Part of being a good Berliner, as anyone will tell you, is owning a bicycle. And since I’m now in a living arrangement where I can look at a bicycle as a bicycle (rather than just one more thing that will have to be moved in a month’s time), this seemed like the perfect moment to take the leap. Sheila, the half-naked Aussie, had generously offered me hers because she has to go back to Oz for a bit. But then, she’d also fallen off it into the back of a convertible as it was too heavy for her. I politely declined.
Fortunately, my Irish friend, Séamus, builds bikes for a living and (rather conveniently) was working on a nice petite model that might just be ideal for me. Unfortunately, he lives on the other side of the city. This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but with Berlin’s transport system up to its old tricks again, it took a bus and three trains to get there. Not to worry, I took one look at the shiny red beauty and instantly decided that it would be mine.
While Séamus rattled on about tubes and wires and oil and other important stuff, I was thinking “pretty, red, pretty”. But, being a professional, instead of just letting me ride off into the sunset, he insisted that we go down to his backyard and give it a couple of test runs to make sure it was a good fit for me. After a few precarious moments, I was off on a wobbly circuit of the yard and amazingly managed not to crash into any of the cars or fall off. A quick height adjustment of the handlebars and I was good to go.
Me: It’s going to be a bit of a nightmare getting it back to mine on public transport.
Séamus: (giving it a manly kick) Ha, don’t worry. Parts of this thing are over thirty years old. I don’t think you’ll manage to destroy it in an hour.
Little did he know.
He offered to ride with me to the station but, as a good law-abiding German, I refused as the one thing the bike didn’t have was lights. It’s only about a two-minute ride but rules are rules, you know. Plus, I just knew I’d be the unlucky bugger that got caught.
When we got there, people were streaming out of the station as the S-Bahn had shut down three hours early. So now, instead of two trains which would leave me a 5-minute walk from my door, we would have to walk for 15 minutes, and I’d have to take two trains and a bus. With Séamus practically wheeling the bike for me, and me impractically bitching and moaning the whole way, we made it to the next station. I got (and validated) a ticket for the bike and then I was on my own.
I’d thought moving my worldly belongings by public transport was tough until I tried to get a bicycle up and down escalators. Still, despite almost falling on several people and ramming an old lady in the shins, I made it to the bus-stop. The bus came bang on time and I hefted the bike through the middle doors.
“NEIN!” came a cry from the front of the bus. “NEIN!”
I figured he was probably talking to me, so I elegantly alighted and wheeled the bike to the front door to see what all the fuss was about.
Bus driver: No bikes.
Me: But, but, I don’t have a choice. I just bought it and it has no lights so I can’t ride it.
Bus driver: NEIN!
Me: But I bought a bike ticket! It’s only a few stops and there’s so much room and…
Bus driver: NEINNNNNNNNN!
And then he closed the door on me. The fact that I’d managed to have this “conversation” in German gave me some small satisfaction, but not enough that I didn’t pause to give him the finger and call him a pedantic prick. (I used English for that one.)
So, there I was, stranded at the side of the road, facing a good 45-minute walk. It was almost 11.30pm at this stage and I just thought, “You know what, Germany? Stick your rules. If one set of rules means that I have to break another, then so be it”. And I got on the bike. It had reflectors and there was nobody on the footpaths, apart from (comfortingly) other cyclists riding without lights. About five minutes down the road, my cardigan got stuck in the wheel, which required a dismount, a good deal of swearing and some tricky extrication.
I got on again, sheer fury driving me forwards. Bloody mothers can wheel their jeep-sized buggies filled with their squealing brats onto buses. The bus driver will even make the bus “kneel” for them so they can more conveniently torture a busload of people’s eardrums for god knows how long. How am I, standing silently in the middle of an empty bus holding my bike, more unacceptable than that? Just because I didn’t push the bike out of my lady orifice doesn’t make it any less my new baby… And then I looked up and I was home. Huh, I was only a couple of minutes later than if I’d taken the bus. Good old rage.
Today, I decided to take Red Beauty out on a spin to a nearby park. The first thing I was faced with was a sign saying there was no cycling in the park.
Followed by a sign saying that you actually could cycle in the park.
Jesus, Germany, make up your mind…
Still, it was all worth it in the end.
That bus driver can still kiss my (newly-toned) white Irish ass, though…