As I mentioned somewhere else on the site, it was after moving to Berlin in 2014 that I got really into cycling. In fact, that’s not strictly true.
It may be controversial to say this here, but If I’m being 100% honest, for almost a year after I arrived in Berlin, I didn’t even own a bike; I was perfectly happy exploring the city on foot. My newly-made friends would constantly tell me: “you’ve got to get a bike, Ben.” “I will soon”, was my stock reply.
Eventually, as the next summer rolled in, I gave in, and went to buy an old, reconditioned single-speed from a store (though it could’ve also been an art gallery or coffee shop) in Kreuzberg. It was a revelation. Now I could really explore the city. The first ride I did was on the very same warm summer evening I bought the bike, way out into the far east of Berlin from Friedrichshain. I had never explored Marzahn, Lichtenberg and Hellersdorf before. It was fascinating to explore Berlin’s plattenbau bedroom communities from the new bike. After this, I started to go everywhere by bicycle.
Soon I augmented that bicycle with a touring bicycle, after an old university friend suggested that we cycle from Berlin to Prague (and beyond). The idea of crossing country borders on a bicycle for a nascent (British) cycle-tourer like myself was completely new, yet undeniably exciting. This ride opened my eyes to another facet of cycling that has since become a passion: bike touring – a brilliant amalgam of two of the most worthwhile pastimes, cycling and travelling. Never before had I ever cycled distances like that day after day. As anyone who has ever done a bike tour can attest: it’s great. I was hooked.
I soon became acquainted with one of the uglier sides of Berlin’s cycling culture: bike theft. In fact, I was relieved of both of the aforementioned bicycles within quick succession of each other. The first was a result of pure naivety on my part: the single speed was locked wheel to frame, unattached to anything else, leant against the wall in the hallway of the Neukölln apartment building I lived in at the time. Of course, it was just a matter of time before it got pinched: but at this point I wasn’t really aware of quite how endemic bike theft was in Berlin.
I came downstairs to unlock the bike one afternoon, and it was gone. Incredulously, my flatmate called me an hour later to say that he had spotted my bike around the corner, leaning up against a tree. It seemed bizarre that the thief would just give up the bike after stealing it. Perhaps it was waiting to be picked up by someone with a van. Either way, I got it back. That particular bike would sadly eventually end up out of commission, after the seatpost decided to permanently bond itself to the frame.
The second theft happened a couple of weeks later. This time, it was textbook bike theft. The brand-new touring bike was outside work, chained to a bike post. I came down from the office one evening to find it gone. At first I thought: no, I must’ve locked it up somewhere else and made a mistake. But I hadn’t made a mistake; the remains of the lock were on the floor, and the bike was gone.
I’ve bought and sold a few more bikes since, and manage to continue to use the bike most days to get from A to B (and C, D and E), come rain or shine, without being killed (although it seems many drivers have tried).
In fact, there have only been a couple of falls. Perhaps like you, before I mastered the art of gracefully circumnavigating the bike around tram-tracks, there was more than one occasion when I unceremoniously came a cropper, as my front wheel found itself sucked into the gulley usually reserved for tram wheels.
There was another memorable occasion in Winter 2016, where a gentleman decided that I should spontaneously interface with the door of the taxi that he was trying to exit, totalling my front light and smashing my hands and handlebars through the rear window of said taxi. And of course, there was the memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons slip on the ice at Strausberger Platz in December 2017 which resulted in two stitches in my chin and two expensive new teeth. (read more about that in the blog).
But aside from the less-than-ideal cycling conditions and the bleak winters, there are far worse places to ride your bicycle. I can’t think of too many other capital cities where it’s so easy to get out of the smoke and into ‘the nature’ (as the Germans like to say). Where you have unlimited flat cycling territory, umpteen accessible lakes and hundreds of great bike shops and where cycling isn’t just the preserve of the athletic middle-classed young man, but truly something for everyone.