Room to move
Berlin is a sprawling city, with no defined centre, so how easy is it to go from A to B, and then to X, via F? To get to work? To find that new co-working space in Neukoelln, then to rush over to that networking event in Mitte? With its innovative range of services and forward-thinking infrastructure, it’s surprisingly simple and stress-free – and increasingly sustainable, too.
Even the most resolute urbanites say that moving to Berlin is a breath of fresh air, literally. The plentiful green spaces and wide streets are a big contrast from the world’s typically light-poor and concrete-heavy capital cities. It’s also a lot less crowded, housing 4,039 people/km2 compared to 5,518 in London and 21,000 in Paris. But a large part of this feeling of freedom also comes from the fact that it’s very easy to travel across, even during rush hour and busy weekends.
This ease of movement makes it the ideal place for freelancers hopping from company to coworking space, employees commuting to the hottest (but out-of-the-way) startup, and founders looking to recruit from all corners of the city.
It’s all about the network
So why does Berlin succeed where many other cities fail? Largely because of its belief in the promise of ‘networked mobility.’ Far from having a Dubai-style model of heavy car ownership, Berliners view cars as a last resort, and want to find better, more sustainable solutions – uniting a range of services, rather than depending on one. There’s also a willingness to share resources, and there’s no snobbery about using public transport, or your feet. Its pioneering soon-to-be-passed Mobility Act favours pedestrians and cyclists over cars, and furthers its core philosophy.
Power in the pedals
Berlin is very flat, so walking and cycling is possible for anyone, regardless of fitness level – unlike hillier cities like San Francisco. In fact, the amount of people walking to their destination in Berlin is almost as high as those driving. If you have the time, it’s a pleasure to walk the spacious streets, and a great way to get to know the city.
Then there is, of course, cycling: truly a way of life in Berlin. Germans may complain about the cycling infrastructure, and see it as inferior to countries like Holland and Denmark, but it’s a world away from cities like London and Dublin in terms of safety and bike lanes. And it was ranked number 10 in the best cycling cities in the world in 2017.
Sharing is caring... and cycling, and scooting...
Berlin believes in collaborative consumption, and doesn’t just talk about it. It has led the way in shared transportation, beginning with car sharing. It was one of the first to have city-wide car sharing, with DriveNow one of the most popular (soon to merge with Car2Go), offering many electric cars. In all, there are now over 3,000 cars at your disposal across the city for your next IKEA trip. You find all services in one in the Free2move App (Berlin based Start-up) Shortly after the cars came the shared bicycles. The different type of options you have are:
- free-range bikes with Mobike, o-bike, Ofo, Lidl-Bike, nextbike, donkey-bike
- electric bikes with Lime-e
Finally, there are motorbikes, such as scooter-sharing services:
The other option you have, is to join the bike sharing community and connect with people at the same time.
To navigate your way through the city, you can use these apps, that are specifically made to experience mobility by bike:
- Bike Citizens – the Graze and Berlin based company tries to make people think about different ways of mobility, and with their services, makes it more accessible and easy
- Naviki – you can plan your routes ahead and store your common routes for leisure or daily usage
Sometimes, just sometimes, only a car will do – but what if that last networking event just isn’t at a location with good parking available? Uber isn’t really an option right now, but the taxi system is excellent, and reasonably priced.
You’ll find a steady stream of roomy, custard-coloured Mercedes passing you by wherever you are in the city. For speed, safety and reliability, it’s best to download the mytaxi app and a taxi, with named driver, should pick you up within a couple of minutes. Join a ride with other passengers in CleverShuttle in electric cars. There’s also an app, allygator shuttle, providing shared rides in minibuses for clubbers travelling across town between 5pm and 1am on Friday nights.
A Marmite public transport system
Berlin’s public transport system is the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, or BVG: a combination of S-Bahn (above-ground trains), U-Bahn (below ground), bus and tram. Most love it for its sense of humour and relaxed service. But its rebellious nature and refusal to conform is what makes it so Berlin. Its advertising even acknowledges its gritty character, and has given the BVG national treasure status in Berlin.
It’s true you may not find a smooth Oyster card system, but you might find a pop-up choir or a brass band. A public transport journey in Berlin is never dull. And there’s a lot less crowding than in other capital cities, so you never have to let a train go because it’s too full. The Welcome Card, which can be used for up to 6 days, comes with a discount for over 200 touristic attractions and cultural highlights – perfect if you want to explore the city. For someone who’s more permanent in the city the “Umweltkarte” is probably the most affordable monthly card, and gets you around the city for a decent price. Download the BVG app for maps and to buy tickets.
(Self-)driving into the future
One big reason that open-minded people love Berlin is that it’s willing to try new things. So much so, that it has created a EUREF campus in Schoeneberg, dedicated to companies working in energy, sustainability and mobility. It houses many organizations that are part of the government’s ‘Mobility2Grid’ initiative, researching more sustainable transport solutions. For any company focusing on green methods of transport, this should be the first port of call. You can read more about Berlin’s moves towards green mobility here.
Autonomous driving is in Berlin’s sights, too, with projects called DIGINET-PS researching the best way to make this work for the city and Stimulate (autonomous shuttlebus at Charité Campus).
One thing’s for sure: you never feel stuck in Berlin. Wherever you are and whatever your mood, you can be sure there’s an easy way (and an app) to help you to get where you want to go. And, with a constant eye on sustainability, you can feel good about it.
Photo by Morgana Bartolomei on Unsplash
Text: Uhura Creative Media – Maxine Gallagher