Germany Holidays: Freewheeling Münster, city of bikes and students
Two things give Münster, one of the most vibrant and captivating cities in northern Germany, its unique character: over 50,000 students and an estimated 500,000 bikes. That means around 20 percent of the city’s core population of 275,000 are studying at its university or colleges and that there are almost twice as many bikes as residents.
The two factors work together as a virtuous circle, as the preponderance of bicycles (or ‘leeze’ as they are known locally) and the associated freewheeling lifestyle actually attracts students from elsewhere in Germany. As a result, Germany’s ‘cycling capital’ claims to be the only city in the country where more journeys are made by bike than by car.
The city centre Altstadt is largely pedestrianised and is encircled by the Promenade, a green five kilometre ring trail through parkland, perfect for cycling, jogging or walking. As a result the pace of life in Münster is seen as a bit less frenetic than in other cities in this part of Germany.
Bicycles are everywhere, and the surplus of machines over residents is due both to multiple ownership and to daily commuting in from the surrounding region. There are bike racks for parking throughout the city centre, including one with 3,300 available spaces opposite the main railway station. Over 60 specialist bike retailers operate in the city and many will offer a rental service to visitors.
Home for the weekend
One feature of German student life is that a large number decide to study at their nearest university, whilst still living at home with their parents. Because the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (named after the former German emperor) is the sixth largest in Germany, this has the effect of reducing the number of people in the city over the weekends, actually making it quieter and even more appealing.
The average age of the city’s residents is around 40, making it one of the youngest in the country, a feature it shares with other medium sized cities with large universities, such as Heidelberg and Freiburg. The Altstadt is well endowed with bars and restaurants which appeal to the student population. Wednesday is the big night out for students and the teaching staff at the university helpfully avoid scheduling lectures for Thursday mornings!
Aside from the social life and the bikes, the quality of the other local open spaces is one of the reasons why the city is so appealing to potential students. It has a very justifiable reputation as a “green” city, further enhancing its appeal. The Aasee, a beautifully set lake just to the south west of the city centre, is a magnet for the student population when the weather is good, either just for relaxation purposes after lectures or to participate in any number of the water sports activities available.
The area surrounding the city, known as the Münsterland, is largely flat and ideal for cycling as a way to explore the region. The Rieselfelder Nature Reserve, with its 130 lakes, is just north of the city and the 100 Castle Route offers four routes (north, south, east or west) and the opportunity for a longer ride out to see a variety of attractive stately homes and romantic castles.
For quality of life and visitor appeal, there are few places that can rival Münster. – Mark Arrol
Looking for more? See other destinations in Northern Germany
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