Step onto the streets of almost any German city, and marvel at the generously wide sidewalks. And why not? Like all Europeans, when confronted with short distances, Germans would rather hit the pedals than climb behind the wheel. But don't be fooled. What may seem to the unsuspecting visitor like a wonderfully designed, multi-colored mixture of flag- and cobblestones -- put together, perhaps, by an Old World city planner with an eye for pleasing contrasts -- is actually an intricate code. And ignoring that code could land you in the hospital.
Bicyclists in London or New York may have to slog through armored regiments of taxis, buses, cars and trucks, but German bikers are a pampered bunch. Cities here are laced with bike paths -- mini-autobahns for two-wheeled traffic -- and they are well-used. Germans whip to and from work on their bikes, to and from the supermarket, to and from the tanning salon, even to and from their favorite den of nightlife iniquity. The square outside most train stations in the country offers a dizzying collection of every type of bicycle one can imagine.
Perhaps even more revolutionary from the perspective of an embattled biker from across the Atlantic, cyclists in Germany have the right-of-way on their little strips of freedom. And they know it. Wander unknowingly onto a bike path in front of a speeding student, suited executive or mother toting her child to pre-school, and a chorus of rings is the least you can expect. Pedestrians getting mowed down by cyclists is not an uncommon occurrence.
So be careful. Or better yet, get mobile yourself by renting a bike. Indeed, in cities like Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt or Munich, you will notice the 4,000 red and silver Deutsche Bahn " Call a Bike " bicycles scattered about. A quick phone call and a credit card number is all that separates you from blissful, two-wheeled mobility. But when checking out your rental, make sure it has a bell. You'll need it.