The Perils of Biking in Berlin

1. Without warning, the street is very likely to turn to cobblestone, sending shock vibrations up your arms and jostling your “bucket,” as my elementary school art teacher Ms. West called it.

2. A streetcar may suddenly bear down on you from behind, leaving you with nowhere to go except leftward into the lane of (hopefully nonexistent) oncoming traffic.

3. Tonight I very nearly hit a bat in Berlin-Mitte as it flew inches in front of my face.

4. If I’m not mistaken, today is the first day in my two and a half weeks in Berlin that it hasn’t rained. An unexpected shower is a perpetual biking risk.

5. Baffling traffic laws. Most of the intersections in town have neither a stop sign nor a traffic light. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. My usual solution is just to go. Honking sometimes ensues. A weak attempt to yell at the driver in German follows.

6. Lots of glass all over the streets, leading to

7. Two flat tires (and counting?)

8. Maps (both print and virtual) that bear no resemblance to the reality of the streets, particularly in Berlin-Mitte. Streets just stop or turn into other streets, and suddenly you’re going 60 degrees from the direction you want. Which doesn’t sound like much, except when you go a mile a two without realizing you’ve made a mistake and find yourself in a completely unfamiliar part of town. I had a compass attached to my cheap little bell, which bailed me out almost daily, until it broke when I flipped my bike upside down to make some repairs on account of #7.

9. The flatness. Seriously. It’s a blessing to bike around in such a flat city, but I actually find it kind of exhausting. I’m accustomed to spending part of my time on a bike pushing up hills and part of my time coasting down them. But in Berlin, there’s never really a chance to just coast — even though it’s never tough going, there aren’t many downhills to give your legs a break. A silver lining with a touch of grey, or something.

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2 Responses to The Perils of Biking in Berlin

  1. Noah says:

    At least your bikes are one person. A daily problem is somebody asking me to ride on the flat thing above their back wheel, or wanting to do it when I’m biking. Its really challenging, and embarrassing that all dutch people can do it and I dont have the balance.
    I’m buying an oma-fiets today from an irish girl who is leaving. So excited, its really really grandmotherish.
    Also, a bat? In central berlin? Is that normal?

  2. Aaron says:

    Dutch bikes are all the rage here in Germany, too, but they’re too expensive for most young people, I think. And no, I don’t think it’s normal to see bats here. That’s certainly the only one to cross my path.

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