Bicycle in Germany Without Breaking the Law

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In Copenhagen last summer, we tried to rent a bike for Diva and were turned down flat. “It’s against the law,” the guy at the bike shop told me and when I pressed for more information — the Danes, after all, are cycling queens — he said it was forbidden for kids under 6 (or maybe it was 8) to be in the bike lanes. Since no bikes are allowed on the sidewalk, either, the only place a kid might bike is at home, in the driveway or the courtyard. No wonder cargo bikes are so popular and school kids all arrive on Razor scooters.

Back home, in Germany, I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t need to continue trucking around in an old Christania cargo bike. They look sweet and all but pedaling one of those is like riding a stationary bike … unlike Long Duk Dong, I got nowhere, fast, and slowed down a lot of people on the Danish autobahn as a result of my wide-girth and slow-spinning wheels.

For many morning school runs, I pop Diva’s princess helmet on, pull her pink princess bicycle back out of the basement and off we go, cruising down the sidewalks to school, dinging our bells to let everyone know to get out of our way. Although this seems to be par for the course here, a British woman I went out to lunch with a few years back took serious offense to this behavior, cussing out a 6-year-old for being “on the pavement” before diatribing about how truly awful the Germs and their manners were. “Think their kids take precedence over other human beings, do they?” So when a policewoman came to Diva’s Kindergarten a few weeks after we got back from Denmark, I had to ask: can kids ride on the sidewalk in Germany? What are the laws here (because you know, it’s Germany and every damned thing is regulated)?

The answers she gave were really surprising. Here, in brief, and not fact-checked, is what the law says:

1. Kids under the age of 8 MUST bike on the sidewalk.

2. Kids CAN ride on the sidewalk until the age of 10 (which she recommends because of sightline problems for drivers).

3. Parents who follow their children on the sidewalk are breaking the law — even though there is most often a row of cars between the sidewalk and the bike lane (if there is a bike lane), therefore separating kid from mom or dad — and can be fined heftily for it (though she admitted that most police — and every annoying ass old biddy you pass on the way — will just warn you against it).

Not a big deal, right? Excepting that Germany has no mandatory helmet requirements so even Diva’s classmate, a 3-year-old kid of an emergency room nurse at the children’s hospital WHO HAS SEEN THE RESULTS OF BIKE ACCIDENTS FIRSTHAND doesn’t wear a goddamned helmet while not properly strapped into his seat on the back of his mom’s bike (bitch is insane, I swear), seems pretty straightforward. Except:

Kids aged 7 and up are not allowed to be on their parents’ bikes in street traffic anymore. So that cargo bike? Or that extra-special imported-from-Holland bike seat meant to hold kids over 22 kilos? Verboten. (I can’t wait to tell Diva’s dad this — he just dropped over 1000 Euros on a cargo bike to take her to school in but won’t get much use of it soon.)

So legally, when a kid turns 7 and wants to ride a bike, he or she absolutely positively must do it on the sidewalk. And from the ages of 8-10, he or she can still keep his or her wheels on the sidewalk (recommended by the policewoman, who also admitted that after the bike accidents she has seen, she doesn’t even let her kids bike).  That’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to find that law and print it out and laminate it and show it to every old biddy who lectures us to get off the sidewalk for the next four years.

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