The Ordnungsamt (literally the “Department of Order”) are Germany’s misdemeanor police. If you plan on taking your bike to work, it pays to know what they’re looking for and what carries a fine in Berlin.
Berlin’s code enforcement officers are said to be less strict than their rural German counterparts, perhaps due to the sheer amount of infringements they encounter on a daily basis. When it comes to smaller infringements, you might get away with a warning. But it’s different matter when it comes to traffic lights.
Look before crossing (through a red light)
It’s not uncommon to see a Berlin cyclist turning their head to check if the Ordnungsamt are behind them before breaking a red traffic light. That’s because the fine has recently been raised to €45 and even €100 if the traffic light was red for longer than a second.
But given the speed at which some of Berlin’s drivers hurtle through crossroads, a fine should be the least of any cyclist’s worries when breaking a red light.
Unlike Australia and the US, Germany has no mandatory helmet laws, even for children. However, its cycling laws are quite specific when it comes to cycling side-by-side, on the pavement or without lights, all of which carry fines of €15.
Alcohol: Cyclists get away with more
Cyclists in Germany are legally still allowed to cycle with up to 1.6 per mil of alcohol in their system (about 2-3 beers, depending on your bodyweight). Drivers above 0.5 per mil face a fine and even having their license confiscated.
Alcohol plays a role in at least one of eight bike accidents (Image: © Software & Support Media)
Nevertheless, biking home after a few beers with your workmates is more risky than you might think. A recent survey by the Auto Club Europa showed that in at least one of eight bike accidents, the cyclist was intoxicated. You can also expect to pay a hefty fine if you cause an accident with anything above 0.3 per mil of alcohol in your blood.
“Rechts vor links”
Crossroads without traffic lights can be confusing to anyone without a German driving licence. The rule of thumb in German traffic law is “right before left”. Cyclists must yield to anyone coming from the right whenever on a side street without traffic lights. Any drivers or cyclists (or Segways if you’re in Mitte) coming from the left must wait for you to pass.
Bicycle enemy no. 1: The opening car door
Almost on a daily basis, Berlin’s papers report of cyclists hospitalised as a result of car doors. Usually with the typical combination of cracked teeth, fractured wrists and a concussion.
German courts have ruled that cyclists are obligated to cycle at a distance of at least one meter from parked cars, even if it means blocking the lane. It’s tricky to explain this to a driver beeping their horn from behind you. But it’s far less painful than a door in the face.
Feature image: Dangerous city traffic situation with a cyclist and cars in motion blur via Shutterstock / copyright: Mykhaylo Palinchak