You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘General musings while dodging traffic’ category.


We cycle past these blocks of flats every week on the way to Eldest Son’s club activities and I’ve been meaning to mention it for some time*. It is an isolated section of Stuttgart called Asemwald, essentially made up of three blocks of flats, each 70 metres tall.

The trees are supposed to screen the buildings. When an architect feels the need to hide his building it really must be bad.

When the city built the flats they decided the best place was on a big hill to the south of the city. You can see it from miles away, in all directions. Unfortunately this also meant the 1800 inhabitants were far from the nearest railway station. The designers solved this by building a huge underground car park, and a bus stop.

There is a restaurant on the top floor of one of the buildings which is quite popular, possibly because when you are in it, you can’t see Asemwald.

*Which is why the trees apparently have leaves in November. I’ve been busy.

I haven’t written much about using bicycles lately, especially considering how much use our bikes get.


The Bakfiets spends much of its time being a tractor, as seen above delivering compost and a load of wood to the garden for making the Mighty Steppe. Without the Bakfiets we’d probably not be able to keep our crazy hippy lifestyle going, as it is the main way of transporting stuff back and forth to the Very Smallholding. I could probably fill one of these if I had one, which would remove almost all need for a car except for the occasional long trip, but I always end up deciding I’m better off with what I’ve got.

I may make a flat bed for the Bakfiets as soon as The Boys are too big to ride in it (that’s if I don’t make a coffee bar instead).


Meanwhile the Xtracycle remains my vehicle of choice for going to the next town and beyond, visiting friends and running errands, not least because it means I can combine trips.


This of course means it is out in all weather, and I’m going to have to get myself into gear and replace the wooden deck at some point: it is made for sunny California, not cold damp Germany.

People still shake their heads and tell me it is much more convenient to have  car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…

Our local town has a free newspaper printed by the local government. It is as exciting as you’d expect.

This week the headline is about how our town is a ‘safe place to live’ according to the police (which would explain why they closed the police station).

They do admit that there was a 6.5% increase in traffic incidents, which would seem rather a lot for a ‘safe town’. This includes two fatalities, but with about eleven fatalities a day in Germany, most towns will get a couple each year. Two deaths aren’t enough to make the traffic situation officially ‘dangerous’.

No mention is made of motor vehicle vs. pedestrian/bicycle collisions involving adults but we are told that there were seven ‘accidents’ which involved children under thirteen. The article tells us: “It is noticeable that three of the children were riding on Roller Scooters. A further three accidents involving children occurred on traffic lights on a pedestrian crossing with a red light showing.”*

So they were all ‘accidents’. Not the driver’s fault: all the fault of those irresponsible children, as the ‘official in charge’ concludes: “It is important that children are carefully prepared for road traffic”.

At no point does anyone seem to stop and ask any further questions.

For example, how fast the vehicles were being driven, and why they were unable to stop in time. Weather conditions or the type of vehicles involved are not mentioned.

We don’t know if the children were driving on a pavement or a ‘Spielstrasse’ (Lit: ‘Play Street’, a street where children should be able to play safely). The speed limit is 7km/h (4mph) on these but motor vehicles normally bounce down them at twenty or thirty Km/h.

We don’t know if the drivers were using their phone or adjusting their navigator.

There are no details at all about the seventh ‘accident’.

We are left to assume we have the information we need: children were driving on roller scooters or crossing the road. Tut, tut, they should know better.

So that’s all right then, keep driving as fast as you like and if no-one takes those naughty children in hand and teaches them to be responsible with traffic, it isn’t your fault if you ‘accidentally’ run one down.

*German: “Auffällig sei, das dass drei der Kinder jeweils mit Tretrollen unterwegs waren. Weitere drei Unfälle mit Kindern ereigneten sich an einem Fußgängerüberweg bei roter Ampel” Any native German speakers are welcome to correct my translation.

In my first year of being a carpenters apprentice, I’ve learned that invariably the biggest and bulkiest orders are from people who live or work on the third floor or higher.

This is a universal rule.

A secondary rule seems to be that they don’t have lifts, or the lift is broken, and that there is always a narrow corner on the stairs to squeeze around.

So when we were sent out to make a delivery today, I was pretty pleased to find it was a set of railings for some stairs -nice and light, excellent- and a box for a wheeled rubbish bin, which by definition was in the garden and therefore on ground level.

We arrived to find the customer waiting on the drive. We opened the van and she cooed over her new wooden box. We asked where it should be placed.

“Up there” she said pointing up a steep flight of steps cut into the hillside.

There was even a narrow corner half way up…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABakfietsen are very solid things. They are, however built to trundle around nice flat bike lanes in places like Amsterdam carrying the shopping and kids, with lots of bike shops and nice mechanics who know how to deal with their complex innards. Ours spends a lot of time being a pickup/tractor on dodgy farm lanes with potholes a medium-sized dog could hide in, and ‘cycle ways’ which resemble a competitive mountain biking route. Add in snow and ice and glom of nit, regular use carrying oversized things like pallets, and a lack of bike shops that have even seen a Bakfiets, and things can go wrong, like eighth gear vanishing.

This isn’t a massive problem on its own as there are two kinds of route locally, ‘up’ and ‘down’, and eighth gear is not much use on either, but the others aren’t much better. First gear is fine, but second and third come and go according to the phase of the moon and position of butterflies in the Amazon, fourth only turns up so it can cut out at a crucial moment like when I have a truck behind me, while 5,6,and 7 operate a sort of lottery.

There’s a limit to how far you can ride in first gear, and the whole bike started making a foul noise, although that was traced to the pedals which are complaining about being used in all kinds of foul weather.

Owning a complex bike in a car culture is one long engineering project. I keep telling myself it builds character. Or something.


How the weather isn’t.

I should have been at the garden today. The beds need weeding again, and I’ve not had a chance to unleash the newly sharpened scythe on the brambles (although a trial swing in the veggie beds went through several varieties of weed and the side of a compost bin), the seedings are finally growing to a point they can be planted out and there are more steps to be dug than I want to think about, and I’m sitting in here with the rain beating on the skylight behind me like a British boarding house on a bank holiday weekend.

Usually the spring rain falls so hard the runoff on the roof pours so fast it misses the guttering altogether and pours straight on the garden below, then clears up by the time you’ve finished your bike ride*. This weekend we’ve had constant rain: heavy, light, and by way of variation this afternoon, angled.  There’s no point going to the garden in this weather as the shed leaks and the clay soil will glue to the spade leaving it useful only as a club to beat the weeds with. I know I keep going on about this, but I really need some reliable, comfortable shelter in the garden. I’m working on that, admittedly painfully slowly, but hopefully I’ll soon have some progress soon.

I’ve spent most of the day helping Eldest Son with a history of Hamburg, and sketching woodwork projects. I’ve discovered that dovetails are part of the test in a few weeks and my final project in 2015, so I really need to get some practice, which means ordering some wood at work, which means working out what I need.

I’ve also been wondering -in that melancholy way you do when the rain is hitting the window- about what to write about next: I can’t go cycling or gardening and a sane person can only take so much information about woodwork. I’ve lived here and this way so long I don’t really know what is interesting to someone looking in through these web pages.

Please give suggestions below. Or expect more entries about the weather.

*Usually about five minutes before you get back…

Our state government has decided it wants to investigate sustainability and tell us all about how to have a small carbon footprint.


The best way to do this is with a big truck, so we can see they are really, really serious about sustainability. As long as it doesn’t mean changing anything.

Remember: Infinite growth is possible with finite resources. We will discover a cheap recoverable energy source to replace oil. Technology will save us.


Cycling by itself is all very well, but it leads to other things, like permaculture courses and interest in alternative lifestyles and before you know it you’re seriously working out how to go off grid and build a house out of tree bark, so in case anyone out there is wondering, here are a few pointers that may indicate you are going down the same slippery slope…

You don’t know the names or personal lives of anyone who became famous since 1995.
When you go to the garage you fall over 3 buckets, a bike pump, and a breeding colony of pickle jars.
You sit in the doctor’s waiting room reading instructions on how to make compost toilets.
Social events are annoying impositions on gardening/bike repairing/chicken house building time.
You don’t see adverts.
You are genuinely startled how well roads connect into a network.
You’ve arrived early at meetings so many times you no longer remember to look smug.
Your mother has to explain what an ‘i-Pad’ and a ‘Kindle’ is*.
You haven’t been to a ‘high street’ store in months.
You don’t know why people are looking at your bike. (Thanks to Karl Mckracken for that one)
You don’t know the difference between a Porsche and a VW.
You go out for the evening wearing work boots. Again.
Your dream house is a yurt.
You don’t even know where the nearest Mc******s is.
The last time you went on Eb*y, you bought seed pots, a hammer and some chicken wire.
A ‘Good weekend’ means going to the garden and making a significant dent in the jobs list.

If you recognise any of these, then you could be on the way to becoming a subversive. I’m sure someone somewhere has a way to help people like me to get back into the mainstream, stop thinking and obsess about the lives of people far wealthier than I am. I’m having too much fun to find out though.

*She did.

The rain has finally managed what the city refuses to contemplate, and cleared the hard packed snow on the route over the fields to the next town. The majority of the route (where cars are allowed to go) was fine but the middle was impassable, or at the very least unpredictable. I know this because I’ve been going out to check the route whenever I had time and daylight with all the seriousness of some native hunter tracking prey.

By cycling I save about ten minutes each way, and avoid the slow tedium of driving on a bus that winds its way around the town for several kilometres before returning to the same place it was five minutes earlier.

I can’t help wondering how drivers would cope with these conditions. If, whenever it snowed, drivers had to go out and check if their route would be clear the next day, would winter driving would be as unpopular as winter cycling locally?

Or maybe there would be a surge in SUV sales because people ‘felt safer’ driving in the snow in a bigger car, and then we’d have te same situation as now, on a larger scale.

It’s that time of year again when the snow turns to ice, glues itself to the road surface, and stays for weeks. I kept cycling as long as I could but eventually it came down to a choice of riding on ice or along a busy narrow road with drivers who rather object to sharing the space with anyone.

And then the weather report said it would get really cold. Even if the bike had had incredible ice tyres like Disgruntled, cycling in temperatures of minus ten would mean all kinds of cold weather clothing which I’d have to haul around all day, so I’ve been going on the magical mystery tour on the bus. This does nothing for my energy or mood.

To try and get some exercise back into the morning routine I’ve taken to abandoning the bus once we get into town and walking the final bit to the railway station. No time is lost by doing this as the bus goes wandering around the inner ring road and takes as long to reach the station as I do on foot.

I also enter the city via a  stone bridge and a city gate, which gives a rather glamorous mid-European vibe to the start of the day.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Contact me




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers