I am from Germany. I grew up in a place called Braunschweig. It’s the second largest town in Lower Saxony. Employment and economic opportunity is dominated by the car giant Volkswagen which is largely ‘running’ the North of Germany, and ‘driving’ the North German economy. A good proportion of my family and friends works for this automobile corporation or its supply chain.
You cannot imagine Braunschweig without Volkwagen. Our politicians - always dead set on job creation (but never on diversity in the job market) - certainly can’t.
It is even more surprising then, that Braunschweig is a Cycling Place. It’s positively buzzing with people on bikes.
I cannot imagine Braunschweig without its bicycles. It’s impossible.
But how come? Especially in a town hopelessly in the grips of the ‘car’, where recently the local airport runway had been extended to provide prompt prestige travel to Volkswagen bosses? All under the name of safeguarding jobs of course. (The extension happened with great opposition from locals I do not hasten to add. There is a strong culture of opposition in Germany.)
The simple answer: one can exist with the other. Driving and cycling is not mutually exclusive; they can happen together. Good cycling conditions just offer another travel choice to the user. And not just muddling through. German town chiefs know cycling adds to diversity and social inclusion, freedom of choice, movement and mobility. It makes places more enjoyable, peaceful and pleasant.
Braunschweig is a wonderful dream of Civilised Cycling. Miles and miles of urban tracks and quiet routes.
Anyhow, what I would really like to share with you is what cycling looks like in my patch of Germany. It’s a very universal affair. Everyone cycles. It’s normal. Bicycles are part of the transport mix. Everywhere there are cycle streets, play streets (home zones) and contraflows. Along busier roads you have your own space on cycle paths or shared footways. You may use the road if you wish. Very few do, despite the very courteous behaviours of drivers.
You ask, what is she talking about? To put you out of your agony, here are some photos chosen from the hundreds I snapped on my recent visit to my turf: Braunschweig, Hamburg and Hannover.
You must not look long to get the picture.
There is no such cycling culture in the UK. We are lacking the vision, panache, joie the vivre, ‘Wanderlust’ to do things differently. But it can be done as the example of my Volkswagen region shows. Volkswagen stands for “carriage for the people”. Maybe it was meant to include the bike… after all.
When visiting Germany, it started to strike me how much cycling – if made pleasant and safe – is a female thing. This carefree bimbling-about is what I am used to. And is what I miss here in the UK where – frankly – I can smell the testosterone oozing from the tarmac. Weaving, nipping, scooting. Chop, chop. Covered in exhaust fumes, coughing. Always speedily travelling on the bike to keep up with motorised traffic, that’s just inches away. Survival of the fittest. Racing to the next traffic jam or red light. Distress. Stress.
So once returned to Newcastle, my chosen home, I got chatting to a fellow commuting cyclist at the silly traffic lights on St Mary’s Place (there’s no legal way crossing by bike). Turns out she’s from Germany too… as we progressed down John Dobson Street with a bus in front of us (coughing!) and another behind (squeezing and nudging), she quietly confessed she wasn’t happy with cycling conditions here. We parted with a common phrase amongst us ‘cyclists’ “keep pedalling” as we both knew that at least some must continue – against all odds – and lead the way so to speak.
My mother always said to me disparagingly “You only do that to be different!”. Dying my hair, ear piercing or tattoos. Mothers are always right. But how did she know I would end up cycling in Newcastle?
Photo 1 - Transporting your young
Photo 2 - Couple of chaps strolling through the town centre
Photo 3 - Baggy bloke on the way to the station
Photo 4 - A lady on her tour round town
Photo 5 - Cyclo-walking the dog
Photo 6 - Cycle-chiques
Photo 7 - Dad’s picking up the children
Photo 8 - Dog in basket
Photo 9 - Cool kid cycling
Newcastle Cycling Campaign
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More photos of people cycling: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katsdekker/sets/72157627444680657/
Photos of bicycles: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katsdekker/sets/72157627569655412/
Photos of cycleways: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katsdekker/sets/72157627577384294/
Photos of cycling continuity: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katsdekker/sets/72157627569921568/