Münster in Westfalen claims to be the only German city where there is more bicycle traffic than car traffic. The city administration is particularly proud of the fact that Münster has “nearly a two-thirds majority” for the “environmental coalition” of cyclists, pedestrians and bus riders.
True, in the nearby Netherlands there are several cities with similar or better results, such as Groningen, Enschede, Amsterdam, Zwolle and Veenendaal, but several years ago a Netherlands government report grudgingly admitted that two German cities, Münster and Freiburg, also have “a reasonable level of bicycle use”, even though they aren’t in the Netherlands. (The same goes for Copenhagen and Odense in Denmark and Ghent in Belgium.)
In any case, Münster has been voted “Germany’s most bicycle-friendly city” several times, for instance in surveys conducted by the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC).
In recent years, however, other German cities have started catching up. In the latest ranking, the ADFC bicycle climate test for 2020, Münster is listed as number 2, after Karlsruhe but before Freiburg, in the class of cities with 200,000 to 500,000 inhabitants.
According to the city’s website, Münster has about 310,000 inhabitants but over 500,000 bicycles.
It helps that Münster is flat and has a large student population, but the main reason for all this cycling is that the city has been actively supporting bicycle transportation for nearly half a century. Earlier than most cities, Münster broke with the prevailing ideology of “making cities fit for cars” and instead promoted bicycles, buses and walking as equally valid forms of mobility.
The center is closed off to car traffic, except for some deliveries, so the streets can be used by cyclists and pedestrians.
As the city press office points out, destinations within the city are normally reached faster by bicycle than by car “and that is not the only reason why both males and females, small and tall make regular use of their bicycles” as a matter of course. “Those who ride in the fresh air also do not have any problems finding a parking space, spare their nerves and cut costs.”
Other cities sometimes decide against investing in bicycle routes on the grounds that they will be used only when the weather is good, but the experience in Münster does not support this argument. The city proudly points out that its main cycling routes are “cleared of snow and ice every day in winter” and are used by a substantial number of cyclists all year round, and on rainy days as well.
As you can see from my photos, most of the bicycles used here are not stripped-down racing bikes, but have fenders, mud guards and lights so they can be used in any weather and at any time of day or night.
In Münster, as in a lot of other places, I was able to do one of my favorite things, which is cycling home at night after the opera. There were plenty of other people riding their bikes at night, so I didn’t feel lonely.
My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2021.