| David Fischer |
HAMBURG (dpa) – An innovative new course in Hamburg allows many female immigrants to realise a dream of a lifetime by teaching them a talent that others take for granted: Knowing how to ride a bicycle.
At the class, in a sports facility in the Altona district of the northern city, 11 women huddle in a group, waiting to learn mastery of the metal machines.
The location has been selected to offer the group privacy, with hedges and trees protecting them from the prying eyes of curious onlookers as they take their first wobbling rides.
Some wear head scarves, while others avoid eye contact as they tentatively pull at a bike’s brakes.
Barbara is one such pupil. The 63-year-old admits she has to overcome her fears, as she fell on the ground on three previous occasions attempting to learn to ride.
She is accompanied by a group of Muslim women, including Aisha, who can now ride to a certain degree but has difficulty maintaining her balance.
The women yearn to belong to the new country that is their home, and the innocent pleasure of cycling in a park is a great way to do as the Germans do.
Aisha’s friend Maryam, meanwhile, is annoyed that she is unable to keep up with her three young school-attending children unless she rides a bike too.
Hoda from northern Egypt wants to finally master the skill after successfully completing a swimming course.
Germany has far more bicycles than people. Many Germans can’t drive or can’t swim, but almost all learned as children to ride bikes. These brave women are starting decades late.
“I move, therefore I am”, is the rather academic-sounding but simple learning concept employed by teacher Christian Burmeister.
“Our objective is that the women once again act and move like five-year-olds,” Burmeister explains as he pumps a bike’s tyres ahead of the lesson.
The pupils learn how to sit correctly, hold the handlebars and develop a feeling for the bike. These may seem like small details on any other bike riding course, but the women need to take one small step at a time.
Burmeister has been offering the course since 2005, which is financed by the Hamburg Sport Association’s “Integration through sport” programme.
The group form a large circle and Burmeister shows them a scooter, demonstrating how you dab one foot on the ground to push away from a standing start. The learners try.
While Barbara manages to move off smoothly, Hoda finds the task more challenging and falls over on her fifth attempt after losing her balance, hitting her head on the asphalt in the process.
Aisha and Maryam rush to help their friend, who has suffered a graze on her forehead although her glasses remain precariously perched on the bridge of her nose.
The wound is cleaned and antiseptic cream applied before Hoda resumes the lesson, as Burmeister has already moved on to the next challenge.
By the fourth day, the participants are only one step away from enjoying their new freedom. Barbara sits proudly on her bike and moves off smoothly, joining her classmates as they cycle in circles around the sports centre, oblivious to the sounds of a helicopter that hovers overhead.
Hoda remains one of the less confident cyclists and needs more room, cycling more slowly and in a larger circle than her friends. Her shoulders wobble and she looks close to falling over on a couple of occasions.
Burmeister stops the exercise and slowly goes through the steps one more time.
“Step one: sit on the saddle. Step two: put one foot on a pedal,” he says.
Step three: push off with the other foot, and sometimes, four, five and even six as the lady cyclists keeping hopping on that foot, too nervous to swing it through the frame and begin cycling properly.
“This is your master,” says Burmeister as he points to the stomach. The tip seems to work as an immediate improvement is obvious.
“They have to try it out like children,” the teacher explains as he retains an eye on his group before leading them to the neighbouring hard-court pitch.
Barbara folds away the handkerchief she has used to wipe the sweat from her brow.
“I feel much safer, but the bike is still my enemy and not my friend,” she says. However, she is still one of the first to display the confidence necessary to cycle away, using the bleached white lines on the edge of the pitch to orient herself.
Hoda, on the other hand, cuts a lost figure in themiddle of the pitch as all the others cycle around, while her bike remains stationary.