I loved watching people ride their bikes in Berlin. I used to live in Seattle in the Pacific Northwest region of United States, which is considered one of the most bike-friendly places in all of North America. However, there are some pretty stark differences between the bikers of Berlin and Seattle.
Berlin is a flat bike friendly city. Seattle has a lot of hills, so sometimes it can be quite a climb. In Berlin you get to see the full range of fashion trends on bikers, everthing from business formals to hipster chic. In Seattle, bikers wear spandex. Bikers in Berlin are pretty uninhibited and wear no special protective gear. Bikers in Seattle wear helmets, occasionaly you see a rider wearing knee pads too. Bikers in Berlin ride as if they are gently rowing across a stream, in slow rhythmic movements. In Seattle, bikers zoom through traffic, occasionally jumping red lights and shouting or glaring at car drivers for driving too close to them.
The differences between the bike riders of Berlin and Seattle serves as a good metaphor for life in a city in continental Europe versus a city in America. If I had visited Berlin in my twenties, I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much. Maybe it was because I was blinded by raw ambition and America was an appropriate place to live through it. Or maybe it was that I had yet to encounter the full range of experiences that life has in store for us. Unbridled ambition gets tempered with occasional doses of disillusion, rejection, despair and loss. You begin to question if that is the only way to live, or whether there are places out there where people make different tradeoffs. I never rode a bike even once in America. I did not get time to bike in Berlin, but in Amsterdam I spent six hours on a bike and had a great time. I am going to take that as a sign.
If the gods of immigration are kind to me, I will move to Berlin in a few months. I will buy a bike, and I will learn to sail through the streets like a Berliner. Then I will figure out what to do in the time I am not working. I want to do so many things. I want to visit the unusual cafes featured on the CafeKulturBerlin blog and practise German with the baristas. I want to attend DIY workshops at Etsy Berlin. I want to hunt for bargains at the flea markets of Mauerpark and Treptower. I want to watch interesting movies at Zielona Gora and KuBIZ. I want to skateboard at Cassiopeia, an underground skatepark which contains a bomb shelter in the middle. I want to learn to produce techno music, and moonlight as a DJ at a party. I want to hunt for cheap vegetarian “ethnic” food at the Turkish and Vietnamese outlets in Kreuzberg. I want to rent a Mini Cooper and cruise the autobahns. Once I get enough of Berlin, I want to go visit the other great European cities. For now though, I am just gonna sit and pray.