It might have started in San Francisco in 1992, but Berlin feels like the true spiritual home of Critical Mass. There’s something about the counter-cultural, revolutionary and resistant nature of the Mass that meshes perfectly with Berlin’s DNA.
In case you don’t know what it is, Critical Mass is essentially a big unofficial bike protest. On the last Friday of every month, thousands of cyclists gather at Mariannenplatz before setting off and taking over the roads. The idea is for enough cyclists to gather together so that the bikes form a mass that dominates the streets and makes it safe for everyone to cycle. If you feel unsafe cycling in ‘traffic’, then Critical Mass is the way for you to feel secure, because at the end of the day, cyclists are traffic too.
On the surface level, Critical Mass is just a big fun bike ride. It’s a great excuse to hang out with your friends, makes an excellent date activity, or is just a fun solo pursuit. There are people with sound systems blasting music, all varieties of wheeled transport, people with their dogs, whole families – it’s like a mini festival and a cross section of Berlin life.
There are no set routes for the Mass and it just gets made up as it goes along. It’s a brilliant way to explore parts of the city that you might not have seen before, and the only fixture is that at some point on each ride the snake of bikes will make its way to the Siegessäule and do laps of the column.
But Critical Mass isn’t only about having fun, it is an act of protest against the dominance of cars in the city and a way to draw attention to cycling issues. The disruption of car journeys is a way to highlight that there are better forms of transport for getting around Berlin, and a bike is probably the best one.
As long as you have access to a bicycle (or a unicycle, a trike, rollerblades, or whatever you fancy), there is no barrier to taking part in Critical Mass, so get on your bike and get involved.
Photo by Maxim Tsvetkov
Words by Jonny Tiernan