Der Fahrradweg: An Englishman’s Story

The Fahrradweg – Cycle Path in English – is a two-foot wide strip of pavement that can be found along the streets and avenues of Cologne.

Instead of being nestled between the road traffic and the pedestrians like it is in England, it sits perched upon the edge of the pedestrian footpath, marked out mostly in different coloured, or slightly lowered, bricks.

As a tourist, it’s common to have little to no knowledge that it exists. It isn’t well signposted. But the moment you step off a bus, or cross the road, it’s the first thing that greets you.

Even as someone who now lives in the city it’s still easy to miss.

The cyclists who use the Fahrradweg sit on a unique spectrum. They have a level of passive aggressiveness that is unrivaled throughout the world; and come equipped with the German Stare, which is the same as an English tutting noise.

People of all ages, races, religions and nationalities unite on the Fahrradweg behind one cause: ruin the lives of Pedestrians.

Cyclists refuse to believe that you have not seen the perfectly camouflaged brick path as you step off the bus with your shopping. Instead, they choose to believe that you have stood in their way because you have no other hobbies in life other than standing in the Fahrradweg.

They proceed to ring their bells at the same rate a woodpecker would create holes in a tree, all while giving staring in a manner that says, “Your father had 10 million sperm, and you were the fastest?”. Then as you step out of their way, they give you a rough and ready, “Thank you very much” (Veilen Dank).

If you encounter someone on a particularly bad day, you may also receive the pleasure of “Haben Sie keine Augen im Kopf?!” being shouted at you. (Literal translation, “Have you no eyes in your head?” real translation, “Get the fuck out of my way you stupid Englishman”). Nothing wakes you up more in the morning than stepping off a bus to find a man in Flared Jeans and H&M Sunglasses shouting that at you over the sound of the tassels on his handlebars flapping in the wind.

There’s a much different type of bike culture in the city centre compared to England, too.

It’s less about men in their 50’s having a crises and opting to fill the void with Lycra and lap times on their Strava app. Instead Cycling is just a normal mode of transport filled with people wearing their work clothes and going to do their weekly shop. It’s not uncommon to see someone in a three piece suit en route to work.

While Cologne isn’t high on the Copenhagenize Index – the official index used to track which cities are the most cycle friendly – the people here love to boast about how much of a cycle city it is. So much so that their should read, “Welcome to Cologne – people have bicycles here”.

In fact, when I first thought I’d move out here, I sold my car in order to pick up a good quality bike to get around in the city. And while I miss the interior and warmness of a car, it’s a great way to get away from the desk. It takes the same amount of time to cycle as get a bus, and it’s free.

The Fahrraweg also makes you feel a lot safer than cycling back in England.

You’re less likely to find yourself impaled on someones wing-mirror because cyclists are given a much greater berth (and respect) than back home. Instead of being a nuisance, they’re just another way of getting around.

Although the general rule, expertly observed by Marie, is this:

  • If you’re walking: you hate cyclists
  • If you’re cycling: you hate pedestrians and drivers
  • If you’re driving: you hate cyclists

Basically if you’re a cyclist, while you may be fitter and more efficient, you’re probably going to die earlier from a hate-induced heart attack (or someone shoving a pedal through your neck).

It’s also pays to have a bike that doesn’t attract too much attention. One element that isn’t different is bikes being stolen. Up to 340,000 bikes are stolen in Germany each year, so if you can blend into the background you should.

Apparently it’s also frowned upon to put a crushed beer can into your wheel arch and cycle around the city pretending you’re on a motorbike. Each to their own, I guess.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

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