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CYCLING

Biking for free in Berlin

One man has made it his mission to set up a bike-sharing network in Berlin, loaning out Fahrräder for free. Trust advocate Graham Pope spoke to The Local about cycling into the future.

Biking for free in Berlin
Photo: Graham Pope

With a background working with bikes in his home country of Ireland, 36-year-old Pope knows what it takes to maintain decent wheels. With a team of volunteers that’s exactly what he has been doing since last June, when BikeSurfBerlin launched.

When he got to the German capital, Pope decided he would create a transport equivalent of an online couch surfing network, through which travellers can find, and offer, free accommodation.

“I had such a great experience couch surfing but when I moved to Berlin 18 months ago I wasn’t able to host people in my flat, so I thought why not let them use my bikes,” Pope told The Local.

Pedalling on trust

He and a friend started with just three bikes less than a year ago. Now, the BikeSurfBerlin team has 14 under its belt, and have had 163 happy cyclist users.

Most of the bikes have been donated by people leaving the city who could not take their bike with them. Two were bought at police auctions for €10 and, he assured, they were careful never to accept stolen bikes.

“It’s my passion,” said Pope. “It’s not a job because it doesn’t pay, but I have money saved and wanted to do something here that contributes to society.”

“Although it’s not even been eight months it feels like we’ve been going a long time and put in a lot of work.” Summer, he said, was by far the busiest time with all the bikes booked for more a week in advance. Typically, a person can borrow one for up to two weeks but when the weather gets warmer and tourists begin arriving, this will be cut to a week to “share the wealth.”

So far, mostly only registered couch surfers have used the system as it provides the BikeSurf team with a way of knowing if they are trustworthy. “We don’t want to get into deposits, or money or photocopying passports,” said Pope, who currently operates out of his courtyard.

He and his helpers were, he explained, trying to go against the standard model of bike rental companies. “I think it’s great that a trust system like this can work.” Pope said, adding he was a believer in people. “They are generally quite nice and don’t try to rip you off if you give them the freedom to.”

A way of life

And where better to test this theory than in Berlin, where for many cycling is a favoured method of transport and even a way of life. “It’s flat and it isn’t rainy,” he said. “I feel safe on the streets here and want to encourage people to feel so too.” Unlike other cities less geared up for two-wheel travel, cycle paths weave across most of the German capital.

While enthusiasm and ability are clearly in abundance among the BikeSurf team, money could prove to be a problem.

Although initial outgoings have been just a couple of hundred euros, Pope said they would need money to keep going and improve.

“I think we’re going to try to make our approach a bit more direct so we can recoup a bit,” he said.

“I realize that people coming from say, Ukraine, generally might not have the same amount of cash as people from Sweden for example,” he said, adding that he needed to be sure that people would not feel guilty if they could not afford to make a donation.

But Pope was optimistic relaxed the project would find the money it required to continue: “We have to emphasize that we need some money to run the service but also bear in mind that people are coming from very different socio-economic backgrounds.”

Jessica Ware

[email protected]

twitter.com/jesscware

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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