Munich on a Bicycle, Germany

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Cycling in Munich, Germany

This  travelogue  was first published in Deccan Herald, Sep 2013

The last time I rode a bicycle, I was in my 10thgrade and still wobbly. So when our guide suggested a cycling tour of Munich, I was sufficiently alarmed. Why don’t we just get onto one of those HOHO buses, I thought. We could sit comfortably in their open- air comfort and sip on the excellent  Bavarian beers ( yes  its legal to drink in public in Germany).

But Munich prides itself as a cycling city. Cycling  in Munich is not only encouraged but most motorists complain cyclists  are an overly pampered lot. Cyclists  have the right of way here and are given many concessions including being  tolerated on the wrong side of the road on  212 one-way streets.   Cyclists  are sometimes  called the ‘silent killers’ or ‘Rambo Riders’ our guide informed us , for their propensity sometimes to crash  into you from behind.

The city recently anointed itself as  Radlhauptstadt or  the Bicycling Capital. More than 80 percent of Munich residents own a bicycle and there are 17 dedicated Fahrradstrassen or bicycle streets where vehicles are limited to 30kmh and cyclists have priority.  All this is not surprising in a country that is in the vanguard of environmental protection. Cycling is just one of its many initiatives to achieve their ambitious eco-friendly goals.


Cycling is the best way the beer loving Bavarians burn all those calories. Also one of the many environment friendly measures of this eco-friendly nation. Munich. Jul 2013. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Cycling is the way the beer loving Bavarians burn all those calories, Munich

We gathered near the Munich City Center one balmy morning and walked few  streets  to the cycling stand. I tinkered with my cycle for a bit and found it daunting.  The next option was to trundle on a rickshaw.  That would have been humiliating.  Especially since I saw my companions, which included pretty members of the fairer sex, whizz  past me on their cycles.  Its amazing what that can propel you to do.

I hopped on my cycle without a thought and viola I was peddling like a pro.  I crossed my first traffic signal without incident  and rode two blocks and saw   our cycling leader head straight towards heavy pedestrian traffic. This was cause for panic and I began to think of myself as the ‘silent killer’ our guide spoke of , unleashed on Munich’s roads but hoped  I would  be tolerated  in a cycle- friendly metropolis.

But coming from India, I used the little cycle horn liberally and was successful in scattering pedestrians, other cyclists, children, dogs on leashes and feeding pigeons out of my way.

The cycling route was through some of the most scenic parts of the city.  Isar river that cuts across Munich has  a nice wide bank which is a great place to cycle and we cycle a fair portion of it. The day before, we had walked a great length of the river and were witness to a carnival of sorts along the riverside. People of all age-groups were lounging on the river banks. Some reading,  some barbequing, some drinking beer,  others,  tanning or sleeping or in various stages of indolence.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)


This was surprising as the weekend was still far away.  Our guide informed us that most people come to the Isar  to unwind straight after work. More and more Germans  are choosing not to marry and consequently don’t have children to  fetch from schools, crèches, and elsewhere, leaving  them with  lot of time for themselves.

Cycling down the Isar one realizes that Germans are perhaps more comfortable with nudity than their other western counterparts.  If they want to sit without their clothes on the banks they simply do so without calling themselves nudists or this a nudist beach.

After taking in the views at the Isar, we  cycle a  large swath of the English Garden and here too find the  locals out in hordes.  Munich’s English Garden  is one of the largest urban parks, bigger than New York’s Central Park and is called so because its contouring  is reminiscent of an archetypal English garden of yore.

The man-made river Eisbach runs  across the English Garden and we stop by a bridge where the waters throw up a  standing wave. Surfers queue up here to surf  on the one meter high wave created by the force of the waters gushing under the bridge and meeting still waters. The surfers jiggle on the wave from one end of the bank to the other and can barely keep at it for  30 seconds before the force of the water pushes  them away.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

We cross many historic buildings and despite the  nervousness of my ride,  I could observe  that the city planners had taken  elaborate pains to maintain the architectural congruity, avoiding the modern homogenous steel and glass edifices altogether. The façades of the new buildings including shopping malls wear the old gothic look to blend in seamlessly with  Munich’s past, though on the inside the buildings  could well resemble any glitzy modern mall.

After almost two hours  ride we enter the crowded City  Center again.  In  an effort to catch up with the group   I take liberties with the traffic and witness motorists deferring to my erratic swerves, some stopping while others   waving me on.

Finally at the  the cycling stand I come to a halt  with an exaggerated  flourish. I park my cycle with  both a sense of relief and  exuberance. A city tour on a cycle is a different experience altogether and if its Munich its surely something else.

How to Get here:

Lufthansa Airlines has daily direct flights to Munich from New Delhi and Mumbai.  Bangalore has daily fights to Munich via Frankfurt.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

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