Two-wheeling in Berlin

For Berliners, a bike is more than a transportation device; it is a must-have, a fashion statement, a lifestyle. here is our guide to cycling during the summer months and beyond.

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Erica Löfman
For Berliners, a bike is more than a transportation device; it is a must-have, a fashion statement, a lifestyle. here is our guide to cycling during the summer months and beyond. Ride the divide Combining history with a mammoth ride, the MAUERWEG (Berlin Wall Trail) is summer’s best tip for history nuts, cycling fiends and the bike-curious keen to skip the museums and experience the Wall first-hand. Surrounding former West Berlin, Mauerweg traces the border via GDR and West Berlin patrol roads, allowing you to rediscover Berlin, both visually and spatially. For those who shudder at the thought of 160km, short sections like the 7km from Potsdamer Platz to Warschauer Straße snake through former no-man’s land – or what’s now some-Swedish-banker’s-land – while the 20km route from Mauerpark to Hermsdorf boasts a historic checkpoint (Bösebrücke), chunks of wall and the eerie death strip, dotted with memorials to failed escapes. The Mauerweg unites this tangible history with nature: only an hour’s ride north along the trail lands you amidst open wheat fields, the duck-laden Köppchensee lake and fresh country air, sure to cleanse the remnants of any weekend debauchery. Though the mostly traffic-free path isn’t always rider-friendly – large sections are cobbled, badly cracked or pot-holed – the white-and-grey street signs marked “Berliner Mauerweg” are easy to follow and never deviate far from a station homeward bound. Annabel Brady-Brown Maps and info: Roller fever In a shop oozing Ostalgie charm, BERLIN SCOOTER maintains 13 chromed-out, retro-looking scooters for rent. There is also one Schwalbe that is actually vintage, for those who find retro-cool gauche (or who want to go a little faster: the old ones can reach 60 km/h instead of the 45 km/h the newer scooters are restricted to). To rent one, bring your ID and a deposit of €150. For €5 per hour, enjoy Berlin the fast-freiluft way (€19 for four hours, €29 for 24 hours). Cara Cotner Anarchocycles REGENBOGEN FABRIK is a relic of Berlin‘s community-oriented, anarchist past. It was founded more than 25 years ago in an abandoned sawmill in protest of property speculation and rising rent costs. Today, the compound is home to a hostel, day-care, café, carpentry shop and a cinema, but it’s most beloved for its DIY bike workshop. At the Fahrradwerkstatt, cyclists can work on their bikes for €3 per hour. Used parts are available for purchase at very reasonable prices (replacing a bike’s brake lines, for instance, cost the author around €3 in parts). There are always a few comrades on hand to help you: if you have a question, just ask! If you ask nicely and don’t catch them in a bad mood, the Regenbogen staff will patiently show you how best to solve your problem, even if it requires some creativity (jankey bikes from the Mauerpark sometimes need a little special persuasion to get that rusty nut turning). The workshop is also host to special days: Wednesday is Frauentag, when ladies can work in peace, spared the advice of puffed up, self-proclaimed ‘bike experts’ (note: this policy is strictly enforced). Thursday, kids are allowed their hand at the tools. Bike rental is cheap at €6 per day. Best of all, the sturdy bikes they rent out are simply normal Berliner bikes – welcome to bike rental, incognito! Choose from old West German three-speeds, fat-tired Dutch-style cruisers, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a road bike, all the time secure in the knowledge that you won’t look like a fresh-off-the-Easyjet poseur. Conor O’Rourke Bike the ’berg on the cheap Need a cheap rental in the prepped up east? Head to Kollwitzstraße, of all places, and find PRENZLBERGER ORANGE BIKES, a stronghold of good-old-days Prenzl-life in the heart of gentri-land. Kolle 37, the youth cooperative that runs the adjacent ‘adventure playground’, also rents out bicycles for as little as €6 per day (€20 deposit). Not that those Porno- Schwaben types and the Gazprom clique who pollute the neighbourhood would ever care for a cute no-fuss orange bike. But foreign tourists and visiting friends do! Rene Blixer No cash, no gears, no problem Most places will rent you a hulking colossus of a transportation device, weighed down by bells, cushy seats, mudguards and most offensively, gears. How would you like to fly down the road on a lithe frame, feather-light and unencumbered by pointless accessories? What if you could do that for free? Then come down to FREITAG, crafters of custom messenger bags and laptop cases. Just leave your deposit of €150 and a passport. If you’ve never ridden one before, a fixie might take a little getting used to – the wheels are fixed to the pedals, so you never stop moving your feet – but what they always say still applies, and once you learn, you won’t forget. Now fly, young rider. Just return it undamaged by closing time and you get everything back, no questions asked, no sales pitched, and most of all, no gears changed. Conor O’Rourke Keep on track Berlin has kilometres of beautiful bike-only paths and BBBike is there to help you locate them. Plug in your start- and endpoints, and let the computer do the work for you. Along with the directions, the site also thoughtfully displays the elevation of the route, as well as the current weather. Play with the settings to avoid poorly lighted streets and cobblestones. Conor O’Rourke Tandemania Adorable or abominable? The eternal dichotomy when it comes to the multi-rider tandem, driven occasionally through Berlin’s streets by rosy-cheeked couples en route to the farmer’s market. To check it out for yourself, turn to FAHRRADSTATION: they have four tandems, and one can be yours for €30/day, €75/3 days, €120/week – or even €360 for an entire month. At that price, maybe you can sleep on it. At least you won’t be alone. Karen Sophie Egebo Beer + bike Sixteen people. Four wheels. One keg. Add some Schlager blaring from the speakers mounted under the wooden roof. Here comes the BIERBIKE! Tourists stop and aim digital cameras at the hulking monstrosity while Berliners look up at the vehicle making a face like they just smelled piss. If you’re among the jovial company on the Bierbike, you don’t take notice, busy as you are with draining the 10-, 20- or 30-litre barrel of Veltins attached to the front. Guide Ulli explains that the Bierbike is most typically used to transport groups of tourists between different destinations in what is essentially a more German and more physical (but no less tacky) version of a Hummer stretch limo. Tasteless, the Bierbike? Maybe, but if you’re nostalgic for college-bash fun or you’re after a ‘serious’ company team-building exercise, it is satisfaction guaranteed. Conor O’Rourke Call a bike, rent a panzer Deutsche Bahn’s CALL A BIKE rental scheme has returned to Berlin – albeit with new limitations. Previously you could pick up a DB bike anywhere, call a hotline, and off you were. All you had to do was leave it somewhere within the S-Bahn ring when you were done. Obviously that was too costly, because now you have to pick up and return your vehicle at one of 50 terminals in Mitte, to be expanded to 80 across Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg over the summer. From Checkpoint Charlie to Bernauer Straße, from Potsdamer Platz to Jannowitzbrücke, 1650 bikes were in service at the time of publication. We gave it a go, clicking our way through the poorly translated English instructions on the touch screen of the DB pillar on Arkonaplatz (there were no bikes left on Kastanienallee). The registration process is long and tedious: credit card, name, address, email, phone number. Not really understanding the Byzantine table of discounts for BahnCard holders and students, we somehow found out we could rent up to two bikes per account and trusted the machine enough to insert our credit card. A few sturdy taps on the LED screen later, our bikes were finally unlocked… and off we went! These DB machines have the quality of smooth-riding tanks, with fat tram track-friendly tires and perfect suspension even on Berlin cobblestones. Finding another station to drop them isn’t that difficult (provided you memorized the DB map, printed it out or are just lucky!). Price-wise, the default setup is 8 cents per minute, perfect for the single-ride cyclist. More intensive users can opt for daily or weekly flat rates, €15 and €60 respectively (save yourself the trouble of talking to a human being and from the de rigueur deposit at most rental shops). Long-term DB fans can pay €36 per year, which will grant them the first 30 minutes for free (and the usual 8 cents/minute thereafter). No matter what scheme you go for, the main turnoff is the €12 sign-up fee, which is not that clear unless you give the website a preliminary and thorough read-though – something only Germans will do, first because that’s the kind of thing only Germans do, secondly because they speak, well, G-e-r-m-a-n. Although clearly aimed at visitors, the Call a Bike website has no English except for a PDF buried so deep, you’ll probably never find it. And that’s too bad, because unless you register online beforehand, you’ll never be granted the €7.50 credit! Considering the quality of the DB bikes and the freedom involved compared to the time-and-money trouble of owning one’s own bike these days (locks, repairs, theft), the DB scheme is not such a bad deal, especially for the commitment-adverse. Plus, once you get over the registration headache, it’s fun. But until they extend it to a more sizeable part of town, we won’t call it a good deal either. There are about 50 stations around Mitte with more to come in Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg. Rene Blixer The alternative scheme Around the same time as the return of Deutsche Bahn’s Call a Bike, NEXTBIKE was launching a similar operation at about 70 locations, mostly in Mitte and the west. At €1/hour and €8/day, it’s cheaper than DB for all but the shortest rides (but beware, every newly-begun hour must be paid for) and they have an English website. The downsides? No bonuses for being a good customer, no combo train/bike deals, and overall, less flexibility due to the hour system and the more dispersed net of pick-and-drop terminals. Stations in Mitte, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg. Conor O’Rourke