Monday, August 10, 2009

Ich bin ein Fahrradder

[Disclaimer: Due to an unforeseeable sports injury involving the blogging muscle, I have not updated in, to quote one reader, "a bazillion forevers." Posts previously conceived and/or composed, including this one, are being processed as quickly as possible and will be released all at once. Please note that the time and date of posting bear little if any relation to those of the events recounted.]

Berlin's an incredibly bicycle-friendly city. There's an intense commitment to making city streets safe and welcoming to bicyclists---local government has set a goal that 15% of traffic should be of the two-wheeled aerobically-powered sort, and they measure the amount of separate bicycle paths and lanes in the hundreds of kilometers, and motorists universally yield a healthy swath of shoulder to cyclists where there's no separate lane.

Actually, perhaps it's an equally accurate way of phrasing that to say it's a frustrating place not to have a bike. While still more like the New York-Chicago-Boston-S.F. model of American city than the L.A.-Phoenix-Dallas-Miami variant, it is a bit spread out, and distances on maps are deceptively long for the foot traveler, and while the train system is comprehensive and quite speedy, the nearest stop is not nearly guaranteed to be convenient (in my case, it'd be about 15 minutes walk to the nearest station, which serves only the single-least-useful line in the city; to translate to New York Standardized distances, it'd be like living on the LES but with all lines other than the L permanently out of service).

That general lament, plus the specific stuff---it takes me forever to make it to the Karstadt every time I discover one more thing that I need to get (this time it was a measuring cup, and there's something about little lined plastic vessels that feel emptier, less significant than other housewares), and I had to take a rain-check on a party in north Friedrichshain---added up. So this past week I gave in to the inevitable and got myself a Fahrrad---a second-hand model from the street dealers that line up twice-weekly on the Kottbusser bridge. "Nothing fancy" would be undue flattery for this thing: a beaten-down and squeaky one-speed with a barely- if at-all-functioning light. I took it for the color (1970s glittery orange) and the price (35 euros, or about $49).

But from such humble origins are great love affairs oft kindled, and this might be one of those. I'd never owned a bicycle in a city before---hadn't owned one at all since the Huffy I rode over dirt hills in grade school, or perhaps as late as sixth grade---having been a committed strap-hanger before, and frankly always having viewed bicyclists as a species of them from my window seat on the M15, a sort of reckless mobile hazard in spandex and wraparound shades, not really allies in our common war against the automotorists but freelance mercenaries as likely to run down a pedestrian as any sleep-deprived cabbie. (Two lawyers at my old firm were collided into by cyclists, in each case requiring surgery. No one ever got hit by a car as far as I know.) But things look different when you're sitting on the rubber seat---and it should be noted that Berlin's commitment to making bicycling easy has had the happy side-effect of making it safe, too, for cyclists but also pedestrians, since bikers aren't being squeezed between crowds and motor traffic.

Anyway, so far nothing to report but unadulterated pleasure: Trips to pick up groceries are something approaching bona fide joy, and nocturnal pushes toward the pub down the street aren't... well, they're prohibited in the letter of the law, but I don't know that anyone necessarily thinks that's really what the rule is. One thing: I'm the nervous son of a manic doctor who spent a lot of late nights piecing together (or failing to, which is probably more significant) the victims of car crashes who failed to buckle their seat belts, designate a driver, or protect their heads, and I really need to get a helmet soon. No one here wears them, of course, which ought to make me even more obviously spotted as an Ausländer. (As if that were really that hard to do before...)

... reading: Gaddis' The Recognitions (still... this thing is huge, and I picked it up after getting through Infinite Jest, so it's not just comparison's sake)

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