Saturday, 11 August 2012


So, we've made it to Copenhagen! In some ways it's an advantage that we're staying out of town (in Gentofte). The suburbs are quite different from the city, where metropolitan rushing seems to be the order of the day. In fact mobility in Copenhagen altogether seems more frantic than the likes of Bremen. The wide cycle paths don't simply cater for large numbers. They cater for different styles - and speeds - of cycling.

Don't be fooled by the excellent Cycle Chic movement. Large numbers of Copenhagen's cyclists, chic or otherwise, seem to be in a mighty hurry to get to wherever they are going. Maybe they have taken the point that cycling is quicker than driving in a city to heart, and are desperate to prove it with every last heave of the pedal. The funny thing is, this speed cycling is not restricted to the helmet and lycra brigade. Today, for example, we were doing our usual 15 kilometres per hour pootle along the coast, on a lovely sunny day (it's my birthday, all the more reason to pootle), when we were overtaken by a frantic, bell ringing lass in her 30's, sitting more or less horizontal with head right down between her handlebars. Only they were dutch style handlebars, the grips a good foot back from her nose.

Could this strange (in our eyes) cultural phenomenon be simply a result of our having spent too many years in small, provincial Darlington, the "quiet town" of 1970s fame? Or is said birthday (shit, 59!!!!!) a watershed in the ageing process, when suddenly everything and everyone around you seems so young, fit and fast (ok, drop that last remark when applied to the young of Darlo)?

Maybe the Copenhagen Cycle Quick movement is related to the thousands of joggers we've also spotted around the city. There seems to be a positive plague of jogging going on here, and not just in the obvious places like parks and waterfronts. We sat outside our hotel last night here in quiet suburban Gentofte until just before midnight, and the two wildly exciting events were either a bus passing or a jogger jogging on the main street. But then I suppose hectic metropolitan life doesn't stop for silly things like sleep, so maybe we should expect such sights, even in Gentofte at midnight.

As for the serious stuff, cycling infrastructure, well we've done the videos, both in the city and out here in the suburbs, and we'll be editing them together over the next few weeks. Having cycled in to Copenhagen from the countryside, and before that from Germany, there are interesting comparisons to be made between the German rural/urban and Danish rural/urban approaches, and we'll be aiming to do that with the video material. Suffice to say right now, Copenhagen still has its car-centric legacy (motorways going right into the city, traffic jams, appalling noise) in many areas. But this simply illustrates the historical urgency of the pro-cycling policy. Much had to be done, much has been done, and much more is and will be done. And at its core, this involves taking space from motorised transport and using this to create substantial cycling infrastructure to a high standard. A standard, in fact, that needs to accomodate we pootlers, the cycle chic of the city, and the permanent rush-hourers.

Video report to come!

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Sunday, 5 August 2012

A Brief Pause on the Cycle Path

Today started wet, developed into cloudy, ended sunny. More solid cycle paths along country roads, with variable provision in the villages.

After 3 days of such wide open spaces, it then came as a bit of a shock to arrive in Kühlungsborn.

Ah well. It got us out of the hotel and away from this iPad!

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Schwerin to Wismar

The 35 kilometres from Schwerin to Wismar follows the Hamburg - Rügen cycle route, with regular glimpses of the Schwerin Lake for the first 20, and a wonderful stretch of traffic-free cycle path for much of the rest.

As I blogged yesterday, the cycle infrastructure development strategy relies heavily on the concept of sharing with pedestrians in villages. Our first stretch along the lake took us along a separated cycle path like this one between each village. As we approached a village, in this case Wickendorf, the path merged into a shared pedestrian/cycle path. As we left the village, the cycle path began again. There were odd pedestrians using the cycle path between villages, but this was expected and didn't cause either party any problems.
There were odd exceptions. The village of Dorf Mecklenburg had no pavement to share at the edge of the village, so both pedestrians and cyclists were on the road until the village centre, at which point it was assumed that cyclists used the road. This also happened to be the one stretch where were overtaken by two speeding cars, complete with loud disco glop blaring out the windows.
The stretch before and after said village was glorious. A long cycling-only country lane took us through wooded stretches and open fields, as we descended gently towards the sea. Then we caught our first glimpse of Wismar's shipyards in the distance.

The sun was out for much of the day, but as with most of this summer in Germany, it was interrupted twice by thunderstorms, once in the early afternoon, so a perfect time for a lunch stop..

..and later again after we had arrived at our hotel, and were parking our bicycles in the hotel garage.

All in all, a wonderful easy day of cycling. Today we'll be pootling along the coast to Kühlungsborn, an old seaside resort, on the Baltic Sea route.
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Friday, 3 August 2012


So as planned we take the train to Schwerin, along with 14 other bicycles. Here we are in the cycle wagon, somewhat full and, contrary to German stereotypes, most bikes have been placed in the wrong space. You book a space for your bike on inter-city trains in Germany, but we found ours were already occupied when we got on the train, so had to take someone else's.
Once in Schwerin we decided on an afternoon ride around the large lake; very pretty, and a rather famous grand castle at the start. After 30 kms the rain closed in, so we had a fast peddle back to the hotel.
As for cycling infrastructure, cyclists are fairly well catered for on the tourist circuit. Once in Schwerin, things are a bit less so. But in both cases an obvious strategy has been developed. Bearing in mind that the town was until 25 years ago part of the GDR, in that short time a fair amount has been done for cyclists, but based on this expedient of simply converting pavements to shared use cycle/pedestrian routes. The main road into Schwerin has this all the way down into town. As does much of the lake circuit, for example when passing through villages.
But the expedient works for two reasons. First, pedestrians expect cyclists. And second, motorists are trained to give way to both pedestrians and cyclists at junctions. It's not perfect. There was a strategy in place for developing cycling in Schwerin, but it seems the town council have ditched it in May. The German link suggests a familiar experience - politicians apparently listening to local cycling representatives, then suddenly ditching the whole discussion.
Be that as it may, Schwerin has its positive points. There is certainly a strong cycling culture here, there are still trams running as I write this after midnight, and the town centre's pedestrian heart is more fully pedestrian than Darlington. Yes, there are cyclists (though not during peak hours, sadly), but perhaps more interesting is the way in which buses travel through the pedestrian area.

Buses travelling at this kind of speed reinforce the idea that this part of the town belongs to the pedestrian, and others are invited. Intriguingly, we watched taxi drivers and a security car driver ignore this concept, suggesting that there is a clear political attempt, via the local bus company, to develop a culture of slow traffic in the town centre.

These phenomena - motorists giving way and slow buses- are no god-given behaviours. They are deliberately fostered by political will. The other side of the coin? I leave that to you, the reader, to describe.

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Pootling to Copenhagen

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Well, after all the travelling around Europe with our film, it's time to have a proper cycling holiday. And what better way to spend a week than cycling through northern Germany and Denmark to Copenhagen.

We're travelling with two good friends who live in nearby Lillienthal, and will be deliberately restrained about the distances we cover on the bikes. Lazy sods that we are, we'll happily take a train when time is tight or weather is crap. In fact we decided to get a head start and take a slight detour by train to Schwerin (B) tomorrow, thanks to the cheap tickets available here, and the easy booking of bicycles. Schwerin is the same size as Darlington, so it will be intriguing to compare traffic and cycling provision.

Then to Wismar, (C) and a few days on the Baltic Sea to Rostock (F). A couple of days will be spent as I try to reconnect with some people from the Amber Film I helped make there 25 years ago. Then a ferry to Gedser (G), a bit of pedalling north, and at some point in the same day a train up to Roskilde (I). Between there and Copenhagen we might just do a bit exploring around the north coast. Then it's back to Bremen on a train (yep, cheap tickets again). So this will be no great feat of sporting achievement a la Olympics, but rather a gentle pootle along proper cycle paths.

We'll be recording the trip, of course, but what we'll be interested in is the standard of signposted infrastructure in Germany and Denmark. There's an ongoing programme of long-distance cycle route building going on here, and standards are generally very good. Even so, there have been cuts in the budget, from 94 million euros in 2010 to 60 million euros this year. Denmark, on the other hand is, outside the well-documented story of Copenhagen, an unknown to us. Some of the official cycle routes we explored on google street view looked distinctly British in nature, ie no cycle path on a busy road. The picture here, for example,  is on one such official route, between Praesto and Faxe.

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But there's nothing like seeing the real thing for yourself, so with iPad in Ortlieb bag we're off tomorrow!