I’d wanted to go to Munich for years, but at first things didn’t look promising. The usually reliable German cycle network let me down, and I ended up riding in circles in the suburbs for about an hour, searching in vain for a signpost to anywhere that looked remotely familiar. The road from Augsburg had ben long, straight, flat and boring, with nothing but the town of Kissing to enliven it. (The Germans have the monopoly on amusing place names, at least where English-speakers are concerned.)
But as soon as I passed from the outskirts into the inner petticoats, things started to look up.
A lean bespectacled young man, coiled over a yellow Giant road bike, drew alongside me and asked me a question in German, quickly modifying it to flawless English when I indicated that’s where I’d come from.
I knew before he even told me that he was a courier. There are all sorts of people on the cycle paths in Germany, most of them on functional hybrids or shoppers, a few on fully loaded tourers like mine, and just one or two decked out in lycra and carbon. Cycling here, as in Belgium, is a lot more normal, but people like me, for whom it’s an obsession and a way of life, seem a lot less common. But this guy had the posture and the assurance of someone who spends all day in the saddle, and is more comfortable on two wheels than on two feet, and was all tanned arms and legs and muscles – he looked a lot like many of the (tall male) London couriers must do currently, after a whole summer of suntanning.
He introduced himself as Daniel, and we chatted happily about working conditions in our respective cities, as I wondered whether we’d have any friends in common, and wished that there wasn’t such a language barrier to English couriers working in European cities. If I spoke two or three other languages, I’d do what Rebecca Reilly did in the US, and spend a few seasons working my way round the continent, finding out what life’s like for my brothers and sisters across the Channel and trying to get a broader perspective of the industry than I ever could after working in just one city. Quite a few of my colleagues in London have done this, of course, working in Warsaw, Budapest, Paris, Helsinki or Berlin before they ended up in the UK. I envy them. As Daniel and I sped into the city, I started to wonder how easy it would be to brush up my German and try and get a job here in Munich, just for a few months.
After a while he branched off to the right to deliver a package, and I carried on towards the centre. By a stroke of luck (whether good or bad I was yet to ascertain) I’ve ended up in Munich during Oktoberfest, and the streets were packed with meandering tourists and slightly tipsy locals, meaning that for the first time in several weeks I had to swerve and shout to avoid people straying into my path. I was delighted. It was just like being back in London.
Daniel caught up with me again and half led, half directed me to the bridge I had to cross to get to my friends’ house. And weaving through the crowds and traffic as I followed his back wheel was like being at home again. I had to remember that my bike was wider than usual, and wouldn’t make it through some of the smallest gaps, but a few hundred miles’ riding have made me almost as nimble on this unwieldy beast as I used to be in my little courier fixie, and my body sang with delight as I once again wriggled and twisted and ducked through gaps, and raised or lowered my weight in order to modify a curve, or balanced on the pedals whilst waiting for a gap to open or the lights to change. It will probably never forget how to do this.
I waved goodbye to Daniel a few streets from the bridge, and joined the assorted hordes on the cycle paths. Almost immediately I found myself next to a chap on a shiny red track bike – one of the first I’d seen since leaving London, and clearly his pride and joy, judging by how clean it was.
I eyeballed his frame unsubtly, and was gratified when, just as in London, he returned the implicit greeting by ignoring me and sweeping his glance ostentatiously over my bike.
“Sehr schön” he nodded, almost to himself.
“Danke,” I responded, and he dragged his eyes upward to acknowledge me at last.
“Wohin – und woher?” he asked. (“Where from and where to?”)
“Ich komme aus England und…” I drew a circle in the air “…ich gehe zu England!”
We both grinned as the lights changed, and then sped off in our different directions. I started to think I might feel very much at home in Munich.
This feeling was only exacerbated the following evening, when I found myself halfway down my second flagon of beer, into a tent full of dirndl and lederhosen and very friendly Germans, being told of all the manifold things there are to see and do in Munich, and unintentionally accepting invitations that are likely to keep me in town until at least next Wednesday. And the friends whose spare room I’m currently inhabiting insist that a weekend is nowhere near enough time to see the city and protest that it would be no inconvenience were I to stay for up to a month.
And it’s a beautiful sunny morning – so far there’s little sign of autumn setting in – and I just spent a tranquil couple of hours on the roof terrace, airing my tent, fixing and fiddling with my bike, and drinking coffee. There’s a view of the Alps from the window, and down in the city there’s kuchen to be eaten and bier to be drunk. Suddenly I’m in no hurry at all…