Today I made it to Hamburg. My original route avoided all big cities, and for good reason. I’ve no desire to navigate an unfamiliar route and urban combustion at once, by myself. But I ended up here because of the rain. I’ve changed the original route to cut out the entire Western part of Germany and Denmark, and am now traveling Northeast to resume my original route in Southeastern Denmark.
The rain finally stopped, but not before drenching all my belongings and seeping deep into my brain. I feel like I’ve been moisturized for a lifetime. Today’s 60 miles from Zeven to my AirBnb in the Northern part of Hamburg (important, because Hamburg is simply enormous so I kept crossing the city for over 25 miles) were the hardest yet. 60 miles in The Netherlands is easy, but 60 miles in Germany is like a multi layered pain sandwich.
I would not recommend Germany to any cyclist, if they have other options. In the countryside there aren’t cycle paths everywhere, and if even briefly your route takes you on a road with no separate path you feel very exposed. I live in San Francisco, I know what exposed means but this is something else. Cars drive very fast here, and though drivers are usually careful when overtaking and give you space (much kudos to German drivers!), the passing of cars on the already narrow roads is very unpleasant because of the noise and, if the street is wet, all the backsplash from the tires which hits you square in the face. This happened to me today repeatedly, as it was (still) pouring rain on me for at least 30 of the 60 miles I covered. Just what was missing from my already derelict appearance: some face mud.
Also on the “do not try” list is Hamburg on a bicycle. After experiencing The Netherlands, I’m downright offended as a cyclist about what passes as a “cycle route” in this city’s infrastructure. I switched 3 different routing apps because I couldn’t believe what kind of routes I was being guided on. Streets with large, uneven cobblestones, streets with broken pavement, streets where you have to jump the curb to get off the “cycle path” (?!). Halfway through the city I gave up on trying to navigate the ridiculous partitioned sidewalk “paths” (also cobblestone) and rode the rest of the way hustling for space with cars on the street like in San Francisco. Cars drive much faster here, and that made me feel unsafe.
Since there is no Google Street View for Germany, as a cyclist it’s impossible to preview your route ahead of time. Google Maps or other apps have to “guess” what would be a bikeable street, and often times they get it wrong. There is no cycling routing information I could find which provided the granularity I’d have needed to create a route through Germany, and this made me nervous about cycling here from the very beginning.
Hamburg is decidedly the least enjoyable city I have cycled it, surpassing even my native Bucharest. The two cities are similar in mood, and the scent of linden trees and those wafting out of large apartment buildings made me a little nostalgic, and regrettably in lack of cycling infrastructure they are also similar. But Hamburg takes the cake for the least enjoyable ride on account of the cobblestone and the lack of any information on how to make your way around town comfortably as a cyclist.
I wish I could say something nice about Germany. I really wanted to like it. Tomorrow I’m heading out to explore Hamburg on foot, and maybe I will find something redeeming.