6 Days Berlin

An appropriate time to start my blog. I have just finished 5 days of  cycling the Berliner Mauerweg (the route of the Berlin Wall 1961-1989) in 5 sections of around 30km each. I followed this with my first visit to the Velodrome Berlin in Friedrichshain and enjoyed the famous 6  Tage Berlin cycling event. I was glad to be in the warm watching other people pedalling hard after my freezing bike rides.

All my tours are recorded and shared on komoot.com with photos and tips. They are accessible to most cyclists, being more about enjoying the ride and route rather than running down the clock. It is one of the things that attracted me so much about Berlin, its proximity to the countryside and large amounts of green space and open air in which to cycle.

A Tale of Two Cities

As if by some fate, as I started to write this piece, about the Yin Yang city that is Berlin I was listening to a broadcast playing ‘Nightclubbing’ by Iggy Pop. A song written and recorded in West Berlin at the Meisel ‘Hansaton Studios’ behind the Berliner Mauer of the 1970s between Potsdamer Platz and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Park.

It is true that to an extent, ‘Wild West Berlin’ was a magnet for artists, outsiders and people looking for work in an underpopulated exclave section of the former Prussian and German capital. It has another side though, its people. Tough, short,sharp and at first contact, unfriendly. The tale of two cities began a long time ago. When the area was a swamp flatland glacial plain and the settlements of Berlin to the north and Colln to the south traded across the river Spree somewhere around what is now Spittelmarkt or Fischerinsel.

The two cities came later but two settlements came together and became the unlikely hub of the Prussian Empire. Other German cities such as Trier in the West had Roman Heritage. Konstanz in the south has reed roundhouses of early origin but Berlin was a latecomer and is still evolving today. Surrounded by the sparsely populated rural state of Brandenburg, the Capital of Germany still resembles how it was in 1920, an aglommeration of smaller towns,villages and districts amongst rivers, woodland, canals and sand.

This Village/City characteristic is what makes it. Things are slower. If you respond to a harsh comment eloquently, and have time, it is often followed by a long conversation. In the 100 years since the Weimar Republic made Berlin the worlds third Metropolis, a lot of things have happened and that leaves little time for frippery. My landladys’ father built the block I live in in 1904. Two wars and then a wall. She moved West and then had the property returned from DDR state ownership in the 1990s. She is still visiting as some of her grandchildren live here. That is the village feel that is repeated all over the city in each individual ‘kiez’ or neighbourhood.

The two cities are not really east and west or old and new, they are ‘How its is perceived’ and ‘How it is’. Weekend party crowds lining up in X-Hain, MTB riders in Grunewald, swimmers in Muggelsee or Ping Pong players in Helmholzplatz. Freedom is valued, space is easy to find and the transit system is extensive (until the West ditched the tram in the 1960’s to make way for Das Auto!) Take a tram from Alexanderplatz to the end of the line and through the ‘Plattenbau’ socialist housing blocks you will see a lot of green space and a lot of evidence of the old ‘dorfs’ village centres. Stone chruches, paddocks, cobbled field roads and windmills. Go west and you can ride the S-Bahn uninturruped through pine forest for 20 minutes and arrive at one of Europes largest inland freshwater beaches.

The otherside, the nightside, made notorious in the 1920s hedonistic years of the Weimar, the end of hundreds of years of Sovereign rule, UFA film studios, Potsdamer Platz, Marlene Dietrich, swing and tolerance, has remained. Despite extreme political dictatorships, division and isolation, Berlin has taken it all on the chin.

It’s tough, it’s not rich, it’s in the countryside full of districts like Schmargendorf, Hellersdorf, Wilmersdorf and Henigsdorf. It’s North Eastern Germany,Prussia. A softer ‘g’ as in ‘alles jut’. It’s the City of Berlin, but also the city of villages.


Landlocked, Locked down and Lakeside.

A book arrived from England, a gift that reflected my activities here during these strange times. It is something of a tribute to the freedom of nature, water and the human connection to our origins. The book, Waterlog, is a rambling journey around the Islands, coasts and waters of Britain , wild swimming and cycling , and it struck a chord with me.

One of the reasons that I had no second thoughts about moving to Berlin-Brandenburg is that my first approach to the area was by air and of lakes, rivers and heath woodland below me. Anyone arriving at night and then travelling around on terra firma would not really see the sheer amount of nature here. Sweet water, verdant paths and space…

Since my partner purchased a small DDR datcha, or garden house/bungalow in January, the race to evacuate the big cities all across Europe has been on the increase. The timing and location could not have been better. The first lockdown effectively ended my City bike touring jobs but the isolation of the bungalow and the lake it is close to provided great opportunities for healthy recreation without breaking any rules on distance. Although not the greatest summer of recent years, the lack of air and road traffic had a profound effect on the wildlife across the world and this was evident from the bungalow in Brandenburg. No con-trails in the sky, more birds, total utter silence apart from birdsong and a more back to basics way of life, partially caused by the closure of nearly all retail outlets.

The book, by Roger Deakin was published over 20 years ago but it remains as timeless as water and swimming. As the second wave of measures and restrictions begins across Europe, the physical and mental benefits of freshwater swimming and also cycling as forms of immersion in nature have never been more important to well being. I would highly recommend reading this book if you have ever felt that you were missing out what comes naturally as a child growing up, exploring…

The Return

1 hour from Berlin. Wustrau-Radensleben Bahnhof. Ideal start point for a round trip of Ruppiner See.

Its been a while but I have been busy. Today seemed like an appropriate day to make a fresh series of entries to the blog as it is exactly two years since I woke up in our holiday apartment after moving to Berlin from the UK. We had to rent a FeWo whilst we were looking for a permanent flat but it was 102 steps to the top floor so we needed an alternative!

One of the first things I did was get on my bike and cycle the city, something I have been doing ever since. A lot has changed in that time not only in world terms but for me personally. After a year I had my Felt bicycle stolen from outside the Berliner Mauer Visitor Centre whilst I was doing a guided walking tour and this year I have no cycle tours at all but am riding around Ruppiner See in Brandenburg whilst staying in and renovating a DDR bungalow and garden.

It has kept me sane, being in touch with nature, maintaining social distance (easy in the countryside) and waiting for the summer to arrive. The cycling out here in the Mark can sometimes be affected by strong crosswinds as it is very flat fenland but the isolation is rewarding and there are a lot of forests to offer protection from the elements should you require.

I am still looking forward to taking tourists around Berlin by bike again as I love it and more people are discovering the multi-beneficial aspects of two wheels. It would have been the ideal time for large groups of cyclists to take tours with less traffic and less pollution and I hope that people will be encouraged by the recent momentum developing around urban cycling for everyone.

I have really got used to the benefits of the cycle compartment on the Regio trains. Eastern Germany is the best served rail network in the country. Many regular users have been commenting on social media that they have found more space as people eschew the public transport. I have seen more space on the S Bahn cycle carriage too whilst travelling about to do my social distance tours. All recorded on http://www.komoot.com as Pablos.

Freiheit ? Oder Spargel ?

Trotz der Maßnahmen zur Eindämmung des Virus in allen Teilen der Welt scheint die deutsche Besessenheit von weißem Spargel keine Grenzen zu kennen. Während die überwiegende Mehrheit der Bürger und Organisationen den Rat und die Durchsetzung der Kontrollmaßnahmen beherzigt, fordern Brandenburg und andere große Spargelanbaugebiete, dass alles ignoriert wird, damit sie ihre wertvolle Ernte aus dem Boden holen können.

Der Grund dafür ist, dass die Bauern, die für diese erzwungene Delikatesse ein kleines Vermögen verlangen, den Pflückern keinen existenzsichernden Lohn zahlen wollen. Deshalb müssen sie zur Feldarbeit Arbeiter aus ärmeren EU- und Nicht-EU-Staaten heranziehen, die bereit sind, die rückwärts brechende, schlecht bezahlte Arbeit zu übernehmen. Die jüngsten Grenzkontrollen haben diese Freizügigkeit gebremst und die Ernte bedroht. Der mächtigen deutschen Lobby, die die Landwirtschaft vertritt, ist es jedoch gelungen, die Idee zu schaffen, dass es eine nationale Katastrophe wäre, wenn die Bevölkerung dieses Ostern nicht “Spargel” haben kann, und sie drängte die Regierungen, die Grenzen und Bewegungskontrollen zu “lockern”, damit die Wanderarbeiter in die Gebiete kommen können, in denen sich die einheimische Bevölkerung selbst nicht frei bewegen kann.

Was ich damit sagen will, ist, dass es hier eine Regel für die einen und eine andere Regel für die anderen zu geben scheint. Die nationale Rede, die Bundeskanzlerin Merkel vor einigen Wochen gehalten hat, war eine Rede des “Miteinanders und der Solidarität”. Die Botschaft, die von dieser Bevorzugung chloryphyllfreier Lebensmittel ausgeht, ist eine Botschaft des “Protektionismus”. Während Millionen von Menschen aufgrund der wirtschaftlichen Auswirkungen Arbeitsplätze haben und verlieren werden, wird eine Handvoll Grundbesitzer von einer garantierten Ernte und einem garantierten Einkommen profitieren. Landwirtschaft ist risikoreich, und es gibt sowohl Belohnungen als auch Strafen für die Arbeit mit der Natur, aber das bedeutet nicht, dass ein Luxusprodukt-Landwirt auf Kosten der Rechte anderer Bürger gerettet werden sollte.

Während dies geschah, gab es eine weitere separatistische Reaktion in der Ost-Prignitz Ruppin (OPR), einem Landkreis im nordwestlichen Brandenburg. Der Ministerpräsident des Landes hatte die Notfallrichtlinien für die landesweite Bewegungs- und Kontaktkontrolle festgelegt und in den Nachrichten und in den Rathäusern ausgehängt. Ein örtlicher Vertreter im OPR beschloss jedoch, zusätzlich eigene “Regeln” vorzuschlagen, die auf Zweitwohnungseigentümer in der Region, insbesondere Berliner, abzielten. Er schlug vor, sie bis zum Ende der Krise daran zu hindern, in ihr Feriendomizil oder die “FeWo” zu gehen, da er verhindern wolle, dass “Menschen mit Zweitwohnungen in die Region kommen und die örtliche Bevölkerung anstecken und Straßen auf die örtlichen Krankenhäuser und Klinikbetten legen”.

Eine Knie-Ruck-Reaktion, ja, aber eine höchst unverantwortliche, da sie die Reaktion “Individuelle Grenzen innerhalb der Grenzen” hervorruft und nicht “Solidarität und Zusammengehörigkeit”, wie sie vom Kanzler gefördert und vom Staatsminister gebilligt wird. Auf den Prüfstand kommt dieses Urteil jedoch, wie zwei Hausbesitzer aus Berlin feststellten. Sie legten in Potsdam schnell Berufung ein, und das Gericht entschied zu ihren Gunsten und erklärte, es gebe keine Beweise dafür, dass die Ankunft von Zweitwohnungseigentümern die Bürger vor Ort gefährden oder ihre klinische Bettenkapazität bedrohen würde. Ein höheres Gerichtsurteil sollte am Dienstag, den 7. April, gefällt werden.

In direktem Widerstand gegen das Einreiseverbot unternahm der Ratsvertreter wenig, um seine Argumentation zu untermauern, als er erklärte, dass trotz der Tatsache, dass Menschen von “außen” nicht einreisen dürfen, “Bewohner” des OPR frei nach Berlin “hinaus” und zurück “zur Arbeit” reisen können. Wieder eine Regel für die einen und eine Regel für die anderen. Es sind Zeiten wie diese Krise, in denen die Menschen ihr wahres Gesicht zeigen und einige Politiker nicht anders können, als zur falschen Zeit das Falsche zu sagen, da es eine “Gelegenheit” zu geben schien. Meistens sind es die Menschen, die mit gutem Beispiel vorangehen, wenn sie von ihren politischen Führern mit Respekt behandelt werden. Nicht andersherum.

Für manche Menschen gehört es mehr zum Frühling/Ostern, in ihrem Sommerhaus/Kleingarten/Stiefelhaus/Bungalow eine ruhige Zeit zu verbringen (sich selbst zu isolieren), als ein hochwertiges Nahrungsmittel wie weißen Spargel zu essen. Wenn dies vernünftig und unter Beachtung der Distanzierungs- und Hygienemaßnahmen geschieht, erweist es sich eher als nützlich als schädlich. Es gibt einen sehr schmalen Grat zwischen wirksamen, vernünftigen, präventiven Kontrollmaßnahmen und der Verweigerung bürgerlicher Freiheiten. Bis jetzt leistet Deutschland eine großartige Arbeit, sowohl für die Bürger als auch für die Behörden. Lassen Sie alle mithelfen, die Kurve zu verflachen, aber sobald sie politisch wird, wird sie zu einer anderen Bestie.
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Freedom? Or Asparagus?

Despite the virus containment measures in all parts of the world, it seems that the German obsession with white asparagus knows no bounds. Whilst the vast majority of citizens and organisations are heeding the advice and enforcement of control measures, Brandenburg and other major asparagus growing regions are demanding that it is all ignored so that they can get their precious crop out of the ground.

The reason is that the farmers, who charge a small fortune for this forced delicacy, do not want to pay a living wage to the pickers. Therefore, they have to bring in workers from poorer EU and Non-EU states to work the fields who are prepared to take the back breaking, poorly paid work. The recent border control has put the brakes on this freedom of movement and threatened the harvest. However, the powerful German lobby representing the Landwirtschaft has managed to create the idea that it would be a national disaster if the population cannot have ‘spargel’ this Easter, and urged the governments to ‘relax’ the borders and movement controls to allow the itinerant workers to come into the areas where the local population cannot move around freely themselves.

The point I am making is that there seems to be one rule for some and another rule for others here. The national address made by Chancellor Merkel a few weeks ago was one of ‘togetherness and solidarity’. The message being broadcast by this favouritism towards chloryphyll-free foodstuff is one of ‘protectionism’. Whilst millions of people have and will lose jobs due to the economic impact, a handfull of landowners will benefit from having a guaranteed harvest and guaranteed income. Farming is risky and there are rewards as well as penalties for working with nature but this does not mean that a luxury product farmer should be bailed out at the expense of other citizens rights.

Whilst this was unfolding, another separatist reaction was taking place in Ost-Prignitz Ruppin (OPR), a county in North West Brandenburg State. The state Prime Misister had set out the emergency guidelines for the control of movement and contact across the state and posted it out on news and in Town Halls. A local representative in OPR, however, decided to suggest his own ‘rules’ in addition, targeting second home owners in the region, especially Berliners. He suggested that they be prevented from going to their holiday residence or ‘FeWo’ until the crisis is over as he wanted to prevent ‘people with second homes coming to the region and infecting the local population and putting strees on local hospitals and clinical beds.’

A knee jerk reaction, yes, but a highly irresponsible one as it creates the ‘individual borders within borders’ reaction, not ‘solidarity and togetherness’ as promoted by the Chancellor and endorsed by the State Minister. Under scrutiny however, this ruling falls down, as two homeowners from Berlin discovered. They launched a rapid appeal in Potsdam and the court ruled in their favour, stating that there was no evidence that the arrival of second homewoners would endanger local citizens or threaten their clinical bed capacity. A higher court decision is due to be ruled on Tuesday 7th April.

In direct opposition to the ban on incomers, the Council Representative did little to strengthen his argument when he stated that despite people from ‘outside’ not being allowed in, ‘residents’ from OPR are free to travel ‘out’ to Berlin and back ‘for work’. Again, one rule for one and one rule for another. It is times like this crisis when people show their true colours and some politicians cannot help themselves from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time as there seemed to be an ‘opportunity’. Most of the time, it is the people who lead by example if they are treated with respect by their political leaders. Not the other way round.

For some people, going to spend some quiet time (self isolate) at their sommerhaus/kleingarten/bootshaus/bungalow is more a part of spring/Easter than eating a premium food product such as white asparagus. If done sensibly whilst observing the distancing and hygeine measures, will prove more beneficial than harmful. There is a very fine line between effective, sensible, preventative control measures and denial of civil liberties. So far , Germany is doing a great job, both citizens and authority. Lets all help to flattenthecurve but the minute it becomes political, it becomes a different beast.

Alright Blossom?

Early Magnolia

Apart from yesterdays’ blast of winter snow showers, I have been enjoying the bright clear spring air during my hour or so of solo, distanced, cycling. The blossoms are all pushing out and seem earlier than last year, probably as a result of a mild winter.

I know that some of the early cherries on the Mauerweg really came into force last weekend, even though I remember it being mid April last year, it doesn’t matter as much because they are ornamental rather than crops and won’t ruin the fruit.

Schwedter Str.

With the lockdown continuing until the end of April, the display will be for the exclusive enjoyment of Berliners. Even more so from late April- Early May when the other cherries come out at Bornholmer and Mariendorf. Last year, I was doing Berliner Mauer guided cycle tours and would use the 2 week window to take groups around the Bornholmer kleingarten kolonie and along the blossom lined Mauerweg.

Keep getting out whilst you can and enjoy this wonderful time of year. If you can’t be in big groups, being at one with nature for an hour a day will keep your mind healthy.

Daily Dose

Yes, you can get a daily dose of Vitamin D and some really clean fresh air in Berlin. The senate has not stopped solo or duo cycling and it is all the better for it. Less pollution, more birdsong and the feeling that whilst not breaching any guidelines or rules, you can stay sane and healthy.

Wearing a hat, gloves, sunglasses and a snood, you are as well protected as medical staff and the liberation is fantastic whilst not compromising the safety of others. Whilst we are all trying to #flattenthecurve, others are using their time to deliver for the more needy amongst us and combine it with some outdoor pedalling.

The reality is a live feed to all that the car must give way to the pedestrain, cyclist and public transportation. The number of cars ‘stored’ on streets is actually inhibiting safe space for residents of cities to get their daily dose of fresh air and keep a distance from others. Two thirds of Berlin residents do not have a car but two thirds of the streets on which they live are given over to free ‘car storage’ and ‘car paths’. I admire the Dutch approach which blurs the lines between road/footpath/cycle lane in a way that makes the car owner/driver feel that they are encroaching on space meant for others.

There is no such thing as ‘Cycling Season’ it is an all year round activity.’Bad’ weather just needs appropriate clothing. Stay healthy….

Tägliche Dosis

Ja, in Berlin bekommt man täglich eine Dosis Vitamin D und wirklich saubere, frische Luft. Der Senat hat nicht aufgehört, allein oder im Duo zu fahren, und das ist umso besser für ihn. Weniger Umweltverschmutzung, mehr Vogelgezwitscher und das Gefühl, dass man, ohne gegen Richtlinien oder Regeln zu verstoßen, gesund und gesund bleiben kann.

Mit Hut, Handschuhen, Sonnenbrille und Schnauze sind Sie so gut geschützt wie medizinisches Personal, und die Befreiung ist fantastisch, ohne die Sicherheit anderer zu gefährden. Während wir alle versuchen, die Kurve zu glätten, nutzen andere ihre Zeit, um für die Bedürftigeren unter uns zu entbinden, und kombinieren dies mit einem gewissen Maß an Treten im Freien.

Die Realität ist eine Live-Übertragung all dessen, was das Auto dem Sockel, dem Radfahrer und den öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln weichen muss. Die Anzahl der Autos, die auf den Straßen “gelagert” werden, behindert in der Tat den sicheren Raum, in dem die Stadtbewohner ihre tägliche Dosis an frischer Luft erhalten und Abstand zu anderen halten können. Zwei Drittel der Berliner Einwohner haben kein Auto, aber zwei Drittel der Straßen, auf denen sie leben, werden freien “Autoabstellplätzen” und “Autowegen” überlassen. Ich bewundere den niederländischen Ansatz, der die Grenzen zwischen Straße/Fußweg/Radweg so verwischt, dass der Autobesitzer/Fahrer das Gefühl hat, in den für andere bestimmten Raum einzudringen.

Es gibt keine ‘Radfahrsaison’, sondern eine ganzjährige Aktivität, denn ‘schlechtes’ Wetter braucht nur angemessene Kleidung. Bleiben Sie gesund….

Prunus Planetarium

Crisis Cycling

It seems obvious but the best way to combat risk of infection and boredom from imposed distancing is to jump on a bike and cycle around in the fresh air. I’ve been doing that for the past few days due to my Berlin bike tours being cancelled by first the school groups, then the government. The unlikely paradox is that the best possible mid March weather (17c and sunny) cannot be experienced by groups of people wanted to get out there even though it is a low risk activity.

People have however, been all over Berlin chasing the sunrays with abandon. Rather than seeking out the lesser used spots, or big spaces (Templehofer Feld, Tiergarten) they go to the same old spots (Admiralsbrucke, Mauerpark) and breach the advosory 1,5M distance rule. Two thirds of Berliners do not own a car , so cannot self-isolate whilst travelling out of the city. Confined space public transport is out of favour and restricted timetable. Cycling and walking is fine and a lot of parts of Berlin do have a lot of space for social distancing.

The Deezer Nextbike fleet have had a 30 mins free scheme aimed at getting city centre commuters off public transport, plus the weather has suited it. The streets have been noticibly quieter and a lot nicer to cycle on, despite the extra delivery vans in the street/cycle lane. There are some fantastic early blossoms out there to enjoy as well. Half the battle is keeping positive during these strange times. Lets just hope that when the curve has flattened and restrictions are lifted, people will feel an urge to embrace fresh air and nature, rather than just falling back in routine of car and congestion…

Rent Cap – Mietdeckel

A huge issue in Berlin, but wht is it? What are the details? When will it come into force?

Here is a link I found in English, quite a good explanation and I am not connected in any way with the Property company or site. It is just a clear resume of the current legislature.