During my two-week vacation in Europe earlier this month, I found myself thinking about Park Slope in expected places.
I spent a day in Munich en route to Berlin and was amazed by how bike friendly that city is. It made me wonder why some in Park Slope are making such a big deal about the .
Munich is miles ahead of most American cities when it comes to biking. There are bike lanes everywhere and everyone, young and old, rides their bikes around town. In fact I saw many elderly people on bikes with big baskets, doing their grocery shopping and errands. It looked like such a fun way to get around and there’s bike parking everywhere. I was tempted to “Call A Bike” or rent a bike that was already on the street.
These rental bikes are equipped with electronic number locks. If the lamp on the lock flashes red, the bike is still occupied. If it flashes green, the bike can be rented. All you have to do is call the framed telephone number on the lock and listen for the code required to open the numbered lock.
Berlin, too, is a very bike friendly city. There are excellent bike lanes and there’s bike parking everywhere. Like the Call A Bikes in Munich, you can also grab a bike on the streets of Berlin and return it when you are through. I was certain that if I lived in Berlin I’d get a bike with a metal basket on the back and do my shopping and errands that way.
Not surprisingly, I found myself thinking a lot about the Prospect Park West bike lane controversy and feeling slightly embarrassed for Park Slope.
I mean, come on, bikes are a healthy, convenient and earth-friendly way to get around. The bike lanes in Berlin and Munich are clearly marked and easy to use. Pedestrians are required to stay off the lanes and the bikers there seem to ride safely and obey traffic rules. On a few occasions I mistakenly walked on the bike lane and that was actually a little bit scary, but I learned my lesson and learned to follow the signs designating bike vs. pedestrian lanes.
Over dinner one night at Buon Gustayo, a wonderful Sardinian restaurant in Berlin’s Charlottenburg neighborhood, I tried to explain our bike lane problem to a German friend, who rides her bike all over Berlin. She couldn’t understand why Brooklynites would be against a bike lane. Frankly, I had a hard time explaining it to her.
I also loved the public transportation system in Berlin. It’s fairly easy to figure out and the trains, both the above ground S-Bahn and the below ground U-Bahn are clean, quiet and not all that crowded.
While in Europe I was also deeply impressed (as I always am) with the European rail system, especially the high speed trains. Again, the Europeans are miles ahead of the Americans when it comes to their train system. I kept thinking that the United States really erred by not upgrading and enhancing our rail system—trains are such an exceedingly pleasant way to travel. During my trip, I took long train rides from Paris to Avignon, Marseilles to Milan, Munich, Berlin and back to Paris. I found many of the stations beautiful and easy to use. The trains were comfortable; a splendid way to see Europe. The train ride from Milan to Berlin was especially glorious with its incredible view of the Alps.
On the night train from Berlin to Paris I shared a couchette with five strangers: two young men from Portugal, two young women from Toronto and a 34-year-old from Bushwick.
Fugedaboutit, you can never get to far from Brooklyn.
This young man, who at one time lived in Park Slope, plans to settle in Berlin. An academic, he said that he was sick of Bushwick and impressed with the quality of life in Berlin. It seems that you can live quite well there for far less than the cost of Brooklyn and it’s such a fascinating place to be.
“Berlin is like New York in the 1970’s,” he told me.
He explained that you can easily find a place to live in an artsy SoHo-like neighborood and there’s an interesting art and performance scene. My Bushwick train companion also appreciated the bike culture in Berlin. In fact, he biked to the train station and just left his bike there; he expects it to still be there when he gets back from France in a few weeks.
“The bikes have wheel locks and no one seems to steal them,” he told me.
Conversely, on the train from Munich to Berlin, I happened to sit next to a young man who has been living in Berlin, but plans to move to Park Slope in August.
Really, you just can’t escape Brooklyn.
He had enjoyed a year in Berlin, but he’d had enough and was eager to settle down in Park Slope.
Once in Paris, I found myself on the Boulevard Barbès in the 18th Arrondissement.
“So this is why they named , Barbès,” I said to myself.
Like the music at that Park Slope music venue, the neighborhood is extremely international, with people from all over the world, particularly Africa. It’s a wonderful area with ethnic shops, hip boutiques and eclectic cafes.
When I got back to Park Slope last week, I missed France so much, I decided to have my first breakfast at the on Ninth Street to prolong my vacation just a little bit more. And readers, the Almondine did not disappoint. I walked in on Monday morning and heard the sound of French being spoken at least two tables. I ordered a café au lait and a croissant both of which were delicious. And the best thing of all, it was half the price of the same exact breakfast in Paris.
For $5.00 including tip, I was able to savor my wonderful vacation.
And it surely made my transition to Park Slope that much easier.