We cycled from Viernheim to Mannheim at the start of our recent holiday. We took the direct route along the B38 main road thereby increasing the CO levels in our bloodstream and coating our lungs with unburnt polyaromatic hydrocarbons rather than following the fresh air route by nipping off through a series of green and leafy Schrebegärten (allotments) and then running along the bank of the Neckar into the centre of Mannheim.
I am not too sure whether the direct route is quicker. There are a number of roads to be crossed with pedestrian/cycle traffic lights on the direct route and these can add up to ten minutes to the journey. Under German law a red light for cyclists or pedestrians is a red light and one should stop and wait. If the gendarmes are about it can be an expensive pleasure with fines of up to 60€ for ignoring red lights. However I suspect these are for many of my two wheeled colleagues rather like speed limits for motorists advisory rather than mandatory. Cyclists arrived at the lights, cast a quick glance left and right and stamped on the pedals to cross the road pronto, whether the lights were red or green.
There is seemingly a little known aspect of German traffic laws that unless it is specified otherwise cyclists should travel along cycle paths adjacent to roads in the direction of the traffic on their left. The path on the right side of a road should be used by those cycling in the same direction as the motorised traffic. German cycle paths are laid out fairly economically. These are constrained by the need to have wide enough motor roads. The poor Mercedes drivers need the room for their safety protection features, electrical mirror adjustment devices and foot wide tyres. These heroes of the economy cannot be made to drive more slowly. This could mean them arriving a few seconds late at work or having three minutes less to visit an Einkaufszentrum (shopping centre/mall) thus causing a a 0.000001% drop in the DAX stock exchange results. This means that there is often not enough room for two cyclists to cycle alongside each other. Amongst the massed ranks of cyclists there are determined individualists who if given their head could transform the economy and they too like those sitting in high powered automobiles wish to cut through the red tape stopping us achieving our best. They are prepared to cycle on the wrong side against the flow of traffic on the cycle path. We had a train to catch and so put the pedal to the metal. We were not pleased to meet those wishing to shave a microsecond or two off their journey time to the uni cycling towards us a path wide enough for a bike and a half.
Then we arrived in the city centre and met the worst problem of all: pedestrians. The cycleway across Mannheim runs along pavements/sidewalks. Along the pedestrian zone by the congress centre groups of youths practised progression on the drunken sailor random model. It is de rigeur not to look where one is going and rapid changes of direction without checking if there is anyone behind are par for the course.
It seems to be beyond the capabilities of the average German pedestrian to notice that he or she is walking on a red path marked as a cycleway. When one politely warns them that one is approaching they turn round and are very surprised that they are on a cycleway. Perhaps they too wish to get to the shops in time to save the economy.
As we headed across Mannheim I was amused while waiting at a red light to observe a car whose driver was cuddling a small dog as she drove. Perhaps all classes of road user have their problems with sensible behaviour.