Books, Bikes, and Food

Reviews, Recipes, Rides… and some other things, too.


Mountain vs. Bike

Have I mentioned that there are a lot of hills, nay, mountains in my new home town? And that I live on top of one? Which is fantastic when considering the view out of my living room window (below), but not so much when it comes to cycling.

The benefits of living on a hill

I knew getting into town would be easy because it’s all downhill. I also had a feeling it would be much harder getting back home to my humble abode up Mount Doom. But isn’t one a power woman and stubborn to boot? There was no way I was admitting defeat without even having tried to cycle into town and back. So last week, I decided to test the waters while I was still on holiday. No work clothes, just a denim skirt, sweater, scarf, and jacket. Fabulous weather. Lots of time. I wanted to check out the local farmers’ market and run some other errands, so off I set. “Ha!”, I thought smugly as I zoomed downwards, “this isn’t even that steep! I’m gonna be fine!” It turned out I had quite a lot of shopping to do, involving heavy items such as juice, milk, wine, and potatoes, plus a few other things. This was my load, consisting of two shopping bags, my trusty cycling handbag, and a pack of, ehem, loo roll (don’t be confused by the mirror making it look like I had two of everything!).

Shopping load, magically doubled by my hallway mirror

What can I say? I got humiliated by my home mountain. I got… not even half way up before I had to get off and start pushing my bike. I got back on towards the end when things flattened out a bit, but I arrived home with the colour of my face matching the beets I’d just bought, sweating and panting like I’d finished a marathon. I’m a wuss, an #everydayonabike failure, because what I will most likely not be in this city is, well, every day on a bike. In Hamburg, which is flat as a tortilla, this kind of bike shopping wouldn’t even have been worth mentioning. I’ve been living in potential bike paradise, and I never appreciated it sufficiently. I salute all of you who regularly bike in mountainous cities. How do you do it?

Because I’m not about to lock my bike away and never look at it again. No way! I’ll find ways to make it work, so I appreciate any tips you guys might have. One option is to cycle in wearing my work clothes and then change into something more sporty before going back, and not do it every day. What do you think?



Cycling City Hamburg?

Today, to my great surprise, thanks to a friend I discovered the following story in the Independent:

Auto ban: How Hamburg is taking cars off the road

It’s a very interesting article about how the City plans, over the next 20 years, to eliminate car traffic from the centre and instead improve cycling (and public transport) infrastructure so that people will simply not have to use a car. The project is called “Green Network” and the City provides information here (in German). I don’t know too much about the details and how well thought out they are – but at first sight it sounds like an awesome idea that will considerably increase the attractiveness of Hamburg’s centre:

“It will offer people opportunities to hike, swim, do water sports, enjoy picnics, restaurants, experience calms and watch nature right in the city”,

a City spokesperson is quoted in the article. Sounds good, right? This is what it’s going to look like:

Source: You can also download an English version of the map here.

At the moment, cycling infrastructure in Hamburg is not completely terrible, but it’s also far from great. Narrow, badly maintained bike lanes that often run alongside the sidewalk without separation encourage clashes between cyclists and pedestrians. More often than not, traffic guidance dilemmas at intersections are resolved in favour of everyone except cyclists. Frequently, as a cyclist you’re not actually quite sure which way you’re supposed to go because of contradictory signs or bike lanes that disappear out of the blue, and so on. Hence, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

In the article, Hamburgers are portrayed as quite willing to dispense with a car, and as if this was something special in Germany. I would say this applies to many German city dwellers nowadays – our public transport infrastructure is decent, bike infrastructure could be worse, and the inconvenience of a lack of parking space coupled with an abundance of traffic jams means that many people feel they don’t need a car or don’t want one. However, despite this, many Hamburgers still remain very attached to their four-wheeled motorised vehicles. And in my experience, they’re particularly impatient drivers: just yesterday, on my 2.5k commute to work I counted no less than four heated exchanges by honking for absolutely no apparent reason. Prior to moving here, I’d never experienced such a level of impatience and road rudeness.

So I’m very curious how Hamburg is going to pull off the feat of completely turning its traffic infrastructure around. To be sure, they’ve given themselves plenty of time. 20 years – a lot of political, social, and environmental change can occur over such a long stretch of time. Such change might be positive, but the time frame also leaves lots of critical junctures (e.g. elections) where – especially early on – it will be very easy to derail the project. Or, depending on the changes that happen, this now fancy-sounding infrastructure may very well be outdated by the time its construction phase concludes around 2034.

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Critical Mass Hamburg

Last Friday, I went to the Critical Mass Ride in Hamburg for the first time. Critical Mass is a mass bike ride that takes place in many cities around the world. Even though Critical Mass doesn’t want to be seen as a “demonstration”, it has a goal: showing that cyclists don’t block traffic, we are traffic.

And so cyclists get together and take over the streets for a few hours, showing that we’re here.

I’d been wanting to go for ages, but since the Critical Mass ride takes place only once a month – every last Friday of the month – and I’m often on a train at precisely that time, this Friday was the first time I could make it. The weather behaved, it was warm, it was great.  If you haven’t tried it, riding a bike with over 1000 other cyclists and having the whole street to yourself is really something to give you the warm fuzzies. People brought music, some had decorated their bikes, some had dressed up. The crowd was mixed: from families to hipsters to the elderly, and in the midst of it all, yours truly still in her office outfit.

Here’s a video of my favourite part: riding through the Wallring tunnel just in front of the central station.

And here are some pictures.

Getting ready at the meeting point

We get going…

… going …

… through the tunnel …

… through the night

For more pictures and info on the Critical Mass ride in Hamburg, go here.


Parking Skills

This week was a great week for biking to work. The weather is just perfect right now: not cold any more, but not hot yet. And so it was finally time to break out the spring coat and the spring nail polish and pedal along. No, it doesn’t always rain in Hamburg (only most of the time). Proof:

Alas, tomorrow it’s all supposed to be over again, and rain will be with us for the weekend. Well, you can’t have everything. Today though, I even enjoyed a beautiful half hour on my balcony after work, soaking up the sun while reading a magazine.

But then also, the annoyances. If the below picture leads you to think that this beautiful spring weather is making people in Hamburg a bit crazy because they’re not used to it and it screws with their minds, then you are wrong. It’s always like this. This, friends, is how people park in this wonderful city (for the locals, this is Hochallee*):

The space between the thick white line on the left and the kerb is, supposedly, the bike lane. Hamburg drivers seem to take this as an invitation to mount an obstacle course for cyclists, though. Note the following:

  • The grey Mercedes parked three quarters on the kerb (where it’s supposed to be), three quarters on the bike lane. Not great, but way not the worst thing about this picture.
  • The two cars (a black Mercedes and a Jeep) parked half on the street, half on the bike lane. There’s actually a third car in front of the Jeep which you can’t see. Also, this happens in both directions: the yellow van on the far left is parked exactly the same way.
  • The Jeep’s open door, which pretty much completely blocks the bike lane. Here the door is already open, but this parking “set-up” also invites dooring situations where a car door is suddenly opened in the way of an unsuspecting cyclist.

And do you know the best part? The Jeep’s door was open because its owner was loading it with her kid and heaven knows what else. I used the opportunity to point out to her she couldn’t just park on the bike lane. Do you know what she said (OK, my wording may have invited this response)? She said “Yes, I can”. Then she disappeared into the safety of her stupidly large car and drove off before I could argue with her.

Agreed, this area of town is notoriously short of parking spaces – the downside of all these beautiful town houses built before the motorised era. However, this sort of parking is a known issue. If I were the Hamburg police, I’d put a nice plain-clothed colleague there (it’s spring and nice out, they’d even get some fresh air) to catch these lovely car owners in the act. I bet that after a few days of handing out fines, the problem would go away at least for a while.

*This street is full of good intentions for cyclists that are badly executed. I’m already plotting the next post.