How a bicycle transforms a city

I have spent one bikeless week in berlin and then in the last few days I’ve become all bicycled up.  I am glad I got to spend a week without, in order to see the difference in the feel, the pace and the stimulation of the city.  I suddenly got to play with this city that I’d been taking so seriously.

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On a bicycle I can go from being completely immersed in my surroundings to feeling like I don’t care where I am because I am just having fun in my own little world of movement, rhythm and resistance.  I think this is important, particularly when traveling – when your mind is racing with new stuff to take in and a sense of wanting to make the most of where you are.   You can end up overloading yourself with ideals about where you are and how you should be appreciating it – kind of like when you go to a museum and you feel obliged to spend time to find the beauty and significance of everything you pass.  It can be draining.  I love to be enjoying my ride and then suddenly catch a glimpse of something that takes my breath away.  Luckily on a bicycle you can pull over easily and then spend the time to be awestruck or you can carry on embracing the fleeting moment of beauty you witnessed.

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The city has also opened up to me in other ways.  I feel more like a local for one, because I get the opportunity to ride with friends that are living here.  I get to see the way they get around their city and follow, slowly working out the lay of the land.  When I go exploring for myself, it isn’t just names (and long german names at that) that I can use for orientation.  Suddenly I have concepts of distance and landmarks and the ambience of various roads that make me recall where I am.  I can still get a little lost but on a bicycle I call it exploring.  I also appreciate walking more, with my little bicycle beside me I can wonder along at walking pace but I can then get going whenever my attention deficit ways kick in and I want to get moving.  I also feel more relaxed with observing people and occasionally taking photos for my film.  Maybe this is because I feel more apart of the scene I am filming or maybe because I can make a quick escape from the scene.

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I don’t think as much about each trip I’m going to take – now I have bought a bicycle it costs nothing.   I don’t have to plan my day around where I’m going to use my 2.60 euro tickets.  I just go here and there and randomly come across shops I need to go to or places I’ve wanted to see.  I think it would have been much easier to buy a bicycle if I’d had a bicycle for example :P.

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I am still getting used to cycling in Berlin.  It is important to work out the topology of trust on the road.  I have come from a city where I could barely trust anyone on the road and needed to make eye contact wherever possible.  I also couldn’t trust the street surface not to suddenly produce a massive hole or cracks for me to fall into.  Now, I have to trust more in order to ride like a local.  In Berlin bicycle paths switch from on street lanes to designated parts of the sidewalk which may be marked by a different paving pattern or by a line.  I have to trust people not to cross that line, cars not to abuse the bicycle lane, other cyclists to keep a steady path and the pavement to stay smooth even when transitioning from path to road.  I feel slow compared to the average cyclist here and I am wondering whether it’s because I’m still not in full swing of the trust on the roads here or it may be because I’m just not that fit after too much good food in Turkey.

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Well I better go and enjoy another bicycled up day.  See you.

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