At the best of times, Berlin is a fun city to walk around in and enjoy the sights.
Those sights are partly the modernisation of the city, and the other part is the remnants of history.
Many Berliners who have lived here for most of their lives have a personal history that is reflected along the varied streets and the different neighbourhoods of Berlin.
If you’ve lived in Berlin for more than few years, then you have some history that might span across the neighbourhoods, into the bars and clubs, along walkways that stop at cafes and restaurants. City living is about being out and about.
Like most cities, Berlin is not what it once was – and maybe that’s okay, it’s a sign of the times.
One thing that most modern cities have to put up with is the constant battle between space for people, and the space being encroached on by vehicles.
Cars are always the problem. People buy them when they don’t really need them, they just fall prey to the advertising and the long held belief that a car has something to do with status, feel-good factors in their lives. Maybe the neighbours will think better of them if they own a big shiny Mercedes or BMW.
Walking in a city should be a right that is protected, not only to walk without being stopped and asked questions, but a right that also is covered by public safety laws.
In Berlin, that law does exist. But it seems that the law is constantly being challenged by new innovations that clash with each other on the streets.
These days in Berlin, cyclists are an aggressive lot. led by their militant leader who has demanded more and more space and safety measures for cyclists, yet without thought for those natural pavement dwellers who love to walk along the pedestrian way.
Right now, Berlin is in Lockdown, or it is in a loosening of the Lockdown period. Small shops are opening and hopefully feeling relieved to be back in business, people are taking a stroll around the corner for a haircut once again. Cycle shops have been allowed to stay open all of the time.
Many people really need a professional barber or hairdresser to get their mop back in shape. That’s something that is clearly obvious as you wander along the roads of Berlin.
Nobody Reads the News these Days
A short jaunt along Berlin’s main streets and you’ll get a good impression of how people are reacting to the semi-lockdown. Not many people read the news, so we have middle-aged to older people sticking to the social distancing, being careful as they pass other walkers.
Then we have younger people, always energetic, probably glad to be able to get out and do something to burn that energy – they still can’t visit a bar or a club, so the park seems like the best option for an entertaining meet-up with friends.
Groups walking along three abreast, using all the public space available to pedestrians, is common. A single person coming from the opposite direction, two cyclists dodging in and out of pavement furniture, and we have a potential accident, if not a transference of COVID19 to at least one poor soul.
It’s impossible to avoid close contact when every other person on the street is acting as if everything is okay now, as if it’s all over and we can go back to normality.
People want the natural order of things. It keeps them sane, and happy, it keeps them feeling safe.
Walking in Berlin is still a pleasure, it’s just the cyclists on the pavements and the lack of Polizei on foot to apply the law to stop them.
The beginning of last week saw several new laws introduced for pedestrians and cyclists. Safety laws designed to help bike riders have easier passage through traffic.
In a residential area, it is no longer tolerated when cars sweep around corners even when the have right of way. Riding a bicycle on the pathway is no longer tolerated, and fined with a measly 15 euros, it’ll cost the bike rider 100 euros to enjoy dodging in and out of blurry passersby as they make their way along the pedestrian footpath.
I get the impression that many cyclists believe that it’s okay to ride on the footpath in Berlin. It’s not, it’s totally illegal. But it was said to be tolerated as the road for vehicles became too crowded and chaotic with heavy traffic.
It’s no fun riding a bike on the inside lane when a 40 ton truck sidles up next to you, stays with you even as you try and fall back or speed up to lose his shadow.
The Strict and Logical Way of Germans
The interesting point is that German laws are not the same as British law, or American law. They are not open to interpretation. They must be written so that they can be understood and applied in practice, and if that practice veers from the written word, then the accused individual will be fined or jailed for breaking the law.
But alas, we live in changing times. Clearly the German lawmakers realise that with rapidly changing travel styles, renting cars instead of buying them, using hired bikes and motor scooters instead of owning, then those well intentioned laws no longer fit what’s happening in reality. Hence, a relaxation of the way a judge must look at the circumstances, and find a suitable law to apply to those circumstances.
Criminal Laws and Petty Offences
Traffic law comes under criminal law in Germany. A couple of years ago the German Media got its teeth into this problem and pointed out that drivers who had not been able to pay speeding fines, where being threatened with jail time.
It’s illegal to drive a vehicle along the footpath – full stop. But not quite, when it comes to the confusion of Berlin and the demands made by the Cyclists Initiative VEF who have successfully raised awareness among politicians of how safety for cyclists has been ignored over the years, we see that something must be done to make room for cyclists and the increasing traffic caused by a rising trend in bike as transport.
I agree that the thought of thousands of tons of steel being driven along the road at 50 kmh is no place for a lightly built vehicle designed for comparatively short distances, carrying a passenger who can be hit and injured, or worse, with one clip of another vehicle’s body.
During the Coronavirus / COVID 19 , Lockdown, many streets are quiet, to almost empty. It’s evident that local governments have taken this opportunity to do some road work by digging up long neglected roads, and redesigning them to accommodate cyclists with cyclepaths.
Foot traffic is still dodging back and forth as cyclists – who clearly don’t read the news about new laws – continue to own the pathway and expect the foot traffic to get out of the way, or want pedestrians to be extremely tolerant of their sins.
Unfortunately, amidst all this arguing and redefining of traffic and pedestrian laws – safety in public, and who has a right to use public space to walk on, sit on, cycle on, or drive on, the footfall of pedestrians is being wholeheartedly ignored, and with it their safety.