Cyclists and a pedestrian share a sidewalk in Berlin. Photo: John MacDougall/AFP
Germany might still be known for its high-speed autobahns, but in cities, bicycles are now so popular that a war of words has broken out between drivers and cyclists over who rules the road. In Berlin, more than 500,000 of the 3.5 million inhabitants get on their bikes daily to move about the city, twice as many as a decade ago, making the most of an extensive network of cycle paths.
On Unter den Linden, the capital’s celebrated, tree-lined central boulevard, cyclists zoom up and down between the pedestrians and hordes of tourists admiring the Brandenburg Gate.
“Beer bikes” pedalled simultaneously by about a dozen or so people who drink beer while cycling around the city are also a common sight in the German capital.
“There is a real problem with the cyclists who do not respect the rules, who zigzag and ride any old way. They are becoming less and less civilised,” Tahmaures, a 58-year-old taxi driver, fumed.
Germany traditionally conjures up images of a nation of car lovers, but the Transport Ministry said there had been “a renaissance of the bicycle since the beginning of the 1990s”.
And it is concerned about the high number of accidents suffered by cyclists.
One in three accidents in towns involved bicycles last year, and the rate was one in four for fatal accidents, according to the German Statistics Institute.
“Infrastructure for traffic is no longer suitable. The growing number of cyclists requires a new concept for urban organisation,” Claudia Nolte, spokesman for the German Automobile Club for the Berlin-Brandenburg region, said.