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

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Katie Griggs

(Read caption) 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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