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cultural difference 6: transportation I

April 12, 2010

A lot of the differences in modes of transportation are easily understood when you keep in mind how large the United States are in comparison to Germany. Also, gasoline is a lot more expensive in Germany than it is in the US.

German people walk a lot. Not as a form of exercise, just to get to where they want to go. When I read S.X. Meagher’s I Found My Heart in San Francisco series, I was amazed what a big deal walking around seemed to be for her characters. Clearly, US cities are designed with cars in mind, not pedestrians.

It’s different in Germany. That’s not to say that there aren’t German people who take the car just to check the mailbox, but in general, you see people walk everywhere, so there are a lot more sidewalks than in the US.

And bikes (meaning bicycles) are very popular – again, not for exercise, but for everyday transportation. So especially in cities with universities, there are bike lanes everywhere. Around train stations or near universities, it might look like this:

You don’t want to know how long it takes to even find your bike at the end of the day and to get it out of that mass of other bikes.

You also often see people riding their bikes with one pant leg rolled up. No, that’s not a fashion statement or a gang sign. It’s done to protect the pants from getting grease stains from the bike chain. Or we use leg bands to keep the pant leg away from the chain. Apparently, that’s thought of as geeky in the US.


A lot of bikes also have baskets, not attached to the handlebars but to the back of the bike.

Yes, even young people have baskets on their bikes.

I also heard someone mention that German bikes look very old-fashioned, as if from the 1950s, to Americans. What do you think?

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7 comments

  1. San Francisco was indeed built before the industrial revolution, but it became a metropolis after that period and thus has more of the marks, typical of the U.S.. However, you do find what I call “walking cities” on the East coast of the U.S.. Most of the former colonial capitals are very European in their design for walking, rather than vehicle use. After all, the original 13 colonies were established as population centers long before the industrial revolution brought automobiles. If I had my druthers, I’d be living in Boston rather than an area without walk-ability (or even decent public transit) as I do.


  2. I know that at one point in history, a lot of the US cities had pretty good public transportation, but as the cities continued to grow, cars probably seemed like the most logical choice.
    We Europeans are spoiled when it comes to walk-ability 🙂


  3. My partner’s aunt was married to an US ambassador. Once or twice a year they came to visit and I remember that we’ve been amazed that they always wanted to drive everywhere 🙂
    Frankfurt(the city I work in) has a pretty good public transportation system. Though we have a car we hardly ever use it. Not only because of the price of gas but also pretty much because of environmental protection.
    And I know that the city Jae lives in is the bike capital of Germany 😉
    Even though we have a university in Frankfurt we don’t have as many bikes as your town has.


  4. Where I live (in Southern California, about 5km from the beach), people drive their cars to the beach, in order to take a walk along the beach. 🙂

    So you don’t worry about someone stealing your bike wheel or bike seat when you leave your bike for hours at the train station?

    Is that your bike with the basket in the rear?


  5. No, my bike is not on any of the photos. But it has a basket too.

    The trick to not having your bike stolen is to use a bike that looks as if it’s not worth stealing. I wouldn’t advise leaving a 5,000-Euro bike behind at the station. But most average bikes don’t have much to fear here in Freiburg.


  6. Well, in that case, then yes, that bike does look a bit old-fashioned. 🙂


  7. Hehehe. But you see, the secret to not having your bike stolen is to have an old-fashioned bike 🙂



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