We have been on a family holiday to Bremen, in Germany. We weren’t specifically cycling in Bremen but we were staying with some lovely friends and, needless to say, cycling managed to creep into our time there. Here’s a few thoughts and observations….
We saw the Bremen Triathlon
This was an unexpected bonus and a bit of a dash there after we’d been to a church service elsewhere in the city on the Sunday morning. We got there in time to see a number of runners come in across the finish line and we did feel for them as it was a hot day. A nice atmosphere and lots of camaraderie between the competitors.
And we quite enjoyed seeing the variety of bicycles – exotic, expensive, classy Time Trial bikes, old steel framed bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes and even a Bike Shaped Object. It was, however, lovely to see some older bicycles dating back a few decades and included a Colnago which was especially nice. Others included a Peugoet and many others which I guess were local German brands. This range of bicycles did surprise me, I had thought everyone was going to be using the latest top-end carbon fibre machines. Seemed quite a lively scene overall and I even picked up a leaflet from the Bremen Triathlon Club stall, now that’s food for thought.
The race was centred around the Waterfront area which is a regenerated dockland area and continues to grow with trendy flats being built on the outskirts of the city. There seemed to be a nice atmosphere, as I mentioned, with plenty of camaraderie amongst the competitors which were mostly youngish adults with a smattering of veterans (like me) amongst them. This was nice to see everything going on and I regretted not being able to understand German at all, although Torston was with me and he could always explain anything necessary. We spotted a changeover area for relay competitors where cyclists were zooming in, hopping off and in no time the relay buddy was unstrapping the ankle strap containing a chip time before starting the run.
It’s pretty flat in Bremen
This means nobody can use the excuse of “being too hilly” to cycle there. Despite this, there are loads of triple chainsets to be seen. Apart from the terrain making cycling easy, the roads don’t seem too busy and the countryside seems pleasantly quiet.
Bremen has a very good cycling infrastructure
In fact the cycle paths make up 22% of the transport system, making Bremen the best German city for cycling, in line with it’s green credentials. That seems impressive, at least by UK standards. If only…..
Lots of cycle paths
We were impressed at the number of wide traffic-free paths for walkers, runners and cyclists to use. In fact it was unusual to see cyclists on the main roads. Where these cross roads, the cars have to give way. Can you imagine that in the UK? All pavements (or “sidewalks” in America) have provision for cyclists; these are generally shown by slightly a red colour to the paving slabs or bricks. Everyone seems to know what to do and where they should be, it works well.
There are some information boards in Bremen explaining where different routes go and these are sign posted here and there. At either at every junction or alternate junctions if the route is simply shown by a sign pointing the right way. I ought to say it’s impossible to get lost but there was one missing sign which caused me some difficulty on one occasion while I was running but otherwise it is all done with the usual German efficiency we expect.
I ran around the 4.8mile Route One a few times and this was mostly traffic free with a short section on a pavement running alongside a quiet residential road. This runs alongside Bremen Prison and continues around the back where it looks as if it has been expanded away from the original Gothic buildings.
There are a couple of murals on the outside wall and this one struck me. It’s moving to stop and take it in and a reminder of how families are affected by the imprisonment of a parent. Actually in England & Wales the imprisonment of a parent affects more children than the divorce of parents. This is profoundly sad and I think the mural captures the impact on children well. You can’t help but wonder if these children are actually brother and sister, with their Dad inside the prison. You can understand them trying to figure out why their Dad can’t go home with them, or why they can’t just go inside to see him as it is simply a brick wall between them.
Route One had a few other things worth commenting on. Firstly whenever the cycle path has an intersection with a road, it is cyclists who have priority and cars give way to cyclists. I thought that was great and a very meaningful signal to the population that cycling is positively encouraged. Mind you, while I was driving the family Volvo, I needed to be reminded once or twice of this rule! Another surprise was the provision of cigarette machines in the neighbourhood and for anyone to go and buy cigarettes.
Naturally I got roped into a little bicycle maintenance, which I was delighted to do and I even had some help!
Many cyclists ride with daytime running lights
This is noticeable and reminds me of the requirements for newish cars to have their front lights permanently on these days. The cycling version of these daytime lights is generally powered by a front hub dynamo, now that seems very German and very sensible indeed. Mind you, this cropped up in conversation and the debate was about the usefulness of flashing LED lights and how this fits with the German law.
Like the UK and anywhere else, cyclists come in all shapes and sizes. Our host, Katharina explained obesity is a big issue in Bremen and many other parts throughout Germany, much the same as the UK. Cycling is acknowledged as being a part of the solution and with the network of easy-going cycle paths it is easy to see why.
Apart from the competitors in the triathlon, I don’t remember seeing anyone on a decent road bike. Perhaps for everyday transport it’s those side-up-and-beg bicycles that everyone uses? Occasionally you’d see someone a little more refined and upmarket, cycling on a belt driven bicycle or even a battery assisted bicycle for the more sophisticated or affluent of cyclists. I saw young smartly dressed office workers cycling to work, I saw down-at-heel folk riding heaps of junk. In other words I saw the cycling equivalents of new BMWs and old, rusty clapped out VWs. Their owners mirrored the bicycles and vice versa. Familiar? Yes, reassuringly so.