Books & Bikes

interview by David Sharp

Name – Daniela Seel

Occupation – Poet and founder of kookbooks.

When did you move to Berlin and why?
I moved to Berlin in 1996 by accident. I had been studying for two years and we wanted to start a creative community in Frankfurt with some friends. But it was impossible to find a flat to share that was affordable and they also didn’t want students. Time was running out and suddenly someone offered me a room in Berlin. I always thought I would move to Berlin one day but not in this way or so quickly. I thought as soon as I go to Berlin I will never go back to a smaller city. I had visited Berlin before on two occasions for a week and I knew I would have to go there for the cultural and literature scene.

And what were your initial impressions of the city?
I was a bit irritated by it at first, by the fact that it was so decentralised and it took me a while to love it. Where I come from I was used to everything being in the centre and the rest surrounding it in the suburbs. In Berlin it’s so spread out and you have these huge parks or wasteland in-between. The first time I came here I couldn’t believe how big the streets are compared to Frankfurt but with such low houses. No skyscrapers or anything. You just have this never-ending vista of trees and these short buildings.

What is Berlin like as a cycling city?
It’s great! Sometimes it’s so huge, especially when you live at one end of the city [in Charlottenburg] and then have to ride big distances to get to where things are happening – there’s much more going on in the eastern parts of the city. I always have to cross the Tiergarten at night. In the dark I never feel so comfortable when I’m cycling alone through the park. It’s a beautiful spot but at night it’s a bit creepy, sometimes cycling past prostitutes. My favourite route is to ride from Charlottenburg-Havel along the water [the Landwehrkanal]. It’s so nice to cycle along there in the summer.

Does riding your bike help you think? Do you come up with ideas when you’re cycling through the city?
Of course. It can be a very meditative place to be. And also coffee is very important to me. The first thing I did when I bought this new bike was I bought a holder so I could carry a hot coffee, not for a bottle of water. Sometimes it can be a problem on the cobbles! It’s much easier to take notes when I’m riding the bike than if I was in a car. If an idea pops into my head I can just stop and write it down, although sometimes I have trouble reading my handwriting later!

How did you decide which bike to buy?
It was purely functional although I do also really like the style of the bike. I needed a bike that was able to transport books so that’s why I chose this Dutch-style one that has a large front carrier.

Have you ever had any bad experiences while cycling in Berlin?
Not really, it’s a very pleasant place to ride a bike. And I’ve never had a bike stolen. I can only remember one particularly unpleasant situation. It was during the 2010 World Cup. I was watching a Germany match at Haus der Kulturen der Welt [in the Tiergarten]. It was the night Germany lost to Spain. I had to cycle all the way home and there were so many angry people on the streets and they had those horrible vuvuzela trumpets and they were hitting my bike. They were on the cycling lane and I was ringing my bell to get them out of the way and they were drunk and angry and hitting me with the vuvuzela and trying to stick it between the spokes of my wheels to make me crash. The good thing is that this bike is a big heavy, solid stable Dutch bike and so the bike was stronger than the vuvuzela and it snapped. But it could have ended really badly for me!