Thursday, August 28, 2008

Der Fahrradweg

(The Bike Path)

I've spent a lot of time discussing the Altstadt - the old part of Marburg, the Germiest of German cities. But there is more to this city than quaint cobble stone streets and precariously leaning buildings from the Middle Ages.

For instance, this city is the most bike friendly place I have ever visited. I'm sure there are other bike friendly places on this planet, such as Portland, but I haven't visited them. Not that I have anything against Portland...or maybe I do. I've heard its kinda damp and grey... Anyway, every staircase in Marburg has a ramp for bikes and wheelchairs. Every single one. Witness:
It's brilliant. It's sensible. It's German.

If I ever run for local office, I think my primary platforms will be bread in every hand and bike ramps on every step. Many of the bikes in the city have saddle bags on the back wheel. People commute to class by attaching their bag to the bike and happily pedal along the Lahn River, never needing to remove their rears from their seats to carry their vehical down the stairs.

The Lahn, by the way is here:
It courses through town bearing ducks and paddle boats. That's right, they have paddle boats for the river. Before I leave this town I will strike out upon the roaring Lahn, conquering the rapids and shoals that clearly mar her surface under my own pedaling power. Or maybe there are other options I'm not thinking of (Cue storytime)...

A group of Fulbrighters and I were walking along the aforementioned path by the Lahn when we heard a rhythmic "Thud, Thud, Thud" from up river. The pounding grew louder, eventually turning into a "Boom, Boom, Boom." We clustered by a gap in the trees and saw the prow of the Marburg Warship sail into view. A massive drum was positioned in the front of the boat with a small, blond haired woman beating a steady cadence on its leather surface. In front of her were twenty men with very German scowels in two swaying columns. Each man had a canoe paddle in hand and was paddling in time to the drumbeat. In the stern stood a middle-aged man with a flowing beard in command of the rudder. He was wearing chain-mail and a wolf skin cloak.

Okay. Maybe he wasn't wearing the accessories. He might have been wearing athletic shorts and he might have been clean-shaven. I can't quite remember. The whole sight was just too awesomely bizarre to process all at once. For all I know they were all chanting about Thor and Valhalla. I really hope the Universität Bonn has a competitive War Canoe team 'cause I wanna get my Viking/Algonquin on.

Last Wednesday while wandering around the campus I found these two signs along the bike path next to the river:

Obviously the sign on the left is filling you in on Neptune, giving you it's Greek sign, its distance from the sun and its size relative to...something. Then I looked at the sign on the right and got really excited. As far as I could tell, there was a scale model of the Solar System crossing through Marburg. Judge my excitement at such a discovery as you see fit.

I just needed to figure out where it started (where the Sun was) and ended (where a lonely Pluto might have been stashed). On a walk back from class, I found Pluto and a sign showing that the model was on a scale of 1 meter to 100,000 km. Pluto is roughly 600,000,000 km from the Sun making a trans-solar system run about 6 km.

Awesome. I was going to run to the center of the Solar System. I was lucky the model was made before 2006 before Pluto was demoted to Planetoid status, otherwise it wouldn't have made a perfect 15 km route. I think I should explain here that I enjoy running long distances. I'm not particularly fast at going from point A to point B, but I will stubbornly move my feet until I reach my destination or collapse, a trait I share with such noble creatures as the lemming and the cicada.

Yesterday I finally set out on my solarcentric journey. Pluto is a fer piece from Neptune and Neptune is a fer piece from Uranus but there was something incredibly gratifying about anticipating Jupiter on the horizon instead of the next mile marker. The bike path was packed with other runners, walkers, joggers, cyclists and in-line skaters. The latter were especially hardcore, especially four guys in biker shorts shooting along in the path in perfect formation, not 12 inches from each other. I'm not coordinated enough to tackle that kind of workout.

The path followed the river, passing a few bars, the community pool, the Autobahn and eventually opened up to a agricultureal fields filled with crows picking through the furrows looking for seeds (or maybe they were in Jupiter's orbit munching on meteorites). I felt elated as I crossed the Asteroid Belt and entered the inner solar system. I would stop and jog in place at each plaque, trying to muddle my way through the German explanation. I got a few weird looks. At first I thought the looks meant, "Who slows down to read those signs?" then I remembered I was in Germany where science class hasn't shriveled into nothing and thought the looks might mean: "Who needs to read about Venus? I already know all that stuff." Even if the former is true (and I'll admit even the average German could care less about the diameter of Mercury), I would like to live in my fantasy world where everyone knows the structure of Saturn's rings.

When I finally reached the sun - a scaled yellow globe about a meter and a half in diameter - I remembered I had to get all the way back. After the return run I can tell you with confidence that the Solar System really is a big place that will really wear you down. The place sure did get cozy though by demoting Pluto. I really didn't expect the Germans to be the creators of something like the that model. I assumed they were more likely to precisely mark every quarter kilometer. I guess I have a bit to learn about these people yet. Good thing I have a year to go...


German Heutewort: Fleiβig - adj. diligence, industriousness (Gut Deutsch Wort)

Er arbeitet mit Fleiβig. Er kommt sicher aus Deutschland. Klischees ist sinnvoll.
He works with diligence. He surely comes from Germany. Stereotypes are usefull.

1 comment:

Mama B said...

Congrats on the intergalactic travels. I knew this planet could only contain you for so long.