Category Archives: Germany

Two wheels good

We plan do a public presentation in Peterborough in mid to late September.  If you are not already signed up to automatically receive new blog entries and you would like to know the date and time of the presentation, then click on the dark green FOLLOW rectangle at the bottom left corner of the green panel on the left side.  You will be sent the info via blog entry in September.

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Thirty-eight days and 1700+km of cycle touring in Germany, Switzerland, Holland,  and Denmark left us a little bit fitter and a lot more fired up about the possibilities of creative urban planning. We were impressed and inspired by the ubiquitous and well-planned bicycle infrastructure. I’ve been to Copenhagen many times and know that it has a unique and thriving bicycle culture, but this time, seeing it from the saddle of a bicycle was really eye-opening. Sometimes it was a little overwhelming to be on a downtown cycle path with so many other cyclists – I felt like a new driver who needs to be super vigilant about the surrounding traffic. Since there are often 2 lanes in each direction on the bike paths and many users, one has to be aware of oncoming cyclists, when and where to pass, making sure to follow traffic signals, and maintaining the flow of traffic (don’t just stop to look at a map or road sign because someone may rear-end you!) That said, our overall impression of cycling in all of these countries was that we felt SAFE. Why? Because the infrastructure was in place, often in the form of bicycle paths that are physically separated from the driving lanes and clearly paved in a different colour. When we needed to share the road, drivers were very considerate, leaving us ample room when passing. Probably because they are cyclists themselves and know how it feels to be the more vulnerable road user.

Here are Kaia and Cam in southern Germany, feeling safe as they cycle on a path separated by a grass buffer from the highway.
Here are Kaia and Cam in southern Germany, feeling safe as they cycle on a path separated by a grass buffer from the highway.
Rural cycle routes in Holland are well signed with maps at many intersections.
Rural cycle routes in Holland are well signed with maps at many intersections.

 

All over Holland, bike lanes are paved with red tar to make them obvious. In this particular place, the lane was separated from traffic by bike and car parking spaces.
All over Holland, bike lanes are paved with red tar to make them obvious. In this particular place, the lane was separated from traffic by bike and car parking spaces.

 

The red lanes extend through intersections, making it clear to motorists where bicycles will be.
The red lanes extend through intersections, making it clear to motorists where bicycles will be.

 

We even saw a bike lane paving crew and saw how the red colour is mixed right into the pavement – no chance of surface paint wearing off!
We even saw a bike lane paving crew and noticed how the red colour is mixed right into the pavement – no chance of surface paint wearing off!

 

Separate traffic lights for bicycles will often count down, showing how much longer until a green light.
Separate traffic lights for bicycles will often count down, showing how much longer until a green light.

 

Most trains have cars designated for bicycles. Here we are travelling comfortably from X to Y.
Most trains have cars designated for bicycles. Here we are travelling comfortably from Opheusden to Utrecht.

 

The transportation plan in Freiburg includes a car-share program, whereby members can book a suitable vehicle for the days or hours they need it.  They calculate that it is a cheaper option for people who drive fewer than 10 000 km per year.
The transportation plan in Freiburg includes a car-share program, whereby members can book a suitable vehicle for the days or hours they need it. They calculate that it is a cheaper option for people who drive fewer than 10 000 km per year.

 

Freiburg has some car-reduced neighbourhoods like this one, Vauban.  Most streets are parking-free which means that cars can only stop for loading and unloading.  Neighbourhood garages are in 3 locations and provide enough space for all the residents cars.
Freiburg has some car-reduced neighbourhoods like this one, Vauban. Most streets are parking-free which means that cars can only stop for loading and unloading. Neighbourhood garages are in 3 locations and provide enough space for all the residents cars. Those who do not own a car must pay for a “virtual parking space” which is now a green space but could be turned into more parking if the need arises.

With so much emphasis on bicycles, there is of course a need for good and convenient bike parking facilities.

 

Outdoor covered bicycle parking
Outdoor covered bicycle parking

 

This one, at a school in Vauban, even has a green roof!
This one, at a school in Vauban, even has a green roof!
Our guide in Freiburg is showing us the indoor, secure bike parking at the central train station.
Our guide in Freiburg showed us the indoor, secure bike parking at the central station.

 

At train stations, work places and educational institutions, there are lots of bikes.
Everywhere we went — train stations, work places and educational institutions — there were lots of bikes!

 

Even McDonald’s has a substantial bike rack (and it’s being used!)  No, we did not eat there. We were trying to poach some wifi.
Even McDonald’s has a substantial bike rack (and it’s being used!) No, we did not eat there. We were trying to poach some wifi.

 

In Amsterdam, there is such a need for bike parking spaces that they turned these two barges into floating parking lots!
In Amsterdam, there is such a need for bike parking spaces that they turned these two barges into floating parking lots!

Many families in both Denmark and Holland own “cargo bikes” (50,000 in Copenhagen alone!) and about a quarter report that it is a direct replacement for a car. We saw many children being transported in the cargo area as well as dogs, groceries, and boyfriends!

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The cargo bikes in this photo are uncharacteristically empty! But you can see how different modes of transportation share the road.

 

Cargo bikes require special consideration in terms of parking (they are often seen parked outside grocery stores).
Cargo bikes require special consideration in terms of parking (they are often seen parked outside grocery stores). Cam asked why they do not use bike trailers (like ours) instead of the heavier cargo bike, and it was explained that they liked to be able to talk with their passenger as they ride, be it kid, pet or husband.

 

OK, this Dutch cargo bike was just too cute!
OK, this Dutch cargo bike was just too cute!

 

We got to test drive the latest model of cargo bike by "Bullitt"
Cam and Kaia test driving the latest model of cargo bike by “Bullitt”

Cam made sure we visited the planning departments in Groningen and Copenhagen to learn about their cycling strategies. Let’s just say they are light years ahead of anyone else in our part of the world.

Groningen is a city of about 225 000 in the north of Holland. It has a little more than twice the population of our city, Peterborough, but is similar in that both are university towns with vibrant art scenes. Groningen has a younger population than Peterborough and a long, strong history of cycling. A full 60% of journeys there are done by bicycle! (In our hometown, it’s only about 4%). This makes Goningen the unnoficial cycling capital of the world in terms of highest modal share of trips on cycle.  The literature we picked up at the planning department revealed that the reasons for promoting cycling have little to do with the environment and mostly to do with health, quality of life, and the economy. Their stated goals are to:

  • Create good conditions for the growth of the city
  • Keep the city accessible (not clogged with traffic)
  • Improve the health of inhabitants
  • Ensure a viable and economically vital city
  • Ensure a safe city

Of course, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through the use of bicycles and public transportation contribute to improved health of the citizens (and the planet). Nowhere does anyone suggest eliminating cars from the mix, just increasing the modal share of cycling, walking, public transportation, and carpooling. In that way, people who need to drive can continue to do so without requiring major new road constructions (because many people will choose the cheaper, healthier, more sustainable, and, in Groningen, more convenient options).

This student intern in the Copenhagen planning department was happy to share with us the maps and literature about the ambitious bicycle strategy that they believe will make them the world’s best bicycle city (and carbon neutral!) by 2025. The priorities are: sense of security, speed, comfort, and city life.
This student intern in the Copenhagen planning department was happy to share with us the maps and literature about the ambitious bicycle strategy that they believe will make them the world’s best bicycle city (and carbon neutral!) by 2025. The priorities are: sense of security, speed, comfort, and city life.

The following photos were taken in central Copenhagen at 4:30pm on a weekday.  How many cars can you count?

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In the Copenhagen cycling strategy, they share the results of a socio-economic analysis of different forms of transportation.  I don’t know exactly how they calculated this, but they say that riding a bicycle downtown during rush hour results in a net profit for society of 0.49 Euro, whereas taking a car results in a net loss of 0.89 Euro.   I assume it is based on the reduced wear and tear on the roads by bikes, reduced congestion,  as well as the significant health benefits of active transportation.  Conversely, obesity and its associated societal costs are notably higher among those who drive a car.  Based on that, what city or municipality can afford NOT to promote cycling?

Every new development in these cities we visited (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Groningen and Copenhagen) takes into consideration the needs of citizens to get around quickly, safely, and comfortably. Transit and cycling infrastructure are key.  There were some really amazing details in their planning that blew us away:

  • Groningen has traffic signals that can detect rain. If it is raining, they give priority to cyclists by giving more/longer green lights to bicycles.
  • They are also planning to build heated bicycle paths, using the heat from wastewater sewers. This will help keep bike lanes free from snow and ice.
  • Freiburg, Germany, has “bicycle streets” where bikes have priority. Cars still drive and park on these streets, but the speed limit is 30 km/h.
  • Recognizing that cycling is a very social activity and that many people prefer to cycle side by side, the goal in Copenhagen is to make all bike paths wide enough to accommodate 3 bicycle lanes in each direction!
  • One of their maintenance goals is to have bike lanes smooth enough that one can ride along with a cup of coffee on the handlebars, and not spill!
  • Copenhagen is planning to embed LED lights in the asphalt to indicate which forms of transportation have access to the lanes. The lights can change to accommodate the differing flow of traffic. For example, there can be more lanes of traffic and wider bike lanes going into town in the morning, but fewer in the afternoon, when the space is needed for traffic going in the other direction.

The level of cooperation and creative problem solving is phenomenal.   All I can say is, “Wow!”

We are feeling motivated now to help BE THE CHANGE in Peterborough.  Last weekend, there was an event called “Peterborough Pulse” and on Saturday morning from 9 until 1, they closed a 3km portion of our downtown streets to car traffic.  Imagine that!  For four hours, people strolled and biked along the car-less streets, and many community organisations set up booths with information or activities.  Kaia volunteered to set one up to share photos and information from our trip and ask participants what they would like to see in Peterborough with respect to active transportation.  Our whole family got involved!  Kaia (and I) baked about 200 bicycle-shaped cookies which were given out in exchange for the ideas.  We had icing and candies so kids could decorate them.  Cam chose some of our best photos of cycling infrastructure, printed them, and made a binder.  Jake was there on the day to help set up, elicit responses, and help kids decorate cookies.  It was a great event and, we hope, a first step towards a more pedestrian and cycle friendly downtown.

Here is our booth.  It was called "Sweet Ideas -- a cookie for your thoughts"
Here is our booth. It was called “Sweet Ideas — a cookie for your thoughts”
People wrote their ideas on coloured paper which we put together like a quilt.
People wrote their ideas on coloured paper which we put together like a quilt.
The kids enjoyed decorating and eating the bicycle cookies.
The kids enjoyed decorating and eating the bicycle cookies.
Here is a prize-winner!  Decorated by Francesca, who was also helping out at the booth.
Here is a prize-winner! Decorated by Francesca, who was also helping out at the booth.
The quilt is now finished and will be presented to our city council.  Many respondents expressed the desire for more bike paths separated from traffic.  Many also suggested working towards a carless downtown core.
The quilt is now finished and will be presented to our city council. Many respondents expressed the desire for more bike paths separated from traffic. Many also suggested working towards a carless downtown core.

Recall that back in September, one of our first stops was Portland, Oregon, a city that has become the most bicycle-friendly one in North America.  Cam wrote a blog about our 2-wheeled experiences there called Pedaling in Portland.  We certainly have many lessons to learn from them — not least of all, PATIENCE.

In her book about the process, former Portland Bicycle Program Coordinator, Mia Birk wrote,  “Behavioural change takes time. It has taken close to a generation to teach people to place their bottles, cans, paper and plastic in recycling bins. It will take a generation or more to integrate bicycling and walking into daily life, but only if we get rolling.” (Joyride, p.144)

So… here’s to getting rolling!

Kaia will be rolling on her newly painted and decorated bike.  She was inspired by some we saw in Holland and decided to paint, add a front basket, and decorate hers with plastic flowers.
Kaia will be rolling on her newly painted and decorated bike. She was inspired by some we saw in Holland and decided to paint, add a front basket, and decorate hers with plastic flowers.

Yvonne

 

 

 

 

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Blown away by the wind power of northern Germany

If you follow our blog at all regularly, you will realise that we haven’t made it home yet in our blog, and there has been a long lull in our writing. We indeed are settled, or I should say settling back into our home. We’ve been too busy unpacking, planting the vegetable garden and visiting with family and friends to write. But we are looking forward to writing about our final few weeks in Europe/Iceland. Cam.

Wind power.  Love it, or hate it.  Controversy abounding about this energy source seems to have polarised people’s views.  Here in Ontario, most of us talk about wind power in the abstract sense – few of us live within sight of wind farms.  But there were very few places during our cycle through northern Germany where you couldn’t see a wind turbine.  In fact, for much of our cycling in this region, we could see vast wind farms – with so many turbines that I had to stop my bike to be able to count.  I got up past 40 once before I gave up.  And I, for one, like to count wind turbines (just ask my kids).

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If you have no interest in renewable energy and just want to know where we cycled and what we did, you can skip down to just above the map below.  Otherwise, read on about the world leader in renewable energy …

Germany in general and northern Germany in particular (that’s where the wind blows best) has seen a HUGE growth in wind power over the past 15 years.  It is in part due to the dominant political climate in this part of the world that looks towards renewable energy for energy self sufficiency, and that actually cares enough about climate change to do something substantial and ambitious to reduce emissions.  But the German story is something much more than this and it deserves a bit of attention.  I had intended to write a fairly substantial piece on the German renewable energy story, but in light of the fact that my last entry (green Freiburg) was rather long and thick in content, I will stay short here in hopes that one or two readers will still peruse my entries :).
Germans have always been uneasy about nuclear energy, though they leaned heavily on it in the late 1900s.  They also relied heavily on coal – some domestic and much imported.  Oil and natural gas were imported.  Hydro is all but non existent.  And of course, Germany’s well known manufacturing base is hungry for electricity.  A visionary in the late 1990s by the name of Herman Shear (passed away just a couple years ago) started agitating for a renewable future for Germany and by the early 2000s (he was then an MP) his plan was really taking hold.  The cornerstone of his “Energiewende” (energy turnaround) plan is the Feed In Tariff (FIT).  Under the FIT, independent renewable power producers were guaranteed access to Germany’s electricity grid, and were given 20 year fixed price production contracts.  Their price per kWhr of generation depended on the technology.  Roof-top solar PV got the most, ground-mounted solar next, industrial scale solar next, wind and biomass next most.  The prices were set to provide significant incentives for producers to invest, and recognised the different build costs of the technologies.  The prices also reflected the reality that solar produces when it is needed the most (mid day) and the idea that roof tops were otherwise useless areas (whereas fields and yards can and should be used for other things).  In all cases, purchase prices were more than what the Germany utilities were selling for – so it was subsidised as green energy, and as a significant job creator.  Importantly, the purchase prices dropped over the year to reflect dropping production and installation costs.
Germany had very ambitious targets for wind and solar PV.  And in every case, they blew their targets out of the water.  They would reach the 5 year goal in the 1st year, for example.   They would surpass the entire EU target all by themselves.  Superlatives abound.  Money poured into solar and wind manufacturing, and new green collar job creation boomed.  Germany had, in only a half decade, established itself as the world leader in renewable energy policy, technology and manufacturing.  They are now surpassed only by the USA and China in terms of new production coming on, but these two economies are of course much larger than Germany’s.  And almost all of this growth owes to the FIT.
Dalton McGuinty’s liberal government in Ontario took note of Germany’s success and in 2008 created a Green Energy Act that was modelled very closely on the German approach.  We too call our incentive the FIT.  In fact, Ontario Environment and Energy officials toured Germany and met with Herman Shear in their research.  So if any Ontario readers wonder where all the roof top solar PV and the steady growth in wind power comes from …. thank (or scold, if that’s where your politics are) Herman Shear and his progressive colleagues.  Yvonne and I installed 15kW of solar PV on our two roofs 5 years ago.  We produce much more than we use on an average day.  On a sunny summer day, the two roofs produce 90kWhrs, while our (one) house uses 5kWhrs.  Our investment will pay itself off in a year or two from now.  The rooftop solar PV (micro)FIT started at 82 cents/kWhr (we got in then).  I believe it is now down in the 35 cent range.  This drop recognises the substantial drop in equipment cost and installation efficiency – which is another sign of success.
Anyone who reads the word “subsidised energy” might rightly worry about rising electricity costs.  Germans were worried.  In the end though, the cost of electricity in Germany related to the FIT program rose by only about $50/yr for an average household.  This was the cost of vast improvement in energy security, weaning off nuclear power, and tens of thousands of new high paying jobs.  It is worth noting that after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany decided to close out all nuclear power – even if the plant had service life left.  This has ironically resulted in a return to domestic coal power (and increase in CO2) while the country awaits further roll out of solar, wind and biomass power.
We met many Germans during our travels this year.  I would ask them what they made of their renewable energy leadership.  Surprisingly (to me, anyway), most did not know they were leaders.  And also surprisingly, most that did know just laughed, and told the story of the huge offshore wind farm in the north sea that ran out of money before the electrical cable that connected the turbines to the shore (grid) could be installed.  They were hugely cynical.  I asked some Germans in Germany about this and they acknowledged that they are cynics by nature and are their own worst critics.  There is some push back against the FIT in Germany for sure, but the basic approach steams ahead.
OK, I’m done on the FIT.  And YES, this is my short story!  🙂  Those with an interest in the German story should read Chris Turner’s “The Leap”.
Jake’s Holland blog leaves us hunkering down during a huge wind and rain storm in a fabulous little greenhouse that we found in a little campground on the east coast of Holland. 

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We made our way to the town’s harbour to take the ferry across the Eems inlet the next morning and discovered a large group of people waiting to board some zodiacs.  Their leader was wearing a t-shirt with “Hansa Green Tour” written on the back. 

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This of course caught my interest!  I learned that these energy professionals were touring solar, wind and biogas sites across Germany and Denmark and were meeting with local officials to study policy approaches.  I then found the trip description on their website and laughed when I noted that the tour gave a prize to the participant with the lowest transportation carbon footprint.  Charging stations for electrical vehicles had been mapped out across the route, and a tow truck was following the tour in the event that a participant ran out of charge.  A significant portion of the participants were apparently driving Teslas, and the rest “just” regular lower end electrical vehicles!  Welcome to northern Europe!!  The tour was in town (Delfzijl) to see Holland’s latest huge wind farm that was built on the shore of the inlet.

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Hansa Green Tour participants are in the little zodiacs, dwarfed by the new turbines. I have to admit that I was a bit envious of the tour participants, but the tour price appeared to be inversely proportional to their carbon footprint (that is unaffordable to me!)
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Most of the new turbines had yet to begin production. This one appears to be in final testing stages.

The journey across the Eems inlet that separates northern Friesland (Holland) from Northwest Germany took only about 30 minutes.

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Yes, we've arrived in Northern Germany!
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We noted that the large German wind manufacturer Enercon's nacelles (the part on top of the post that holds the hub and blades) was a much different (cone) shape than the rectangular nacelles of the Danish giant Vestas. I bet your world stood still when you learned that.
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Volkswagen has situated one of their large manufacturing facilities at Emden where we landed. Germany has to make the most of its few sea ports.
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These shrink wrapped VWs were about to be driven on to the car carrier here. I'm guessing that the wind turbines were owned by VW.
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We had only ridden about 1km from our ferry dock when we came across all these wind turbine ("spare"?) parts lying around the port.
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Cycling past the town's tall ship in Emden.

Emden turned out to be a fabulous little city.  The inner port was dotted with maritime museums, the tall ship above, and a great little fast food fish stand where we gorged on lunch.  A large international film festival was starting the next day, and walking streets and cafés abounded.  We spent most of the afternoon trying to line up tours of a wind turbine manufacturing plant and an actual wind turbine.  On the latter, you can climb 60 or so metres up a wind tower to an observation deck located just below the nacelle.

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Photo from the net

They were however not offering the tour during our time frame.  I know this because I used google translate to translate back and forth emails about 3 times with their German-only speaking contact 🙂  I was very persistent with our contact at Enercon’s HUGE production facility in Aurich and managed to get us a tour at 9AM the next morning.  Aurich was about 40km away though so we needed to set off in the late afternoon from Emden.

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Enjoying the late afternoon sun as we cycled into the wind turbine landscape of Northwest Germany.
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This part of Germany is also referred to as Friesland, and shares its love of transportation canals with Holland across the inlet. This particular one was a canal "roundabout" - 4 canals joined the central roundabout through individual locks. Can't recall ever seeing one of these before!
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no, not 9 blades on one turbine ... I just like when 3 turbines line up!
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perhaps not recommended in the bicycle safety guide, but it worked for me, and Yvonne got comfortable with this approach too.
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We found the PERFECT place to make dinner. Soft afternoon sun, beautiful boat to gaze at, and a picnic table to boot.
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Actually, Yvonne did almost all our meals (I don't like cooking on her camp stove). Note the beer ... we were back in cheap Germany again. And note Kaia - she was (and still is) hands down the most conscientious blogger of the four of us.
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Jake is now part of the dinner prep team.
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It's the little details that matter in the transportation game. We saw good bike locking facilities at even the smallest, remote bus stops.
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When we arrived in Aurich we got a little sneak preview of our next day's tour. Holy jumping big blades, Batman!

I used the satellite photo feature on google maps to locate a forest right near the Enercon production facility in Aurich.  We weren’t too sure how discreet the forest site would be for camping so planned our arrival to have just enough light to set up the tent before jumping in (yes, that’s about 11PM!).

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We awoke in the morning to this lovely sight - probably one of the nicest campsites we found in Germany. Note that the German flag had been reinstalled on our bike trailer safety pole.

We camped only 1.5 km from the Enercon factory so thought that the 15 minutes we’d left to get there would be ample.  But it turns out that the “factory” is actually a huge campus of factories and support buildings, all with significant security, so it took quite a while to navigate to our tour desk.  The four us met with 2 other Enercon employees visiting from their Spanish operation and our very energetic and extremely knowledgeable guide, Timo. Unfortunately, cameras are not permitted inside the buildings for competitive/security reasons.  I say unfortunately, because the visuals of the production of 55m turbine blades in different stages of manufacture are really quite breathtaking.  This facility produces blades for their 3MW Enercon 121 turbine model, which means that the rotor diameter is 121m.  The hub sits atop towers that are anywhere from 100 to 150m high!   Enercon makes blades for their other turbine sizes in 9 other factories around the world (though 6 of them are in Germany).  Their largest, with blades 70m long sitting on 135m towers crank out an amazing 7.5MW.  One of Enercon’s competitive advantages is that their blades can be “feathered” in high winds (change the pitch) so that they don’t need to be shut down like some competitors’ do (they DO need to be shut down above 30m/s which is storm like).  The generators that sit in the hubs were produced in the next factory over, and the towers and hubs in other facilities in northern Germany.  Enercon bought the local train company outright so they could customise it to get their blades to the port 45km away.  This business is not for the faint of heart!
The factory is massive, of course, and was a hive of activity.  Blade manufacture is still done almost entirely by humans.  In this case, 3 shifts of 300 workers work around the clock, producing 1 blade per shift.  So that is blades for 1 turbine each and every day.  There were about 35 stations that the blades moved through … and at 55m long you can imagine that the task of moving the blades from station to station is not insignificant!  Blades are a combination of fibreglass, resin, and lightweight plywood.  And when spinning at such high velocities, there is no room for error.
Our guide was full of great anecdotes, and quite enjoyed describing his ultimate boss, the Enercon owner/founder, Aloys Wobben.  This fellow is now relinquishing control due to his age, but he is apparently both very laid back on the shop floor (wanders around, just watching and smiling, blending in) and very demanding of his team.  In earlier years he would be working on design issues at home on a Sunday, and when he thought he had a break-through he’d call up his senior team to come over to the house to provide feedback on the new idea.  Telling him that you’re in the middle of Sunday dinner with your family was not an option!
Eventually the tour moved outside and I was able to pull out my camera.

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Different countries have different requirements for the painting of the blades. Germany was 2 red stripes on the tips.
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That's me. Wow!!

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I was impressed by many things on the tour.  But mostly I came to realise how complicated, high tech and large scale (physically) the wind turbine industry is.

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Enercon had just finished construction on this biogas generation facility that fed electricity into its manufacturing plants. The flexible roofs allow gas to collect in the digesters below, and provides a low pressure feed of methane into the electrical generators. Feedstock includes mostly manure and agricultural waste.

From Aurich we continued east across northern Germany … right into an Enercon wind farm!

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Look for me at the bottom of the tower.

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Google maps was actually quite impressive in its ability to find cycling paths. But in a few rare cases like this, the paths got a bit "rustic".
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We were still in the "Frieseland" part of Germany where navigable canals are pervasive.

A full afternoon of canal-side pedalling brought us to near Varel where we camped.  At this point we actually had a “deadline” to arrive at Yvonne’s Aunt and Uncle’s farm in Denmark where they and Yvonne’s mom would be waiting for us.  Sadly, we were out of time for riding in Germany so planned to catch the train across the rest of northern Germany, then north from Lubeck to the tip of the penninsula at Puttgarden where we’d catch a ferry north to Denmark. 

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This would normally be quite straight forward, even though the trip involved 4 different train connections.  However, it became pretty clear to us the next day on our first train leg out of Varel that this was not just any day.  It was Friday afternoon of a weekend with a beautiful forecast!  We could barely move with our bikes  amidst the throngs of travellers at the Oldenburg train station and wondered how we could possibly fit into the next train with our bikes – especially in light of the many other folks standing beside us with their bikes.  At that point a Deutsch Bahn official approached us and asked us if we’d made a booking for our bikes on the intercity train.  No, we hadn’t, and now it was impossible because they were all sold out, and you have to reserve at least 24 hrs in advance. That meant we’d need to take a series of regional trains, and our journey would extend from 7 hrs to 9 hrs, including the many waits at stations.  Lesson learned.  For anyone planning to take bikes on trains in Germany, here’s how it works:
Intercity Express trains: no bikes allowed
Intercity trains: reservations required
Regional trains: no reservation req’d, but sometimes you need to pay for bikes
We arrived in the port of Puttgarden at 9PM and quickly cycled to the ferry terminal to see if we could catch the 9:20 ferry to Denmark.  Just in time.

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For some reason, I really enjoy riding onto car ferries.

The 1hr journey put us into Rødbyhavn Denmark a little later than we’d wanted to be looking for camping (10:30PM), but we were excited to get to Denmark.  Yvonne’s late father Flemming was Danish and her mother Betty is an honourable Dane – she speaks Danish, cooks Danish, thinks Danish, and has visited Denmark probably 40 times.  Yvonne travelled to Denmark almost every summer as a child, and the kids and I have been 4 times, thanks to Yvonne’s Dad’s desire for his family to stay connected to this fantastic part of the world.  Making this all possible over the years was Flemming’s sister Marianne’s wonderful farm 1hr north of Copenhagen where we would stay.  More on that in a later blog entry.
We weren’t really too sure what we could find campsite-wise in the falling darkness, but after 5km of rather random cycling we stumbled into the absolutely perfect freedom campsite – in a little park surrounded by thick forest, with a picnic table to boot!

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Next morning. Not bad, considering we found it in almost dark! We "lowered" the German flag on our safety pole and raised the Danish flag. We all agreed that the Danish flag looks pretty good beside the Canadian flag.

We had about 210km to cycle to the farm, and decided to try to do it in 2 days.  We’d been talking about putting in a really full day to try to beat our best day from Holland, and this seemed to be the day. 

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As soon as we hit the road we knew we’d chosen the right day to ride … we had the wind at our back, and were riding between 25 and 30 km/hr for long stretches of lovely bike path.  Yes, Denmark too has fantastic cycling infrastructure, and Yvonne and I had cycled through Denmark when she was pregnant with Kaia and knew we’d be treated to highway-side paths all the way.

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A rare stretch without path. But in Denmark wind turbines are ubiquitous. Denmark boasts the highest percent of wind power in a national grid - now up to 25%! They started 25 years ago through something like Germany's later Feed In Tariff. That said, wind power is still somewhat controversial in Denmark (they treasure their aesthetic agrarian heritage) and the country has fairly recently decided to focus almost all their new wind developments off shore.
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With cycling speeds up to 30 km/hr, Kaia thought it was important to beef up little Galdis's safety protocol. He is strapped in now with a helmet and has a reflective chest harness.
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We weren't the only ones logging lots of km this day. We saw two big groups go by - all with similar jerseys.
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A Danish femail man.
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If truth be known, the thing we were most looking forward to in getting back to Denmark was the bakeries. Dutch ones were great. German amazing. Danish? Out of the park! We had our budgetary priorities clearly established by this point on the cycle tour - spend as little as possible on accommodation (we're only there for a few hours anyway) so we could go nuts at the bakeries. And its not too often that you can happily ignore calorie counts (6 or more hrs of riding!)
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I'm glad this 3km long bridge had a dedicated cycle lane!

Yvonne had popped a spoke the day before and it became apparent that we had to have it fixed, but didn’t want to lose too much time on our record distance attempt day.  A very obliging guy in a bike shop in Vordingsborg fixed it for free while we dined on sandwiches at the edge of the supermarket parking lot, then away we went.

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Our route north to Køge passed along the east coast for a while.

We’d done 60 km by lunch, and were feeling pretty good until we hit a really hilly and side-windy section of about 20 km. Record-setting was in doubt until things levelled out again and we got the speed back up.  We watched our previous best of 104 km roll by with a whoop, then 110, and cruised into Køge on the coast at 120.  But by the time we’d cycled around the port, found dinner, and another freedom campsite, the odometer looked like below.

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I was proud of my family. Before our trip, the kids had never done more than 38km. And now this with loads. They were really tired but not complaining.

We’d actually decided to take a campsite that night to charge our google map-enabled phone, but they wanted about $40 for a little piece of grass.  We all agreed that we could probably get enough charge into the phone during a bakery stop the next morning :), so we headed to another urban forest.

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You'd never know that we were in a pretty decent sized town. We rolled the bikes through some forest paths for a couple of hundred metres and here we were.

We got an early start the next day because we still had a long way to go and wanted to arrive in time for dinner at the farm.  It was a fairly non-descript sort of day/ride, though I very clearly remember our lunch – that we made on a table just outside a fabulous bakery (OK, yes, I’m obsessed …).  We cycled north past the western outskirts of Copenhagen and finally hit recognisable turf in the city of Hillerød.  Aside from having all the great attributes of Danish towns (like walking streets, cycle shops and bakeries), Hillerød is known for Frederiksborg castle built on top of the ruins of a 1500s castle during the early 1600s by Danish King Christian IV.

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Frederiksborg Castle. We'd visited the castle on a previous trip so we cycled past.

We were pretty excited at this point.  We had but 25km of cycling left to reach the farm, and we knew it was all through a large beautiful (Gribskov) forest.  The well-marked gravel paths would take us right to the farm gate, and we knew the last few km very well.

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Bike route 33 - Hillerød to the beach at Gilleleje, right past the destination of "Gyldenlund" (Mariana and Borge's farm).
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I really loved these trails, but the very steep little hills were killers with the heavy trailer. I'd been taking pain killers on and off the whole cycle tour because I'd strained my knees trekking in Nepal. As it turns out, I would not have been able to put in another day riding - my knees were done. How's that for timing!
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Bittersweet feelings here for sure. 1700+km of magnificent riding coming to an end. But so looking forward to seeing Betty, Marianne and Børge at Gyldenlund.

We found the tiny path that cuts off the cycle trail towards the farm and all started ringing our bells to announce our arrival.  Børge and chocolate lab Bruno were the 1st out, then Betty and Marianne as we rode the last 100m through their field.  Their farm feels like a 3rd home to us.

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Great to be home!
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from left: Betty, Marianne and Børge.

Earlier in the year’s journey, I had wondered whether our cycle tour through a relatively familiar Europe could hold a candle to the exotic locales of Nepal, Indonesia and Vanuatu.  Of course, they are very different, but the cycling was everything and more than I’d hoped for.  We rode very well as a family and Kaia and Jake really found their legs. We had only 1 flat tire and 1 popped spoke over seven weeks on four bikes.  We ate well.  Yvonne and I drank well. The depth of history and the associated architecture astounded us.  It was wonderful to reconnect with friends we’d met during other journeys.  We were so independent, being able to easily get anywhere we wanted, and because we were willing to freedom camp, we spent no time worrying about or planning where we’d stay each night.  We were outside 98% of the time, including sleeping in our tent all but a few nights.  We were active, and became fit.  But perhaps what stands out the most was the inspiration we all received by the remarkable initiatives the Germans, Dutch and Danes have put in place to help people get out of their cars and on to bicycles.  It truly is a pleasure to cycle in this part of the world.  We included this part of the world in our journey because we wanted to see and document their leadership in sustainable transportation and renewable energy.  I did not get as far as I wanted to in documenting the energy story, in part because of the language gap for me in Germany.  But we were (excuse the tired expression) blown away by the cycling and public transit infrastructure.  After weeks of riding, when we thought we’d seen it all, we’d each day discover new innovations that made our heads race, thinking of possibilities back home.  Yvonne will pick up on this thread in our next entry.
As I write this a full 5 weeks after completing our journey, my knees still keep me off my bike.  But I trust they will heal soon with more rest, and I’m rearing to hit the trails and roads around Peterborough and Haliburton.  Cycling rocks!

Cam

Rolling down the Rhine, take two

Unfortunately, I am the latest victim of the glitchy WordPress app — an entire blog entry got “hung” while uploading, and was subsequently lost.  I can’t believe we haven’t figured out a convenient way to back up these entries.  Anyway, I have decided not to rewrite the whole thing for three reasons:
1.  The main purpose of the blog, for me, is to take time to reflect on experiences we have had and consolidate the things I’ve learned.  I already did that.
2.  I refuse to spend more of my vacation time writing about it.
3.  We are down to one working keyboard, so I won’t continue to monopolise it.

We are presently in Iceland, touring around in a small campervan with my mom.  The weather has been cool and quite changeable in terms of sun and rain. The icebergs that calved off of Jökulsárlón Glacier look surreal and blue in the glacial outflow.

So… back to the Rhine River in Germany!  Great place to cycle.  We spent 3 days going from Mannheim to Koblenz, then trained up to Köln (which is actually Cologne for all of us English speakers!)

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I have chosen a dozen photos to illustrate some highlights from the journey.

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Oppenheim is a quaint city celebrating its 1250th anniversary this year!  It boasts a complex labyrinth of underground cellars that used to be for storing trade goods — especially the wine for which the region is famous.

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The Rhine was historically and still is a busy transportation corridor!  It’s headwaters are in the Swiss Alps and it flows all the way to Rotterdam.  There is a constant stream of boats going in both directions (both freight and passenger), and there are train tracks and roads on both banks.  The cycle path is lovely and well-used.

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Here is Cam in front of one of the many vineyards we saw — and notice the wind turbines in the background.

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We had no problem finding waterfront lunch spots.

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One industry on the bank of the Rhine is BASF.  I don’t know exactly what they produce, but they have a huge campus in Mainz where every worker is issued a bicycle!

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Now I know that “Bingen on the Rhine” is a real (and romantic) place.  Kaia, Jake, and I remember laughing about its name when we read Anne of Green Gables.  Anne described how Gilbert Blythe gave a wonderful recitation of the poem “Bingen on the Rhine” at a community event.  We thought it sounded hilarious!  The arches in the photo are part of a large castle/tower complex.

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My favourite castle along the Rhine was Burg Rheinstein.  It is compact and was nicely restored in the 1800’s by Prince Friedrich of Prussia who used it as a summer residence.  The photo above is of the basket that was used in the Middle Ages to punish travelers who tried to avoid paying the toll. I’m hoping Prince Friedrich used it for a nice potted plant.

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Here we are cycling towards Marksburg Castle (on the hill in background).  Our record for longest cycling day was 85km.  Go team!

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Magnificent Marksburg Castle is said to be the best preserved along the Rhine.  We took a tour to see many of its authentic features.

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Jake liked the display of armour throughout the ages.  Some of it was pretty scary looking.

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We often found ourselves camping among the motorhomes and trailers.  This was our last night, in Koblenz.

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The sweet end to our journey down the Rhine was meeting up with Falko, (whom Cam had met in Nepal) and going to the Lindt chocolate factory in Köln.  The kids are holding their custom chocolate bars that they got to design.  Falko also took us to the impressive Gothic Cathedral (which took over 600 years to complete!) and out for lunch at a classic pub that served great German sausages and beer.  The beer came in small 0.2L glasses (as opposed to the 1L steins that are so common in Bavaria).  But until you cover your glass with a coaster, the waiter keeps bringing more.  No matter how you cut it, the Germans love their beer!

I have met my self-imposed quota of 12 photos… well, let’s make it a baker’s dozen.

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Yvonne

Oozing green in Freiburg

We “landed” at Yvonne’s aunt and uncle’s fabulous farm in Denmark a few days back after our longest cycling days of the trip. Our days have been more relaxed of recent. Our bicycles were sold yesterday and we are off to Iceland this Sunday. Yvonne’s mom Betty joined us at the farm and will travel with us through Iceland. We arrive back in Canada June 21st, in time for Kaia to attend her graduation. Yes, clearly that’s a bit cheeky 🙂 It really does feel like we’re coming home, now. Bittersweet for sure.

You will find what is perhaps my most ambitious blog entry of the year below. If you don’t know me well, you will see below that I am passionate about sustainable energy, transportation and urban planning. That is my excuse for the detailed entry. People have from time to time asked us about the intent of this blog. There are many intents. The driving motivation behind this entry however is to share with anyone who is willing to read, the exceptional leadership shown by Freiburg. We, especially in North America, have SO much to learn from cities like Freiburg if we hope to divest ourselves from fossil fuels as politicians around the world are now (and finally) agreeing with scientists that we must do.
Cam

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For those who follow clean tech (green energy, electric cars, etc) and sustainable urban design, Freiburg Germany is rather iconic.  It has entire neighborhoods that are energy producers, and it is home to solar module manufacturing and extensive solar PV research. Cycle and transit use is very high.  This was an obvious destination for our cycle tour, and we were pleased to learn that it was beside the Black Forest which we had also been looking forward to visiting.  Also enticing was the city’s well known old time charm; it was founded in the year 1120 and boasts numerous walking streets.  Although heavily bombed in WWII, the city has rebuilt the downtown core and instead of widening streets for cars, many downtown streets were built just wide enough for trams, bikes and pedestrians.

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A little bit of history is very helpful to understand how this city of 200,000 has progressed so far environmentally.  During the 1970s, a nuclear reactor was proposed about 20km outside of the city.  Germany, like much of the world in the 1970s, was waking up to the bleak global environmental reality, and in particular to the challenges of nuclear power.  A huge public outcry over the reactor took hold in Freiburg and was ultimately successful in stopping it’s construction. 

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Images courtesy of the Innovation Academy

Perhaps even more important than the actual prevention of the reactor though was the political coming of age of Freiburg’s citizenry.  They had discovered their voice, and there was no turning back.  Politicians in Freiburg know now that they must listen to their constituents. Freiburg is what it is because of strong and ongoing grassroots interest.  And because of its very progressive Green Party mayor who has been elected to a second 8 year term.  Alas, democracy is alive and mostly well in Freiburg.  I say this with more than a little envy and resentment after watching just the opposite sort of political (un)accountability unfold in my home town of Peterborough in past years.

The movement away from nuclear energy forced Freiburg residents to answer the “if not nuke then what?” question head-on, and in doing so their commitment to renewable energy  and energy efficiency was born.  Years later, acid rain in the Black Forest from coal produced electricity production and growing concern about climate change strengthened their resolve.  Then along came the national government’s very aggressive green energy policies of the early 2000s and solar power exploded in Freiburg.

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courtesy Innovation Academy

We were very lucky to have connected with some Warm Showers hosts in Freiburg.  Upon arrival in town we immediately cycled over to Peter and Sabina’s flat.  Peter is a transplanted Brit who has traveled the world many times over as a publisher of English as second language learning resources.  His partner Sabina was born in Bremen Germany but grew up in California and now teaches English at the University in Freiburg.  They’ve been in Freiburg for about 5 years now, and open their home to passing cycle tourists through the warm showers network.  Peter gave us a fantastic walking tour of the nearby neighbourhoods.  He understood our particular interest in sustainable urban design so was able to illuminate some fantastic stories that have unfolded in Freiburg.

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This house just down the street was built a few decades ago with a goal of becoming energy neutral. Most solar PV is fixed to rooftops. Some PV panels in fields are mounted on "trackers" that move to follow the sun through the day and the seasons. This house actually rotates to follow the sun! Perhaps it isn't the ultimate solution for residential energy, but certainly is a clear indication of the culture of innovation in Freiburg.
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This "Heliotrope" is a more modern Freiburg version of the house above and is in fact a net energy producer.
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Next to the rotating house is this one - with solar thermal (hot water) and solar PV (electricity). This rooftop was a common sight.

We walked through the district of Vauban which was built in the 1990s on old military barack land.  This area features 3 story blocks of flats that share ample green spaces in lieu of private yards. 

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This shared green space features of all things a wood-fired bread oven!

Cars are not allowed in the neighbourhood. Instead, there are parking garages in the surrounding areas.  But because Vauban is directly connected to town with a frequent tram line, and because Freiburg’s cycling infrastructure is so well developed, most Vauban residents (many with families) choose not to purchase cars.  In fact, car ownership (per capita) is only half of the German average.

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The tram runs right through the center of Vauban
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Cars from the city's car sharing program (stadtmobile - "citycar") are allowed to park in Vauban and are well used. Proponents of the car share program are aware that a very large portion of a car's carbon footprint stems from the materials and energy from manufacture, so reducing the number of cars being used is important. Members of the carshare program are given free transit passes and half price tickets on intercity trains.
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While Canadian cities are just starting to get their heads around car sharing, Freiburg is promoting their "E-car" sharing program. Ha!
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This is the scene in front of one of the Vauban kindergarten/daycares. I think the parked "vehicles" speak volumes.
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This school bus holds about 6 little kids.
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The local public school. Green roof over a very well used bike/scooter shelter. Not bad!

Many of the rooftops in Vauban were covered with solar panels (thermal and PV) and most of the neighbourhood buildings get their heat and electricity from a biomass-fed combined heat and power plant.  This approach of using the “waste” heat from electricity production produces fantastic efficiency results.

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Vauban combined heat and power (electricity) plant. It uses 80% wood chips and 20% natural gas. Heat from the plant is carried underground to the buildings; individual buildings do not have their own furnaces. Photo from the net.

Peter emphasized that Vauban’s sustainable approaches did not happen overnight.  Instead the moves forward underwent extensive and rancorous debate and ultimate compromise between different views and interests.  But importantly the citizens had a meaningful voice throughout.

Adjacent to Vauban is the “Solar Settlement” and Peter toured us through this neighbourhood too.  This community generates more electricity than it uses, and the rooftops in the photos below leave no doubt about how this is accomplished.

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This commercial area is also energy positive. Just as importantly, it demonstrates the compact, mixed us design where residential, retail and commercial land uses are mixed to minimize the need for transportation.

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You can see the commercial/retail (in front) located adjacent the residential (behind). From the net.

One of Peter’s passions is wine.  Perhaps the Brits are not well known for their distinguishing tastes of fine wine, but Peter knows his wines and sits as a volunteer advisor on ensuring continued success for local Frieburg vineyards.

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Freiburg's other little claim to fame in Germany is that it boasts the most "urban" vineyards. This one is a stone's throw from Peter and Sabina's flat.

Peter also volunteers with high school youth at risk and had a meeting with them that afternoon so we thanked him for the tour then set off on our own to discover Freiburg’s downtown.  Many things struck us about the downtown, but one thing stood out more than any other:

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bicycle share program

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Freiburg’s transportation plan explicitly aims to improve mobility while reducing auto traffic and benefitting the environment.  Wow …. a transportation plan that explicitly sets out to reduce automobile traffic!!  The plan also clearly prioritizes environmentally and health friendly modes such as walking, cycling and transit.  Finally, we had arrived at the city we set to find in our German cycling adventure.  Cycling lanes and covered bike parking abounded.  Trams and busses were going by at all times in all directions – usually with lots of folks inside.  Beautiful walking streets were packed with shoppers, walkers and diners.  The city was intentionally planned to be compact so that it was both a) not far from anywhere to anywhere and b) had sufficient density of people to make the investments in transit and cycling infrastructure economical.  We would learn the next day of an amazing transit pass, too.  We were all smiles as we were surrounded at each intersection by other cyclists.  And they were cyclists of all sorts, shapes and dress.  Older folks.  Kids.  Suits, dresses, jeans, chic 30-something get ups, and only a small amount of lycra.  Bikes typically were not fancy.  Many just 1 speed (Freiburg is pretty flat, though).  But almost all had the European styled wrap around handlebars. 

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Our straight-bar mountain bikes were certainly not earning any style points against these beauties!

We will have much more to say about cycling cities in later blog entries when we share what we saw and learned in Amsterdam, Groningen and Copenhagen.

The big catholic church downtown was breathtaking.  It mostly survived the WWII bombings.

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These are all wood carvings above the main entrance.

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McDonalds ... really!?
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Doner shops ("donairs" in Canada) are ubiquitous in Germany. That's just fine from our perspective.

Freiburg actually has created a self guided “green tour” so we set off on our bikes to take in a few sights with what remained of our afternoon.

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Solar research institute at the university.
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I am standing in front of 13 stories of "building integrated" solar PV at the train station.

One of the stops we didn’t get to was the large football (soccer) stadium whose roof is literally covered in solar panels.  This idea apparently came from the football club itself, and fans who donated money to cover the cost got 1st dibs on (limited) seasons tickets. 

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Freiburg football stadium.

Wow.  Similarly, many university roof-tops are covered in panels that were financed through a scheme that allowed profs, staff and students alike to be share holders in the green energy venture. Another innovation in Freiburg is the solarization (is that a word?) of the full (and closed) landfill site.
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In addition to a heavy dose of solar energy, Freiburg draws from six wind turbines. This part of Germany gets more sun and less wind than northern Germany, but the community wanted to increase its renewable portfolio, and these turbines are actually communally owned (citizens invest and receive energy producer dividends).
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With our heads buzzing with inspiration we cycled back to Sabina and Peter’s to find dinner ready to go on their backyard wood BBQ.  Drinks, salad and sausages went down so well over some great conversation with these very engaging hosts.

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They have a lovely terrace with a garden shed (that Kaia and Yvonne slept in) above and behind their building.
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Kaia and Jake impressed our hosts with their refined culinary skills ... that is golden brown roasted marshmallows. Sabina understands North American campfire culture and had the marshmallows ready to go.
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This is the heating system for Peter and Sabina's building. It is actually a small scale combined heat and power system. They generate their own electricity (from natural gas) then use the waste heat from the generator to heat the air and water for their building. These small but VERY efficient systems are promoted through Germany's Feed in Tariff program and are becoming increasingly popular in Germany. I had never seen one before.

The next morning brought some pretty awful continuous rain so we enjoyed our comfortable surroundings with our hosts and got caught up on some blogging.  We were very relieved to see the weather break because our green tour in the afternoon was on bicycle.  We had contacted the “Innovation Academy” the day before because we had learned they knew very well the green ins and outs of Freiburg.  I don’t think they had ever been contracted by a family before, but they were more than happy to share their wisdom … for not an insignificant price.  The first part of the tour was actually a 40 minute PowerPoint overview of the city’s initiatives and some stats on their successes.

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In this slide Steffen from the Innovation Academy is showing us the exponential growth of solar PV in Freiburg.
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These figures are impressive from a North American point of comparison. Recent stats were just about to be released that had the modal share of cycling even higher, and auto use lower.
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The city's carbon reduction goals are notably more ambitious than national and international levels. And unlike Canada, they actually have reached their interim goal, even though their population grew significantly!

The presentation was actually excellent, and Steffan kindly gave me a pdf copy to use in my teaching.  He touched on energy, transportation, planning and waste management, all of which Freiburg excels at.

We then headed outside to meet our cycling tour guide Luciano.  Luciano is involved in many aspects of sustainability planning and was able to take us to key representative sites around the city to better appreciate the strategies.

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Luciano. Born in Chile he had lived in Luxembourg and now makes his home in Freiburg
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We started at the main transportation center, where tram, train, bus and cycles converge, to allow for easy transfer between these modes. In this photo, bus on left, train tracks on right, and tram runs across above. Huge cycle garage is just out of sight to the right.
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City tram riders connect on these stairs to the regional (commuter) and inter city trains.
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You need to have an electronic access card to get into this secure, dry, and multi story parking garage.
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Yes, this goes right around in a circle ... on two floors!!!
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OK, this one is pretty hard core ....
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Luciano is telling us about the city's transit pass. For about 50 Euro ($60 Cdn) per month, you can travel on any mode of public transit within the city and within a 60km radius of the city, 7 days/week. Equally impressive is that the card is transferable - you can hand it (legally) to your friend or family member to use at any time. Clearly, Freiburg is serious about helping people to get out of their cars!
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This old bridge is adjacent the transportation hub. 1st tram, then car, now VERY busy cycling bridge.
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This very visible counter measures bike traffic across the bridge above and the corresponding amount of CO2 reduced by not driving (some assumptions have been made, obviously). Simple math suggests that there are, averaged for the entire year, 3000 trips/crossings per day!
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The four of us have at times really struggled with our bikes up and down stairs - especially when they are loaded. These simple enhancements made a big difference. Put your tires in and then roll .....
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Cycle route signs are ubiquitous in Freiburg (and most of Germany, for that matter). As tourists they were SO helpful.

Luciano then changed the focus of the transportation story to road design.  Like North American cities, Freiburg’s urban planning catered to cars in the 50s and 60s.  But over the past few decades planners have changed the profile and nature of many of Freiburg’s streets to decenter the cars and provide for safe walking and cycling.

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Notice that ultimately bicycles are being separated from pedestrians (these collisions can be serious too) and that four lanes give way to two, with on-street parking. This model is being used around town, but is not universal or without its critics.
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Many cycling accidents happen at intersections so it is important to clearly delineate bike lanes here. Notice that even in this rather wide street profile, only two lanes are dedicated to auto traffic.
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Here is one street about 50 years ago.
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Here is the same street today. Cars are allowed to drive only up to the same speed as bicycles (30km/hr). Trees were added, and sidewalks widened. Less road space for driving. Traffic has been calmed

When most people think about “greening” the energy system, they think of renewables like solar, wind, hydro and biomas. But the “low hanging fruit” of green energy is not energy production, but energy conservation and efficiency (that is, it is cheaper to save energy than build new generating capacity). Freiburg has been REALLY ambitious in both retrofitting the old building stock and creating very high efficiency standards for all new buildings. Through incentives/subsidies entire neighbourhoods have been insulated, windows upgraded, air leaks sealed etc. The poster child for Freiburg’s retrofitting though is a very nondescript apartment building in the Weingarten district from the 1960s.

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This apartment had become so run down and energy inefficient that it was slated for demolition. But energy specialists stepped in and used it as a demonstration project for efficiency. The building was gutted and heating/cooling systems and windows replaced. Heat from the sun (passive gain) was maximized. The building is now very popular among the lower income tenants of the area because utility costs are so cheap.

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All this listening and cycling was hard work 🙂 Time for Bavaria's best snack - a fresh pretzel! (OK, Jake will no doubt remind me that Freiburg is NOT in Bavaria ... but they still serve up pretzels here)
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This combined heat and power plant (CHP) was built to service the retrofitted apartment building and other neighbourhood buildings.
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Most of these energy standards are national standards. You can see the tightening of expectations through time. But note that Freiburg's standards are now notably tighter than the national average, and that in fact the newest standards have houses producing or otherwise gaining (through glass) as much energy as they consume. Wow.

The final focus of our green tour was urban planning. Progressive cities the word over recognize that it is smart for reasons economical, environmental and quality of life to plan compact cities where people can live, shop, and work without having to get in their cars. Connections to the city center are provided by frequent transit. Sometimes referred to as “New Urbanism”, these medium density neighbourhoods typically feature retail on the ground floor, commercial on the next floor, and then two or three floors of residential. Green spaces are shared. We all had a big but dark chuckle during the initial PowerPoint presentation when Steffen was explaining this concept. To help us understand, his presentation showed international photos of the opposite to compact design, and up came sprawling Toronto! Any of the newer subdivisions in my city of Peterborough could easily be substituted. Steffen then remembered we were Canadian and apologized. That’s OK Steffen … no apologies necessary.

We had visited Vauban earlier with Peter, so with Luciano we went to the newer neighbourhood of Reiselfeld. Whereas Vauban emerged through a rather messy, citizen driven process, Reiselfeld was planned by the city government.

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Note that the tram was constructed at the outset, and that virtually all residents live within 400m of the tram.

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The tram in Reiselfeld. Freiburg (or maybe someone else?) discovered that trams are much quieter when they run over grass. Luciano had us listen to the difference as the tram moved from grass over a road then back onto grass. Wow!!

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Reiselfeld's main intersection. It's a bit hard to see in this photo but there are cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores etc etc all along the street level. And of course ... there is a bicycle shop!

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The residents above this large grocery store don't need to worry about borrowing eggs from the neighbour. Food is only steps away.

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Cycling is such a great way to do a city tour. It is so easy to get around, things pass in slow motion, and it is easy to stop and chat along the way.

One of the key aspects of this neighbourhood design is the concept of shared public spaces. Instead of people having their own private yards (discourages interactions), green spaces are shared. There is enough room for being social and for quiet contemplation. Apparently this is one of the main reasons for residents reporting very high levels of quality of life.
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Jake was happy to not have cycle bags on the back of his bike when we discovered this bmx/skateboard park.
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There are fabulous play structures tucked into this playground.

Not surprisingly, residents of Reiselfeld are keen to take advantage of the ample sun in this part of Germany.

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Notice the use of green roofs here. Green roofs dramatically reduce heating and cooling needs, reduce storm runoff and help keep neighbourhoods cool.

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Vacuum tube solar thermal (hot water).

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Unlike Vauban where cars are kept to the outside perimeter, the approach used in Reiselfeld is to have residents share the transportation corridors. Speed limits are kept to 30 km/hr. From our experience of 60 minutes riding around, this approach seemed to work very well. That said, car ownership and use within Reiselfeld is well below national averages.
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This rather innocuous photo has very important symbolic value. Planners in Freiburg recognize that "hard" city limits are needed - to protect forests, wetlands and farm fields, but also to discourage the sort of urban sprawl that is rampant in North American cities. We are on the outside boundary of Reiselfeld, gazing across the city limit. Land on the other side is protected from development. This hard boundary was difficult to negotiate politically, but apparently citizen voices in Freiburg carried the day against low density developers' lobby. Yes, I am envious.

Vending machines in Canada usually sell candy, chips, or soft drinks. We were disappointed to see many cigarette vending machines through much of the rest of Germany. But what is sold out of vending machines in Reiselfeld?

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Yes - bicycle tubes, to keep people on the road. The different colours represent different wheel size and thicknesses. OK ... I am NOT in Canada!

And so ended our green tour with Luciano. He knew his city, knew the environmental story, and was an excellent communicator. It was SUCH a rich 3 hours we spent with our two Innovation Academy hosts.

All four of us were pretty wound up after this tour, and were again buzzing with stories and questions when we arrived back at Peter and Sabina’s to make our Mexican dinner. Freiburg hosts an incredible “density” of sustainable living and if you have managed to read all the way to this point (I doubt it!) you can appreciate that we are now full of ideas and many real examples to share with our Peterborough community and any other that is interested.
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Thanks for your leadership, Freiburg!

Cam

Switzerland and the Black Forest

Back in March, in the Philippines, we met Omar and Tanja from Switzerland. In Donsol, we snorkeled with whale sharks with them. Here’s a picture of us with them in the Philippines.

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Omar is Italian and Tanja is Swiss, and they live in Zurich. We were in Schwangau, Germany, not so far away, and decided to take them up on their invitation and go visit them!
Since we lost a week in Frankfurt, we no longer had the time to cycle our entire planned route. So, we sometimes take trains when the weather gets bad. Well… as the forecast warned us, we woke up to a very gloomy day at our Schwangau campground. We lay in bed for a while trying to coax ourselves to get up. When we finally did, it was the most awful feeling to pack up the tent in the rain. It wasn’t hard for us to make the decision of “ride or train?”.
I didn’t want to get my socks wet during the 7 km ride from our campground to the train station, so I went with bare feet in sandals. Ouch! Cold cold cold!
We only had to make one transfer for the entire journey in Buchloe, where we changed from our 30 minute regional train to a nice intercity express one! It was a beautiful ride, we had a table to blog…

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My dad takes his blog very seriously.
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Jake and my mom take their game of 2048 very seriously.

I knew that crossing borders between European countries was easy, but I didn’t know that it would be that easy! The only thing that made us realize that we had crossed the border was that our German sim card in our phone wasn’t working anymore. Otherwise, there was absolutely no indication.
Our plan was to take the train all the way to Zurich Hauptbahnhof (central station) and then ride our bikes to their place. But as the train was stopped at the Zurich airport, Jake remembered that they had said that they live very close to the airport. We all agreed to get off there instead.

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After taking the elevator up from the platform (we always take elevators in train stations because of our bikes), we realized that we were right in the airport! There were signs to the gates. Duty free shops everywhere. Not a window in sight. We asked a few people how to find the exit, and finally ended up, well…

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If you think this looks funny, imagine my dad going up with his trailer!

We were just laughing at ourselves the whole time. But the funny adventures weren’t over: we still had to find our way to their house.
It was pouring rain. My dad had some idea of how to find their place, but in this case, reality was not as google maps thought it was. Long story short, we ended up on a big 4 lane highway going around roundabouts with huge semis whizzing past. It was scary. Finally, my dad saw the road that we wanted to be on, only it was under us! With no paths connecting the two roads, we had to go through the forest!

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A few more kilometers of riding finally brought us to their house. They live in Tanja’s grandfather’s house, a big, nice old home in the outskirts of Zurich, in a neighbourhood called Rümlang. They can be in the city center by a one minute walk and a 12 minute train ride.
It was so great to see them again! It was also great to be dry again! That night, they cooked us an authentic Swiss meal: raclette and fondue. I’m not really a cheese person, but even I really enjoyed that meal.
We caught up with them about our travels after leaving Donsol. They spent some more time in the Philippines before going to Japan. They have also been to Nepal on a previous trip, so we talked about that too.

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We were a bit crunched for time, but had planned for one full day in Switzerland. Omar and Tanja suggested to do the Pilatus mountain circuit. It includes a cog railway and a gondola. And at the top, there are amazing views! It is near the city of Luzern, which is about 40 minutes from Zurich by train.
The cog railway starts in a place called Alpnachstad, so we had to take another train from Luzern. Our ticket said platform 14. Twelve minutes before the departure time, we saw a train parked at our platform. Assuming that it was the one, we got on.
My dad needed to use a bathroom. The ones on the train were all full, so he got off to use the station bathrooms instead. No problem, there were 12 minutes left.
One minute later, the train started moving! Oh no! We quickly realized that we were on the 1:01 PM train, not the 1:13 PM one. This train was, for a few stops, heading towards Alpnachstad, but turning off before that stop. Our general rule on this trip was: if we get separated, we return to the last place we saw each other. That was platform 14 of the Luzern station. We got off our wrong train at the first stop and took the next train back to Luzern. Oh, shoot! Daddy’s not there! We had all of the stuff, money, train tickets, phones, everything. We couldn’t contact him, as he had no phone. Still, we sent an email to his account in case he somehow checked it.
After a while, we finally came to the conclusion that he must have gotten on the right train and was now at Alpnachstad. But we were afraid that if we went there, he would come back to Luzern, and so on. We didn’t budge from platform 14.
Meanwhile, my dad was waiting at Alpnachstad. He was so hungry, and had 1,85 Swiss Franks in his pocket, enough to buy a Bounty bar, but not a Mars bar. When he borrowed a computer to check his email, he saw ours in his inbox. He responded with “come to Alpnachstad – I’m not going back to Luzern – this is where the cog railway starts!”. Finally, we were on the train to meet him.
It was a guessing game. He assumed that we would assume that he had gotten on the right train. We were playing by the rules. Also, we didn’t think that he would get on a train without a ticket! That separation delayed our day by about 2 hours. But that was water under the bridge, once we ate our much needed lunch!

OK, let’s do what we came here to do: go up the Pilatus mountain on the cog railway. A cog railway is different than a usual train, though. It’s specially made to go up very steep slopes. Instead of the power going to the train wheels, like a normal train, the power goes to a big wheel with teeth in the center of the train. The teeth interlock with teeth in the track, and that’s how it goes up.
The Pilatus cog railway is the steepest train in the world! At its steepest, it’s 48% inclination. The train is built “diagonally”, because it only services this mountain! The track is 4,6 km long, and, amazingly it was first opened in 1889, using steam power! Wow!

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It's so steep!
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There were about 4 or 5 tunnels.
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At first, we had some pretty great views!

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But, then as we got up higher, the clouds started rolling in.

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By the time that we were at the top at 2073m above sea level, we were literally inside the cloud.

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We could hardly see the cog railway anymore.

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We didn’t spend too long at the summit, as there was nothing to see.

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Aww... apparently that's what the view looks like on a sunny day!

To get back down, we took the gondola that goes all the way back to Luzern.

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Yay, we're finally getting out of the cloud!

And back in Luzern, we took a short bus ride to the downtown.

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Our favourite thing in Luzern town was the lion monument. Someone told us “follow the tourists to find it!”. And that was good advice.

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It is the saddest carving I’ve ever seen.

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Carved by Lukas Ahorn in 1820, this carving of a mortally wounded lion commemorates all the Swiss guards of the French royalty who died during the French Revolution in 1792.
We also really liked the Luzern church downtown.

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40 minutes later, we were back in central Zurich. We bought some dinnerish things at a grocery store and ate them by the river. I noticed that the grocery store was packed with people on this Saturday night, because everything in Switzerland (and Germany) is closed on Sundays. Somehow, it never occurred to us that maybe we too should stocking up for Sunday. More on that later.
Omar and Tanja had gone out for dinner that night with friends, so we just took the train back to Rmlang and went to bed.

The next morning, my dad made omelettes for all of us! We really enjoyed our short stay in Zurich, but we had to keep going. Thanks, Omar and Tanja for hosting us! It was so much fun to see you again!

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Omar leaving for his soccer game.

To leave Zurich, we went past the airport. It is the 10th busiest one in the world!

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The Emirates plane on the tarmac is an Airbus A380, the biggest in the world!

As I said before, we forgot that on Sunday, everything closes. This is not a new problem for us – I think that we have forgotten about every single Sunday so far! We really do like that idea, though, because it means that families are together on that day. But coming from Canada, where most stores are open 24/7, we aren’t used to it. We had no food for lunch. Luckily, we found a very Swiss little restaurant that was open.

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This is very typical German/Swiss food. Buns, cheese and meat is usually for breakfast, though.

We were right near the German border. Looking across the river from the south side, we saw a lot of solar panels!

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Crossing the border back to Germany was just as easy as it had been the other way around. This time, all we saw was a teeny tiny little sign that said something about “Deutschland” on it.

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Crossing the river.

That evening, we had to eat dinner at one of the few places that’s open on Sundays: McDonalds. Those are pretty similar to the ones in Canada, except that they have a bakery. We got a few slices of black forest cake, as the next day we would be riding through it’s namesake: the black forest.
After dinner, we rode way uphill. It was really steep for a long time. We didn’t need a campground, just a flat spot, but we didn’t have any breakfast for the next morning, because stores were closed. We would have gone further out of a town, but we stopped in Aichen for the night because there is some food there. Actually, there are no grocery stores in Aichen, just a small guesthouse with an attached restaurant where we could go for breakfast. We set up our tent in a parking lot-ish thing at the edge of the tiny village. It was right near the church, which ended up to be very irritating! This church would ring once on the -15 minute mark, twice on the half hour, 3 times on the -45 minute mark, and then whatever time it was on the hour. But the worst part was that it did that all through the night! Yes, we were camped right next to a church that rang once every 15 minutes all night! At 6 AM, there was the big village wakeup call, and it didn’t stop ringing for about 5 minutes. Jake and I actually managed to sleep through most of it, but my parents had a pretty rough night.
For breakfast the next morning at the guesthouse, we were surprised at first because they never came around to show us a menu or take our order. But then we realized that breakfast is breakfast: fresh rolls, cheese and meat. Yum!
When we first came to Germany and did a bit of research about the best places to visit, one thing that stuck out in our minds was the black forest in southwestern Germany. It is the country’s “wildest” place, and the photos on the internet made it look lovely.
On this day leaving Aichen, our plan was to cycle through the black forest and finish in Freiburg, where we had already found some people on the Warm Showers network to stay with.
We use google maps most of the time to get around. When it finds a route for us, it also gives us a profile of ups and downs for the day. For this day, it was: a short but steep down, then a huge up then a huge down.

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The black forest really was lovely! It was so peaceful and quiet. We would go for long periods of time without seeing anybody!
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Oh, no! A big branch fell across the path!
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Should we carry our bikes over?
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Oh, no worries. A man with a chainsaw cut it up for us.

We stopped for lunch beside a big lake.

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In the quaint village of St Blasien for our bakery stop, we saw the most amazing church!

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Paintings on the ceiling.

Wow… such a huge church for such a tiny town. After getting some calories from the bakery, we continued on our big long uphill. All day, we kept thinking “in a few hours, we will be gliding downhill all the way to Freiburg!”. My dad kept saying “it’s all down from here, guys”. Then we would continue going up. “OK, we must be near the top of this hill!”. We just kept going up. At around 6 PM, we got into a bit of a pinch. We were kind of lost, and every route google maps told us about either didn’t exist, or kept climbing up the hill. We made many wrong turns and wasted so much time. Finally, we found a (downhill) trail that we thought would lead us to Freiburg. Yay, finally our downhill that we’ve been looking forward to all day! But at the bottom, an unpleasant surprise awaited us. This bicycle path didn’t go all the way to Freiburg, it simply led to a huge highway that went there! But we weren’t going to ride on this highway: we found out later that every transport truck from Romania to Portugal uses this road. And unlike most other German highways, there was no separated bike lane – not even a shoulder. No thanks!
We phoned our warm showers contact Peter to ask for directions. He told us that our best way to Freiburg would be to go back up the close hill and then keep going uphill for a long time before going back down. Oh. Shoot. Or, we could just go up the hill for a kilometer or two to a place called Hinterzarten where we could catch a train to Freiburg instead. Yes, that sounds better! But it was already quite late, and we were too tired for that. OK, we’ll pitch our tent here and climb the hill and take the train in the morning. We set up camp right under a really cool train trestle. It was a cold night.

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At least Galdis is warm!

The hill we were to climb the next morning was so steep, there was no way we would make it up with our loaded bikes – even pushing them wasn’t an option. But my dad found an innovative solution. He talked to a very nice family that lives halfway up the hill. They agreed to meet us at the lowest car turnaround spot, and put our gear into their car. Then, we could ride up with empty bikes. They would leave our gear at the top near the train station, for us to collect when we made it up. It all worked very smoothly. Three of us made it up empty without pushing our bikes.
We found the train station in the town of Hinterzarten, and caught the 40 minute train into Freiburg. It was the most downhill train I’ve ever been on. That was the downhill that we were hoping to ride the previous day 😦 .

Our time in Switzerland and the black forest had many mishaps or “problems” (in the Zurich airport, lost on Swiss highways in the rain, separation in Luzern, forgetting about the Sunday closings and getting lost in the black forest). Though these problems seemed somewhat big at the time, they really weren’t. And compared to the problems in Nepal or Vanuatu, ours are just laughable tiny inconveniences.
And, we really enjoyed these places! Taking the cog railway up the Pilatus mountain on a 48% incline was very exciting. Seeing Omar and Tanja was so much fun! Forgetting about the Sunday closure gave us an excuse to splurge at restaurants and eat great food. And the black forest was still just as beautiful and peaceful, even though we were going up.
OK, they aren’t mishaps. Neither are they problems. They are just funny stories that improved my blog post.
Kaia

The Beckoning Bavarian Alps

We leave Holland tomorrow, to return to Germany at its northwest corner via ferry. Holland has been an AWESOME ride!

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OK, how many of you knew that Germany had some gorgeous alpine topography?  I didn’t.  Of course, we know  of the Alps in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France.  But Germany has its own little piece of this great feature.  We wanted to visit Freiburg in southwest Germany because of its exemplary green infrastructure and planning, and wanted to visit some friends in Zurich, Switzerland (on Germany’s southern border), so decided to head to the south of Germany to see the famed Neuschwanstein castle and to do some hiking.

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We cycled two days from Munich to Schwangau in southern Germany.

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As Jake mentioned, we spent another half day in Munich to take in more of the down town atmosphere.  By the time we got back and packed up our stuff at Gotz and Liza’s, it was 3PM which is not an ideal time to start a cycling day.  Getting out of a city the size of Munich on bicycles is not much fun, even when there is an OK bike path.  So many stop lights, so much traffic, and the path is always jumping between road and sidewalk.  It took us the better part of 2 hrs before we were again amongst the green fields that we so enjoy cycling in.  I, in particular, also continued my admiration of the extent to which rooftop solar PV had been deployed on homes and barns.  I will do a separate blog entry later to explain why and how Germany has made such astounding progress towards a renewable electricity portfolio.

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We saw a few of these bike-mail carriers. Easy for them to stop and get in and out, especially on narrow streets.

A pastry stop (crucial part of our afternoon routine), a few water breaks and 55km later, we found ourselves riding beside the lovely Ammersee (“see” is a lake).  The campground we’d set our sights on didn’t accept tenters, so we had to scramble a bit because it was now 8PM.  We ride very well in the later afternoon and early evening it seems (fewer distractions and we become more goal focused!) so often find ourselves still going at this time.  We ended up finding an outdoor ed. center right on the lake and got permission to camp in their fire pit area.  The manager’s son had gone to the teacher of the intermediate level class staying overnight to seek her approval.  What a different world.  I can’t imagine in Ontario a manager even considering asking for permission.  A bunch of strangers camping 100m from the class? Not a chance.

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Kids taking advantage of a few minutes of downtime and a picnic table to blog while Yvonne and I set up the tent and made dinner in the fading light.

Until this point in our cycling we had not really encountered anything like a serious hill.  That was to change the next day.  We use google map cycling routes almost exclusively to find our way, and one of the nice features of these routes is that you can see the elevation profile

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This is the 1.5 day route we followed. Note the 2nd half had us climbing about 300 vertical meters.

Climbing on a bicycle does not need to be unpleasant.  But we have all our gear on our bikes, which changes the picture notably. The kids have full bike paniers (bags on the back rack) plus sleeping bags tied on.  None of our empty bikes are light.  Yvonne has heavier bags and our tent.  And everything else is in my trailer which probably weighs about 50 pounds.  So hill climbing was a challenge.  I was so impressed with how Kaia and Jake did.  Some hills were very steep up for maybe 20 minutes at a time, and nobody got off their bike to walk.  I was flat out in effort at one point, just trying to get the next pedal stroke.

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Hard do see here, but this was actually pretty steep.

A sense of accomplishment was enjoyed and you can imagine how well the post-hills pastry break went down that afternoon!

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Typical lunch stop. Sandwiches are the usual fare.

The ride from the top of the hill in to Schwangau was lovely – flatish, great bike paths, and ever-growing mountain views.

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Kaia's little Orangutan "Galdis" was really enjoying the fading afternoon light.
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This farmer's field turns into a little ski hill.
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We stumbled onto this magnificent 450 yr old church in the tiny settlement of Steingaden. Clearly the congregation must come from the countryside. That said, it was explained to us that the Catholic churches are struggling with declining numbers and are having to close some churches. Every one we stepped into was magnificently ornate and well kept.

Our typical routine approaching dinner would be to look for a supermarket an hour or so before our planned stopping point.  We’d buy dinner ingredients and make sure we had enough for breakfast  – sort of a “just on time” approach to avoid carrying too much food. Our campsite on the Bannwaldsee was typical of German campsites.  It was geared 90% towards long time trailer leases, and 9% towards short term camper/caravan travelers.  The last 1% was tenters like us, and there was only 1 other tent among the hundreds of trailers.  We really miss not having a picnic table at these campgrounds, but are rather blown away by the other camping amenities.  Like in this case the very clean and large bathrooms and showers, laundry room with a drying room, dish washing up room, little store, outdoor patio, huge party/event room (beer hall) and full restaurant.

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Still early in the camping season, most trailer leaseholders had not yet arrived so we poached one of their picnic tables for meals.
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This Bavarian beer tasted like Hell.
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Sunset over the Bannwaldsee.

We had been lamenting since starting cycling that our trailer was too full.  After food shopping, the cover would barely fit on.  So next morning we spread all our things out on the grass and made a pile of what we now knew to be non essential things.

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A trip to the post office was next in line, and about 7kg of stuff was on its way to Canada.
  
Neuschwanstein castle was only 2km away from the village of Schwangau and the approach to the castle is outstanding.  This castle is best known for being the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle.

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The castle was built by Bavarian King Ludwig II starting in 1868.  Unlike other Kings of this area/era, he did it with his own (well, mostly borrowed) money – instead of public money.  He really was building his “summer house”, after all.  Ludwig had travelled widely and incorporated architecture from other European castles, and honoured other religions and world architecture in huge murals inside.  Ludwig started staying in the partially finished castle in 1884 but by this time had borrowed huge sums of money and become quite a reclusive King.  In 1886 parliament sent a posse to arrest him (he was apparently no longer “fit” to govern, though was later found to be not the case in hindsight), and they brought him back to Munich.  The next day his body along with the body of his chief “arrestor” were found dead in a nearby lake.  This mystery apparently has never been solved.  Sadly, all this after Ludvig spending only 112 nights in the castle that he had poured his pockets, heart and mind into for 2 decades.
Immediately following his death, the Bavarian government finished the castle and opened it up to paying guests and tens of millions of visitors have now been through.  Apparently, during the summer, as many as 6000 go through in a single day!
Even on our day in mid-May, it was busy.  You purchase tickets for very specific entry times, and your group is guided through together.  Our entry time was 1.5 hours after ticket purchase.  That was OK though, as it gave us the necessary time to hike the road up to the castle and to take the walk to “Marienbrucke” which is a bridge over the rather spectacular gorge adjacent the castle.

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Marienbrucke

No photos are allowed inside during the castle tour, as this would make it difficult for the guide to keep people moving.  This is unfortunate because the inside of the castle is at least as impressive as the outside.  One huge gallery room with a stage is devoted to Richard Wagner whom Ludvig greatly admired.  It looks like it was built so the King could be entertained by various musicians; in fact, he would just enter alone and imagine Wagners’ operas being performed.  Yes, he was a tad ecentric.
Ludvig II loved this area because he spent his summers as a boy in the neighbouring and equally impressive Hohenschwangau castle.  This castle too is open to visitors.

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From Neuschwanstein, looking towards the sister Hohenschwangau castle.
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Hohenschwangau castle.

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I wasn’t sure what to make of the Neuschwanstein castle before visiting.  It had a lot of hype.  And the Disney connection didn’t exactly sell it.  But I have to say, it was VERY impressive.  The setting, the furnishing and the rather dreamlike overall architecture set it apart.

En route back to the campground we came across an outdoor BBQ chicken seller.  Our Munich bike tour guide Tony said that the quintessential Bavarian dinner was a half chicken.  And we had no food (Sunday) so …

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When in Rome ...

I noted a poster on a wall for a traditional folk concert at one of the close by churches.  My family wanted to stay put for the evening so I headed off on my bike for a short trip to the church.

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The church has a pretty spectacular setting at the foot of the Alps!

The concert by the MarianSingers was a mix of duets, small ensembles, and my favorite – a group of 8 men doing yodelling harmony.  Brilliant!  Equally impressive was the inside of this catholic church.

The following day we set off for the Bavarian Alps.  They rise  up dramatically from the farming plains, and the access point for a hike up was only 2km from our campsite. 

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Our objective is the top of this mountain. If you look carefully you can see the cable car tower.

I had spoken to a tourist info person the day before and learned that there was a rather dramatic route up the face of the mountain.  She said as long as we were strong hikers with very good footwear we ought to be OK.  We’d have to hold on carefully to the cables that were strung up.  The kids liked the sound of this so away we went.

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The trail got pretty steep pretty fast.

Not too far into the hike we came across some rather disconcerting signs.  There were warnings in German with signs of rocks falling on people’s heads (you’re supposed to wear a helmet, apparently) and other pictures showing how to fasten your harness and repelling gear for safe movement up and down cliff faces.  We were part way up the mountain already.  And I distinctly remembered the tourist info woman saying we could do it.  So we pressed on, figuring this was the management’s way of dodging legal problems if someone gets into trouble.

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Look way way up ... and the little dots are hikers further along our trail. At least we knew others were on the trail!
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I zoomed way in to see their trail, and was not pleased to see the ladder.
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The cables were reassuring, and the views were really starting to open up.
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We were camping on the lake on the right.

At one point, which was about half way up the mountain, I looked up not too far and saw a couple of people hanging off their ropes on a large vertical face that had only little iron nails sticking out for hands and feet.  Shortly after we came around a corner and saw a ladder that went up vertically for about 20 ft.  At this point I figured we had made a big mistake.  So I asked a guy hiking behind me “do we have to go up that way?”  He assured me that yes, it was the only way.  Hmmm.  But then a few moments later another guy came up and said that if we continued around the bend the regular path continued – the ladders and cliff face were only for those with climbing equipment. The first guy then apologized and said “sorry, I’ve never done this hike before”.  WHAT?  You’ve never done the hike before and you assured a family with youngish kids that they’d have to hang off a vertical face?  Thanks, buddy!
Phew.  I finally realized that this hike would turn out well.  We were all enjoying the steep trail with the cables.

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This was the last section of trail.

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Most people get to the top of the mountain in this cable car. We'd decided we'd ride it down.

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One last pitch to the top. Most of these hikers were on their way down following a more gentle ski slope.
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View from the top, looking north into Bavaria. At this point we were only a couple of km from the northern Austria border.

We enjoyed lunch at the top.  We really felt like we’d earned it (1 vertical km up) and had enjoyed the rather spectacular trail.  Good thing there was a restaurant at the top, though. It was a holiday and EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays and holidays in Bavaria.  So we couldn’t buy groceries for the day down below.   Once again I was amused and rather amazed by the steady stream of 0.5L and 1L  beer steins that were being downed by just about every other guy up there.  And it was only about 5 or 10 degC and they were all sitting outside! 
The view back into the Austrian Alps was fabulous and I was drooling looking at the hiking map with trails galore from peak to peak and hut to hut.  But most of the high mountains were still under snow so going further was not really an option.

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The final part of our hike up, as seen from the cable car.
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A different set of spirally switchbacks. This is the luge/toboggan run set up under the cable car.
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Just had to try it ! Kaia and Jake are being towed up ahead of Yvonne.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how fast you can get going in these things.  Whihoo!

From the cable car base we cycled about 8km into the neighbouring and larger town of Fussen.

Fussen is one of Germany’s oldest towns and dates from the period of the Roman Empire.  Several of the churches date back to the 800s.  It was on the trade route between Italy and the Roman provincial capital now known as Augsburg.  It was a delight to walk around that evening.  Huge, ornate churches abound, and the city has an extensive walking district full of cafes, bakeries and outdoor seating.

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Fussen, courtesy of the net.

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Read the blue lettering on the window carefully. Ha!

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Dinner that night was at the most scrumptious Greek restaurant.  I’m not sure what I liked more – the savory flavours or the medieval town ambience & architecture of the restaurant.
After a very full day we set off on our bikes again to return to our campground.

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I was quite enamored with this firewood holder.
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Speaking of firewood ... rural Germany depends to a very large degree on wood for heating. Almost every farm we saw from bike paths had large wood supplies from their carefully managed forests.

Cam

The sound of Munich

The southeastern part of Germany is known as Bavaria, called Bayern in German.  It’s more traditional than other parts of Germany, and most people that live in this part consider themselves Bavarian, not German.  The city of Munich, or München in German, is the biggest city in Bavaria, and apparently worth seeing, so we decided to go there.

The weather forecast had been saying all week that a certain day would be very rainy.  The morning of that day that we spent in Augsburg was fine, but we had already decided to take a train to Munich instead of riding.  It’s pretty easy to take your bike on trains in Germany.  And, sure enough, on the train, it rained for a while.

We had heard from a few people that they really liked Munich.  My dad went on the Warm Showers network (people who open their house to cycle tourists) and found some people who let us stay with them in Munich.  He also looked at TripAdvisor reviews for the best things to do there, and one of the activities that got great reviews was a bicycle tour of the city.  So, we contacted a company that runs these tours, and found out where to meet for the tour.  The train from Augsburg arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station), and then we rode to Marienplatz, the central square, where we met the rest of the tour group.

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The tour guide was a guy named Tony, from Washington DC.  He has loved Munich ever since he moved there 9 years ago, and he’s really fun and enthusiastic about the bike tour.  He really brought history to life for me!

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There were 11 people on the tour, including us.  2 were from Scotland, and the rest were all Canadians!  First, Tony told us some general history on Munich, and specifically, on Marienplatz.

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That big church-looking building is actually the town hall, built in Gothic style.

Things have been happening that square for a long time.  Munich used to be the “capital” of the old kingdom of Bavaria, so the king held many celebrations in the square.  For a royal wedding that happened there, they even held a jousting tournament!  You know, when knights on horses run at each other with big lances and try to knock the other guy off his horse.  Sounds pretty entertaining!

Then, we walked to the bike tour shop to get bikes.  We already had ours, but we left all our paniers and trailer there.  Once everyone had a bike, we started the ride around town.  We visited another square, with a statue of King Maximilian in the middle.  If I remember correctly, his son Ludwig’s wedding got re-celebrated every year, and now it’s known as Oktoberfest.  Don’t blame me if I’m wrong though, because I find European monarchs’ names extremely confusing (King Ludwig I, II, III, and so on).

We went to an old government building, with a big courtyard in the middle of it.  It looks like all the walls are intricately decorated, but at a second glance, you’ll see that some of it’s just painted on!  The reason why is that before Germany started World War II, they knew that their towns would be bombed, so they hid some of their precious artwork (statues, paintings, etc) in lakes and salt mines so that they could be put back after the war.  They did start to restore these things after the war, but didn’t have enough money to complete it.  You can see that some of the pillars and windows in the government building are real, and others are just painted on.

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Outside the building, there are a few big statues, but before going out to see them, Tony had us “act” out the statues.

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And here’s what the real statue looks like.

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The statues have interesting meanings.  The lion on the left (Kaia) has it’s mouth open, facing the government building, and the one on the right (me) has it’s mouth closed, facing a big church.  It means that you’re allowed to criticize the government, but not the church!  The statue in the middle represents when the kingdom of Bavaria became part of Germany.  It means: “Germany can have our flag, they can have our lion (the symbol of Bavaria), but they can’t have the Lady of Bavaria”, or in other words “we’re still Bavarian”.  I don’t know what the two soldiers on the sides represent though.  I still think the one we did was better!

We had a look inside the theaterin kirche church (the one that you’re not allowed to criticize!)

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This church is huge and beautiful, but it's actually pretty average for a German church.

After touring of the old part of town, we went through a big park called the English Garden, which is bigger than New York Central Park!

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This is the Isar river, flowing down from the Alps.

The bike tour stops at a Biergarten (beer house), but the one it usually goes to was closed, so we went a smaller Biergarten in the park (don’t worry, Kaia and I didn’t have beer!)  We chatted with the other people on the tour as we ate wieners and pretzels.  My parents were surprised that some others on the tour drank two full litres of beer! My dad had a half litre and Tony said that Bavarians would ask 1/2 L drinkers if they were still in Kindergarten. My dad ordered another half litre. Tony said that people who don’t want to drink all that alcohol get half beer and half lemonade, so it still looks like 1L of beer.

The last stop on the tour was… the surfers!  There’s a wave on the Isar river that people can actually surf.

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It’s an unusual wave to surf, because instead of riding with the flow of the water like you do in the ocean, you ride against the flow.  It’s certainly much harder than where I’ve surfed on Zancudo beach in Costa Rica and Kuta beach in Indonesia, but the surfers there made it look so easy.

The bike tour was really fun.  I think it’s a great way to see a city like Munich.  At the end of the tour, we rode back to the bike shop to pick up our stuff, then rode (through pouring rain and hail) to Götz and Liza’s apartment, the people we met through Warm Showers.  Götz has cycled through New Zealand staying with Warm Showers people, and now opens his apartment to cycle tourists like us.  Their apartment is pretty small, but there was enough floor space for us to sleep on our air mattresses.

We were out all of the next day, but it wasn’t at all as joyful as the bike tour: we visited the Dachau concentration camp which is about 30km out of Munich.

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The words written on the gate say "work sets you free" in German.

It’s a really sad place.  Dachau was a concentration camp before and during World War II, but now, it’s set up like a museum.  The main building has many informational plaques, and a small theatre showing a video about the camp.  I’ll share a bit of what I learned with you.  I used to think that concentration camps were only used to imprison Jews, but I learned that there were also Hitler’s political opponents, communists, homosexuals, prisoners of war, and pretty much anyone else the Nazis didn’t like.  This particular camp was only for men.  It was originally built to hold 6 000 prisoners, but at one point there were more than 60 000 of them.  Prisoners were forced to work extremely hard all day, but were hardly given any food.  How is someone supposed to work hard without any food in their belly?  And the guards treated them so poorly.  Twice a day, they had attend “roll call”, where they had to stand straight and motionless for hours as the guards did “attendance”, but mostly just for torture.  They were also brutally punished for the slightest thing, like a missing button on a shirt for example.  About 49 000 prisoners died there, but not from the “gassing” used in other concentration camps to murder large amounts of people at once.  They were either worked to death, starved to death, beaten to death, and many Soviet prisoners of war were brought there, where they were shot.  Typhoid outbreaks killed many too. It was finally liberated by the American army in 1945. 

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They tore down most of the barracks, but kept two intact.
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This is where the prisoners stood during roll call (I took this picture from the Internet. There were a lot more people when we were there).
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This sculpture is supposed to show the lives of the prisoners at the camp.
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This is where the prisoners slept. I'm sure at least 3 people had to share each little bed.
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This is what the camp looked like from 1933-45.
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This is where the ashes from the crematorium were placed.

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This is inside the crematorium, where they cremated the tens of thousands of dead prisoners.

There was a gas chamber, but it was never actually used for mass murder, like at other concentration camps.  A particularly notorious camp was Auschwitz, in Poland, where thousands upon thousands of people were brought in on trains, then murdered with poisonous gas.

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The prisoners were told that it was a shower room, so that the guards wouldn't have trouble in getting them in the room. The square holes in the wall is where the poison gas comes out.

These next photos were taken from the Internet.  They’re from between 1933 and 1945, when the camp was still in use.

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This is how the prisoners slept.
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Just imagine having to pull that thing on an empty stomach, and having to do it all day.
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This picture was taken by the American army when they liberated the camp in 1945.

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The visit to the Dachau concentration camp left me feeling very sorry for all the prisoners who died or spent time there, but also feeling appalled that Hitler could actually do that.  How could someone think that putting people in concentration camps would do any good?  What did those people ever do wrong?  It seems like pure evil to me.

We took the train back to Götz and Liza’s apartment, and went out for Mother’s Day dinner at a lovely restaurant on a walking street.  It wasn’t the usual cheery way to spend mother’s day but it was a nice meal in the end.

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We left Munich at mid afternoon the next day, but we went downtown to see a few more things in the morning.

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This is the Asam Kirche. It's one of the most beautiful churches I've ever been in! It's also the first one I've seen that's squished between a row of townhouses.

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We climbed to the top of a church tower near Marienplatz.

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The staircase was cool too!
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This is the view from the top.
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That's the clock tower at City Hall.
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We could see all the way to the Bavarian Alps from the top of the tower.

We also went to the Munich food market.

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We all got stuff we like: olives for my dad, and pretzels for me and Kaia!

And back in Marienplatz, we watched the 12:00 PM glockenspiel, a carousel type of thing on the clock tower that shows a mini jousting match.

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There's the Austrian horse with the red and white coming from the right, and the Bavarian horse with the blue and white coming from the left.

It always has the same outcome: the Bavarian horse always wins!

I think we experienced a lot in and around Munich.  The beautiful, the evil, the friendly, and the yummy.  It’s a really cool city, and it made great first impressions of Bavaria.  Next stop: Neuschwanstein!

Jake