The City of Bonn, Germany sits on the Rhine River and has historic roots dating back to the Roman period. It is also the birthplace of the famous composer Beethoven – a pride point for the city. Bonn, population circa 325,000, boarders Germany’s wine producing region to the South, and to the North, the cities of Köln (Cologne) and Düsseldorf. While smaller than its neighbour cities, Bonn has played an important role in modern German history. It served as the West German capital from 1949 to 1990 and the official seat of government after reunification from 1990 to 1999. The capital has since returned to Berlin, leaving a temporary void in a city that had become accustomed to its administrative role. Still, many governmental offices remained in Bonn, and the city has also become an international hub: hosting 20 UN and other international organizations. These include the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC), regional or thematic UN offices, and (of keen interest for my work) the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability World Secretariat.
While old town Bonn is charming, and the architecture stunning; the city emits a “bureaucratic” vibe (as most cities with many administrative functions). Still, this administrative aura has its charms. The former parliament was transformed into the World Conference Centre Bonn in 1999; a beautiful venue hosting international meetings. I had the opportunity to visit the venue, as a writer with IISD Earth Negotiations Bulletin, reporting on the first Plenary meeting of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES-1). While the days were long, the carefully designed space provided inspiration and renewal, as we watched the boats pass on the River Rhine through big picture windows.
Down by the river
Each day, my colleagues and I walked from old town to the conference venue along the river, passed by cyclists and joggers. This route featured bike and walking lanes, clearly separate from the vehicular traffic above and instead surrounded by quiet green spaces – the only noise coming from the constant barge traffic on the Rhine. While Bonn may not have the same cycling reputation as its Dutch city counterparts, well-marked bike lanes, bike parking and the cyclist themselves are found throughout the city – perhaps even encouraged by the great cycle paths by the river, and then venturing to other parts of the city. (However, a friend living in Bonn – and an avid cyclist – admitted some cycle paths are safer and better marked than others, distinctly noting a poorly designed bike route near the bus terminal.)
Still, from my own impression, there were many cyclists taking to the streets, especially by the river. This, even during the week we visited Bonn, which was on average -6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) with the cycle tracks covered in snow and ice. I’ve been cycling many times in the cold, and certainly while summer sun is more enjoyable, the snow or rain is ok, so long as you have the right clothing. In the summer months, the same cycle paths are even more popular, not only amongst locals commuting to work, but for those who come specifically to the Rhine region on a cycling holiday. With few hills, beautiful scenery along the river and its smaller villages – plus a good beer or two along the way – there is much to explore on two wheels. I may have to return in the summer months, to try out its parks and outdoor beer gardens, but first, its cycle path by the river.