Travel – Germany: Urban?jungling

2014-06-02 12:00

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Natasha Joseph goes biking in Berlin. Yes, she does

The sun is going down and I’m leaning over the ­handlebars of my rental bike. A young man is racing past me on the grass, flying his kite.

When I look down at the tarmac for a moment, I notice a directional arrow glinting whitely beneath my feet.

It used to guide airplanes into their bays ­– this is Berlin, where the old airport was turned into a public park in 2008.

Airports are a bit of a sore point here. Much to residents’ embarrassment, the Berlin Brandenburg International Airport is running nearly five years behind schedule and won’t open until 2016.

So much for German efficiency. So, you can fly into Berlin Tegel Airport or its baby cousin, Berlin Schönefeld Airport, and ride your bike, have a picnic, walk the dog or zoom along on Rollerblades at what used to be Tempelhof Airport, now Tempelhofer Park.

Berliners ­petitioned for the park, and won.

Just this week they voted in a referendum to keep housing developers out of it. They won again.

As to how a worryingly unfit South African journalist ended up on the runway of a disused international airport? Blame a gorgeous Canadian man named Alex, whom I’d met earlier on Alexanderplatz, a bustling square in the heart of the city where tourists come to find tiny teddy bears whose jerseys read “Berlin” and Genuine Pieces Of The Berlin Wall – Your Chance to Own a Bit of Germany’s Past!

Alex works for Fat Tire Bike Tours, wants to be a famous DJ one day and has beautiful eyes that are the only reason I’m riding a bicycle. For 30km. In peak traffic in a foreign city. I get off to a rocky start.

Louise, who lived in the Netherlands for a while, cycles with us, hair flying in the breeze, and I have forgotten to put my feet on the pedals and am wobbling dangerously close to a gaggle of tourists.

But that was 15km ago and my feet are now firmly on the pedals. Riding a bike is a lot like, well, riding a bike. It comes back easily and suddenly I remember how much I loved cycling as a child – the closest thing I could imagine to flying.

We South Africans stick close together, all terrified of the cars that we’ve been assured will give way for us.

Astonishingly, they do. Cyclists and pedestrians are respected on these roads. We stop at a Turkish market in Kreuzberg.

We explore a corner of the city full of empty warehouses brought to magnificent life by more graffiti than I’ve ever seen and that morph into nightclubs at the weekend.

Berlin uses its space well. There are surprising, beautiful green spaces in the heart of its modernity. At one point, we cross a frighteningly busy ­intersection and, zipping through an open iron gate, we’re in the heart of Tiergarten.

The traffic noises fall away and rutted paths open up in every ­direction.

Less than 10 minutes later – and after a nasty incident involving my inability to change gears properly – we’re through another gate and back on the road, cars zooming past.

I explored Berlin in a groovy old VW bus, a rickety death trap 1950s vintage car called the Trabi, and on foot. A bike is by far the best way to experience this marvellous, meaty capital city in all its contradictory loveliness.

When you get to Fat Tire, tucked away in a corner of Alexanderplatz, remember to tell Alex I say hi.

» Joseph was a guest of Lufthansa and Visit Berlin. For more, see and

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