• Sun. Sep 26th, 2021

Column startled couch potatoes: it’s flanned out


Jun 8, 2021

Just strolling around town. That’s no longer the thing. Nowadays, even tourists race through the city as a horde of combat cyclists.

The flâneur’s predators: a group of cyclists in front of the East Side Gallery in Berlin. Image: imago/Caro

Combat cyclists, Dutch cyclists, e-bikers, pedestrians, walker pushers – that’s the hierarchy of speed under one’s own muscle power in our cities. The aimless stroller has fallen by the wayside.

He has been displaced, is useless, possibly unemployed. Neither sporty, nor effective. A loiterer, highwayman, who steals time from the good Lord, but in any case gets in the way.

My friend Janis, for example. For hours he roams the city while his friends jog or lift weights at the fitness center, persistently swimming lengths.

Janis lets himself drift. He knows the bums on the corner, which prostitute is standing where during the day, which cafe is closed at the moment and where to buy the best bread, the cheapest brand-name shoes and the largest selection of organic apples. The latest from the microcosm of the big city. Amusing, incidental, sometimes informative.

Janis is an old-school flâneur as he wanders the city showered, well-dressed and tidy. His fitness program he claims. He has never seen the inside of a fitness center.

While strolling was once a passion and part of the cultivated lifestyle of bourgeois literati, intellectuals, revolutionaries – it has now gone completely out of fashion. Uncool. Not only among Janis’ friends. Also among the many tourists from Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen who visit Berlin.

They no longer conquer the city on foot, but by bike. En masse. Mercilessly. On sidewalks, squares, in parks or in front of street cafes – cyclists everywhere, in groups, often untested on the saddle, their eyes stubbornly fixed on sights instead of the roadway.

No place anywhere for pedestrians. Not even in the subway. Even there, cyclists recklessly block the way when it starts raining outside.

"Walk like a lady," Janis called out to me the other day as I got on my bike, thickly hooded like a bullet. Worth considering. If the flâneur once carried out his best stuff in dignified elegance, the cyclist of today is also in the outfit only effective, practical, all-weather, rarely beautiful to look at.

Aerodynamics instead of style, fleece instead of velvet, sweaty instead of spotless. The pedestrian on the sidelines, his pleasure variant, the dressed-up flâneur, a historical phenomenon. We are sporty, mobile, fit, healthy, determined, fast, rarely relaxed.

Speaking of combat cyclists, last week Janis was accidentally hit by a cyclist on the sidewalk. Knee injury. Now he pulls even slower through the streets, but true to style with a stick.

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