Carspotting and Bicycling in Berlin, Germany



It’s amazing to see what people drive when they don’t need to drive.

I’ve spent the past two weeks cycling and taking the S-Bahn everywhere I’ve needed to go in Berlin. It’s been punctual, efficient, healthy, and a fraction of the cost of car ownership. Berlin is no small town. With a population of 4.4 million, the capital city of reunified Germany (arguably the wealthiest country in the world today) covers a huge area, about as much as metro Edmonton. Yet, car ownership is far from a necessity. In this expansive cosmopolitan area, bicycles are not only given priority by automobile drivers, but cyclists are granted their own dedicated lanes in the overwhelming majority of the city, demarcated by a red tinged strip of special pavement three feet wide. The S-Bahn (above ground subway), which complements the U-Bahn (uh, underground subway), works in concert to provide a transportation network that whisks citizens and tourists whenever they are too tired or lazy to walk or cycle. So owning a car isn’t weird – it isn’t awkward – it’s simply a luxury.

As a result of this intricate and inspired alternative transportation network, Berliners make do with only 358 cars per 1000 people compared to an average of 570 per thousand in Germany and very nearly the same density in Canada (although personally owning two cars at home skews this somewhat). An S-Bahn pass for 5 days costs around $35, which is on its own less than the cost of the gas it’d take to travel the same distances we did, with none of the depreciation, insurance, maintenance, and interest payments associated with car ownership.

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the obvious financial, logical, and environmental detriment entailed by car ownership, Berliners have nothing less than an eclectic taste in automobilia. Classic French icons mingle with Autobahn Destroyers, which in turn covort with British Bruisers and limited editions galore. The streets of Berlin alone are worth the trip and being on a bicycle is a great way to see them all up close.

Here are my highlights:

1. Mercedes McLaren SLR Stirling Moss Edition: I pretty much wet my pants and screamed like a little girl when I saw this driving by in the Potsdamer Platz area. I ran after it in an unknowingly comical manner, all high kneed jogging and T-Rex arms, as I fumbled with my iPhone to grab a picture. Sure enough, I accidentally pressed the self-facing camera button just as I had the perfect profile shot. As a result, I had to settle for a rear shot of the 750,000 Euro one-of-75 roofless curiosity.

2. Porsche 911 Sport Classic: If memory serves, there was a fair bit of hot air puffed around the blogosphere about this $250,000 911, of which only 250 were made, because it wasn’t any faster than a GTS (which, admittedly, was launched subsequent to the Sport Classic), but it didn’t much matter because the whole run was already spoken for. The time-warping ducktail spoiler, 19” Fuchs wheels, guaranteed exclusivity, and leather ensconced interior sealed the deal. Oddly, this rare homage to the bygone icon of the ’73 RS was found parked on a fairly normal street not once, but twice, in the exact same spot, on consecutive days. Surely the owner must own other Porsches to even be invited to purchase the Sport Classic, but he’d apparently forgotten to also purchase an underground stall for it. Poor foresight. Three days later, I ran into ANOTHER Sport Classic, as if they grow on trees. Note the different plates.

3. Porsche 911 Speedster: Not the prettiest of the 911s, but nor was it ever meant to be. It’s meant to be exclusive, and it is certainly that. This was was snapped at a gas station convenience store at 2am on a Thursday night. Um, ya. Porsche Exclusive definitely likes Berlin.

4. Citroen DS: There were more of these running the cobblestone streets than I could catch on camera, but I did manage to grab a few. They were in beautiful condition.

4. Citroen 2CV: The Deux Cheveaux was everywhere! What was conceived as a practical car for French peasants has found its niche with the nouveau riche of Berlin.

[pictures mysteriously missing from camera. I smell a conspiracy]

5. Renault 4: Another beautiful French icon we found in a selection of delicious hues.

6. Renault Avantime: Before the Germans made segment-busting icons like the Merc CLS and BMW X6, there was this minivan-coupé. It’s flabbergasting to behold.

7. Bentley Brooklands: The King of British Bruisers. Such a monument!

8. Tesla Roadster: I even pretended to plug it in. Much to the chagrin of the owner.

9. AMC Pacer: A hotrodded fish out of water.

10. Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Fbg by Hermes: One of five. So the rarest of the rare. Lovely detailing on this partnership between the French(ish) carmaker and French luxury goods maker, such as the big engraved “H” in the centre of each of the four wheels. Also note the 40L/100km rating in the city!

11. MG V8: Gorgeous paint colour and condition.

12. Mercedes-Benz Unimog Camper: The back of the trailer said “Gipsi”. This is apparently what well-heeled Berliners use to travel to the far reaches of Romania and the like on summer holidays. It’s flagrant overkill in much the same way that Canadians “need” pick-ups to go camping, just with a uniquely Germanic flair.

13. Volkswagen Amorak: The VW pick-up that North American enthusiast clamour for, except that this particular 2.0TDI model runs somewhere in the order of $65,000. I can think of better uses for that kind of money. Like a Ford SVT Raptor with 6.2L V8.

14. Trabant: The East German icon probably wasn’t designed for hauling fat American tourists, but it’s been repurposed to do exactly that.

15. Mini E: The all-electric prototype that was leased to the public for a rather dear amount of money. Saw the same one a couple times.

16. 1967 Ford ISO 20 M TS-Coupe. About as seminal as the ’67 Mustang was for the North American market. And ever bit as desirable.

We hope you enjoyed the run-down of Berlin’s amazing car collection. Much like the city itself, the cars felt like museums pieces: each sampling from a different era and coming together to create a masterpiece of a collection. We’ll be sure to assemble a compilation like this next time we travel abroad, which is surprisingly frequently. Next stop, Hawaii at Christmas.