Friday, November 06, 2015

Mannheim's battle with the bicycle

To take one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epigrams about Cologne slightly out of context, but still on the Rhine: Mannheim, Germany, whose "…pavements are fanged with murderous stones", has problems with bicycles. Agreed the first trip by the hobby horse, the forerunner of the bicycle was made in the city. To this day local school kids follow his route one day of the year and there will be major big time celebrations in 2017 two hundred years after the day when Karl Drais swung his leg over the not very comfortable seat of his invention and propelled it and himself to a pub in Rheinau, at that time a nearby village, now a suburb of Mannheim.
However after that Carl Benz built a cycle car, but still a car and his wife nipped off to Pforzheim in 1886 to come back the next day. The age of idly sitting about during individual travel was upon us. The Daimler company, successor to Carl Benz, still builds buses and lorry engines in Mannheim. The next Mannheim inventor in this area of technology was Heinrich Lanz, initially an importer of American and British farm equipment who developed the Bulldog tractors, propelled by a semi-diesel motor. Mannheim can truly be said to be a pioneer city for individual travel, both motorised and unmotorised.
Is it a bicycle city as is repeatedly declaimed by the city fathers? I doubt it. There are some good cycle paths and there is an active cycling community, but it is still major fight to cut down space on the roads for motorists. Without this there will be no real improvements for cyclists.

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