MUNICH — (MunichNOW Life) When I made Munich my home in early June 2000, the first thing I did of much significance was to buy a bike. Nothing fancy, three gears, what one here calls a “Stadtradl” (city bike). Finally, after the cold, wet June (“nothing unusual” locals told me) gave way to a warmer, drier July, I took my bike out and combed the city like a bee exploring every street, nook and cranny in an attempt to familiarize myself with as many neighborhoods as I could in search of golden nectar on tap (beer gardens), relaxing green areas, or other points of interest.
Natives compliment me often, and in effect complain about themselves, when they say “you know my city better than I do.” I doubt that, but I am happy that they think so.
I also learned that first month that a car wasn’t a necessity, but a bike was. The easiest and fastest way between two points in Munich is almost invariably on two wheels and not four. I have never owned a car in the last two decades and was sure to give a short smirk to those who visited or met me later than the arranged time because “the traffic was horrible” or “I couldn’t find a parking place”.
“Get off your ass and use your ass,” I’d silently scream while glaring to myself about my (mostly American) friends who seemed incapable or unable or unwilling to wean themselves off their fossil fuel addictions. Okay, it was never that bad but it should’ve been, though today, I am moving more and more towards a more extroverted display of dissatisfaction. I’m not saying that a car is always bad, journeys to the local IKEA, mountains or other remote areas are infinitely easier with a car, but do you really need to drive around town to visit a friend or the drugstore?
From those earliest days after my arrival, there’s ‘been talk’ about improving the situation for pedal power people like me who like to ride our bikes in the city to work or play or study. More bike lanes have been discussed (with only a few reaching fruition), more bike parking places promised (as some areas have become almost impassible as bikes are parked haphazardly out of necessity), and more streets for bikers who are doing their little bit for their own health and that of the environment.
Years ago I read stories of ‘Bike Autobahns’ in Munich, raised above the street so bikers could travel without having to wait at traffic lights or worry warily about drivers (and pedestrians!) who are a constant hazard in situations where cars and bikes share the same sliver of asphalt or pavement. Nothing has moved or changed.
So here we are, some two decades later and Munich is ‘fairly’ friendly for bikers but not where one would expect it to be in a city that consistently ranks in the top 10 for ‘most liveable cities’ in the world. Couple that with the fact that the Green Party has become the largest political party in Germany according to the most recent polls, even besting Chancellor Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and we have for the first time a momentum to finally put our collective money where our mouth is. This month is our chance.
On the last day of this month, which is infamous in Germany for the wrong reasons, a large group will demonstrate with their bikes as they take over the main ring road from 11am till 2pm. The desire is to get a referendum put to the people and let them decide if they demand what the leadership hasn’t done since I arrived in 2000, that is, stop with the talk and make Munich the biggest, best bike city in the world. If the weather cooperates, officials expect up to 50,000 bikers which would send a strong message to the political leaders. Let’s take this opportunity to make a big change for the better.
All about the event in English: