Munster – a love affair ….

P1000992I should have realised as I walked from the bus stop to my hotel.

They were everywhere. But my mind was on my missing luggage and when it would eventually arrive so I could get changed.

P1000948In the hotel itself there was a full-size wicker sculpture and the illustration on the snack menu in the Leeze bar.

I didn’t know then that Leeze was local dialect word for them and I only had eyes for my glass of Bitburger after a long journey.

P1000972So lots of clues about the city’s love affair with bikes.

On my first day I was almost mowed down by a stealth bike (built like a panzer) as I strayed into the bicycle lane.

I quickly realised that bicycle lanes are not marked, they just have darker paving in red – probably to hide the blood. And as you can see from the picture, there’s not much room for pedestrians!P1000994

If they are being environmentally friendly and green shouldn’t the bicycle lanes be green as well? They’d be easier to see at night. And the wild rabbits could use them (but that’s another story).

It was after my first near-miss I realised that the city was breeding bicycles. There were more there than I remembered seeing in Copenhagen (which by coincidence was mentioned in a report this week on getting children on bikes the Danish way. In Copenhagen a third of all journeys are made by bike, twice the Danish national average).

Not only can Munster better that – bicycles constitute 38% of traffic and since 2007 there have been marginally more bikes than cars on the roads in Munster with 100,000 cyclists traversing the city each day. Munster has the most bikes of any city in Germany with 500,000 in a city with only half that number of people. Perhaps they should copy China and have a one-bike rule?

A taxi driver told me about the numbers and also that there were lots of accidents. I did double check and it was true about the numbers so that’s the first honest taxi driver I’ve met for a while.

I’d gone to Munster for a conference which, according to the organisers,  was being held in Munster Palace. Except nowhere will you see a reference to a palace. After walking in circles in the Old Town and following general directions someone finally told me to look for the university sign as the castle was in its grounds. So it was actually called a castle ie a schloss.

They also told me to go to shlossplatz except that wasn’t on the street map they gave me in the hotel. When I finally found the place and checked directions for getting back they told me that the road had only recently been re-named schlossplatz and wasn’t called that on the map!

DSC00729But back to the bikes. Munster has built a green route through the city called the promenade. This is a tree-lined road closed to cars but along which you can walk, cycle or jog.

Sunday seemed to be the favourite day for joggers. They all look so serious with their timers in their hands or their iPods and some of them dragging dogs along behind them.

DSC00897But always there are the cyclists. And there are at least three special parking buildings like this Radstation where they can wash their bikes, buy accessories  or get them repaired. They can also store their shopping in lockers.

Despite the occasional near-miss the cyclists seemed well-behaved unlike in our cities. I saw some carrying umbrellas and some cycling hands-free, and they could use their bells a bit more often instead of shouting at you when they miss you (I assume they are annoyed at not collecting another tourist scalp) but they patiently wait at traffic lights (they have their own sets and crossing places) even when nothing is coming.

Germans seem to follow the rules (I was told off in Vienna once for crossing the road before the green man lit up as I was setting the children a bad example. btw I know that’s in Austria but they all speak German).

And this being Germany there is a set of rules for bike users:

  • The speed limit is 30kph for all road users
  • Cyclists may use bus lanes on combined bus and bike lanes
  • Cyclists may ride in both directions on “artificial one-way streets” (not sure what they are but you can see how foreign pedestrians might get confused).
  • As a rule pedestrian zones are open to cyclists at night according to the times indicated on signs. Bicycles should be pushed outside those times. Cycling in pedestrian zones during the day is punishable by a 10 euro fine.
  • Cyclists have priority over car drivers on cycle routes but must show consideration for other users

Cycling traffic violations include:

  • Cycling along cycle paths in the wrong direction – 15 euros
  • Using a mobile phone while cycling – 25 euros
  • Cycling “hands free” or with headphones or ear plugs – 10 euros
  • Cycling at night without lights – 10 euros
  • Cycling through a red light – 125 euros and one month’s ban
  • Cycling with a blood alcohol level of 1.6 – disqualification from driving

I’m not sure who enforces this as I never saw police officers on foot, or on bikes for that matter, but I’d love to see some of those rules imposed in the UK.

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