By: Julianne Coelho
Before leaving for Germany I did my research on the German Culture. I bought the right shoes, the right clothes, I learned the basics of the German Language, and studied German etiquette, but nothing could have prepared me for the flourishing bike culture of Bavaria.
Upon arriving in Augsburg Germany I confidently assimilated into the population. No unassuming California girl here! I could walk the walk just fine. But could I bike the bike? Two weeks in and I was done exploring by foot. The sidewalks seemed empty compared to the traffic in the bike lanes and I seemed to be the only resident in Augsburg without a bike. Commuting by bike is a way of life in Augsburg and I knew if I truly wanted to experience German culture I needed a set of wheels.
After a few days searching I found my new ride at a secondhand bike shop that functions as a social welfare program for the homeless, disabled, or recovering addict. People donate banged up; old bikes to this facility and those struggling to earn a living are given the materials to fix them up. Each bike sold puts a little money in those craftsman’s pockets. For 80 euro I bought an amazing like new red cruiser complete with gears, a bell, a headlight, a tire lock, bike lock, and a brand new seat. For how much I paid, my bike was impressive. I was on a high just ready to get out there and bike all of Germany. Without a care in the world I pedaled off toward downtown, man was I in for a rude awakening. Don’t get me wrong- I can ride a bike. But with a biking background from the beach towns of San Diego where biking is more of a fad, I was completely unprepared for the fast passed biking lanes of downtown. I felt like an unlicensed driver, and surely looked like an unlicensed driver as well. My bright red bike was working against me at this point. I lacked the skill to gracefully stop and start at lights, maneuver through crowded pedestrian areas, and keep the pace alongside speeding cars. Extremely intimidated and a little discouraged I pulled off and headed toward a less bustling area of the city where the bike lanes were mapped out on sidewalks and much easier to navigate. I even came across several parks where similar sidewalk mapped lanes continued and I could finally relax.
In the following days I had some rough moments. I was yelled at by another biker for riding in the wrong direction down a desolate residential street. Apparently it’s a hefty fine if you get caught. A few days later I was in a biking accident where another biker and I hit head on after playing a game of chicken. He was going a bit fast and weaving through the divide in the bike lane. Luckily my bike and I were completely unharmed, but I left a full-grown man bleeding with bent handlebars. I felt horrible. I quickly learned the bell ringing etiquette, and where and when to lock my bike. Within a couple weeks I was fully assimilated and felt like a pro. I came to appreciate the ease at which I could commute through the entire city. Augsburg is lined with an extensive amount of bike lanes, all kept in the most pristine condition complete with biking turning lanes and biking traffic lights. Most importantly I came to appreciate the auto drivers of Augsburg and the respect they have for bikers.
After living in Augsburg Germany for 6 weeks I can honestly say without a bike you would be missing out on a huge part of the German culture. Not only does it feel good to get out and do some exercise, but biking as an alternative to driving gives you a sense of accomplishment in helping to sustain our planet. I’ve never experienced a bike culture like Germany’s and I’m envious that biking facilities are a standard for German cities. Heading back to the west coast, I will have to make due with beach cruising in Pacific Beach, limited bike lanes and inpatient drivers, but I have high hope that biking as a way of life will catch on in all metropolises of California.