27 August 2014

Commuting the Commute – Part 1


Blurbanism ∕ Commute ∕ Personal History

Before it became synonymous with traveling to work, the word ‘commute’ originally meant to reduce, replace or to truncate. It derives from the commuted ticket prices workers were offered by rail companies in the 1840s to get to their offices in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia from the burgeoning suburbs.


Compared to the 3.5 million “extreme commuters” cited in this New Yorker article from 2007 – people who, according to the US Census Bureau, travel more than 90 minutes each way – my commute is positively idyllic. For the last 11 years it’s been a pleasant 35 minute cycle ride through Berlin along good roads, a fair stretch of which have marked cycle lanes. Apart from a couple of large intersections which can get hairy sometimes, it’s a pretty good deal, seen globally. In this networked day and age, anyone with broadband has little excuse for not putting themselves into a global context. I do not, for instance, have to traverse a rope bridge, like some farmers in parts of Pakitstan. Nor do I have to take a bus along the Yungas Road in Bolivia.

In a couple of months, my company is set to move to a different part of town. The change will reduce my 4.5km ride to around 3km, and will also force me to cycle through a park. My commute is about to commute.

Defensive barrier in front of the Jewish Museum on Lindenstraße

This is an occasion which affects Slab to quite some degree. Looking back over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how many of my articles have been informed by stuff I’ve seen on the way to the office. Indeed, there have been times when I’ve brooded over the notion that it would be possible to write several hundred-thousand episodic words solely about my route to work. I won’t take you down that rabbit hole, but this series of articles will serve as a kind of resumé, or jaunty blurbanistic synopsis of the 16,200km I’ve cycled through central Berlin on my way to work over the last 8 years existence of this journal.

I’ll wrap up this episode with one more impression which cannot be a more fundamental statement about architecture and Berlin:

The inverted grilled-meat doric, also on Lindenstraße