(This is Part 2 of what might in time become a four-part series. Part 1 is here.)
When I left you at the end of Part 1, Annette and I had enjoyed — with excellent help from Christian Cummins — our stay in Vienna. We swanned around on Vienna’s gaudily-decorated City Bikes, advertising mineral water or banks or something.
Our next stop on the Euro tour was Prague. We did see a few bike riders in Prague, but not in the centre city. I would have said ‘not in the old town’, but of course as Prague aficionados will immediately realise, the centre of Prague is not one “old town”, but four. But even so, none of those four towns is bike-friendly. Tram and by foot is the way to see Prague, so that’s what we did.
We arrived in Berlin late on a Saturday afternoon, navigating our way with some difficulty from the ICE (Inter-City Express) to the S-bahn to the U-bahn to get to Eberswalde Strasse station. Our flat was a short walk from there.
So our first day in Berlin was a Sunday. And I was pretty keen to get riding. Our hosts had pointed out some places we might visit … the flea markets at Mauerpark (literally ‘Wall Park, because it is a memorial to the Berlin Wall), and Arkonaplatz. And also, Zionskirche, which I’m sure you are aware was Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s first parish appointment in Berlin.
So while Annette headed off on foot to Mauerpark in the late morning, I went to find a bicycle, at Lila Bikes. Only to find that they did not open until 2pm on a Sunday.
So I put the bike-riding on hold. We walked around Prenzlauer Berg, and also went via public transport modes for our first touristy day in Berlin as well. All while I schemed up a plan for getting on the bikes.
So it was our third day in Berlin that we really got rolling. I think we paid about 8 Euros each for very sturdy bikes from Lila Bikes, a store populated by one slightly gruff owner and several friendly dogs.
From Prenzlauer Berg, the main city centre is slightly downhill, along Kastianallee, the same route as the tram we had taken the previous day, on our visits to Museum Island. That is to say, straight through Hakescher Markt onto Museum Island, and through there to Under Den Linden.
So of course we rode around the various places we wanted to visit, and locked up the bikes while museuming or art-gallerying or morning-coffeeing. And then came back and rode some more.
In the first, long-since-past episode of this adventure, I talked a little about what I am calling ‘German-style bikepaths’. Berlin had the best network of these, although Berlin actually cranks it up a notch above both Munich and Vienna, by providing a lot more specialised high-standard separated paths. We used these on our cruise through the massive and wonderful Tiergarten, and also later on our way back from Kurfurstendamme, along beside the Spree.
We got as far away from Prenzlauer Berg as Kurfurstendamme, a famous shopping boulevard on the western side of the Tiergarten, and it was late afternoon before we started to head back, about 8-10km.
By this stage we were both pretty comfortable on our bikes, and happy using the well-connected bikeway network. So I just planned a route back that seemed the most direct, confident that there would be good bike infrastructure all the way, anywhere in Berlin.
To be fair, this is analogous to just looking at a map of Brisbane and saying, ‘I am at Chermside and I want to go to Spring Hill, Gympie Road looks like it will be the quickest way’.
So we lucked onto some lovely bikeway along the Spree, but then later on I navigated us onto Invalidenstrasse, through Moabit on the way back to Prenzlauer Berg. And there just happened to be lots of roadworks on Invalidenstrasse.
Where there were no roadworks, the bike facility was absolutely fine. But in the chaos of the roadworks, there were occasions where the bikepath was only a narrow footpath, which admitted only one person or bike in either direction.
We made it home eventually, but not before I had put us out into the traffic coming along Veteranenstrasse, on the hill leading up to Zionskirche (and therefore not far from ‘home’). Annette wasn’t happy with that, and fair enough. But eventually, with some stumbling around, we finally made it onto Schonauser Allee, up the last little section to our flat.
All in all we had probably covered about 25-30km on the bikes that day, on paths and roads. All in our normal cool weather clothes. Berlin is pretty flat, and the traffic goes pretty slow, and on almost every occasion there is bicycle infrastructure to ensure your separation from the motorised traffic.
Compared with riding around Brisbane, Berlin is far better set up for transport cycling, everyday cycling. Combined with a superb system of U-bahn and S-bahn trains, it would be very doable to live without a car in Berlin. And I’m sure many people do.
In Berlin, much more than Vienna, I noted that just about every demographic gets around on bike. Older people, younger people, mums and kids, just whoever wants to use their own power to get around. Bicycle riding there is convenient and safe, so why would you not do it?
PS … Currywurst and chips looks like this. Comes standard with tomato ketchup, but samurai sauce, which is sort of like equal parts chilli sauce and mayonnaise, really takes it to a whole new place. Superb, magnificent even, when the temperature drops below 5 degrees C. Otherwise, pretty ordinary. Weird, huh.