Bernhard Schlagheck rides on his grandfather’s 80-year-old bicycle in Islamabad.
“The habit of cycling provides an excellent opportunity to clear mind and thoughts, besides its other healthy and nature-friendly benefits,” the envoy who is in love with cycling shared his feelings in an exclusive interview on Sunday.
He said the reasons behind advocating to build the bike-habit here in Pakistan was certainly his love for cycling and its long lasting positive impacts on human's lives and it can also drive green development on earth.
Bernhard also shared his pride-ride, his grandfather’s 80-year-old bicycle, which he owns and said whenever possible “I take my bike to go to Foreign Ministry, located not that far from the German Embassy.It’s always both a bit cumbersome and funny to convince the MFA guards to let me in, but we usually share a good laugh and they used to inquire about my bicycle which is indeed quite old, whether it is from Pakistan and where I bought it. In fact, it’s from Germany. I have been owning this treasure for almost 40 years and used it in Moscow, Rome, Africa, and now in Islamabad. I think it is a great piece to link with my biography and responsibilities here as German Ambassador to Pakistan.”
Bernhard said, “I think there is a lot to be gained from a good bike ride. It’s also environmental-friendly and zero-carbon emission transport as well as a great practical and almost cost-free mode of conveyance.”
On a query to how we can establish a bike-culture in Pakistan, he said, I’m always somewhat sceptical about notions like bike-culture. “I do not really think we need a bike-culture in Pakistan, but an appreciation of what is already here, so that a bike is not merely considered as a minus to a motorbike or a car, but valuable in itself. It also encourages strong human connectivity as people on automobiles do not interact with each other on roads,” he added.
To another question whether cycling can offer a solution to urban transport and traffic chaos, the envoy said, “it was a long term perspective but certainly reducing private fossil fuel-driven transport within cities to contest constant traffic gridlocks and environmental hazards it must be one of the near term targets of contemporary urban planning.”
“And cycling here has an even bigger role to play, no doubt about that,” endorsing the idea he remarked. Schlagheck, stressing upon the youth to adopt practical sports activities said the COVID-19 pandemic has enhanced the significance of cycling as the exercise helps build a strong immune system, which was imperative to fight against viral diseases and seasonal epidemics.
While appreciating the weather and scenic beauty of the federal capital Islamabad, he said It is a wonderful city, having a lot to see that offers sufficient places to the people to engage themselves in activities like cycling, jogging, hiking and tracking on the beautiful Margalla Hills, especially during this natural calamity of coronavirus. The ambassador also gave some expert tips for cyclists in hot summer and said, long-distance pedalling be avoided and short to moderate trips were recommended in full sunlight. “Sufficient intakes of nutrients and fluids to the body before and after cycling was a must to avoid season’s wrath,” he stressed. Commenting on the riding conditions here for the cyclists, he said, I can hardly speak for the rest of the country since I am cycling basically only in Islamabad.
Here, I think, the conditions are sufficiently good though, as with most things, there may be room for improvement. It was pleasing to know, he said, that the ICT administration and the Commissioner’s office were engaged in setting up dedicated cycling lanes in Islamabad which was promising and welcome development.
He also praised the Federal Government and Special Assistant to prime minister Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari for taking a special interest in promoting environmental-friendly mobility models in Islamabad and elsewhere in Pakistan. “This realisation and initiatives are certainly going to help enhance the number of peddlers across the country,” he hoped.
Replying to a question about how to motivate the people for cycling, the ambassador said, politicians had a particular responsibility here to create awareness among masses about the benefits of cycling. The government and public administration’s hands should be strengthened to encourage people to adopt such activities for health reasons at least.
The envoy also pointed out the limitation of using a bicycle as an official routine transportation mode, the idea pleaded in Pakistan’s social media and said, “If the President of Pakistan is receiving you for submitting Ambassadorial credentials, you would not appear at the President House on a bike, would you? There are also security aspects to be considered. And courtesy and hygiene require you won’t enter Parliament or Ministries with the sweating bodies. So, it’s a matter of prudent consideration.”
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