Global Observer

Berlin beer bikes face an uncertain future

Berlin beer bikes face an uncertain future

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BERLIN -- Cities throughout Germany are tussling with small tourism businesses over the nuisance and appeal of infamous "beer bikes". Could the latest fight mean their bitter end in the German capital?

BERLIN -- What's a visit to Germany without draught beer and a bike tour?

Safer, say Berlin authorities, currently deliberating what to do about the quaint but controversial combination of the two called "beer bikes". Popular with tourists, the rolling pubs pose a safety threat as they are slow, difficult to steer and powered by individuals under the influence, opponents say.

Both Munich and Düsseldorf have seen city authorities and beer bike tour companies battle it out over small-business rights versus safety. Now the Higher Administrative Court in Münster has officially banned the vehicles - a verdict Berlin's local newspaper Der Tagesspiegel says officials were waiting for in the capital city.

"We're trying to determine what the decision means for us," Mathias Gille, Berlin senate committee spokesperson, told the paper.

Comments from politicians have been less yielding.

"They run on pure pedal-power," one unnamed politician told Der Tagesspiegel. "If [the passengers] are intoxicated and stop pedaling, the worst-case scenario is that a fire truck can't get past them. If I can prevent that, I'm going to."

Spokesperson for the conservative faction of the city's transport politicians Oliver Friederici said his group would come to an agreement on the subject this week, telling the Berlin daily: "While a four-person tandem bike works, 16 people perched around a rotunda simply does not."

Others argue that beer bikes are not the picture of culture, dignity and grace Berlin wants to broadcast to the world.

But limitations on the vehicles could maim or even kill Berlin's beer bike industry, depending on whether a permit requirement or a blanket ban were instated. Even if Berlin courts were to officially classify such tours as "special-purpose use of public streets" and require a permit, the extra administrative steps could be costly, business owners say. It may also fail to diffuse the original conflict.

"We can't react to the situation until a detailed explanation of the permit decision from Düsseldorf is released," Ulrich Hoffman, Managing Director of Event Bike and More GmbH and beer bike vendor, told SmartPlanet.

"We've been on the road in Berlin for two-and-a-half years now without problems - not with the regulatory authority, not with the city, not with the police. Certain people see [the tours] as a problem, I do not."

Photo: mediafury/Flickr

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Shannon Smith

Correspondent (Berlin)

Shannon N. Smith has written for WNYC's The Takeaway and TheLocal.de. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She is based in Berlin, Germany. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure