A bike tour of Berlin serves up history with a feast of local fare, writes David Whitley.
We pull over by the river Spree, outside a cafe adorned with the quirky red and green men found on Berlin's pedestrian crossing lights. "The Ampelmannchen is one of the few heroes to come out of East Germany," says guide Sophie, perching on her bike. "Following reunification, he became a cult hero - and the most capitalist communist of all time. You can buy all manner of tat with him on."
Inside Sophie's bag is the other great survivor from the German Democratic Republic - Rotkappchen, a shamelessly cheap local take on Champagne. She pours a few glasses out. "What better way to make friends with each other?" she says as the grimacing faces undergo their Rotkappchen initiation.
Fat Tire's evening tour around Berlin ticks three boxes. Firstly, it's a chance to get some healthy exercise by pedalling around the Mitte and Prenzlauerberg districts. But it's also a good way of getting an overview of the city's history and dipping into the food scene. It's a three-course meal, but spread over different restaurants and a few hours.
After the first face-stuffing stop at the Dada Falafel Bar - a rather tasty insight into how influences from the Middle East have shaped Berlin - we find ourselves going along the path of the Berlin Wall. The symbolic barrier between east and west was pulled down 25 years ago, but Bernauerstrasse has been preserved as an open-air museum.
Pulling over by one of the few remaining stretches of wall, Sophie details the grimness of the situation in the divided city. "There was an inner wall, an outer wall and a death strip between with beds of nails, deranged dogs ready to rip you to pieces and automatic machine guns in the watchtowers," she says.
"They went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the guards wouldn't escape either. No one would ever do two shifts with the same person, and they were not allowed to talk to each other."
Our main course comes in Restaurant Die Schule which, as the name suggests, is part of a language school. The twist here is that it serves up what can only be described as German tapas. There's flamkuchen (a Teutonic take on pizza), a rolled beef steak on a bed of red cabbage, and an utterly tremendous eisbein - a small pork knuckle on a bed of peas. The sole uniting theme seems to be that it's excellent food to wash down with a beer.
Continuing on through Prenzlauerberg, there's a handsomeness that much of the city lacks. "This is what Berlin should look like," says Sophie. "Only 20 per cent of the area was affected by bombings in World War II."
One of the dreamy art nouveau-tinged buildings belongs to Anna Blume, which is part flower shop and part cafe. It's a fine way to round off the evening with that most Germanic of experiences, coffee and cake. The cakes - Sacher tortes, raspberry cream behemoths, chocolate gateau, the works - fight for attention and are greedily wolfed amid borderline erotic-looking red banquettes.
The ride home is wobblier - amarettos tend to slip into coffees at this stage in the evening - and more calorie-laden. But, mercifully, Berlin is flat geographically, if completely the opposite in personality.
Etihad offers to Berlin via Abu Dhabi from Sydney or Melbourne. Fares start at about $1,620. See Etihad.com
The Fat Tire evening food tour costs €49 euros ($72) with Fat Tire. See berlin.fattirebiketours.com
Ackselhaus offers spacious and lovingly themed rooms in Prenzlauerberg from €130 ($192). See ackselhaus.de
The writer was a guest of Visit Berlin.