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Ask Hans-Torsten: The bike code

Hans-Torsten Richter gives you advice on surviving and thriving in Berlin. Send your questions to [email protected]. This month: Your bike – to register or not to register?

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Hans-Torsten Richter gives you advice on surviving and thriving in Berlin. Send your questions to [email protected]

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: Recently I’ve seen police checkpoints set up to monitor bikes. A friend of mine said I should get my flea market bike registered with the police to avoid problems. What does that entail, and is there any point in doing it? – Sally

A Dear Sally: Those checkpoints are mostly about whether or not you have appropriate lights on your bicycle. Registration is not required – Berlin’s Fahrradkennzeichnung programme is a voluntary deal meant to help you reclaim your bike if someone steals it. Basically, the police attach a supposedly indestructible sticker to your bike frame encoded with a number that is forever linked to your name and address. They hold regular free-of-charge Fahhradkennzeichnung sessions, usually outside shopping centres or in Mauerpark, although there are fewer sessions in winter. Enter “Fahrradkennzeichnung der Polizei Berlin” into your favourite search engine and you’ll find out more.

So, does it help? Personally, I’ve always been pretty cynical about the idea that the police could magically retrieve my bike from the criminal underworld just because it had a numbered sticker on it. If your bike shows up in a lost and found, you’ll get it, but if a professional thief does his or her work right, I think your chances are slim. The vast majority of bike theft cases go unsolved. The police say the stickers can deter a thief in the first place – yeah, right. These stickers can be scratched away if you really try hard enough.

The best strategy, of course, is not to get your bike stolen in the first place. For years, I successfully followed a two-pronged theft prevention policy: ride a really shitty-looking bike to deter greedy thieves; and use a very expensive lock (combine this with a bike theft insurance policy if your bike is expensive!). But last Sunday morning, my bike was gone. My main mistake: I’d left it on the street. Lock your bike up in your Hinterhof or in the Fahrradkeller if there is one. If possible, carry it up to your flat. You don’t have to be a poser cycle-snob to do this. These precautions are tedious, but pay off on the long run.

Would registering my bike have helped me get it back? I doubt it. But then again, I suppose it wouldn’t have hurt.

Dear Hans-Torsten: I want to sign up for green electricity. What providers do you recommend? – Ben

Dear Ben: More than one-third of Germany’s electricity is produced by coal (and most of that is dirty, high-carbon brown coal or lignite with a horrendous climate impact). At the COP23 climate talks in Bonn in November, Germany was an embarrassment. Under Merkel, this country is far away from reaching its emissions targets for 2020. Despite those wind turbines dotting the landscape, Germany is hooked on coal.

Here’s where you come in: sign up for some Ökostrom, energy that comes from solar or wind power, to at least reduce your own carbon footprint! There’s really no excuse not to. For a one-person household using 1500kWh per year, most types of Ökostrom (Lichtblick, Greenpeace Energy, or Vattenfall’s own Natur Strom product) will cost around €43 per month, only €2 more than “normal” i.e. dirty electricity. However, if you want to go 100 percent renewable and 100 percent local, I recommend Berlin-Strom produced by the Berliner Stadtwerke, a city-owned utility which draws its power from rooftop solar panels in town and wind turbines in Brandenburg. And it’s cheaper! 1500kWh will cost you a piddling €39/month.