Home Book Summary Table of Contents Max Hofstetter
The Berlin Book of Lists

    OK, not everyone wants to run a marathon, and not everyone should want to – let alone actually put in the hours of training necessary to pull it off.  But if you’re going to run one marathon, anywhere in the world, make it Berlin.  It just might be the most fun, most visually rewarding marathon in the world, and it’s definitely the fastest.  Berlin’s famously flat course makes it a favorite among the world’s top distance runners and the last three world records have been set at the annual Berlin Marathon.  But forget the gazelles out front: For everyone else, this is a marathon that keeps pulling you forward, past throngs of spectators along the route who cheer strangers with a friendliness and charm not usually directed at visitors.  More than that, the course takes you past a remarkable selection of Berlin landmarks, from the Reichstag and Fernsehturm to Rathaus Schöneberg, where John Kennedy declared “Ich bin ein Berliner,” to the famous half-bombed-out Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche and then on to the regal Brandenburg Gate, which tells you you’re almost finished.  Held in late September each year, the 2012 version sold out quickly, but you can register for 2013 beginning in October at www.bmw-berlin-marathon.com/en/.

    If you’re spending your Berlin time in the general area of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg and the Spree River that divides them, you’re well situated for a uniquely satisfying Berlin run.  Starting near the Treptower Park S-Bahn stop and moving east away from Kreuzberg, you can run along the Spree into Alt-Treptow, hugging the shoreline, where people rent paddle boats, grill, lounge around drinking beer on docked boats, and toss Frisbees on the grass.  A short detour away from the Spree takes you into the spectacular Soviet War Memorial, which made my TOP FIVE PLACES TO EVOKE WORLD WAR II list.  Or, if you keep running into the Plänterwald on a trail snaking through the forest, you come across the site of the only amusement park to have existed in the German Democratic Republic, called the Kulturpark Plänterwald, which was updated after the fall of the Wall in 1989 only to shut down, millions in debt, in 2001.  The subsequent transfer in 2002 of the park’s management team and many of the rides to Lima, Peru, ended in a series of scandals and crimes nearly too fantastic even for Berlin.  (I’m completely serious.  Achterbahn, a 2009 German film that won the award for the best documentary from the Association of German Film Critics, tells this fascinating, nearly unbelievable story in all its gaudy detail.) As you run by, note the prone dinosaurs and the eerie, still Ferris wheel long out of action.

    Almost wherever you are in Berlin, if you’re running regularly and building up your distance with once-a-week long, slow runs (LSD) – the best way to do it – the Schlachtensee can make a great end point for a long run.  It’s a solid ten miles from Kreuzberg, fifteen or so from Prenzlauer Berg, so you’ll need to allow some time, but on a good summer day you can plan to meet friends there.  Have them greet you with a cold one and a snack, then take a plunge into the welcoming waters of one of Berlin’s best lakes for swimming.  The water is clean and fresh, and the location is spectacular, right on the edge of the Grunewald, Berlin’s largest forest.  There’s an S-Bahn station right there (Schlachtensee), so you can avoid having to run all the way back.  The trails around the Schlachtensee are good for running, too, so if you’re not tired enough, you can keep going – or just take the S-Bahn out there and run circles around the lake. 

    The sprawling grounds of the Tiergarten (Animal Garden), Berlin’s largest and oldest park, are interspersed with a network of paths stretching fourteen miles.  The paths are popular with people out for a stroll, many of them slow and unwieldy in their movements, so interloping runners should make an effort to be courteous.  If you explore enough of the Tiergarten, you’re liable to start absorbing a sense of the history of the place, once a private hunting ground for royalty.  Friedrich II (aka Frederick the Great or, if you’re feeling daring, Der Alte Fritz), the first King of Prussia (not to be confused with a King in Prussia, which he was for the first thirty years of his monarchy), first opened the park to the public and installed the network of roads and paths, in the mid-18th century.  Any run should at least cruise by the Siegessäule (Victory Column) rising up from a traffic circle in the center of the park, crowned by a statute of Victoria, the Roman Goddess of Victory.  In their typically dark and cynical fashion, Berliners quickly dubbed it the Goldelse (Golden Elsa).  As for the victories, they were old ones – by the Prussian in the second half of the 19th century – but it was Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, who moved the Siegessäule to its current location. 

    This great East Berlin boulevard was known as Stalin Allee when it was constructed in the 1950s as a showcase for the grandeur of the new East German state.  Or would that be the grandiosity? Party members living in the wedding-cake buildings on either side would watch as great parades rolled down the wide avenue on May Day and other state holidays, phalanxes of tanks and other military toys rumbling the pavement.  The wedding-cake buildings and the aura they project are remarkably intact today, although the street angling through Friedrichshain to Alexanderplatz is now known as Karl-Marx-Allee (and Frankfurter Allee once you cross Petersberger Straße / Warschauer Straße).  Before you explore it via a run, or just a long walk, go to the Berlin Book of Lists Facebook page and click on the “Ostberlin XXVI – Stalinallee” video there, or follow this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjOk4XaomH0.

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