Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fahrräder überall!

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them. ... Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
--Ernest Hemingway

If I remember Berlin as seen from my bike, the memory will seem like a dream I had once. I was lucky enough to be provided a bike by my host, and cruising down the streets of this German city in the sun of summertime has no experience to call its equal. Pedaling through Berlin brings you past countless historical landmarks, astounding architecture, bakery after bakery, boutiques, theaters, artworks, people. You see arguments and bawdiness, you see the expected streets, buildings, stations, and shops, but you also see the beautiful. From the saddle, riding through the different neighborhoods, you are offered a glimpse of the world--das Fahhrad here becomes a microcosmic vehicle.

Because the city generously caters to bikers, the experience is so pleasurable. Throughout the city, there are bike lanes; however, these bike lanes aren't like the kinds you might be familiar with in Philly or Chicago, where they remain part of the street, precariously placed between speeding cars and parked cars: sooner or later, you will either be flattened or "doored." In contrast, the bike lanes in Berlin are part of the sidewalk, keeping you away from the flow of cars, especially on busy streets. In addition to this ingenious practice, bike lanes are also outfitted with special bike traffic lights, which are just kind of awesome.

Indeed, American city bikers would be amazed at the attitude towards bikes here. Do you have to lug around a 5 Lb. U-lock? No. Bikes are usually locked up with a very thin chain, and if people are just going into a shop, then they don't even bother to lock it up; and when they return to their bikes, they are still there! Bike theft happens here, of course, but not to the same, depressing degree as in Philadelphia, Chicago, and, I imagine, other American cities. So, to any future travelers to Berlin, get a bike!

Tip: You can rent a bike here, but it is expensive, and you usually are then riding a bike with some kind of obnoxious advert on it. It's better, I think, to buy a bike. There are two options:
1. Die Flohmärkte (flea market): you can buy a used bike here, but the quality is sometimes suspect and the bikes may have been stolen. The second option is better.
2. There are two bike stores that sell used bikes for cheap.
Froschrad (Frog Bike) -- near Görlitzer Bahnhof in Kreuzberg
"Used Bike" -- near Schönleinstr Bahnhof also in Kreuzberg.
There are plenty more stores, however, these two have come well recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Yarn, I love the quotes you have in here, especially this quote and discussion about experiencing a city by bike, a car never allows a full experience. How can one smell the German soft cheeses baking in the sun, the nooks of Berlin, oh the flower nectars do they smell much different there? Do people have trimmed lawns or wild gardens? Your host sounds wonderful, send him my regards!
    I just returned from a tour around southern Ghana to explore resource extraction sites, though I wish the experience had been by bike or walking transport, it would have been... more yoking. Most certainly exploration of a small scale mining with young boys escaping into tunnels into the ground and sifting alluvial soil for gold was strong, as was the large scale huge open pit mine which was more shocking, the being fed beer and lunch with chiefs in two districts, the teak plantation, the farmers walking into the forest reserve to gather crops for market, the thatch huts with chickens and goats and kittens and dogs (probably the happiest domestic animals I have ever seen - no leashes or fences in any of these villages and cities), the fisher people at the Sekondi harbor with over a thousand people and handmade wooden canoes, the stands of food like fufu or black tea cooked over an open flame along road sides and urban areas, the woman carrying a 400 pound tunas in a bucket on her head as she gracefully walked through the harbour paths while men hawked umbrellas or a bucket of tinier fish they caught that morning, the balance these women have, and even the men too who sometimes can be seen carrying their luggage on their head. From the bus window, the sites were fascinating, and in some instances quite similar, but to bicycle through Ghana or even just Accra... to bicycle or walk anywhere. Oh to hell with motorized transport - such luxuries and privileges we have lost!