Friday, July 10, 2009
Wir brauchen mehr Fahrräder*
*Or, in English, We need more bicycles
Sorry, it's just that I've been attempting to learn German for the last three years and ever since I started this blog, I haven't been studying as much as I'd like to. So please pardon my slip of the tongue, so to speak, as well as this week's obsession with bicycling as a topic.
But there was a point here somewhere. Oh, yes, here it is: Germans eat what most of us would consider an obscene amount of meats and starches, and drink lots and lots of beer, but as a nation, they seem quite a bit trimmer than we Americans and I think bicycles are a big reason why.
I've been to Germany twice within the past year, and among the aspects of life there that I envied was that Germans seem to travel everywhere by bicycle. City sidewalks have bicycle lanes painted on them (I learned this the hard way), train stations have parking areas for bicycling commuters, and even out in the countryside, I noticed that running parallel to the highways were bicycle paths full of happy, active Germans, on their way to who-knows-where. Well, all right, I have no idea whether they were happy, but they sure did look fit.
I only wish we had it so easy here. Sure, we have bike paths here and there, but not really much of a practical network that lets us ride from Point A to Point B. We often have to drive to get to the bike path. And bicycling in our cities? Well, just make sure your life insurance policy is paid up.
I suppose it's not really fair to compare the two countries in this respect. Our country is vast, our sprawling cities have ample parking, and our public transportation system is lacking. Our infrastructure encourages people to drive and Americans have always had a love affair with the automobile — you'll have to pry that steering wheel out of our cold, dead hands.
Germany, by contrast, is small, its cities compact and parking-deficient, and its public transportation system highly efficient. It would be quite easy to live there without a car. So many Germans bicycle and walk, and stay fit and trim without even thinking about it.
OK, maybe not so trim. It seems that German waistlines have been expanding over the years, too, but obesity is still not the problem that it is here. According to a 2005 comparison of nations, 30.6 percent of U.S. residents were obese (defined as a body mass index of greater than 30), compared with only 12.9% of Germans.
Those clever Germans have even managed to combine bicycling with their love of beer, as seen at left on the streets of Bamberg in May. Yes, that's a pedal-powered bar. The "riders" were casually drinking their beer while pedaling away (the driver was not drinking).
Now that's German engineering at its finest!