The shortening days and rapidly worsening weather mark the end of the fantastic Berlin summer. 35 degree days (and ridiculous humidity) have been fun but I’ve always been more of a cold-weather-person anyway. One major disadvantage of Berlin’s frigid winter (apart from frostbite and skyrocketing alcohol consumption), is that you have less opportunity for 2 wheeled transport. For the roving English teacher, a bike can be very useful. If you are really fit/sufficiently tight with your cash and are lucky enough to have all of your classes in the city centre, you might even be able to avoid buying a monthly U-bahn ticket.
Usefulness for teaching
As mentioned above, where your classes are will have a major impact on how much use you will get out of your Fahrrad. Berlin is big. Really, really big. If your Thursday includes classes near Schönefeld airport, followed by a trip to Mitte and then to Schöneberg (that’s a long way), even Bradley Wiggins/Laura Trott would cop out and take the S-Bahn. A monthly public transport ticket will set you back €78, a serviceable bike maybe double that (see below).
For anyone used to cycling in the UK, Berlin’s respect-addled motorists will be something of a shock. They give way to you, they don’t cut in front of you, they actually seem to like you. Compare this live-and-let-live attitude towards that of the UK, where some car drivers seem to see running over a cyclist as akin to hitting the treble-twenty in a game of darts; and then use the ‘bloody cyclists don’t pay road tax’ argument to impress their mates on Twitter.
Where do I cycle?
Berlin has over 620 kilometres of bike paths which vary immensely in smoothness and width. In the central districts, your cycle lane will generally be a painted area of the pavement which means you’ll be riding over cobblestones or paving slabs. You may also find tarmac routes as well as a painted area at the side of the road. Steaming the wrong way down a cycle path appears to be widely accepted, but give way to traffic coming in the right direction and whilst helmets are becoming more popular, bike riding in Berlin is still a primarily bareheaded affair.
Any major city has bike theft. Berlin certainly sees its fair share. According to the Bundeskriminalamt, 316,000 bikes were stolen in Germany in 2013, of which roughly 20,000 were in Berlin. The most risky areas for your bike are Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg as reported by the brilliantly named Berlin Atlas of Crime.
Anyone with a passing interest in the mindset of the criminal class will want to read ‘confessions of an expat bike thief’ if, that is, you can get past the self-exonerated tone of the article. Bike thieves, apparently, are ‘victims of circumstance’, it’s your fault if your bike is stolen as you didn’t lock it properly and the thief merely held the bolt cutters. With this in mind, the usual advice abounds – get a decent lock, be careful where you leave your bike and don’t leave it unlocked whilst you pop into a späti for a hard-earned beer on a Friday afternoon.
I want a bike, where do I get one?
Berlin isn’t the cheapest city to pick up a second hand pair of wheels. The price will vary enormously depending on your source. One of your best bicycle related assets are your students. As mentioned previously, I got my bike from a student who had it lying around in his garage and so it would definitely be worth asking around. Failing that, second hand shops abound but beware the high prices for sub-par merchandise. Here you can easily spend €150 and get very little for your money. A great deal of bike selling takes place at the city’s many flea markets, although I would say that these are best avoided based on extensive anecdotal evidence. Essentially you buy a bike which lasts long enough for you to get home before it falls to pieces. A great deal of stolen bikes also go through this route. The most popular way to buy and sell bikes privately is ebay where you can find a wide range at cheaper prices than in the second hand shop.