For many families, life without a car would be unthinkable. Not so Iris and Bjorn Kropp who live in Oldenburg, a city in north-western Germany, and who got rid of their car three-and-a-half years ago.
At the time, their children Martje and Jasper were three and nine years old, and many of the family’s friends thought they were crazy to give up their car.
“We were told that with two children it was absolutely out of the question,” Iris recalls.
Because her husband spends half the year at sea as a captain, Iris is alone with the children a lot. The teacher also commutes about 20km to work every day. Even so, she’s able to say that “so far, we haven’t missed having our own car”.
Figures show that if anything, Germany’s love affair with the car is growing stronger. The number of cars registered in the country increased by 14% between 2010 and 2020, and more and more households own two or even three cars.
For the Kropps, being kinder to the environment was one argument for giving up their car. Getting more exercise in everyday life was another.
Iris cycles to work even in rain and snow, covering 80 to 100km a week. She is almost the only one among her colleagues to do so, she says.
That’s not surprising. According to figures from Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, 68% of commuters drove to work in 2020, often travelling only short distances. Around 13% used public transport, and only one in 10 travelled by bicycle.
The Kropp children have only a short commute to school so Martje walks and Jasper takes the bike.
In the afternoons, a bit more planning is required as Jasper is a volunteer with the fire department in the neighbouring village 10km away. Depending on the weather, he either takes his bike or public transportation.
“For Jasper, life without a car has led to a fair amount of independence very early on,” his mother says.
It is even farther to Martje’s riding lessons than to Jasper’s fire department. There is no good bus connection and not enough time to cycle there after school. That’s why Iris has opted for a compromise: Once a week, she books a car through car sharing.
Martje rides her bike for short distances, for example, when visiting friends. On longer journeys, she gets a ride on the family’s cargo bike.
The vehicle has room for one or two children in the transport box. Martje sits on the fold-out bench, and when it rains she stays reasonably dry under the protective tarpaulin.
The cargo bike is also indispensable for weekend shopping with crates of drinks. It can also be used to bring home a new shelf or soil for the raised bed.
“The biggest thing we’ve ever transported with the cargo bike was our 2.80m-high Christmas tree,” Iris says.
At weekends, the Kropps are out and about a lot by bike. “Even Jasper, who is 13 years old, still likes to do that,” Iris says. The family cycles to the forest, the amusement park or the lake.
In summer 2021, the Kropps packed a trailer, the cargo bike and bike bags, and cycled to the North Sea for camping.
The year before, they went to the Black Forest in southern Germany – too far to cycle so they took the train. Once there, they were able to avail of the area’s excellent local transport network.
The family has also now bought a tandem bike for longer trips. One of the parents sits at the back and steers. When it comes to tandem cycling, though, the family is still learning the ropes, Iris says. – dpa/Ann-Kathrin Marr