The MitOst alumni project #BikesCrossBorders wants to foster cycling in Moldova. An article by initiator Julian Gröger about what it means to use a bike in Moldova.
When I was teaching at the ULIM University in Chisinau as a fellow of the Lectureship Programme of the Robert Bosch Stiftung (2007-2009), I used to come to work by bike. Many of my students were at least irritated, if not disappointed by this fact. They hoped that I would bring in modern elements from the promised West…and not cycling. In Moldova, cycling is still considered as something only poor village people use who cannot afford other means of transport. The bike arouses associations like dirty clothes, bad smell, alcohol, village road, mud and elderly people. In post-soviet societies, the bike, unfortunately, has an image problem: civilized people in modern towns and cities should at least go by trolley bus if not by car.
On the other hand, bikes are seen as a sports device: you can do your work-out with them and win trophies. In this case, however, it should be a racing bike or a mountain bike. When I once went to the market at the Chisinau Piata Centrala I left my bike in front of the main entrance while an elderly man watched me. When I came back from my shopping to put my vegetables and cheese in my bicycle bags the man looked at me surprised and said “Ah, that’s your means of transport!” Yes, he was right and only then I realised that this was so unusual to Moldovan eyes.
My students got used to the fact that their German teacher didn’t present the newest BMW and, over time, were less and less disappointed. At that time, there were so little cyclists in the city center of Chisinau that the cyclists were greeting each other and after a few months I knew every single one of them. The very good news is that in 2017 it’s already impossible to greet or know all cyclists and we don’t raise our hand anymore when we see one another cycling the streets.
Why there are so little bikes is not only due to image problems. There are also the usual pioneer problems: little infrastructure, danger because car drivers are not used to cyclists, bad air and a car-packed center. In 2009, I asked my university if I could put a bicycle parking in front of the university. Until then, I was parking my bike by a tree. My goal was not only the bike rack itself but media attention and promotion for cyclists. I got into the TV-news with our little inauguration:
And the German newspaper FAZ found the inauguration of the “first bicycle stand in Moldova” so cool that they considered it worthy of an article on page 8 the next day. This was eight years ago, in 2009. This year, my family and I will move back to Chisinau and I’m still convinced that cycling is the most modern way of people transportation in towns. Chisinau has a perfect size, the hills will train your muscles and I would like to see bikes in Moldovan towns as the normal, hip and modern way. Our EcoVisio alumni agree and many would love to switch to a bike, but here is another problem they are facing: bikes are more expensive than in Germany! Either you have the offer of sport bikes beginning at 300 euros or somebody transported second hand bikes from the Netherlands and Germany and asks twice the price for it, beginning at 150 euros.
Here our MitOst alumni project #BikesCrossBorders comes into the game: In March we are looking for bikes that people from Germany can donate. We transport them to Iasi in Romania (bringing them into Moldova would cost a lot of import taxes). Our alumni will travel to Iasi to receive their donated bike. With hopefully about 20 people we will cross the EU border, each one on her/his new bicycle. At home, they will write to the donor in Germany and send photos from the second life of the bike. Many of our donors are elderly Germans. Hence the bikes will not only cross the EU border but also the border between generations and language.
Cycling means independence; cycling is freedom; cycling means knowing your town well – not depending on bus drivers and stops; cycling means caring for good air, other people and the future of this planet; cycling means being sportive and flexible. Cycling is in Moldova also a political message for self-responsibility, eco-friendly life-style and a “NO” to the ultimate goal that everybody should possess a private car stuffing our towns.
If you want to support us, please contact Julian! You could: donate a bike, join us for the bike trip Iasi (RO) – Todiresti (MD), support us by cycling yourself and share your story, or???!