Transportation In Berlin
Ahhhhh. I scream
“Hold onto my waist. Not the steering bars.
Yells Peter from the front of the scooter as I stand behind him, clinging to his waist with one hand and the handlebars with the other.
“Only one of us can steer at a time.” He growls.
“Ahhh. I continue to scream as we swerve to the right of the road and then to the left and then proceed to drift in a zig-zag pattern down the middle of the road.
“Hands on my waist!”.
“No, I need to steer,” I yell. The steering is obviously becoming a marital issue, not a scooter issue. Both of us want to navigate. I have control issues. In all fairness to Peter, he is the person in front and therefore should be steering the scooter.
“You have to put your hands on my waist,” he yells again.
“But then I won’t have control of the scooter.”
“But I will,” he groans. Fearing that I would land face first on the road I slowly slip my hands from the steering bars to his waist and cling onto him. I continue to steer with my head. Leaning my head to the right to go right and left to go left. I hold on as Peter enjoys zig-zagging around cyclists and cars until I scream:
“I can’t do this I think I’m going to fall. I want to walk. I love walking.” I yell the sentence three times, increasing the volume every time for Peter to hear. I really don’t know if he’s going deaf or if it’s the traffic. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to hear me.
Finally, he stops, and I wobble off the scooter.
“I will meet you at the shop. I am walking. I love walking,” I repeat.
Unlike the US, Berliners are not completely dependent on the car. Public transportation is excellent and riding a bicycle is very common. Electric scooters are also popular but not to the degree of bicycles. In fact, the bike lanes are as busy as the car lanes. This makes crossing the road a challenging experience. I approach a road-crossing experience carefully. When the crossing light is red, I must remember to remain standing on the pedestrian walk. If I step out into the bike lane I will be run over instantly. Cyclists are relentless. All ages.
When we first got to Berlin, we’d chosen bicycles as our form of transportation.
“What type of handlebars do you want?” Peter asked as we walk amongst the rental bikes. How should I know? I had not ridden a bicycle for many years.
“No racing bikes. I want those big handlebars like in the movie ET when he flies in the air with the little kid.” I reply. Peter looks at me blankly. We have these cultural gap moments; this was obviously one. My movies and television shows were not a part of his upbringing. I point to an ET bike.
We rent the bikes and decide to take the bikes on a train to a huge park and cycle there before graduating to the roads. I lack experience taking a bicycle on public transportation and find the bike heavy and awkward. At every stop I am in someone’s way.
We exit at the Wald See. A huge lake surrounded by a thick forest area with bike and jogging paths throughout. We begin to cycle. I am cautious and slow. We cycle for over an hour and there are enough cyclists around for me to learn a few rules. Cycling is taken seriously in Berlin; it does not appear to be a leisure activity, instead, It is a way to get to a destination. The cyclists here do not call out when they pass. I can only assume the reason is that they trust the other cyclists not to do anything stupid. I wish that was not the case, I need to know if someone is passing me. If they do not call out, I turn my head to see who’s passing me, I then begin to wobble, and the wobble can graduate into swearing to the right or left. Fortunately, as the morning passes, I become more comfortable with cycling and the muscle memory kicks in.
From the park, we decide to cycle back to our dwellings. It is now late afternoon and many, many more cyclists are on the roads. We cycle to a main road and first stop to discuss the route and then prepare to embark on the bicycles. I require a few trotting steps before I leap onto the bike. Like a car joining a freeway in first gear then gaining momentum and moving into second gear. I take a few trots next to the bike and finally leap on and enter the bike lane. The speed is intense. Cyclists are passing me. I bend forward, focus, and peddle as fast as I can to keep up with the pace or the invisible cycling speed limit. There is no opportunity to stop. Cyclists ahead of me, cyclists behind me. I am slow and I can feel the cyclists behind me wanting to pass. If I check behind me to confirm that fact, I will instantly lose my balance and create a massive crash. My heart is racing. When I finally reach a traffic light that is red. I’m sweating. The other cyclists push to stand in front of me. A man in a suit throws me a disapproving glare. I want to walk.
The light turns green. Peter leaps on his bicycle and races ahead. I need to do my little trot before leaping on. I am obviously annoying other cyclists as they try to pass me. But I am determined to not be defeated. At the next red light, I hold my position near the front. The light turns green, and I trot, leap on, and peddle as fast as I can. Sweat drips into my eyes. At the next light, unable to see because of all the sweat, I wipe my eyes, take a deep breath and decide that I need to find inner calm and change my style.
I begin again. Cyclist after cyclist pass, but this time I maintain a slow pace, occasionally managing to smile and look at the scenery without falling off. Finally, we arrive at our dwellings.
I look at Peter and comment: “I love walking.”
I return to walking as my form of transportation. More aware than before of the relentless speed the cyclists are traveling with no intention of ever slowing down for cyclists or pedestrians. I never dreamt of crossing a bike lane without executing the same behavior as crossing a street. Stop, look left and right and again quickly before crossing to watch out for the sneaky ones who have whizzed across the pedestrian walkway to join the bike lane. The art of eyes out of the back of the head must be practiced.
I have lost count of the number of times I was nearly run over by a cyclist in Berlin. Perhaps, it is time to reconsider the scooter. A solo scooter.