Syrian women in Germany learn to ride bikes for the first time

A group of women in Berlin are teaching migrant women who have never cycled before to ride bikes, giving them a sense of empowerment and achievement.

Katie Griggs
Volunteers in Berlin are teaching Syrian women, who've never cycled before, to ride bikes. Arij, left, received this bike last week, from the BIKEYGEES group as well as a helmet and safety gear.

Riding a bike is a taboo for women in many Muslim countries, but in Berlin, some Syrian migrants, are embracing a newfound freedom of movement, cycling freely.

"I love how cycling feels. Today it was great to ride so far around the park. Soon I want to ride Berlin's streets like the locals." Syrian refugee Shiraz, who is learning to ride, says.

Shiraz and her family fled fighting in Aleppo two months ago, and she is now getting used to her new life in Berlin – including getting around on two wheels.

She’s part of a weekly ladies' cycling group that provides free cycling lessons, bikes, and equipment to migrant women in Berlin.

Known as #BIKEYGEES, the group was launched by Katie Griggs, Annette Krueger, and Anne Seebach to help migrants who want to learn riding a bike in Germany.

“It was a totally practical, logical response to a need. And I thought it might be fun,” Griggs told the Christian Science Monitor.  

Griggs's background is in environmental protection and she sees the value in getting as many people as possible to ride bicycles, especially with the number of newcomers in Europe hitting one million in 2015.  “It is great if they use bikes rather than cars,” says Griggs.

The group holds weekly bike sessions in a large, open recreational space in central Berlin.

Through an online crowdfunding scheme, so far seven women have been issued with bikes and safety equipment. In the New Year they will visit a cycling proficiency center so they can all prepare to ride on city streets, according to Griggs.

Besides helping the asylum seekers adapt and integrate into German society, the biking group helps forge friendships too.

“On my birthday a group of "my" ladies came to my house with food and drinks and we gathered together and laughed and danced. We are in touch most days via Facebook and we try to help each other. I get told 'I love you' very often and thanked all the time,” says Griggs. 

She adds that she’s slowly learning some Arabic and lots of things about Syria and other cultures.

Bicycling has become more popular in Syria, too. Many people in Damascus have turned to bikes to avoid the endless traffic jams caused by dozens of army checkpoints.

"Customs and traditions reject the idea, it was very difficult at first but eventually I was convinced to buy a bike. I bought one and since then I go every day to college with it, it is a useful and good alternative," a female computer science student in Damascus told Agence France-Presse.

On Monday, local activists in Damascus organized a public bike ride aimed at raising awareness about the benefits of cycling as an alternative means of transportation with dozens Syrians of different ages and social classes taking part.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Syrian women in Germany learn to ride bikes for the first time
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2015/1223/Syrian-women-in-Germany-learn-to-ride-bikes-for-the-first-time
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe