New cyclists in Berlin
City activists are very aware of the fact that improvements for cyclists have a huge impact on the shape of urban areas. But can bicycles also help to integrate the society? The association Rückenwind proves that it is possible.
It was beginning of 2015 when rising numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants arrived in Europe. One of their destination was Germany. The refugees topic became automatically the number one news in the media. A group of seven friends, which was also following the hopeless discussion, decided to act and do something positive in the German capitol. The idea was simple: let’s gather bicycles, repair them with the refugees and for the refugees.
As easy as it may seemed on the first sight, on closer inspection it was lots of logistics work. Even if they gathered enough bikes, they still had to think about how to store them and to repair them quickly to cover the demand. In the end they could engage about forty locals to help. They opened a bike garage in the district of Neuköln, where every week they offer an open workshop for all citizens. Who has problems with his/her bike, can just drop by and (s)he will be taught how to fix the defects.
Berlin is a huge city, but still is cycling a very fast method to move around. Note even the quite good public transport can offer such short journey speeds. That was also the aim of this initiative: to offer the refugees a fast mobility tool, so that they get to know their new ‘home town’ or arrange the formalities of the German bureaucracy. Moreover the newcomers could get an occupation, spend some time with locals, exchange with them, learn German and English. Also for the Rückenwind’s volunteers was that beneficial, they could learn more about the life of their new friends from Syria or Afghanistan and confront their image of a refugees (which was often based on the medias) with real first-hand stories. The misery of the political discussions around the ‘migration crisis’ was slowly replaced by the satisfaction resulting out of work with real people seeking for a new home.
In October our Association Rowerowy Poznań (represented by two members who are also participants in the Youth Peacebuilders Multipliers project), which is strongly engaged to develop and promote bicycles as an everyday mean of transport, has visited Berlin for an internal workshop. Our goal (and one of the tasks of the YPBM project) was also to meet local activists, share our experiences and exchange the knowledge. We have visited the ‘headquarters’ of Rückenwind, where Konstantin guided us through their history and the house. The next days we had also a very interesting presentation of the very successful initiative Volksentscheid Fahrrad (Association Changing Cities), which was given by one of it’s members — Michael.
Thank you & Danke.