This first full week in Berlin has truly been spectacular; the friendships that had only begun to form last week have officially grown out of the welcome week getting-to-know-you stage and have evolved into real relationships, each and every one of my classes has exceeded my expectations, and I have begun to think of Berlin as a legitimate home, maybe even for the long term. Of all the moments in this past week that have already become memories, it’s hard not to say the highlight of my week was buying my bike.
I had planned on buying a bike way before I even got to Berlin, and conversations with locals and those who had visited all encouraged my desire to get one. In German, the word for bike is “Fahrrad,” so Farrah the Fahrrad seemed an appropriate name for my raspberry-colored omafiets. I am so in love with my bike. I have had it only a week, and already it has proven an integral and defining part of my Berlin experience. On top of its practicality (Berlin is very biker-friendly) and a perfect excuse for exercise whilst here, my bike has most importantly served as my vehicle for discovering Berlin. In this sense, I couldn’t agree more with Lynch’s observation that “the moving elements in a city are as important as the stationary physical parts.” Lynch proposes this sentiment in the context of observing short- and long-term changes as opposed to the unchanging aspects of a city in order to understand its essence, though I will take it to believe that we have the most to learn by observing the literally moving elements, such as, say, bikes.
You can understand a lot about Berlin just from observing the bikers. I have seen bikers who ride without holding the handles, bikers holding a beer in one hand, bikers who text, bikers pedaling one or multiple children, bikers who blast music on speakers, bikers who wear headphones, bikers who obey the traffic lights, people who bike together, people who bike alone. All Berliners, and therefore all Berlin. There emerge two primary types of Berlin bikers: the cool kid majority who don’t wear helmets (myself very shamefully included), and the (much safer and statistically highly more likely to survive an incident) nerds who do. I make the distinction because the classifications so clearly emerge; young 20-somethings, clad in all black and edgy Berlin fashion, never wear helmets, while the few and only people who do are young children, the elderly, and a handful of smarter middle-aged adults who understand the full gravity of what’s at stake. It seems so silly writing about it now–why wouldn’t we/they just wear helmets when it frankly is stupid not to? The nature of accidents is defined by not knowing whether something terrible and tragic is going to happen at any given moment. However, the safety provided by a helmet is just that: safety. There carries a certain thrill, a questionably earnest nonchalance to riding without a helmet that echoes a noticeably crucial part of Berlin’s personality.
Berlin has evidently had unusually nice weather the past few months, and while the threat of winter looms great, I’ve been honoring these last bits of summer by biking around. When commuting to and from school, I’ll bike with my phone in my hand to make sure I’m going the right way. I had actually at a point dropped my phone while biking, and when I turned around to get it, a beggar had picked it up. He returned it to me immediately. I couldn’t help but think that in New York I wouldn’t have been so lucky. On Friday, with nothing to do and nowhere to be, I took my bike and just rode. I knew I vaguely wanted to end up at the Brandenburger Tor so I could explore the Tiergarten, but I wanted to stumble upon it. I went down the streets that I thought looked interesting. I went in several circles by accident. I saw several off the beaten path sites my teachers had mentioned, most notably the Babylon Film Palace. I accidentally got my tire stuck in the tram track, and wished I were wearing a helmet when I had to jump off. I made it to the Brandenburger Tor and got a Käsebrezl in the Tiergarten. I began to discover Berlin.