Cycling in Berlin is great fun.
- The city is big, but it’s not that big. You can probably cycle to wherever you’re going, especially within or near the edge of the Ringbahn.
- There is almost no road in Berlin which cannot be cycled upon. There is no need to stick to cycle-pathed routes. German drivers respect cyclists.
- Some pavement cycle paths are on the inside of the pavement (which is to say the right-hand side, furthest away from the road). This is rare, but always confusing and not often well-marked. Pedestrians will get annoyed at you if you use the wrong side.
- Cobbled streets: just do it. They’re not that bumpy.
I generally try and find my own way from place to place, but the first time I make a particular journey I use satellite navigation. One setup I’ve found that works pretty well is to have Google Maps cycling directions open on my phone in my pocket, with earphones in so it reads the directions to me. Google’s directions are generally okay, but have these problems:
- Sometimes they’ll tell you which direction to turn using cardinal directions (‘southwest on Irgendwasstraße’). This is useless when you’re cycling somewhere you don’t know.
- They apparently don’t have up-to-date information on when footpaths and dedicated cycle paths are closed. It tried to send me down a path that was closed because of the building work for the U5 extension, for instance.
- The text-to-speech system doesn’t know how to properly read German place names.
Also, while the directions will generally tell you the quickest route, when planning trips by hand you shouldn’t put one bit of trust in Google Maps’s assertions about which roads are ‘trails’, ‘dedicated lanes’, ‘bicycle-friendly’, and ‘dirt trails’. E.g. anyone who’s ever cycled in Tiergarten will know that this assessment of its cyclability is a fucking joke.
At least in some parts of Berlin, you can more-or-less manage with signposts alone if you know the areas around your origin and destination points well. But beware: German signposts assume you saw them the first time, and don’t generally repeat. If you miss a turning, there probably won’t be another one signposted for another kilometer or more.
If you’re going to Potsdam especially, they have much better direction signage for bikes than Berlin does.
Make left turns at intersections
I’m still quite puzzled by how one does this safely. The best intersections are those with marked and separated cycle lanes just for turning left. These are common in the former East, where you’ll also find special lanes for bikes to safely make an indirektes Linksabbiegen (see below).
If you find an intersection with a separate lane for cars which are turning left, get into the right side of that lane, in front of the cars if possible. At other crossings, this is the best explanation I’ve found.
The German bicycle club, ADFC, has a useful document in relatively simple German (compared to the StVO itself) on traffic laws in Germany for bikes, which is more accurate than any English page I’ve found.