Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
A new BVG-Adidas collaboration means unlimited travel along Berlin’s public transit network for the rest of 2018. That is if you can find a pair.
As long as you have the right shoes, you’ll soon no longer need a ticket to ride on Berlin’s subway.
Starting January 16, Berlin transit authority BVG will release its own limited edition line of sneakers, a project that’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world. A collaboration with Adidas Originals, the sneakers’ tie-in with the subway will be immediately apparent to any Berliner: the heel counters feature the unmistakable seat upholstery pattern featured on the city’s public transit fleet.
The sneaker’s tongue will include a feature that’s arguably more striking—a fabric version of the annual BVG season ticket. That means the wearer gets free travel on subways, trams, buses, and ferries anywhere within Berlin public transit zones A and B— which cover almost all of the city—from January 31st to the end of the year.
It’s a nearly irresistible offer. The Berlin subway’s seat upholstery isn’t something you forget easily; a sort of psychedelic camouflage print, its multi-colored squiggles are so designed to make it harder to tag with graffiti. It’s somewhat disappointing that this pattern is confined to only a small portion of the new sneaker, although such a large patch of the pattern’s hyperactive, wriggling colors would likely be dizzying. To complement the sampling of the seat fabric, the sneakers will also include fat laces in yellow and black, the standard external colors for Berlin’s subway trains. Combined with a simple black and white pattern on the rest of the upper, the result is quite attractive.
Then there’s the price, which is a snip at €180 ($215) a pair. That makes them more expensive than the average sneaker, but much cheaper than a traditional annual transit pass, currently €728 ($869) for the same zones. Such is the good value offered by the shoe that it’s no wonder BVG is keeping their numbers low. Only 500 pairs will be for sale and they’ll only be available at two Berlin shops, which will no doubt see lines round the block before opening.
The good value of this deal should override the obvious inconvenience of having to wear them whenever using public transit until next January 1. And while their value will deplete swiftly over the year (at least as a travel pass, if not as a collector’s item), one might be a little wary of flashing them around too much on a late night train in case someone’s tempted by the possibility of prizing something worth over $800.
The obvious answer to this would be to bring them along in a bag—or even strung around your neck as a set of chunky pendants. A BVG ticket inspector, however, might insist on seeing both parts of the pair as proof, to make sure that the bearer using them to ride hasn’t lent the matching shoe to someone else to ride with.
Right now, exactly how these 500 pairs of shoe-passes will work seems a little hazy. If the plan works well, there’s no telling what kind of functional fashion+transit authority collaborations await.