Having found myself enjoying an unexpectedly long sojourn in Berlin this past week – courtesy of the Iceland volcano – I decided to make the most of it by hiring a bike to pootle around one of my favourite places in the whole world.
Berlin is not, on the surface of it, a classic cycling city. The public transport system actually works, so you don’t need to saddle up to be sure of reaching your destination on time. A portmanteau of two capitals, it is also huge, and so getting from one side of it to the other by bike can really test your legs. Plus there are cobbles all over the shop. Despite all this, it is a really marvellous place to cycle. Here are 10 completely subjective reasons why.
1. The streets are crazily wide
Thanks to a combination of Allied bombing and the Communists‘ insatiable appetite for tearing down lovely old buildings and replacing them with brutal new ones, many of Berlin’s streets are incredibly wide. Yesterday I pedalled from Alexanderplatz (site of the 1989 protests) down Karl Marx Allee, the archetypal example of East German roadbuilding. Constructed to show off Communist town planning after WWII, this imposing boulevard is almost 90m wide. Even the pavements are broad enough for tanks to drive down two abreast.
2. You can cycle on the pavement
Well, you usually, can, anyway. All but the narrowest pavements have bike paths built into them.
3. No one tells you off for not wearing a helmet
Helmet use is on the up in Berlin. When I was a student here seven years ago, I don’t remember anyone wearing a helmet, but I’ve noticed the odd one this past few days. At least once a week in London a friend or colleague will ask: „Where’s your helmet?“ Not here.