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CYCLING

Berlin police mull bike registration initiative to tame unruly cyclists

The number of Berliners cycling has increased dramatically during the pandemic, leading to an increase in deaths. Is compulsory registration a solution?

Berlin police mull bike registration initiative to tame unruly cyclists
Photo: DPA

It's rush hour on a grey morning in Berlin and a stream of cyclists are gliding along Friedrichstrasse, the fabled shopping street that runs through the city centre.

“Move!” one of them yells after illegally mounting the pavement and charging at a defenceless pedestrian.

Bernd Lechner, a 40-year-old insurance clerk, manages to dodge the speeding bike just in time, but he's had enough of the “increasingly aggressive” attitude of cyclists in the German capital.

“It's getting worse and worse. I'm starting to become more scared of bicycles than of cars,” he said.

Berlin has long been known as a bike-friendly city, but a sharp rise in the number of cyclists during the coronavirus pandemic has been causing tensions on the road.

The number of Berliners cycling to work or to go shopping has increased by some 25 percent since the start of the pandemic, according to city authorities.

All good news for fitness, air quality and public health, since it reduces the number of people using public transport during the fight against Covid-19.

But at the same time, police have registered a sharp rise in the number of offences committed by cyclists and a surge in complaints about them from pedestrians, according to Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik.

Compulsory registration? 

In an interview with the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper in October, Slowik even proposed compulsory registration for cyclists to make it easier for the authorities to identify those who break the rules.

“More than 50 percent of all traffic accidents involving cyclists are caused by the cyclists themselves,” she said.

And some are paying with their lives: 17 cyclists have been killed in traffic accidents in Berlin this year, 11 more than in 2019.

But the idea of compulsory registration is unlikely to become reality because of the “immense bureaucracy” it would entail, Ragnhild Soerensen of Changing Cities, an NGO that lobbies for sustainable transport, told AFP.

Berlin has about 3 million bicycles, compared with only 1.1 million registered cars, she points out.

But the police chief's comments have ignited a fierce debate on the behaviour of cyclists in the city.

“We are being pushed around, insulted. Many people think they are better people just because they ride a bike… This anarchy has to stop,” the Tagesspiegel newspaper wrote recently. 

'Denigrating cyclists'

According to Soerensen, critics are simply “trying to denigrate cyclists in order to distract attention from the delays in drafting a new transport strategy” to increase the use of public transport.

Just three percent of public space in the city is reserved for cyclists, but they make up 18 percent of traffic, says Anika Meenken of the Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) transport association.

“Aggressiveness occurs when space is too tight, which naturally leads to more stress,” she said.

By way of contrast, cars make up some 33 percent of traffic in the city but take up 58 percent of the space. But Oliver Woitzik, head of transport for the Berlin police, argues that “we can't just build roads, cycle paths and pavements everywhere”.

“What would help a lot would be for people to stop putting their own ego first, and also to know when to give up their rightful place” if there is danger involved, he said — a skill that is sometimes lacking among those on both four wheels and two.

In any case, cyclists who break the rules are more likely to be fined in future as Berlin is expanding its use of officers on bikes around the city, he told AFP.

Their number, currently around 40, is expected to “climb to 100 in the spring” and then continue to grow over the next few years.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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