On the road in Berlin | Scene in Berlin | DW | 02.08.2013
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Scene in Berlin

On the road in Berlin

Berliners have important appointments on every corner of their gigantic city. That means they have to be resourceful when it comes to getting from A to B, says experienced Berlin commuter Lavinia Pitu.

Excuse me if you live in Tokyo or New York City. But for European standards, Berlin is quite huge. It's actually the second largest metropolis in Europe after London, with an area of 891.8 square kilometers (344,33 square miles). If you compare it to Vienna (414.6 square kilometers) or Paris (105.4 square kilometers), you might understand that people in the German capital need to get creative when it comes to getting around.

And they are. Notwithstanding the fact that Berlin has an excellent public transport network, people's attitude towards metropolitan mobility has taken on an almost avant-garde character. Every person here travels on average more than 20 kilometers a day - ideally in a fast, cheap and environment friendly way.

So it's no wonder that the transportation businesses are flourishing.

Your car, my car, our car

Lately, the hippest alternative to public transport has been the car sharing. There are several companies that rent out hundreds of cars in the city, by the minute. This is a concept that seriously cuts on the costs and responsibilities of owning a car and in some cases it might even be cheaper than public transport.

You can find the closest car to your location on a smart phone app, reserve it, open it with a chip that was attached to your drivers' license when you signed up, and off you go. You can then leave the car in almost any parking in the city.

The price per minute starts at 24 cents. If you run low on gas, you can choose to go to a gas station, pay with a card you'll find in the car and get rewarded for your effort with some extra free minutes of driving. It feels like hop-on-hop-off with you "own" car.

Berliners love it. I myself share their opinion. And their cars.

Another car-related alternative is a limo service with a driver as a taxi substitute. Believe it or not, it's not just used by posh business people: More and more young people are opting for it too.

Several such new companies in Berlin are competing with the taxis in this way, advertising for the American model of luxury transportation at affordable prices.

Parked cars and bicycles that are part of the Deutsche Bann Flinkster car and bike sharing program

Car and biking sharing is convenient for the tech savvy

Bikes are calling

But Berliners also love traveling by bike. According to the city's Department for Urban Development and the Environment, 721 out of 1,000 inhabitants own a bike in Berlin. Those who don't have a bike of their own can “call-a-bike” for a spontaneous shopping tour, to get to work, or simply to go on a relaxing weekend ride in the park.

The project was initiated the German railway company Deutsche Bahn and it's based on the same principle as car sharing: Find it via the app, ride, then leave it anywhere.

Renting a bike per minute is definitely cheaper than buying one, especially since in Berlin, having your bike stolen is just a matter of time. It will vanish sooner or later. In 2012 alone, over 26,000 bicycles were registered stolen in the city.

If you're a tourist and feel like having a lazy day, you can also go for bike taxies aka rickshaws and let the locals pedal for you - in exchange for a small fee.

Slow and dirty, but charming

Add the traditional options to the creative ones and you'll find that there are dozens of ways to get from A to B in Berlin.

Blue Trabi car in Berlin

The Trabi taxi: a tourist trap?

But no matter how much the Berliners persevere in their efforts to trick distance in a cool way, there is one vehicle in particular that tourists would be loath to give up: the Trabi Safari.

The former East German car made of cardboard (ok, I exaggerate) doesn't come with a driver. Renting it is not cheap. It coughs up heaps of pollutants. And it is slow.

But all those cons don't stop thousands of summer visitors from exploring the German capital in these tiny vintage two-stroke engine convertibles.

Excuse me if you live in Tokyo or New York City and happen to be a Trabi-loving tourist in Berlin. But here, we don't have time for slow-motion activities. We constantly have to find new ways of getting to our next destination, which could be located miles away - and just hit the road.

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