28 December 2011

Germany, Berlin: Bike city


GERMANY, BERLIN: BIKE CITY

By OLAF GEIGER
It was in Berlin, city of rampant car-mania, that I first fell for the bicycle. Berlin has always been a hotbed of new ideas and experimental lifestyles, but now that it is no longer an isolated outpost of western ways, the possibilities for change become even more interesting. The city is still choked by a million petrol engines, but it becomes obvious by the day that it is, potentially, a perfect city for cycling. It's flat, and it's compact: when the city was a state within an inhospitable state extending the suburbs was not an option (in the western part at least). As a result, the three million Berliners have easy access to the glorious lakes and woods of the previously forbidden hinterland.
Surprisingly, the city centre still has plenty of green areas, allowing cyclists to slip through parks, and alongside waterways, clear of the raging traffic. For longer distances bikes can be carried on the S-Bahn rail system, and (for now) on the underground. This is a fine way to reach the surrounding countryside.
In spite of all this, the bicycle hardly figures in city politics. Any pro-cycling measure is usually cancelled out by a simultaneous step backwards. For example, priority lanes for buses, taxis and bicycles were recently installed on various major thoroughfares. Unfortunately they were designed in such a way that they led to constant friction between bus drivers and cyclists. Sensing a good local story, the press has taken to vilifying cyclists. The Berlin branch of the ADFC (the German national cycling club) responded succinctly in their quarterly magazine Radzeit: 'As in previous years, there has been no known case of a cyclist failing to see a motorist and killing him in the resulting collision. The ADFC and the Berlin cycle campaign group Grunge Rader have for years been tirelessly fighting the obstinacy of officialdom and the mindless demands of the motor lobby.
The ADFC's Radlerzentrum (Cycling Centre) acts as a meeting place for all cyclists. It organises cycle tours and events, provides a self-help cycle workshop, and it is also a resource centre, offering cycle maps, cycle touring literature, and general cycling books.
Visitors to Berlin are welcome to take part in the now traditional bike demo, on the first Sunday in the month, under heavy police escort. The high point of the campaigning year is the great critical mass Star Ride, when thousands cycle in from gathering points around the city, for a huge demonstration in the city centre.
Berlin has over a hundred bike shops, from the high-tech to the low-budget. Some are Aladdin's caves of unorthodox bikes; others are humble repair stations and self-help workshops. Some offer hire bikes, others guided cycle tours of the city.

Germany, Berlin: Bike city - a Bike Culture article on Cyclorama