After eight years of gentle propagandising, led by the surprisingly memorable ‘Radlhauptstadt München’ (Eng)  title, suddenly it was all gone. Like the local Föhn (aptly, a subtle wind), in 2018 Munich simply decided it no longer wanted to sell itself as an all singing and dancing ‘cycling capital’.
And if the city’s honest, it was an acceptance of abject failure: that after eight years of claiming it was (or would be), Munich was nowhere near becoming a noted cycling-friendly city, never mind a so-called ‘cycling capital’. Certainly nowhere near the likes of Copenhagen, Utrecht and Amsterdam, Malmo and Bern.
For a city that at times can seem a little too much in love with itself, whose city PR people love nothing more than to let us know how Munich has finished at – or near – the top of some lifestyle survey or economic analysis, to be named as only 34th in a 2019 Global Bicycle Cities Index (Eng) must hurt. It seems, however, symbolic: Radlhauptstadt München? You must be joking. You couldn’t even make into the top ten, never mind the top one. Worse, it wasn’t even anywhere near being the best in Germany, coming 13th, behind Munster, Bremen, Hannover, Hamburg, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Berlin … ok, it managed to beat Stuttgart and Dortmund.
‘I was actually sitting at the table when it was decided to call it Radlhaupstadt,’ says Andreas Schuster, responsible for mobility at Green City Munich (Eng) an undervalued, independent organisation trying since the 1990s to push for a more environmentally friendly city. Recalling the decision back in December 2009, he says the name was not chosen because ‘we thought it’s what Munich [already] is; but because if we were settling on a term, and if you really want to be a Radlhauptstadt, then, “You have to do this, this and this [to get there].”’ A decade later, the city hadn’t done nearly enough. As in the wider fight against the climate emergency, it’s been almost a wasted decade.
Meeting Schuster for the first time in the Green City offices in May 2019, high on the fifth floor of an unremarkable Munich building near Theresienwiese (home to the Oktoberfest), is a welcome experience. Short-cropped hair with sideburns, Doc Martens and button-down shirt can for some people be slightly disconcerting: yes, he’s a skinhead. No, not one of those. A proper skinhead, someone who understands how this much-maligned sub-culture emerged in working-class London in the 1960s, bringing together young black migrants ostensibly from the Caribbean and young Brits. They rejected the stifling post-war conservative mainstream culture, and embraced music from Jamaica, and danced to dub, ska and bluebeat.
The movement evolved, taking in punk and Oi!, but in the process also getting badly twisted by some, becoming associated with right-wing extremism (the NYT has a decent overview here) and football violence. The clean cut, smart clothes and rock steady of the original skinhead movement with its international music and cultural focus was transformed into a boorish, intolerant, violent, nationalistic sect.
I immediately recognise in Schuster, however, someone who knows the real value of the original skinhead movement, of tolerance, openness and a love of the music – indeed, he even plays in a band. Over around two hours, our discussions go from 1980s Ska, Two Tone and Oi! to Naomi Klein, the invigorating recent protests of the FridaysForFuture and the London Extinction Rebellion protests that – when we met – had just made such a major impact.
Another S-Bahn tunnel
Munich, however, is not London. Each city has to take its own green path. ‘The most important thing that has to change in Munich is to move it away from having only one centre. Munich is really centred on the middle, on Marienplatz. All the [S-Bahn] lines go into the centre before they go out again.’