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Middlebury Trailrunner: Urban trailrunning in Berlin, Germany

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Posted on June 22, 2011 | Blog Category:
By Jeff Byers



Sneaking out for runs while traveling is always a great way to shake out the lethargy of long airplane trips and too much junk food on the run. City running, on the other hand, can be almost as frustratingly “stop and go” as urban driving, with stoplights at every corner. As a result, I always look for a nearby city park to run in, to duplicate as well as I can my preferred trail running experience. This posting brings me to one of the great city parks of the world, the Tiergarten in Berlin, Germany. I guess this would also be my first international trail run in this blog!

I left my hotel on a quiet cul-de-sac in a residential section of old West Berlin, pulled out my map, and made my best attempt at following this old city’s meandering streets in the general direction of the Tiergarten, a little over a mile from my hotel. Many Berliners, as is the case in many European cities, bicycle to work in the early morning hours, and one of my first lessons running in this city was how to share sidewalks with these ecologically-minded commuters! If I had been watching my feet more carefully, I would have noticed that I was running in a sidewalk bike lane, and the frequent reminder of bicycle bells behind me was the result of courteous riders requesting that I step aside out of their designated path. I also discovered that jaywalking was not at all common – the orderly German pedestrians would almost always stop and wait for the light to indicate that it was their time to cross the street, even if there were no cars to be seen in any direction. After about a mile and a half of sidewalk running/cultural awareness lessons, I came to the wide boulevard which bisected the Tiergarten along its north-south axis. Heading north into the park, I had a great view of the golden monolith standing at the park’s center, celebrating 19th century Prussian military victories over the Danes, Austrians, and French.

Tiergarten Victory Monument

Reaching the center of the park, it was time to leave the sidewalk and finally do a little true trail running. If I had turned right here, to the east, I would get to the famous Brandenberg Gate, site of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, but realizing I had appointments to keep, chose the more direct return trip, heading back west in the general direction of my hotel. The meandering paths of this beautiful urban oasis provided a great escape from the nearby city streets. At one point, I even saw a fox cross my path – when I mentioned this to my German colleagues, they mentioned that there were even wild boar in this park! After a far too short section of these broad wooded trails, I crossed over a downtown canal, along the outskirts of the Berlin Zoo, and back onto the streets for my return to my hotel.

Park pathway

Canal Crossing

This ended up being about a 4.5 mile run, but lets face it, this one was more about the journey than it was the destination. It also made it so that I could indulge in Berliners’ favorite junk food – the ubiquitous “currywurst” without guilt for the rest of the day. The currywurst is basically a hot dog covered in a sauce made up of curry powder and ketchup, which is one of my guilty pleasures when traveling in Germany.

Google Earth projection on a Berlin city street map

Jeff Byers is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Middlebury College. He also writes the Middlebury Trailrunner blog. We'll be periodically highlighting posts from his blog, but for more recommendations for trailrunning and cross country skiing in the county, head to his Web site.

This entry was originally posted on June 19, 2011.

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