Raddeln Unterwegs Mit Dem Radler

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Sunday afternoon on a bike trail going through the Black Forest. You and a group of campers carrying backpacks are on the trail with their bikes, each one with an Alsterwasser (EN: lemon sherry)  in his hand, all are quatsching about black bears purging their campgrounds with one of them carrying away a Coleman cooler full of beer with the handle in his mouth, another making his home in a kiddie pool cooling off, and another one chasing the campers on their bikes out of the forest- and through the windows of a liquour store- all underage and their bikes banged up in the end! All of the sudden, as one of the campers was talking about how the bear threw his bike over the fence and onto the property owned by a steel thief (who snatches the bike and tries selling the parts for the price of scrap metal),  you ask him if he is insured. The answer is no, but the response comes as follows: “You better because we have a beer on the trail!”   Looking ahead, anticipating that it was a case of the best Lammsbräu Radler, they see a great big black bear in the middle of the trail! And he is indeed guarding the Lammsbräu, wanting to try it because of its sweetness.

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By Diginatur (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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As an annoyed native speaker of English, on the run for your life as the bear chases you and the campers, your response: “That is not a beer, you idiot! That was a BEAR!!! Bear as in Bae- AAA- ERRRR!”

As a baffled camper, he responds with (______________).

While the campers are on the run with a bear on their tails, their only true insurance is the fact that they are on their bikes and can cycle as fast as they can. Otherwise they would have to climb up a tree. But while the bear story reminds the non-native speaker of English (esp. the German-speaking people) that there is a difference between bear and beer, both phonetically speaking as well as semantic-wise, our topic for this article is cycling in Germany and ways to keep your bike safe from even the craziest of thieves.

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As I wrote last year in the Files, the bicycle is the second most common form of transportation in Germany behind public transport. Over 72 million residents in Germany own a bike, whereas 40.2% of bikers use this precious form of transportation on a daily basis. 49.5% of users take the bike at least once a week.  Like the Danes who bike in Copenhagen and other cities, the bike is, to the Germans, also like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bread is just not good enough with butter. Peanut butter is OK if you want to offer the conductor of the Deutsche Bahn that as a peace-offering for not having a train ticket in your possession (because the ticket machine at the station you left is kaputt). But with jelly, it’s sweet. Biking is almost free, you are independent and can get from point A to point B. You can see the rarest places on the narrow streets of Flensburg, bike along the Baltic-North Sea Canal from coast to coast and see ships and bridges galore. You can take your family camping just by crossing the Fehmarn Bridge from Bad Oldesloe and Oldenburg and camp at one of the island’s several campgrounds, while biking from the bridge to the ferry at Puttgarden in a matter of a half hour. In other words, biking is healthy, easy and fun.

Yet speaking from experience, when something happens to your bike, whether it is theft or vandalism, it takes away the fun from the form of transport, like a person switching your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with one with just butter or peanut butter. It’s simply not good.  A while back, I had a chance to ask some bike experts and other bike enthusiasts about how they can keep their bikes safe, I had a few answers that will surprise you. Here are some facts that will help you keep your bike safe and in use for many years to come.

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Typical of a used bike. This one I had while living in Bayreuth in 2009.

Buy a used bike while in a city- This fact is the norm if living in a big city, like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or even the Ruhr Area. Bike thefts are more common as the population increases. Therefore it is unwise to present yourself with a brand new Stevens bike when commuting to work in a big city unless you have extra protection. Used bikes are inexpensive and if you know how to repair it properly, it can last a long time.

Learn to fix your bike yourself- While there are some parts, such as a tire rim, gear system or even the lighting system where you need professional experts to fix, sometimes incremental fixes, such as replacing a tire, oiling the chains, replacing the headlight and odometer can save a trip to the bike shop. If you are a novice, a repair book or even some advice from a friend who fixes bikes can help.

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Tune your bike regularily- If you bike long distances- be it commuting or going on bike tours- it is important to have your bike inspected to ensure that any problems detected can be solved right away. Pending on how often you bike, inspections are best done 3-4 times a year, especially if you bike in the winter time. Trust me, people bike in the snow to work in the winter time. I’ve done this myself.

Insure your bike- Germany is not like Switzerland when it comes to insurance. While that country obliges you to have the Vignette, Germany may end up using the Swiss example in the near future, for even though insurance is not obligatory unless you have Haftpflicht to protect your bike from theft at home, it is wise to have it just in case. This includes the ARAG and DEVK, which has a complete coverage of bike insurance, covering you from theft and accidents. Other insurances have this as part of their main insurance plan. You should check this out when you have a bike and are often on the trail with it.

Keep your proof of evidence- For reasons stated in the next tip, when buying your bike, make sure you keep your proof of purchase and all information pertaining to it. In case anything happens to the bike, you may need it. Sometimes the bike store where you purchased it may have that information in their databank in case you don’t have it on hand.

Code your bike- Steel and rubber are becoming the commodity that thieves and desperados are taking advantage of, both shamelessly as well as professionally. That’s why the police encourage  you to code your bike so that the information is registered in the files and in case your bike gets stolen, they can track it down in a hurry.  They are effective, and a person can get his/her bike back without having to worry about buying a new one, as seen in the clip. The only caveat to this is by the time the bike is found, all that is left is the frame as the rest are taken for the purpose of (….). If a person is desperate to steal a rubber handle of a bike horn, he/she is willing to do everything. But being safe than sorry, coding means security against such theft. The police and other authorities have coding sessions on a regular basis, so ask if you are interested.

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Know your bike- Most victims of bike theft don’t know their bike is stolen until it’s too late. One second the bike is in the bike stand, the next second it is stolen. If this happens and you report it to the police right away (which you should), make sure you know your bike and its description to the finest detail. This includes providing a photo of your bike, however, it also includes what your bike has for features, such as the brand, color, features but also other items, such as dirt, scratches, stickers, etc. A few months back, my bike was stolen, forcing me to report it to the police. I was amazed at the number of features I could remember on my bike, as seen in the picture above- can you identify some unusual features my bike has? …..

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Know your neighbors and contact them- Your neighbors are a primary commodity, especially when they see you cycling and know what bike you have. Therefore, in case something happens to your bike, inform them right away. They will keep their eyes out and ensure that your bike is safe and sound. Most of the time, they are willing to cooperate with the police and other authorities should the theft be reported and that be a necessity.  I was fortunate that one of my neighbors in the apartment block, who had been informed of someone stealing the bike, found it a few blocks away while I was reporting the incident. However not all stories have happy endings. Therefore, take good care of your bike and….

Lock your bike if not in use- It takes a second for your bike to disappear. It is stupid to have your bike stolen- stupider when you don’t lock it beforehand. Two seconds with a key saves a whole day at the police station reporting it, period.

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Flensburg Points apply to the bike- Like the car, the bike is a vehicle and therefore, the rules of the road apply to the cyclists, even if they are on the bike-autobahn and other bike trails. Obey and you won’t have to pay for a Flensburg point.

Use your head, wear a helmet!- While some people believe helmets can be harmful than helpful, here’s one story a professor mentioned to his students at the beginning of a lecture, a while back: On his way to his lecture, he was involved in an accident with a car. He suffered a concussion after the impact but survived thanks to the helmet he wore. Can you imagine what would have happened had he NOT worn a helmet? If you are a fool, try it. But if your life as well as your family and friends matter, then maybe you should think and wear it! 80 Euros for a helmet is better than 80,000 Euros for funeral costs.

Biking can be a lot of fun for yourself as well as the family. Already it is the second main form of transportation behind public transportation, regardless of purpose. It is just a matter of following a few points regarding taking care of the bike, and the vehicle can be your friend for life. Bikes deserve to be treated just like a horse. They can get you from point A to point B, but they deserve the treatment as any pet- or car. If the bike fails and you are tired of it, give it to someone else, or do like I did to a used one: tie it to a light post and allow someone to take it for his own. It was a custom I invented when leaving a university for another job offer elsewhere in Germany- not just as a way of leaving a mark for what I did there, but for someone willing to take my used bike for his/her purpose, while purchased my current bike, a black Diamant with the name of Galloping Gertie, which has not failed me since then. Sometimes, a good brand name plus good maintenance goes a long way, especially after the thousands of kilometers she has accumulated in such a short time. You can do the same too. 🙂

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What’s lost is now found

Here’s a question for you readers, as well as those who would like to use this as a warm-up for a conversation class:

  1. Have you ever lost something that you held dearly to your life- something very valuable and inseparable until one day you discovered it gone? Did you ever find it again?
  2. Have you ever found something valuable in an empty place, like an abandoned house or railcar, like the one above? If so, what did you do with it?

Many of us have lost a very valuable item that we could never get by without. Sometimes it could be someone that you admired dearly or even loved for one time, only to ghost you in the end for unknown reasons. There are just as many of us who happen to find something very valuable in abandoned places, with a third of us having claimed it, another third returning it to its rightful owner (via police) and the rest having left it is is.  I remember a time where we were at an abandoned house and I discovered a large black and white picture of a small train station, dating back to the late 1800s. My first impression was to claim it and keep it somewhere. But being raised in a region where Lutheranism  is predominant, and having been raised to be honest and not a thief, I decided to leave it as is, in hopes that the person will reclaim it someday. A couple years later, the house was reoccupied, and the picture eventually made it in the hands of another owner.

The reason behind these two questions is in connection with the most recent event involving a dead man and his violin. The most interesting behind this was the fact that the violin was stolen, disappeared for 35 years, rediscovered one day while cleaning house and was subsequentially returned to its rightful owner.  The violin: a 1734 Stradivarius owned by world renowned violinist, Roman Totenberg. The incident: a student named Philip Johnsson stole his violin in 1980, hid it in a place unknown, and maintained a straight face of innocence of saying “I didn’t do anything,” right up until his death of cancer in 2011, at the age of 58. Roman died a year later without ever seeing his violin again. He was 101.  How was it found: The ex-wife of Johnsson and his boyfriend found the violin while cleaning house. What happened afterwards, click on the link to follow the story.

While the violin has now been returned to the daughters of Roman, Amy, Nina, Jill and Melanie, it shows how civil courage can play a role in bringing home something that is deeply valuable to someone who missed it like he missing an important member of the family. We see this rarely these days because we always have this mentality “What’s mine is mine!” This especially applies to items like this one.  Sometimes if an object of that value is found, one has to decide what is the best course of action. Many times it just makes sense to report the lost item to the authorities in hopes what is lost is eventually found.

So when finding an item like a violin, think about who it belongs to instead of having that greedy mentality of “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” After all, that object might belong to the person who has been missing it for quite some time. Would you claim something as valuable as this violin below, made in 1734 by Antonio Stradavarius? Think about it….

The front view image of the Antonio Stradivari violin of 1703. Picture taken at the Musikinstrumenten Museum, Berlin Link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/Stradivarius_violin_front.jpg

Never buy a combi-lock! Always use one with a key!

Combination locks are not preferred!

 

Normally, I do not advocate for things on this column for reasons that I usually keep my thoughts and stories as neutral and interesting as possible. But this column should force many of us to think of which lock one should buy if we want to protect our property from theft or vandalism.

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I were moving from one end of town to another, and I had the dubious task of moving boxes upon boxes of our personal belongings rarely needed for the apartment from our old basement to the new one. I had bought a Burg and Waechter combination lock a couple weeks earlier- one similar to the picture above, with four digits where you can set your own combination to open the padlock. It had worked for several times until one Saturday, when I went down to open the lock, only to find that despite lining up the combination numbers on the line to open it, the padlock would not open.  I tried to open it up several times only to end up doing it in vain. The same applied when my wife and a couple other guests helping out with the move tried.

After about an hour working on the lock, we decided to give up and investigate the underlying causes of this problem. We started with access to the internet and the keyword Burg and Waechter combination locks and found our answer- our combi- lock was picked, when we were not even around! While there is a one in 10,000 chance of matching the combination set by the proprietor of the padlock, by clicking in the links above, one will see how easy picking a Burg and Waechter combi-lock really is and how frustrating it is, for once a person sets the combination in place, it is nearly impossible to reset it after it was picked!

This led to me being curious about the other combination locks that are out there, for we had had a Master combination lock for the basement of our old apartment, the typical three- number combination set lock where it requires turning to the right for the first number, left for the second number and right for the third and final number before unlocking it- all between 0 and 39.

 

Master-lock: more effective, but.......

 

While the the lock was very effective and there were no attempts of theft or vandalism of our belongings in the basement that we knew about, Master locks are also not safe for use, for there is a one in 64,000 chance that the combination would be figured out and the goods kept in a safe place would disappear before the police can intercept the thief. There are two ways of getting the combination from the proprietor- over the shoulder or by cracking it. Looking over the shoulder is effective if the person owning the lock is dumb enough to give the combination away! While one would be insane enough to just say the combination, all it would take is a person NOT putting the hand over the combination and thus having someone look over the shoulder or even record it on the iPhone or any cell phone to do the trick.  But even if people do put their hand over the padlock to keep the combination under wraps, there is the intelligent way of cracking the code, which could be done in 10-15 minutes and requires some mathematics. If the person is not up to numbers and equations, there is always a shim to use if the lock is to be opened in less time. Just insert it into the shackle, wiggle, and whalaa! While shims can be a blessing and a curse all on a silver platter, pending on if one is a thief or the owner of the padlock, I learned that Master locks are perhaps the most vulnerable of the padlocks in the market, as they can be easily picked by anyone regardless of their expertise in breaking into one’s property.

So what is the alternative? The last one is the padlock with a key. There are many brands of padlocks that can be chosen from. While Master also offers these assortments, Medeco offers fancy locks with keys, even though they are perhaps the most expensive of the locks in general. Also popular internationally is Abus, which offers all sorts of locks with keys- not just padlocks but also those for bicycles. The last one is based here in Germany in Wetter (Ruhr), located near Hagen in North Rhine Westphalia. But like the aforementioned padlocks, these types are also vulnerable to being picked, despite the security features on them. For an Abus lock, all it takes is a wave-jiggler or even a thin piece of metal to stick in and turn the lock. Even the Medeco locks are prone to being picked, despite its high security features. One needs a little bit of time and dedication in order to get the job done.

Abus locks made in Germany

In the end, despite all of the benefits and drawbacks, the decision was made to forego the combination locks in favor of the padlock with the key, and with the Abus logo on there. Even though the danger is there to pick it with the necessary tools, we saw that other lots in the basement also had the same locks on there, and for a good reason. When an apartment block has a lot of teenagers living there, they can get into a lot of mischief, as a group of kids did, by changing the combination on the Burg Waechter lock as a practical joke. That was definitely not a laughing matter, for if caught, legal action can be taken by those affected by the (attempted) burglary.

This brings me to the closing of the column on padlocks with a series of advices that should be taken when it comes to padlocks and protecting personal items from theft and vandalism, regardless of whether you are storing items at a train station during a short stay in a town or if you are walking the halls of the university enroute to your classes or even if you have a house with a basement.  Some are reminders but others should be an enlightenment for you:

 

1. Never keep your valuables in a place requiring a lock. Always keep them with you so you know where they are at at all times. That means do not leave your books and other items that you use often in a basement, but find a place in the apartment for them where you can see them at all times.

 

2. If you are at the university, always take your laptop and today’s materials with you that you will DEFINITELY use at all times. Do not check out library books and leave them in a locker, but do that before going home. Home is the best place for your items, whereas the lockers are meant for your jackets and hats only- but even then, they are not safe either….

 

3. If an institution has lockers, please check what type of lockers are available. Many places have lockers where you just need to deposit a coin or two and you can store your belongings and lock them with the key provided. They are perhaps one of the safest lockers to have. Always keep your key with you until you leave the place.

 

4. The basement should be used for storing items that you do not need that often, like holiday things, etc. The reason for that is the basement is the most vulnerable room in the apartment or house. If a thief wants to break into the basement, he would do it because of something valuable he wants. You do not want that; you want to discourage him from doing that, so keep something that is worthless down there, so that in the end, you can “mothball” him and force him to look for another place to break in.

 

5. When choosing a lock, ALWAYS find the safest one to use (and of course the most practical to suit your needs). It is better to spend more for a safe lock than to spend on lost personal items taken in a burglary.

 

6. If you have a lot in the basement of an apartment complex, check who else is living there and the locks they are using. Always conform to the locks used as there is a reason for locks being picked in the first place.

 

7. Make sure you know the policies of the place where you are storing your belongings and know who to contact in case your items are stolen. Normally there are regulations as to how long you can store your belongings, while at the same time take the best course of action in case something happens to your belongings, however,….

 

8. You are responsible for your items that you store in places requiring locks. Many places are not liable for lost items so please be very careful as to what items to store and how you store them.

 

9. Always have a padlock breaker with you or any device (like a shim) you can use to break open the lock in case if it is picked. Locksmiths can be very spendy and based on our experience, it is cheaper to invest in something to break open yourself and keep the tools with you for future use.

 

10. Always have a support group to ensure that nothing happens to you and your belongings and that of others. Neighborhood watch groups are very common in the US and in some places in Germany where the population is very dense and are highly affected by crime. And lastly, report any stolen items to the police right away and know what exactly was taken.

 

By taking these important measures, you will feel safer and your belongings will be better protected against theft and vandalism, as there are a lot of people who want to exert his/her pleasure in doing harm to others. Stealing one’s important goods or destroying property are two classic examples of doing just that, hurting others. Even if changing the combination on the padlock was a prank, like it was the case with our padlock, it is not funny. Therefore we must take measures to ensure that we feel safe as well as our personal belongings that we value the most. The last thing that can happen to a person is to have is to have one’s padlock picked, to have the items stolen and to throw the whole schedule of the day into limbo.

As the apartment complex has no electronic locks where we are issued a combination for use, let alone inform the police of a possible break-in (like we have in the US), we now know which padlock is the best against any pickers. And apart from knowing which items to be stored in the basement, we do have a back-up plan should another picking attempt take place while we are away, even though we hope it will not come down to this…..

 

Lockbreaker with the locks