I am not so sure anymore. You always tend to draw comparisons with your own city. So when I walked endlessly through cold Copenhagen, early March 2018, I wondered: Could you transfer the good parts of the Danish capital but also keep the creativity of Berlin?
For those who don’t know: Copenhagen has transformed itself in the last twenty years. Don’t worry, the weather still sucks endlessly, but according to several studies the inhabitants are amongst the happiest in the world.
It is definitely one of the most liveable cities. Due for a large part to the role of cycling. Bike lanes are wide and will take you anywhere really quick. Several huge cycling bridges over the water were built recently, and there is a truly modern rent-a-bike system with tablets and navigation.
Add to that the regeneration of old docklands with great modern architecture (the Gemini Building (below), Havnevigen Towers or the Nykredit HQ are just some examples) and you truly have an extremely liveable city. Residential buildings have a lot of daylight and always seem to be close to the city center in this compact town. Water and walkways are all around. And where Berlin is always buzzing, Copenhagen has a relaxed vibe.
But, we are inclined to say, this automatically means the city must be relatively boring. Because it doesn’t intrinsically stimulate creativity. And in this case it is true: Everything seems to be rather politically correct. Even the two hipster neighborhoods, Norrebro and Vestebro, are nice but very tidy. You could also say: average.
The question of course is, whether one could transfer the qualities of Copenhagen to Berlin, without killing the creative vibe. Now this train of thought becomes interesting. Because in theory it could. But in practice it will be extremely hard, because the German capital has a mentality problem.
To start with implementing a proper cycling architecture: Problem #1 is the vested interests of the car industry in the country. Now, this problem might be overcome by stricter environmental regulations enforced by judges, though the government still tries to oppose this unavoidable development with all necessary means. But then problem #2 comes into play: The missing will of public servants in the city to transform the way they have worked for decades. Although the local government has promised eighteen months ago to make cycling a priority, next to nothing has happened. And then you don’t even think about problem #3, car drivers not willing to make room for cyclists. Anyone who ever rode a bike here, has his own stories about incredible aggression.
But could it be made to work, assuming enough political will? I think so, yes. It would be a good idea to start in relatively progressive neighborhoods such as Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. Converting two-lane roads (per direction) into one-lane plus a proper elevated bicycle lane, with place for car parking in between for safety reasons just like in Copenhagen, would be a great start. Take the big roads (Kottbusser Damm, Schlesische Strasse), as these are long straight roads where you can easily gain time as a cyclist. And enforce these measures with lots of police presence.
The next step would be to expand this network step by step throughout the city, on the main roads, and in the meantime making sure there are still some broad entrance roads for cars coming from outside the city. One should invest in park+ride, make public transport cheaper and more frequent (Copenhagen has self-driving subways, every two minutes), and have a proper rent-a-bike system. To top it off you could build some cycling highways (as proposed towards Potsdam already) and bridges (such as the proposed one from the East Side Gallery to the Spindler & Klatt building on Köpenicker Strasse). What a change that would be in the city!
Now, it would of course be an illusion that Berlin would immediately transform into a friendly city. The city is too gritty and fast-paced for that. But it would definitely, slowly, transform the mood in Berlin just by making it more liveable and less stressful. A place for us to dream?