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A tale of two cities: London vs. Berlin

Having grown up in London and done a lot of cycling in and around the city, every time I visit home I am keen to see how the cycling culture there is developing.  While travelling around London, I often find myself reflecting on how the burgeoning cycling culture in Europe’s largest city compares to Germany’s capital, after spending almost 4 years as a citizen of Berlin. Here are a few key observations:

1) Cycling has become really, really popular

I haven’t lived in London for a few years, but I’m sure that when I did nowhere near the amount of people were riding bikes as do now. Since the introduction of the congestion charge in 2003, bike use has grown exponentially, and seemingly at an even more accelerated rate in the last four or five years. A new report claims that cycling superhighways are “moving five times more people per square metre than the main carriageway.” According to official statistics, morning cycle use will soon overtake car use, if cycling’s popularity continues to increase at its current trajectory.

2) Commuting in London is serious business.

Riding your bike to work in London isn’t like riding your bike to work in Berlin. In Berlin, most people seem happy enough riding along at a normal pace, minding their own business, with those who ride as fast as possible being the exception, not the rule. It’s a normal part of everyday life, just like going to the bakery in the morning and buying 15 Schrippen (Berlinerisch for Brötchen) or starting your morning sitting on the U-Bahn with a bottle of Sternburg. In London, on the other hand, commuting is a fiercely competitive sport, with each athlete trying desperately hard to outdo the other. The speed people ride at is quite frankly, terrifying.

3) Londoners have fancy, fast bikes.

If you want to ride from your trendy East London apartment to your trendy East London office, and you want to do it fast, you don’t want to ride a sluggish old bike. No; you need the most modern, most expensive and most fashionable bike you can afford. Fast, light, racing bikes seem to dominate the bike-commuting landscape in modern-day London. As we reflected on bike culture over pints, a bike mechanic friend mused that the racing bike has become the modern day urbanite’s status symbol, just like a flashy car once was. I wouldn’t disagree. Things feel really different in Berlin, where most people ride pretty ordinary bikes and where it’s a lot rarer to see somebody on a super high-end bike.

4) Cycling Superhighways.

The redesigned London Cycle Superhighways (google for images) are a revelation, and cycling along London’s busy roads is obviously so much better than it used to be. They are wide enough to accommodate a considerable volume of cyclists, often totally separated from car traffic, and most importantly, a lot more visible to motorists and pedestrians. Berlin could really take a leaf out of London’s book to improve cycling safety on some of its busy roads.

5) Londoners shop in fancy bike shops.

It’s no secret that London is an expensive city, populated by plenty of people with plenty of cash. Bike shops reflect this. As well as ’boutique’ stores such as Brick Lane Bikes in Shoreditch and Cloud 9 Cycles in Bloomsbury, the chain stores also seem to offer an extensive range of high end bikes, especially in comparison to the average Berlin store.

6) Cycling is primarily a younger man’s game.

It seems middle-classed young men virtually dominate London’s cycling population. I saw many fewer women, hardly any older people and almost no children riding in the city. I’d love to know why. Is it more dangerous? Is there less of a cycling culture? Thankfully, in Berlin cycling demographics seem a lot more equal.

​​

 

9th March 2018 0 comment
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Tempelhofer Feld

Tempelhofer Feld is the best place in Berlin.

There, we said it.

It’s also one of the best places to go for a ride in the city: central, accessible to all, away from cars and totally, totally Berlin.

The best thing about cycling on Tempelhofer Feld is its inclusivity. Are you a parent, looking for somewhere to let your child safely learn to cycle? Do you have a €4000 racing bike you want to ride at 30km/h? Do you want to have a gentle (or not so gentle) ride to unwind after work? Do you want to hire some bikes and show your guests one of Berlin’s best spots? You’re in luck, because you can do all of those things here. 

Your first impression might be that the field is vast, but from two wheels it doesn’t seem so big. This ride is an easy 11.4km and will take no more than an hour even with several stops.

We recommend starting from the Neukölln side at Herrfurthplatz/Herrfurthstrße: there are several great food and drink options in this cool Kiez to explore before or after your ride. The field is not hard to find, just look to the end of the road and follow the huge void.

Cycle onto the field, pause to have a look at the map, or quickly climb the few steps to the observation deck on your left and gaze out at the vastness ahead of you.

Get onto the path, cycling towards the right past the first block of toilets. Follow the path anti-clockwise as it snakes around the perimeter of the park. After a while, you’ll come to the beer garden. There are also several table tennis tables in this shadier part the field, so pack your paddles and balls before you set off.

Continuing anti-clockwise, you’ll see the huge former airport terminal building looming ahead of you as you come to the tennis and baseball area. This building was designed by Nazi architects and completed in 1941. It was an integral part of the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49 and an incredible place to see if you have the chance to go inside. Tempelhof was an operational airport until 2008.

Stick to the path and continue towards to the terminal. Start edging towards the left, get back onto the main path and continue anti-clockwise directly in front of the terminal.

Cross over the two runways, get onto the perimeter path and start cycling east. After a few hundred meters you’ll spot another observation deck on your left.

On the way to the south-east corner of the field, keep your eyes peeled for the skatepark to your left. It’s worth getting off the bike here and checking out local BMX riders and skaters attempting tricks.

Near the south-east entrance to the field at Oderstraße, you’ll find Picnic, a small cafe where you can pick up a cold drink or piece of cake to sustain you through the next part of the ride.

Continue north, with the unique ‘Gemeinschaftsgarten’ (a community garden of improvised hippy-esque allotments) on your right and turn left onto the second runway, cycling all 2km of it. Look out for kiteboarders!

Once you get to the end, turn left and left again and repeat the process, this time cycling west along the parallel runway. Tempelhofer Feld can be very windy, and it’s fun to see how much difference the tailwind (or headwind) makes to your speed on the bicycle.

After you finish on the second runway, continue past the community garden and turn left, eventually exiting the field where you came in.

If it’s Summer, feel free to bring your disposable barbeque and do some ‘grilling’, as the Germans like to say. Just make sure to take your rubbish away with you!

7th March 2018 0 comment
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My new bike, superfluous rental bikes and other stories.

I talked a bit in a recent post about a new bike I had spend months obsessively collecting the parts for. Well, it’s finally no more just a collection of obsessed-over parts, but rather something that I can actually ride. And ride very well, it does. Still, that’s not quite enough to stop me obsessing about how I can further optimise it.

Here’s a very Berlinesque picture of it, outside my very Berlinesque graffiti-covered apartment building. Isn’t it beautiful? If you see me riding it, say hi. You can’t miss it.

In related news, I came across this interesting story on the internet recently. It talks about a Turkish woman who divorced her husband, claiming that her mental health was been negatively affected by her husbands all-consuming bicycle obsession. She says that her husband abandoned her, instead devoting all of his attention to cleaning and fixing his bicycle. Thoughts? Is this really a valid reason to divorce somebody? Jury’s out on that one.

In other news, I also came across this incredible photo essay of China’s huge bike share graveyards. 1.5m shared bikes on the streets of Shanghai (London, in comparison, has only 11,000 Santander shared bikes) has lead to pavements being literally filled with unused, superfluous bicycles. Consequently, huge ‘graveyards’ of said bikes exist, as city authorities are forced to take the initiative and clear the pavements of them; the bike share companies refuse to do it.

The pictures are incredible, and raise a number of questions. Do we really need so many shared bikes on the streets of our cities? Is it not better just to own your own bike? Will this happen in Berlin? You have probably noticed a huge increase in remote rental bikes parked (dumped) carelessly on the streets of Berlin (Byke, Mobike etc.) What should we do about this? Is it a problem or is it good to have so many shared bikes available?

As always, happy and safe cycling.

Ben

 

 

25th February 2018 0 comment
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Stories: French teacher Pauline Gillet

I use Diamanda every day. To get from home to the station at Potsdamer Platz. At the other end, to get from the station to the school I teach at. To go shopping. To meet friends. To get to my sports classes. Everywhere. 

Here are some selected anecdotes about Diamanda. 

The acquisition

I bought her on the 21st of June 2016. Before Diamanda, (BD) I had (and still have) Mars, a bike I bought on eBay. It’s light and has thinner wheels. I love Mars, but the problem with him was that I have to ride the bike to go to work even if its snowing or raining. Mars wasn’t stable at all on the snow and 

very slippery when it was raining. Not to mention having no (functional) gears. 

Diamant bikes are everywhere in Berlin. I fell in love with the design, so I did some research and finally decided on the Topas DLX26. I found a shop in my local area in Kreuzberg and ordered it. Unfortunately the experience with the shop was less than wonderful: a tiny place, and the staff were impatient  and moody.  

At the beginning, everything was fine with the bike and I was very satisfied. After one month I came back to have the free and ‘obligatory’ check up after buying the bike. I picked it up the day after and the problems began. All the screws on the bike seemed to simultaneously start falling out. I almost lost my rack, lost the front light and even  pedal while cycling! 

When I went back to the shop, the staff tried to put the blame on me for not having come for the check up – which I did! Anyway, they fixed it, but the light quickly broke again. So while it says in the documents you get with the bike “Diamant bikes are guaranteed for life”, in reality they mean “if your bike breaks, send it back to us and we’ll send it back to you 2 or 3 months later”. For this reason, I decided to pay for them to change the light immediately. Unfortunately, the problem wasn’t solved. The light broke at least 3 or 4 times more until they eventually replaced it with a completely different one, which still works. Now the only problem with the bike is the back light, which doesn’t work when it’s raining due to water or something  getting into it. So, I always carry a clip-on light with me.

I wouldn’t buy this bike again, and I definitely wouldn’t buy another bike from this brand. I still like the retro design, but the quality is very poor and the after-purchase service miserable. Even after only 3,5 years of riding it, the gears have started to fail. The only positive thing are the wheels and tires. I have never had a flat tire. 

The naming

The design is quite girly, and this is what I like about it. The seat is very comfortable and I like the upright riding position, the detail on the front of the light and the weird child’s face on it. 

I called my first bike Mars, because of the name written on it so I used to called this bike simply Diamant and use ‘she’ when I was speaking about ‘her’. (Mars is clearly a ‘he’.) I guess calling her Diamant wasn’t girly enough for my boyfriend, so he rebaptised her ‘Diamanda’. 

Cycling in Berlin

I think cycling in Berlin is safer than in many other European cities or capitals, but it can still be quite dangerous, especially when cars turn to the right and don’t look if bikes are coming from the cycling lane. Often I have to cycle between the cars parked on the cycle lane before turning, or I have to brake before being killed by one. 

The two biggest enemies of cyclists in Berlin are taxi drivers and trucks. Taxi drivers often use the cycle lane as a fast car lane. They drive really close to you and don’t care at all about right of way. 

The worst experience I’ve had was with a big truck from Luxembourg close to Potsdamer Platz. I was going to work and he turned right without looking in his mirror. I managed to break in time but the body of the truck came towards me as it turned. I had to jump off my bike and drag it behind me. It was terrifying. All the cars were honking, but the driver didn’t realise what was happening. He parked a few meters away and I went to talk to him. He said he hadn’t noticed at all that he had almost killed me. He realised he hadn’t looked before turning but also said that he was on the phone and preoccupied. What a great excuse. 

​Pauline Gillet 

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Stories: Journalist Rachel Loxton
The first time I saw my bike I fell in love. A German man in his 50s, wearing a navy boiler suit, was riding it out of a garage near Prinzenstraße U Bahn station. I saw its purple fade design rolling towards me and I knew I would take it home with me that day.

It sometimes seems like everything in Berlin is a challenge of some sort. There’s always something that goes slightly awry, whether it’s ordering the wrong coffee or setting up an appointment to de-register from living in Berlin (Abmeldung) instead of registering (Anmeldung). I did eventually manage to become a legal citizen but I’m still wading through bureaucracy trying to figure out tax numbers and how much profit I’ll make in a year. (Answer = very little, sorry, Taxman).

These hiccups are what you have to expect when you move to another country.

So it’s not surprising that it took me the best part of six months to buy a bike. Literally the first night I was in Berlin my German flatmate Julia was telling me I had to get a bicycle: 

“You can’t live in Berlin without one!” she said, as I nervously unpacked my pants and socks. At this point my only aim was to make it through a week without breaking down and wailing that I’d made a terrible mistake and could the UK/full time work with holiday pay take me back into its comforting arms, please?

A couple of months went by without a full-on breakdown but there was still no bicycle:

“You don’t know what you’re missing out on, you can see the whole city on a bicycle,” said Julia, who is the chirpiest morning person I’ve ever met and I found her cheerfulness quite infectious.

“I’m used to traffic on the left side,” I squirmed. “I wouldn’t know how to cycle on the right, don’t want to cause an accident.”

Julia assured me it would be fine and I’d get used to it.

I watched people cycling on the pavements, the roads, in the cycle lanes. I felt them whizz past me, getting to wherever they were going with purpose. I think I was just happy to be dawdling along at this point, with not very much of a clue where I was going, in Neukölln and in life.

I didn’t need a bicycle to get to German class. Was there anywhere else I really needed to be? Not really.

BUT THEN spring crept in, all cutely and blossomy, and I started thinking about taking my jumper off. This was, of course, about two months earlier than the Germans, who insist on wearing winter coats all year except summer. And scarves. They really love their scarves.

It was time for a bike. But how could I get one if I couldn’t even organise my own registration? It felt hopeless.

A streak of determination struck me at the beginning of June when I began my teaching course. The school was a 30 minute walk from my house, but a bike could do the trip in half the time.

I logged on to ebay kleinanzeigen and scanned it for bicycles. I was warned that most were stolen bikes being punted off by thieves. Then I came across my future bicycle, near my place in Kreuzberg. Perfect! I messaged the seller and we arranged to meet on Saturday at 12 noon. I thought about the meeting the day before and was so nervous in the morning.

I already knew I was going to buy the bike even if there was something wrong with it because I’m too polite and panic in these kinds of situations.

The German man spoke some English and said it was his wife’s bike but she only used it for shopping trips. “She doesn’t want it anymore,” he said. Detecting a Scottish voice, he quizzed me on the state of affairs in the UK. “What’s wrong with that blond man and the woman beside him?” he asked about Boris Johnson and Theresa May.

Before I’d picked up the bike I’d taken out 120 Euro in cash at Hermannplatz, because I hadn’t worked out where the banks were near my new flat in Bergmannkiez. I just wanted to do the deal because I couldn’t believe I was so close to achieving the deal.

I handed the money over, the German man adjusted the saddle and it was done. I cycled off, ecstatic, my heart fluttering, back up to Bergmannkiez on my new wheels. I carried it inelegantly up the stairs to my flat and admired it. I took photos of it and messaged people as if it was a new baby.

Now the bicycle stays outside my flat, locked to a lamppost and I use it every day. We get to work in 12 minutes, sometimes 10. I’ve taken it all round the city on mini tours. It comes to the pub with me. Sometimes I take it out of Berlin but it’s got such thin wheels that it struggles on bumpy terrain. And the gears don’t really work.

We cycle up and down Kurfürstendamm, snaking in and out of the bus lanes, almost being brushed out the way by impatient taxi drivers. I wonder if this is how David Bowie felt when he said he went to Berlin to recuperate and lead a normal life. He used to talk about how good he felt cycling round old West Berlin.

It’s fun shooting down Bergmannstrasse when there aren’t many cars on it, watching people eat, drink and socialise. There’s a sense of freedom you feel with a bike and it’s partly down to not having to rely on public transport.

AND TEMPELHOF. It’s pure joy cycling down the old airfield’s runways and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Berlin.

There’s one thing that scares me. Every morning I go to get my bike and I wonder if it will still be there. I know I shouldn’t think about crime (otherwise life would be a constant worry) but bicycle theft is so common in Berlin that most people I know have been affected by it at some point. I feel I need to be prepared for it.

I’ve often thought about naming my bike but I don’t want to get too attached to it as a material object. I think of it in the same way Holly Golightly does with cat in the Truman Capote novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Cat doesn’t have a name because Holly says she doesn’t have the right to give him one. They just came across each other, she says:

“It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name,” Holly says about cat. “We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other: he’s an independent, and so am I.”

My bike and I are just two drifters. But we’re having a wonderful time drifting together right now.

Rachel Loxton is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. 

Read more from her at https://rachloxton.wordpress.com/

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Stories: Yorkshireman and musician Nathaniel Forrester

One man’s quest to have a normal bike ride in Berlin.

The first time I set out cycling around Berlin with a helmet on, I felt as if I had achieved a death-defying feat of bravery. Indeed, almost as brave as its alternative, cycling around Berlin without a helmet on. It is not a decision taken lightly, and one that grips every self-respecting Berlin hipster with an agonising sartorial choice. On the one hand, I would be forced to remove my baseball cap and adorn a hideous bulbous shell, facing potential sneers from my vintage Peugeot-pedalling peer group members. On the other hand, I could potentially be hit by a taxi door and die. It was a tough call. The moment a child no older than ten stood up and saluted me as I cycled by I realised that not only are people wearing helmets a rare sighting here but also potentially intimidatingly militaristic in appearance. Even middle-aged sensible-looking parental types who could pass as my own mother seem to belt round the city with no regard for their own safety, and who can blame them? No one wants to arrive at work with their hair sweat-matted onto their forehead. So why was I?

Fortunately my fashion conundrum had been brought to a satisfyingly simple conclusion when a hapless taxi driver piled into me from an underground carpark, sending me hurtling over my handlebars in one of those slow-motion moments in which I could have probably sung a little song to myself before smacking my head on the tarmac. Luckily the bodily damage amounted to little else than some minor grazing, but the shocked expressions on the driver and two besuited businessmen who flung the doors open immediately afterwards suggested it could well have been curtains.  Attempting to re-mount the bike to get to a lesson I was supposed to be teaching at a company ten minutes later, I realised I wasn’t going to get far down the road when I looked down and saw that the front wheel was in fact facing in a different direction to my frame. At this point the driver, who was actually incredibly apologetic, offered me a lift and we sat in awkward silence for what seemed an eternity while I tapped along to some lively Turkish music on the radio on my bruised thighs.

Fast forward a couple of hours and not only has the driver redeemed himself by slipping me two hundred euros for a new bike, he has taken me to a nearby kebab house, where we sit heartily tucking into halloumi im brot and attempting to conduct a conversation in broken German and English respectively, struggling to move the topic beyond the one thing we have in common, our shared experience of being on two sides of the same car accident; ‘So, erm, how long have you been driving a taxi?’, ‘When did you, erm, pass your test?’, and so on.

To be fair to the driver in question (who actually turned out to be quite a nice gentleman), it’s easy to take your eyes off the ball in Berlin, what with its carnivalesque atmosphere, its unique opportunities for people-watching and the sheer amount of other things to point those eyeballs at. I discovered this first-hand myself a few weeks later when, cycling back with gleeful abandon in the bright sunshine of a summer’s day following an afternoon swimming in Plötzensee, my wet towel wrapped around my neck, my wind-swept swimming shorts barely concealing my genitalia, I became entranced by how beautiful the leaves looked swaying gently next to the white-washed tenement buildings beside me, and ploughed directly into the back of an old woman who had been keeping up a leisurely pace in front, sending her flying in much the same trajectory I had taken during the taxi incident. ‘Tut mir leid, tut mir leid’, was all I could offer as the woman got to her feet and began screaming at me in German. With luck she was completely unscathed – though the same could not be said for my bike, which had been bent to an awkward angle and now let out a cringe-inducing screeching sound when I attempted to continue my journey.

So, onto bicycle number three (bear in mind I had only been in Berlin around eight months by this point) and I am now on first name terms with the man at the bike shop down the road, who I suspect is starting to think that I am a bit of an idiot. Perhaps to demonstrate that I am not, I wisely invest in the cheapest helmet there is on offer, a ten euro deal that looks like something a child should wear. Aware of the two accidents I have already had, gone are the days of no-hands-on-the-handlebars exhibitionism akin to the victory lap of the Tour-de-France. Now my children’s helmet is firmly strapped under my chin and I am cycling around, as my friend disdainfully put it, ‘like (his) grandma’. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, this brings my story conveniently to the part in which my next bike, a beautiful retro city bike, which, I have been reliably informed – by those who believe in such binary gender constructs – looks like ‘a girl’s bike’, gets stolen. Truth be told, I had been out enjoying the hedonistic excess of an all night lock-in at my housemate’s restaurant, and when I emerged from under the shutters into the thin light of a Saturday morning, I couldn’t entirely remember what mode of transport I had taken upon my arrival nevermind whether I had locked said bicycle to a lamppost properly. When the realisation hit me after the tenth time of stumbling up and down Oranienstrasse mumbling ‘must be here, must be here’, I had the distinct impression (which may well have been accentuated by intoxication) that my world had in fact come to an end, resulting in a flurry of melodramatic text messages to friends and a slurred monologue into my pillow ‘it’s the only thing I have in the world…’ etc.

The reason I was so upset, of course, is because, well, yes, I was pretty wasted, but having a bike opens the door to so many liberating experiences in Berlin that you can’t have otherwise (unless you’re cycling down Karl Marx strasse, in which case it is just terrifying). I knew at that point that I would be consigned to travelling on the UBahn, to being harassed by crazy people, to listening to people pumping their crap music out of wireless speakers and to having my face caressed by a stranger’s armpit. Sometimes when I am cycling – shortly before I get hit by a vehicle – I just look around me in awe at the dynamo lights flickering around in a pretty procession, or the trees all bursting with Autumnal colours, or the hipsters all sipping on their Club Mates by a glistening canal. This is what I was doing the other day whilst cycling (with bicycle number 4) down by the Landwehr when for no apparent reason, a man walked up to me, punched me in the face and then walked off.

I guess the helmet is pretty useless after all.

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Stories: Bike In Berlin head honcho Ben Lubin

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.

18th February 2018 0 comment
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Berlin’s bike flea markets

The Berliner Fahrradmarkt are periodically-held bicycle flea markets, held on Saturdays and Sundays.

Where are the flea markets?

​The locations vary: markets are held in Kreuzberg, Moabit and Schöneberg. Check their facebook or google to find the next location and date: there are usually two per month between March and November.

Important to note: there is more than one group organising these flea markets.

Tips​

It’s worth getting there early to find the coolest bikes. Prepare to haggle, the bikes sold are often listed at inflated prices and you can usually pay significantly under the displayed price if you’re prepared to bargain a bit.

It’s also worth bringing someone along who knows a bit about bikes if you intend on buying something.

What’s on offer?​

As well as bicycles, you’ll usually find a selection of accessories: helmets, locks, baskets, tires and spare parts. Pop-up bike repair shops are also often on hand.

​As you can see in some of the photographs, some of the vendors attach a document to the bicycle: this contains information pertaining to the original seller of the bicycle so as to give you peace of mind that the bike hasn’t been stolen. It’s unlikely that a vendor would risk selling a blatantly stolen bike at a Fahrrad Flohmarkt: the police are often also in attendance.

​These markets are a good place to find a vintage Rennrad (racing bike), although we feel that you can definitely find a better deal if you invest some time looking on eBay Kleinanzeigen, especially if you want something with a clean frame. However, for the sake of convenience, or purely just out of curiosity, checking out a Fahrradmarkt is not a bad idea.

​Here are some photos from one of the Fahrradmarkts at Winterfeldplatz in Schöneberg.

11th February 2018 0 comment
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5 must-ride Berlin streets

We talk in another article about the sketchy roads (not) to ride in Berlin; and there are plenty. But what about good places to ride in the city? Y’know, roads where you can enjoy your bike, stretch out a bit and ride faster than 11kmph. Well, as luck would have it, there are a few of those, too.

1) Strasse des 17. Juni.

 

Strasse des 17. Juni is the western continuation of Unter den Linden, running east-west through the Tiergarten from Brandenburger Tor to Charlottenburger Tor, just before Ernst-Reuter Platz. This is a 3.5km long stretch, only interrupted halfway by the Grosser Stern, the roundabout surrounding the Siegessäule. The surface is pretty good the whole length of the road, and the surrounding scenery is great from start to finish: the Siegessäule in one direction, Brandenburger Tor in the other. Always a pleasant ride, whatever the season, it’s lovely to have the dense forest of the park on both sides of you as you pedal along. Some of our favourite experiences riding along Strasse des 17. Juni have been late at night, riding west-east to east with the lit-up Brandenburger Tor slowly getting bigger and bigger in the distance. Inspiring.

2) Karl Marx Allee/Frankfurter Allee

 

Another iconic Berlin street is Karl Marx Allee/Frankfurter Allee, running roughly 5km from Alexanderplatz east to Frankfurter Allee station. It was conceived and built by the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) between 1952 and 1960 as a monumentalist socialist boulevard and originally named Stalinallee. This vast street offers you a thrilling tour of socialist architecture ranging from plain, utilitarian plattenbau (panel-built tower blocks) to imposing, ornamental 8-storey apartment blocks built in the soviet socialist-classicism style. The riding is also good, offering smooth bike paths and long blocks allowing you to get a bit of speed up before pausing at the various intersections. Highlights include the ‘wedding cake’ towers at Strausberger Platz and Frankfuter Tor, the fantastic Kino International cinema and the aforementioned ornate housing blocks that line the street on both sides.

From Frankfurter Tor east to Frankfurter Allee, the street becomes busier and the pavement narrower, with shops and restaurants lining both sides. You have to pay a little more attention when riding here, as the bike path runs on the pavement, but there are plenty of opportunities to grab something to eat here or stop off for a beer outside a Späti and take in the Berlin street life.

3) Columbiadamm

 

Another favourite street of ours that passes some equally iconic Berlin landmarks, is Columbiadamm. Columbiadamm runs from Platz der Luftbrücke to just before Boddinstrasse U-Bahn, where it becomes Flughafenstrasse. It’s a great road to ride, with a good quality bike path for most of its length with few interruptions for traffic lights and intersections.

Coming from Neukölln towards Platz der Luftbrücke, the first point of interest on the left is the Sommerbad Neukölln, a huge outdoor swimming pool. Directly after this you’ll see the Berlin Sehitlik Camii, an impressive new Mosque. Opposite the mosque and the swimming pool is Hasenheide, a beautiful landscaped park with an open air cinema and plenty of opportunity for nice rides, walks or runs. As you progress towards Platz der Luftbrücke, you’ll soon see the vast Tempelhofer Feld looming on your left. Ride a bit longer and you’ll be rewarded with a fine view of the Tempelhofer Flughafen building, a huge limestone building built by the Nazis between 1936 and 1941. When first opened, the 1.2km long terminal building was one of the largest buildings in the world, and it hasn’t lost any of its impact. It’s a must see in Berlin.

On your right, opposite the terminal building, you’ll see the attractive 19th-century red brick complex of the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln police headquarters.

Finally you’ll approach Platz der Luftbrücke itself. Buildings connected to the airport built in the same style line half of the square, surrounding the small park which commemorates the Berlin Airlift.

4) Gneiesenaustraße/Yorckstraße

 

Starting from Südstern in Kreuzberg, running West to Potsdamerstraße in Schöneberg, the combined stretch of Gneiesenaustraße and Yorckstraße is one of the more pleasant roads to ride in the city.

The bike lane along the whole stretch is in good condition and plenty wide, facilitating some pleasant cycling. Inconveniently, there are several cross streets and traffic lights to slow you down, but the stretch from Südstern takes you along one of Berlin’s finest tree-lined roads. There are multiple shops, bars and coffee shops along this section of the road. The surrounding neighbourhood is also one of Berlin’s nicest, particularly the attractive Bergmannkiez to the south of the street. Halfway along the route, you’ll come to Mehringdamm, one of Berlin’s commercial hubs. Home to tons of shops, bars and famous eateries, not least Curry 36 and Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebab, it’s also a good place to explore.

Continuing west, the road now becomes Yorckstraße. You’ll soon go under the multiple former railway bridges associated with the former Anhalter Bahnhof and past Yorckstraße S/U-Bahn. To the right of these bridges is the new Gleisdreieck Park, also well worth a visit and a ride. All good things must come to an end, and soon you’ll reach the junction with Potsdamer Straße, with the ominous looking Pallasseum housing block looming in front of you. Going further takes you off a safe cycle path and into Schöneberg proper. Well worth checking out is Winterfeldplatz (particularly the weekly farmers’ market) and its surrounding area.

5) Königsweg/Kronprinzessinweg, Grunewald

 

In the west of the city is a great route running south-west from the Messegelände (the area around the exhibition halls) out to S-Bahn Wannsee. A route beloved of cyclists, this isn’t a road per se, so you have to zoom in on Google maps to actually spot it. Start at S Messe Süd, find Eichkampstraße and start cycling southwest, with the Autobahn 115 to your left. You’ll pass attractive suburban terraced houses (not everyone in Berlin lives in an apartment) and eventually get to the intersection on your left which takes you to S Grünewald. Go a little further and you’ll get onto the path. This is a wide, paved path used by cyclists, skaters^, walkers and runners alike, so don’t ride too fast. There are no cars and you have the opportunity to really ride your bike. To your right is the Grünewald forest. You have a good 7km stretch to enjoy before rejoining the road that takes you to Wannsee. Stop here and get a drink and a bite to eat. There are many further opportunities to ride around Wannsee.

11th February 2018 0 comment
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