Ever since I've lived in Berlin (a long time now), cycling up Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg has been annoying: you have to steer your bike along that treacherous narrow strip between parked cars and the tram lines. To this day, it remains a dangerous undertaking: over the years I've heard countless tales of front wheels getting caught in the tram lines, with often bloody consequences.
Now they're finally putting in some bike lanes and a "citizens' initiative" called Stoppt K21 (riffing off of the highly publicised campaign to stop the Stuttgart 21 train station project) is doing all it can to halt the construction project on the Prenzlauer Berg stretch of Kastanienallee which will also even out the pavements and create parking bays, interspersed with trees and crosswalks on the roadside – resulting in less parking spaces and an altogether tidied-up appearance.
This Saturday, an Aktionstag – self-righteously subtitled "Reclaim Democracy" – is planned with concerts by Grey Television and Peaches and a Bearpit Karaoke session. There, they will try to collect the 8,700 signatures they need to force a referendum on the issue.
The campaigners are afraid the scrappy charm of the street will be lost and that the evened out sidewalk will resemble, horror of horrors, Kollwitzplatz!
Some of the campaigners (surprise surprise) are business owners who have long profited from Kastanienallee's reputation as a funky, hip street with a slightly untidy, edgy image, helped by the presence of a couple of ex-squats and the leftwing bookshop Schwarze Risse. I suspect these business owners all fear that the period of construction when everything will be clogged with building equipment and fences, the loss of post-communist charm (which probably won't be perceived by tourists anyway), and the space taken away from outdoor seating by the bike lanes will be bad for business.
Not unlike the opponents of Stuttgart 21, the hyperlocal Stoppt K21 campaigers are a selfish, deeply conservative bunch who want to keep "their" Kastanienallee above all else and maintain their nostalgic idea of a Berlin lifestyle. In fact, bike lanes are a totally sensible idea and would encourage an ecological means of transport. Some are selling this movement as a resurgence of grass roots democracy in the supposedly thoroughly bourgeois district, but in reality it's an utter waste of political energy.
For those who don't know where to direct their passion for politics, there are plenty of issues to get angry about.
1. Gentrification. It's for real – with or without bike lanes.
2. Mediaspree. While it's not my biggest concern, at least the campaign against corporate development along the river raises a debate about the impact of property investment on public space in the city.
3. Here's my favourite right now: carbon capture and storage (CCS). As a way to compensate for the continued burning of dirty coal by companies like our local power utility, Vattenfall, Germany wants to store millions of tons of CO² created by coal-fired power plants underground. Under Berlin, as well. With all sorts of potentially harmful consequences. And with no real impact on climate change.
Decide for yourself this Saturday whether or not you care about bike lanes. At least you'll get a free Peaches show.