RUNNING across Checkpoint Charlie in the centre of Berlin was once the stuff of dimly-lit spy blockbusters.
But as 37,000 Lycra-clad runners bolt from the East to West in the spring sunshine, it feels more like a festival.
This month marks 30 years since the infamous Berlin Wall came down, and The Berlin Half Marathon is now one of Europe’s hottest running destinations.
With bands and spectators lining the streets, this event only starts to feel like a chore when you wake up the morning after with the aches and pains of 13 miles in your legs.
More than 1,000 Brits lined up alongside me at the start line this April, combining a passion for running with a weekend break in one of the world’s most dynamic cities.
Many of them have travelled with Sports Tours International, a UK firm that does your race admin — so all you have to do is to turn up at the start.
And the route covers more of Berlin’s tourist destinations than any open-top bus, even if you have to keep the legs pumping as you go.
Starting in the beautiful Tiergarten — Berlin’s main park — you track through the main drags towards Potsdamer Platz, crossing the line on the ground upon which the Berlin Wall used to stand.
From there you wind your way through the buzzing shopping districts of East Berlin, finally finishing underneath the Brandenburg Gate.
The last miles of a half marathon are never easy.
But knowing you will be finishing in such an iconic and historic location certainly kept me going all the way to a respectable if unspectacular 1hr 40min finish.
With many first-timers trotting in an hour later, though — cheered on by enthusiastic supporters — this is a half marathon for everyone.
And this is Berlin, after all. I wasn’t the only Brit surprised to see beer laid out at the end of the race, although it was non-alcoholic.
Berlin’s not just one of the most historic cities in Europe, but one of its coolest and most affordable, too.
The new shopping and food hotspot Bikini Berlin is packed full of clothes, jewellery and art from local designers, all at very friendly prices.
But its piece de resistance is the beer garden overlooking the monkey enclosure in the nearby zoo.
For carb-loading — vital before any run — there is a wide choice from pasta to Hawaiian poke bowls. But miss The Dawg at your peril.
Inspired by the humble Berliner bratwurst, they have been reconstructed by Michelin-starred chef Bjorn Swanson for a fast-food sensation.
And, of course, no trip to Berlin would be complete without checking out the impossibly trendy Kreuzberg district in the East.
With bars open until 8am, this is probably one for after the half marathon — not before.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Sports Tours International takes thousands of participants and spectators to sports events around the world, including the TCS New York City
Marathon and the Berlin Half Marathon. A three-night package for next year’s race in Berlin on April 5, 2020 including BB at the 4H Novotel Berlin Am Tiergarten is from £279pp, excluding flights. Race entry is £45. Call 0161 703 8161 or see sportstoursinternational.co.uk.
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