Cycling in Germany

Schleswig-Holstein is the northern-most state in Germany, and shares much in common with other Nordic states. Indeed Schleswig, a town in the northern half of the state, is also known by its Danish name, Slesvig.

The terrain has no major hills, but rather it is like a rucked carpet, so a cyclist faces an endless series of small but very noticeable hills, which combined with the state's natural beauty have resulted in part of the state being named Holstein Schweiz (Schweiz being the German name for Switzerland). The simply huge number of wind turbines tells you that people face an even greater disincentive to cycle, yet people do cycle, and in significant numbers. This is because there is an extensive off-carriageway cycle network in the state, along with other measures to discourage driving. The port city of Kiel is the state capital, and is particularly notable for its extensive network of high quality cycle paths.

To the east of Schleswig-Holstein is the historic city state of Lübeck. Although not part of Schleswig-Holstein, it makes a brief appearance in this article.

Cycling Specific Infrastructure

Segregated cycle path in KielSegregated paths are far more common than in Britain but they are not ubiquitous. On the whole they are distinctive, wide, and well-paved, but sometimes they fall short of this ideal. One city that is particularly worthy of mention is Kiel, as the city authority has implemented many excellent cycle paths. Note also the the special paving, and the margin on the left to discourage cyclists from getting too close to the carriageway.

Segregated cycle path in PreetzShown right is a segregated path in the nearby market town of Preetz, which is laid in the red block paving quite commonly used for cycle paths in Germany. These cyclists and pedestrians are waiting at a toucan crossing, but they wont face an interminable wait like they would at a similar crossing in Britain. Note that the crossing is not littered with pointless signage as is so often the case in Birmingham.

When the existing footway is too narrow for a segregated path, and the carriageway cannot be narrowed to provide space, then on busy roads the footway will be made shared use with nothing more complicated than a standard, pan-European Shared Use sign. A little way beyond the trees in the photo right that's exactly what happens to this path. Road cyclist in GermanyThese shared use paths extend way out into the countryside (photos left and top), linking towns together and allowing long journeys to be made by bicycle almost entirely off the carriageway. The vast majority of these have an excellent surface and they are generally reasonably wide. Being out in the country very few pedestrians use them, so their being shared use is not a problem. However, as you can see from the photograph of the road cyclist there is no obligation to use them.

Signage (photo top) is generally good, with frequent, detailed finger-post signs specifically for cyclists showing several useful destinations (such as local towns), not vague indicators such as “Birmingham Canals”, nor obscure locations like “Burbury Brickworks”. Distances are given in kilometres to the nearest 100m. Metric ensures signs, satnavs, odometers, and maps all speak the same language (British roads are designed in metric, and Ordnance Survey maps have been metric for decades). This makes it very much easier to select the correct turning when there is more than one that might be taken, and since cycle routes are more varied and dense than those for motorised traffic it is all too easy to pick the wrong turning whilst trying to guess the relative difference between 2/3 mile and 400 yards, for example.

Priority over side roadsWhether shared or not, there will be no interruptions on the path. Cyclists have priority when crossing side roads, and in my experience drivers will stop and wait for cyclists. Posts are never positioned on a cycle path. A busy junction in SchleswigAs is normal practice in Germany the busy junction in Schleswig shown in the photograph right was designed with an integral cycle path. Located on the traffic island is an electric clock, traffic lights, a rubbish bin, a bus shelter, several signs, a lamp post, and a sculpture. Some of these clearly require services (something that Birmingham City Council cited as the cause of the many posts centrally mounted on the brand new cycle path alongside the new bypass in Selly Oak). However, nothing blocks the cycle path. This is normal in Germany. I have seen things that unavoidably intrude a little, narrowing the cycleway, but I've never seen anything located in the middle. Note also that cyclists are not ordered to dismount by the bus stop; the cycle path runs behind the shelter to minimise conflict, but cyclists and pedestrians are trusted to interact safely where they encounter one and other.

Footpath cyclingAlmost all footpaths between roads are shared use, creating permeability for cyclists that is not available to motorists. These tend to be just as narrow as they are in this country, but it does not result in endless conflict with pedestrians because despite the greater number of cyclists than in Britain they are spread out over a larger number of paths. This permeability makes cycle journeys direct and therefore very quick, even though, obviously, one cannot cycle on such a path as fast as on the road. A dropped kerb will be at either end of the path.

Contraflow cycling in LübeckPermeability is further enhanced by permitting contraflow cycling on many one-way streets (which of course may have been created with the intention of making it easier to cycle a journey than to drive it). If the road is quiet the technique used will be highly minimalist, helping to make the infrastructure cycle-friendly for very little cost. On busier streets than the one shown there will be additional road markings, for example.

FahrradstraßeFahrradstraßen (pronounced far:rad:strar:sen and literally meaning bicycle streets) are roads that are essentially for cyclists, though additional plates may grant privileges to other road users, such as residents. However, cyclists have absolute priority, and are free to block the path of any motorist using the street (for example by riding two abreast).

Infrastructure that encourages cycling often goes hand-in-hand with an environment that is more pleasant for everyone. In town centres, a more pleasant environment means more trade for shops, and the gain is huge (trade went up in New Street in Birmingham by 25% when the cars were removed from it). What appears to be an ancient, traditional European marketplace in the photo below was until relatively recently it a conventional through-road with an adjoining car park. The local council took the decision to divert motor traffic around the outside of the town centre and restore the original marketplace. It has a speed limit of 20km/h, which is highly compatible with cycling speeds, and whilst it is used by motorised vehicles that have business in the area (including cars, buses, and delivery trucks), it is designed to be useless as a through-route. However, for cyclists it is a through-route, and one which is non-threatening and dramatically shorter than the through-route for cars.


Down each side are cycle stands and trees, providing a refuge for pedestrians on either side that allows them to enter and exit the shops safely, though of course pedestrians can and do walk freely over the entire area. There is also a water feature running the entire length of the right-hand side that acts as a further barrier to vehicles of all kinds, including mounted cyclists, and alerts pedestrians to the change in use when they step over to the other side.

Traffic lights bypassOn the approach to the marketplace there is a set of traffic lights. The through-route bends sharp left, but the special paving extends out from the town centre, laid flush with the carriageway so that cyclists can leave the carriageway and head into the town centre, bypassing the traffic lights, where they ride contraflow on to the marketplace. The bollards prevent motorists from driving on to the footway.

Cycle parking is extensive. Shops know that trade tends to arrive on foot or on a bike, not in a car, so it is quite common to see sponsored cycle parking in addition to that provided by the council. To British eyes this statement might seem unlikely, but that is because we do not have mass cycling. In a city with mass cycling, like Kiel, the cycle parking is on a massive scale. It is quite simply impossible to take a single photo that indicates the scale, because there are thousands of bike stands, and the occupancy rate is high. Radstation KielThe photo right shows the indoor cycle parking at Kiel Hauptbahnhof (the main rail station), which is staffed and provides space for 600 cycles. There are hundreds and hundreds of cycle stands just outside the station, and many more throughout the city centre and along the quay. Even small towns will have a large number of covered cycle stands at the station.

Carrying bikes on Deutsche BahnFor those who wish to take their bike with them on the train there is plenty of space, though unlike in the UK you will be charged. In the past this did not extend to ICE (high speed) trains, but this policy is being changed.

Not all cycle routes are metalled. Some of these unmetalled paths require an off-road capable bike, but at least every opportunity has been taken to both expand the cycle network and make it closer meshed. These routes are typically shared with pedestrians, horses, and utility vehicles, cycles being explicitly added to the signage as the only other permitted traffic.

Something you are not likely to see is END OF ROUTE, CYCLISTS DISMOUNT, or CYCLING PROHIBITED SIGNS. They do exist, but they are only used when absolutely necessary.

Traffic Calming Measures

30km/h on residential streetsExtensive use is made of 30km/h zones (photo left). These are typically delineated with nothing more than a standard sign on all the entrances to the zone. Speed humps and other similar extreme traffic calming methods are simply not used, though in larger zones there may be repeaters painted very clearly in the road. However, the Germans don't stop with 30km/h. Home zoneIn home zones (photo right) pedestrians have absolute priority and the maximum speed is just 7km/h, allowing children to play in the street in complete safety. Like on shared paths cyclists must give way to other users, but in practice there are sufficiently few that home zones can be negotiated at a reasonable speed, and together with the lack of fast moving cars that makes them useful, quiet, and safe cycle routes, creating yet more of the all-important permeability that cuts down journey times on a bike.

Discouraging overtakingRough cobbled surfaces are used to prevent high-speed overtakes where they are not appropriate. That shown in the photo left is near a toucan crossing. Whilst overtaking at speed would be unpleasant, the left-turning car is able to drive across the cobbles slowly. Note the older-style but still highly usable cycle path in the foreground.

Single lane roundaboutThe monstrous roundabouts common in Britain are rare in Germany. The photograph right shows a typical example of a German roundabout. It is essentially a single lane, but with a rough cobbled section around the centre to allow large vehicles to negotiate the roundabout. Negotiating a roundabout like this is trivial on a bicycle, but of course the Germans remember that not all cyclists have the same skill levels; that red pavement may be used by cyclists, and a crossing is provided (the short-dashed line shows one of the pair of lines defining the crossing). Incidentally, this path in a suburb of Preetz leads right back to the town centre in the direction from which the car is coming (shown on the extreme left-hand side of the photo left), and disappears off in to the countryside in the opposite direction. Cycle paths are of a length that is unseen in Britain.

Speed reduction chicaneAt or close to the point where a road heads into a town or village and by law the speed limit drops to no more than 50km/h, there will be a chicane of some kind. The road doesn't narrow, but the need to steer around something encourages motorists to slow down. It is not unknown for British motorists to pass to the right of pedestrian refuges used to create pinch points, but I suspect most motorists would feel uncomfortable swerving around the wrong side of a traffic island of the size used in these chicanes. Note that cyclists do not have to ride through this chicane; they are allowed to use the path to the left of it.


Cycling in Schleswig-Holstein

Cycling in Schleswig-Holstein
Schleswig-Holstein generates over 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, be they wind turbines or bicycle dynamos.


No Gender or Age Bias

No gender or age bias
Cycling in Schleswig-Holstein is not biased towards young fit men, as it is in the UK. That's because the infrastructure, such as this cycle path in Neumünster, doesn't require you to be fit and brave.


Cycle Parking at Neumünster Bus Station

Cycle parking at Neumünster bus station
This is the bus station at Neumünster. Cycle parking in Schleswig-Holstein is extensive and ubiquitous, and placed where it is needed.


Cycle Parking at Preetz Station

Cycle parking at Preetz station
Preetz is just a small market town, but this is the cycle parking on one side of the station. There is an similarly large shed on the opposite platform.


Cycle Parking Outside a Small Supermarket

Cycle parking outside a small supermarket
Trade tends to arrive on foot or on a bike, not in a passing car. Note how close the cycle parking is to the shop entrance.



Some of the cycle parking in Kiel is right next to the ship parking. This ship will take you to Sweden, which also has cycling infrastructure.