This post is about an international topic, so by way of experiment, I wrote it in English. Besides, it’s no more than polite if the folks that are written about are able to read what’s said about them.
I always considered the Germans to be pretty good with logistics and (public) transportation.* For quite some years, I have traveled through Germany, and I’ve always been impressed with the German railway system. Punctual, high quality of service, clean trains and stations. Besides, Germans a have good reputation as car drivers. The stereotypical German is responsible and law-abiding, which helps on the road.
Of course, my point of reference is the Netherlands. Where we have our biking related stuff pretty good in order, but our trains are not all too clean, often late, facilities at the train-stations are average, the air-conditioning in trains is more an annoyance than a relief and the employees not always the embodiment of friendliness. And where our biggest train company is usually unable to give travelers correct information, or information at all, when something goes wrong (which is quite often).**
As for our car traffic, we have far too many drivers who think they are entitled to ignoring traffic rules. In general, these come in two categories. The first are folks with big and expansive cars, who paid a lot of money for them, and therefore think they have RIGHTS that others have not. And the second category, who don’t have big expensive cars, but who think they can do whatever they want on the road anyway, because fuck you. Even though the majority of the drivers consist of nice and polite people, compared with e.g. driving in the US, driving in the Netherlands is not a pleasant experience.
Based on this, and my own experiences of traveling in Germany in the past, I was surprised when I stayed in Berlin recently. We arrived by train, over half an hour late. The train had a broken air-conditioning, which was rather awful since it was over 30 degrees outside and the train was packed.*** During the time we stayed in Berlin, each and every train that arrived on a platform we were happened to be on, had a delay, from a few minutes to much longer. Information was scarce and inadequate. Some trains were so overcrowded that not everybody fitted in. It felt like home, which is not a good thing.
As for the bicycle facilities, we didn’t expect them to be as good as at home. And well, there are definitely places where stuff is less well arranged than in Berlin. The bike route from Krakow to Ojcow National Park in Poland for example consisted (when I was there some years ago, in any case) for a large part of the emergency lane of the highway.**** But even though there are plenty of places where it’s worse, it wasn’t exactly good in Berlin. Many busy streets didn’t have a cycle lane. Road crossings and traffic lights were often unclear for cyclists. But the weirdest were some of the people riding them. People carried their bike down the stairs everywhere, even when there was a ramp they could have used. One guy walked down the stairs with his bike in front of him: the handlebar in front of his head, arms gripping it tightly, and saddle resting in his crotch, while he was bumping the bike forward when walking down. Ouch.
The car traffic in Berlin didn’t match my stereotypical, decent, law-abiding Germans. Plenty of people were driving fast, dangerously, or rudely. Racing through curves, or yelling at each other. Again, it was all too familiar. I always hoped that the Netherlands would become more like Germany regarding trains and cars, and that Germany becomes more like the Netherlands concerning bikes. Alas, it seems like the last ten years, the German railways have become more like the Dutch, instead of the other way round. And we both have the same kind of folks driving cars.
As a suggestion, we might do start doing it the other way around: learning from each other’s strong points as countries. Everybody is more than welcome to study our Dutch bicycle lanes. And I wouldn’t mind having the folks over who ran the Deutsche Bahn ten years ago, to explain us how they ran things.
János Betkó loved Berlin, by the way.
*No, this isn’t a Godwin. If you thought it was, it’s your sick mind, not mine.
**For those that can read Dutch
*** As a side note, when and why did we start making trains without windows that can be opened, but with air-conditioning instead? It never works. It’s either too hot or too cold. The air that is blown out is dry and dusty. In my humble opinion, the person who started with this nonsense should at the very least be locked in a train wagon without windows and with only air-conditioning from Amsterdam to Vladivostok.
****So the next time you read an article in the news about somebody from Poland who was removed with his bicycle from the emergency lane by the police, forget the stereotype of the vodka-drenched Pole who didn’t have a clue where he was. Probably he simply thought it was the right way to use the emergency lane.
Afbeelding via Wikimedia Commons
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