English translation: bicycle ; two-wheeled vehicle operated by pedaling
Our translation: a main form of transportation in Cologne
This morning I spent some time writing to a few dear friends of mine back in the States. It’s amazing that no matter how far away you go, you can always take those relationships with you and keep them strong, even when you’re thousands of miles apart. One friend asked me this question: “What three things have surprised you the most?”, and while writing back to her, I thought, “This would make a great blog post!” But then I thought, “Why write one blog post about three things that have surprised me when I can write three blog posts each about one thing?” (Side note: punctuation with quotation marks is a nasty business. Please excuse any misuse or absence of any punctuation.)
So this post is all about one of the things here in Cologne that has surprised me the most – bicycles! Or as they say in German – die Fahrräder!
Germans don’t use bikes the way Americans do.
Rather than bicycling being a weekend hobby or sport, bicycles are an everyday mode of transportation. So far, everyone that we’ve met owns a bike and uses it almost exclusively. Yes, of course there are cars too, and quite a few of them. But being an American, cars are what’s expected. Having a separate bike lane on the sidewalk, that’s not! So, without further ado – the top three most surprising things about bicycling in Cologne!
What’s the ONE thing that allows for the daily use of a bicycle? Safety. Riding a bicycle here is safe thanks to the bike lanes throughout the city. There are bike lanes in the parks, on the streets, and more commonly, off the street and on the sidewalk. Bicycles here are neither pedestrians nor “vehicles”, as we like to classify them in the States. Here, they don’t share the road with cars, because they aren’t cars. They’re bikes and deserve to retain their…bikeyness. Most of the time, if there is a sidewalk present, bicyclists have their own lane on the sidewalk:
Which extends into the street, too:
It didn’t take us very long to figure out which side was for bikers only: they’ll ring their bell at you to move over and run you down if you don’t! We may have had a few close calls on our first day in the city.
Families on Bikes
First of all, Germany is a very family friendly place. This past January new legislation was approved and went into effect last month increasing both the allowance given to families to help care for their children and for parental leave. That means that when you have a kid, the government will give you money (regardless of how much you or your partner already make) and let you stay home during key periods of their life to dedicate yourself to raising them. I may end up doing a whole post on family life in Germany, but for now, check out #3 to get a better idea of the amount of allowance and leave allotted here.
So it’s no surprise that, even in a city as big as Cologne, you see families everywhere, and on bikes! I snagged a few shots of some kid-friendly bikes this afternoon to give you an idea of how families travel on their fahrräder.
The bike on the left has a typical children’s bike seat. The kid is strapped in and ride behind the adult rider. But the one on the right is by far my favorite! It’s like a reverse rickshaw for the kiddos: I would have loved riding in one of these as a kid – oh who am I kidding…I’d ride in one as an adult!
Here’s a better view of the Babboe Big:
After getting weird looks for taking picture of parked bikes, I casually attempted to take a photo of a toddler-sized bike just down the way. Even before their big enough to ride a bike with pedals, kids start “riding” bikes that they push along with just their feet – to learn body balance and steering. We were introduced to this kind of bike this past weekend by an adorable 2.5 year old who scooted on it all over her parents patio. That means that by the time you’re 4 or 5, you are ready for a bike. No training wheels. Just a really, really small bike:
All of which brings me to the third most surprising thing about bikes in Cologne…
We don’t have them yet!
You would think that with how important bikes are here and how easy it is to get around on them that we’d already be zipping around on the city streets like locals. But, bikes are bikes, and they aren’t free. However, since biking is such a crucial part of life, there are bike markets on the weekends where they sell second-hand bicycles and also sites like Craigslist that sell them as well. We’ve also been getting around well enough using the city transit, but…bikes would make getting around much quicker and more economical. Americans have a bad reputation for not being able to bike ride, so here’s our chance to learn the European way! We’ll post pictures when we get them!