Believe it or not, before coming to Berlin, I had only ever managed to sit on a bicycle for more than three seconds once – that is, without training wheels. What can I say, I was apparently a “stubborn child” and always lived down the street from a subway station. I have always wanted to learn however, especially in the last five years when friends would suggest using bikes to get around and I could never join in.
A couple of summers ago, I even bought myself this gorgeous Linus bicycle with my first office job earnings, in the hopes of learning in the laneway behind our garage. Stupidly, I always put it off (huge regret). It’s a scary thing to learn as a non-child! Anyway, I did finally learn last autumn and haven’t looked back. I actually cycled to the library in which I am sitting, typing these words! All to preface that I cannot quite wrap my head around the fact that at the end of last month, I joined the 3000+ cyclists in Critical Mass Berlin.
In a nutshell, critical mass is a global movement in which cyclists of all ages protest the inadequate conditions in which they must cycle on a daily basis. You may be reading this thinking cyclists are just a bunch of entitled hipsters who already take up enough space as it is, make your commute a living hell, and should simmer down once and for all. But let me ask you this : Would you let an 11-year-old cycle on the streets and dodgy bike paths to get to school? Because that’s the age they are required to do so, but I digress…
Aside from the cause, the event itself is shockingly amazing! Everyone gathers at Mariannenplatz usually around 8, riding in on their pimped out bikes (some of which are cargo bikes equipped with a DJ setup or a hardcore stereo system!). From there it’s anyone’s guess. Well the guess of those leading the crowd – they decide where we turn and what we see. In this respect it’s quite exciting since no two routes are the same. If you’re new to Berlin, there’s no better way to discover it – if not, it’s an excellent way to wander outside of your personal Berlin bubble! To give you an idea, this time we ended up crossing the Spree on the Oderbaum bridge, bordered the Berlin Wall, glided through Tempelhofer Feld, circled around the Berlin Victory Column, and passed between the columns of the Brandenburg Gate. The momentum was so good, most people ended up continuing for another couple of hours!
In terms of safety, rest assured it was well organized…it is Germany after all! There were police officers (in cars and on motorcycles), as well as organizers, and proactive participants stationed at upcoming intersections, making sure automotive traffic was at a halt. Some drivers were a little ticked off, getting out of their precious Bimmers to make sure they weren’t scuffed, others were a little discouraged to be stuck in traffic once again, and so on. Nevertheless, the majority seemed quite untroubled and cheery – looking out from their balconies or waving and taking pictures from the street. You kinda felt like the Queen during her Diamond Jubilee (ok maybe not Diamond but you get the gist)!
All in all, for a first Critical Mass experience, I couldn’t have asked for more. From the odd sense of camaraderie you develop with other cyclists, to the various musical genres you can jam to along the way, to the young girl handing out buns to hungry passersby, it was truly a night to remember!
To finish off, here are a few more highlights:
- Realizing you can get around the city faster than you can say Quidditch when the way isn’t obstructed by cars, or when you have a safe designated cycle path the whole way though.
- Unknowing people joining the crowd in delight once they’ve been brought up to speed.
- Riding at your own pace, all whilst enjoying the Berlin scenery.
- Grooving along to the DJ cargo bike in earshot.
- Circling around the Victory Column waiting for everyone to catch up (you think it can’t possibly accommodate more cyclists but it does).
- Admiring all the cool lights and fancy bicycle gear.
- Getting all that pent-up energy and stress accumulated during the work week off your shoulders.
- And of course, awesome drone footage!
If you’re interested in participating next month, here is the Facebook event page!