The businessman stopped stirring his coffee and looked at me in disbelief.
“You walked here with two children?”
“All the way from the railway station? In this weather?”
I looked out of the window. It was cold and overcast. There was snow left on the ground, and I tried to think of a way to say “We’re trying to have a lower impact on the environment around us.” without sounding judgmental or pious. in German. The businessman followed my gaze out of the window.
“If I was going just to there” -He gestured at a house about 100m away- “I’d use the car in this weather.” He looked across at a mutual friend who confirmed that I was indeed about to use my legs to transport myself two kilometres to the railway station, had been offered a lift, and had declined on the basis that I seemed to have ‘forgotten’ a car seat for the boys.
“Wow. That’s a completely different lifestyle.”
For most of the party thus far, people had talked about cars. The current government has come up with a cunning plan to revitalise the car manufacturing industry: if you had an old car and you can prove you scrapped it and bought a new one, they’ll give you money towards the new one, so some people here had obviously decided that subsidy is good and got a new car. The discussion was all about acceleration rates, power-to-weight ratios, maintenance costs, the exorbitant amount the government sucks out of the poor hardworking motorist these days, and of course whose car did more kilometres per litre. Yawn.
These were not stupid, lazy or ignorant people. They were kind, smart and working hard, in an affluent society that teaches the ethic of burning vast amounts of energy to get where they wanted to go Right Now and Fast.
I decided to go for a early train home. This confirmed my eccentricity: I was proposing to take 2 hours eating a picnic on a train with big windows, a toilet, and lots of space, instead of 45 cramped minutes dodging Mercedes drivers and hoping the boys wouldn’t get too hungry or need the loo before we got back. For reason’t that I can’t quite explain the latter idea held no appeal, so I gathered the boys up and we said our farewells and made a Heroic Exit Into The Tempest. We walked back along a wide shared use bike/pedestrian route that barely touched a road and arrived at the station in time to see the train depart. Typical.
Standing on the station waiting for an onward train to Stuttgart in the dark is not the best place to be upbeat, and the thought of a generation growing up with their lives dominated by cars was a bit depressing. Being treated as the eccentric cyclist can get a bit wearing and I do have days when I wonder why I bother. Are we making a difference?
The brightest light in the station came from a well-lit building at one end of the platform, and having nothing better to do than grump like a nordic playwright, I went over to investigate. It was a sizeable multi-storey bike park, secure and enclosed, and absolutely full of bikes. There’s hope yet.
The picnic/train ride was fun too.