Yes, you know how this one should go: ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’, the German phrase popularised by the Audi car manufacturer. It can be roughly translated into English as ‘progress through technology’. Although, a more literal translation would be ‘advancement through technology’. So far it seems, there is no single English word which is an exact rendering of ‘vorsprung’; ‘to leap ahead’ comes close.
Evidently the proof really is in the pudding, as Berlin is leaping ahead in so many ways. A favourite destination for culture, history and fun. It is a city that its very own residents adore. None more so than the flourishing cycling community of Germany’s capital. The entire nation of the Netherlands are renowned for it; Copenhagen may have inspired the chic of it; Athens chose it out of economic necessity, and London out of pride and sensibility (although this could be argued). The fact is, any way you care to look at it, cycling is a very attractive invention.
Yet in marked contrast to it’s neighbours, Berliners appear to have mastered the art of making the bicycle the preferred mode of choice: where almost every motorist is a cyclist too. It is this fusion that Berliners believe creates a sense of heightened awareness and all-around safety for its inhabitants. Naturally, this leads us to an interesting question, and one that may become a model of study for many of us: Is Berlin the safest city to be a cyclist?
But most of us have our own bikes. We do not wear helmets. It is foolish, but we don’t. I always mean to – but I don’t. I realise that the brain is man’s second favourite organ – but I still leave my helmet behind. –Berliner
The Finnish Solution
An Ongoing Debate
The online BBC-Magazine article pushes a hot button, that making people wear helmets can actually cause greater harm: ‘There is an argument now that if cities insist on helmets for bike-hire schemes, then people simply don’t ride bikes. And if people don’t ride bikes, then they’re less fit and that means that more of them die of heart-attacks.’ This may be so in Berlin, and to a greater extent, a valid argument for much of western-mainland Europe, but I don’t think I’d be so comfortable without a ‘lid’ in London.
Stephen Evans, of BBC Berlin points out the numbing reality of people considering regular cycling in London: “What you really need to get people like me on their bikes is a general atmosphere of safety and tolerance of cyclists.”
Tolerance would certainly go a long way, and the grand design of warm cycle lanes wouldn’t go amiss either. However, how would you survive a traffic incident without a lid? Perhaps we should pose this question to the equally innovative Finns. The possible solution: The Invisible Helmet! One that works. Vorsprung durch bicycles!