Berlin - I had been feeling pretty good. I had lengthened my commute because I had decided to swing by the BSR Recyclinghof on my way home to drop off two old laptops. I was not only doing double good for my health, I was doing double duty for the environment by cycling and recycling. I was also enjoying the paved, on-street bike path – wide with no danger of bus stops, sidewalk sales or errant children.
Ahead of me on the path was a slower cyclist on one of those creaky bikes everyone thinks are from the Netherlands – a Hollandrad – but which in my neighbourhood are often just East German Diamants with three layers of spray paint, one for each time they were stolen and re-sold. I glanced over my left shoulder and, with no car near, moved a few centimetres into the road and passed the Hollandrad.
A few seconds later, an SUV appeared and demonstrably rolled down the window: “Bleib schön auf den Fahrradweg, Kleiner,“ the driver said to me – stay on the bike path, little man.
“Piss off,“ I said. “It was two seconds.“
He shrugged, rolled up the window, accelerated and then cut sharp right onto the bike path, nearly forcing me into the cars parked to my right. I panicked and slapped his rear window with my left hand while coming to a complete stop. He then pulled completely onto the bike path and stopped as well.
Although clashes with cars are as much a part of cycling in Berlin as inattentive tourists and tree roots, I’m never interested in them. I just want to get home alive. The only escape route was left past the SUV, which was now stuck in traffic behind a light.
As I passed, he opened his door into me, knocking me down. He jumped out, spat on me and screamed that we would be waiting for the police, which seemed like a fantastic idea to me. I moved my bike to the sidewalk and called the police.
He offered to sleep with my entire family and then mimicked calling the police as well (in court it came out that the police were only called once).
He then became irritated because the man on the Hollandrad had stopped as well.
“What are you doing?“ the SUV driver demanded.
“Acting as a witness,“ the Hollandrad said.
“If I need a witness, I’ll get witnesses,“ the SUV driver, who was alone in his car, said. He then flicked a lit cigarette at the witness and accused us of being both junkies and lovers.
In court the judge would ask me if I felt insulted by the SUV driver’s remarks.
“I understand that they were meant as insults, but no,“ I told him. “If he wants to sleep with my mother, that's between him and her,“ I said. The judge smirked. “And I don’t see how the others are insults.“
The driver then ranted for several minutes before again mimicking a call to the police.
“They said I can go. Take all the pictures you want,“ he said.
So I did. I snapped a picture of his license plate and of him with my phone, although since he was in his car by that point, the reflection in the windscreen hid his face. However, he rescinded his permission for photos and jumped out of his car. He pushed me and put me in a headlock in an attempt to wrest the phone from me.
I was confident he would, but I hoped to hold on to it long enough that the photos would upload to the cloud.
Several other bystanders rushed over and pulled the man off of me. He then got in his car and sped off. Ironically, by getting out of the car, he had made it possible for me to get several clear shots of him.
The police showed up about 20 minutes later. “Next time,“ the officer said, “tell us it’s a threatening situation so we get here faster. I would have loved to have had a little discussion with him.“
It took over a year for the case to get to court – apparently the German wheels of justice are wooden and pulled by a herd of aging oxen who are afforded a Bavaria-level of Catholic holidays.
When I checked in with the guard, she told me the case had started two hours ago.
“Oh no,“ I said. “I must have written down the wrong time.“
“No,“ she said. “He’s got another case today as well. They haven’t even gotten to yours yet.“
In the end, the SUV driver got over a year for my case – but the judge reduced it to three years’ probation if he can keep his nose clean.
“There’s no way he’ll be able to do that,“ another witness said after sentencing.
But I’ll keep commuting by bike. And dropping my old laptops off at the BSR Recyclinghof.