Jewish victims and some people like the author of this opinion piece explain some of the controversy of the design and the name. I personally can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the meaning of the columns and the feeling of angst incited walking among these tomb-like structures, but there is some question about the effectiveness of the reminder it represents. As a runner, I run by it, but it also deserves a separate visit. There is a documentation center in the center that takes some time to go through as well.

The west side of this memorial faces the Tiergarten again, and it is this space, the southern part this time, that one can continue along, passing even more embassies. The architecture of these buildings is always unique and decorated by the flags of countries all over the world with some cultural note that could be a tour in itself.

This last part of the run, other than bringing one through more of Berlin, is pretty uneventful until one gets back to the Kurfürstenstraße that leads to the Berlin Zoological Gardens and, of course, eventually the U- and S-Bahn station of the same name. I visited the Zoo with my mom and bro last year, so one can read about that here.

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The entrance way is iconic and there’s just a little bit of cultural appropriation here, but it is an interesting visit as well.

Just a little further down the road one finds the Breitscheidplatz and the ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. This summer some of the European Championships were held in Berlin, so the stands for spectating were just being taken down as I ran by. Those are obviously not always there.

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What is there and not photographed is the small memorial to the victims of the 2016 Christmas Market Attack (this is just behind those stands).

Unfortunately, as apparent from the run, the occupants of the city cannot escape its history, as the reminders are always all around. At least there’s a lot to also keep from dwelling too much on this as well (i.e. live music at an Irish Pub advertised in this photo). Berlin is a sobering, ugly, and yet beautiful and lively history-conscious city, all at once.

Speaking of not dwelling on things, the run doesn’t end here (though it easily could). For me, it lead on the Hardenbergstrasse past the station, the Technical University, and to Ernst-Reuter Platz. From there, one can head west again on the Bismarkstrasse (aka Strasse des 17. Juni aka Unter den Linden aka Kaiserdamm) until one gets back to where one started.

Given the right conditions and the right training, this tour is manageable in under two hours. There are enough quick shops and stations along the way (even a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts by the Brandenburg Gate) to get one through the run if one has some spare change. I wouldn’t encourage using the Tiergarten as a toilet, though it is possible in emergencies. However, there are some public restrooms at the Victory Column, the Gate, and near the Zoo Bahnhof.

Obviously, this tour is just one of multiple options of runs to complete in Berlin. However, for the tourist who is also a long-distance runner, this does the job of seeing a lot in a little time and having a lot to write home about.

tschüß,
Dorothea

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