Biking in Berlin

bikes1 e1399321239337Ich habe ein Fahrrad gekauft. I told my German-speaking roommates that I’d just bought a bike. Learning some basics of past and future tense in Level 2 of Rosetta Stone TOTALe felt great. I could say some very simple things about my day and ask my friends what they’d be doing later.

Everyone has a bike in Berlin, and cars, bikes, and pedestrians live in relative peace and harmony. Bikes stop for red lights, drivers look in their rear-view mirrors, and pedestrians leave the bike lanes empty. Coming from New York, I find this remarkable. There, bikers and drivers fight for space on the streets, people stand in the bike lanes, and crazed cyclists learn the technique of crossing oncoming traffic at full speed (“diagonally” is the simple explanation). For more on biking in NYC, read Felix Salmon’s blog post on how to make biking safer and more like biking in European cities.

Biking in Berlin is a safe, standard, and easy way to commute. The only thing missing, if you’re coming from New York, is that a biker is no longer a rebellious, fearless outlaw—a bike’s not part of your personality, it’s something everyone has. It shows in the bikes too; they’re more utilitarian, less colorful than the bikes in New York.

But there’s a small subculture here of fixed-gear messenger bikes, mainly in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. I went to 10 bike stores, asking the proprietors what they had or how they could modify the bikes to suit me. Before going, I looked up a few key pieces of terminology—the German words for wheel, gear, seat, tire, higher, lower. What was humbling was that in every shop they spoke English. How could I not know another language when the guys in every bike shop in Berlin knew mine?

By day’s end, I’d gotten a great package deal: a little motivation for studying, and my new bike—an old, white road bike with orange, bull-horn handlebars.

Learn more about Will Perkins’s adventures in language learning.

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