As Berlin tries to switch to greener transport, people are choosing the bike, not the electric car and its becoming a status symbol
In a fashionable corner of the capital of Germany, Europes car nation, parents picking up or dropping off their offspring have lined the edge of a popular playground with luxury vehicles. There are summery convertibles, wood-panelled multi-seaters and slim racers but none of them has four wheels.
Jan Edler, an architect, has picked up his son Laszlo from daycare with a Bullitt, a Danish-built cargo bike with a platform spacious enough to fit the one-year-old and the daily grocery shopping.
The family car, he says, has been gathering rust ever since he invested in the aluminium-framed two-wheeler, partly because cargo bikes manage to evoke the same romantic notions that cars once used to: I just find it an incredibly liberating experience to get around a city on a cargo bike, Edel says. I feel safe among the traffic, and my son has something to look at.
With new CO2 emissions targets due to be phased in from 2020 and the reputation of Germanys car industry in urgent need of repair after the dieselgate scandal, the countrys federal government has been trying hard to think of ways to achieve what it calls the Verkehrswende, the green transformation of its transport sector.
A 4,000 purchase subsidy for e-cars, belatedly introduced after the emissions scandal in 2016, was meant to make the autobahn nation go electric but the number of registered plug-in vehicles on Germanys streets still falls way short of the target of 1 million set for 2020.
Then the use of electric scooters was legalised across Germany in mid-June, in the hope that they might help to reduce the carbon footprint of urban areas but first studies show the rentable vehicles to be mainly a fun gimmick appealing to tourists rather than a genuine alternative for commuters.
Instead, the real boom has taken place in the cargo bike sector, largely independent of support from the national government and the powerful car industry, powered instead by local initiatives and smaller startups.
According to Germanys Two-wheel Industry Association (ZIV), 39,200 electrically powered cargo bikes were sold across the country last year, compared with only 36,062 newly registered electric cars, in spite of smaller subsidies.
Robust, easy to park and never slowed down by traffic jams, the cargo bike has been discovered as an efficient alternative to four-wheel transport not just by parents on the nursery or school run, but also carpenters, plumbers, photographers, even chimney sweeps. Yet with prices ranging from 2,000 to 5,000, they are also not cheap.