For most of my first year in Germany I didn’t drive. I come from a small Canadian city with no major highways, and so the thought of the autobahn seriously freaked me out. I was, and remain, very surprised at how easy it was for my husband to simply turn in his Canadian license for a German one (which appears never to expire), to be handed a company car, and to then just be on his way. Sure, GPS is a miracle for those of us who need to navigate to work that first day, or to the nearest food market for the first time, but such technology has yet to explain to me what the yellow diamond sign means, what the white squiggly line on the road means, and what I am supposed to do when someone is riding a horse in front of me. Many expats, like my husband, cope with various expat situations, like driving, by relying on observation, common sense, and hoping for the best. I offer a cautionary tale however, of common sense, and how it may not always be your most reliable guide.
Posts tagged traffic laws
This sign means the sidewalk is shared by pedestrians and cyclists. It screams: “Pedestrians, watch out for your lives!” Photo: Hyde Flippo.
I don’t think there’s a German over the age of five or six who doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Seeing an 80-year-old German lady zipping along on her bike is nothing unusual in Germany.
I have witnessed rush hour in the small town of Burghausen, Bavaria, which means swarms of bicycles, not cars, going to and from the Wacker chemical plant. In much larger Berlin and other German cities, the bike is also a popular mode of transportation. An estimated 400,000 bikes stream across Berlin on an average day. If we compare the USA and Germany, travel to work or school makes up only 11% of all bike trips in the US, compared to 28% in Germany. Shopping trips account for only 5% of all bike trips in the US, versus 20% in Germany. (McGill Univ. (TRAM) – “Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany”)
So you might think that cyclists have a special place in the hearts and minds of most Germans. Well, they do, but it’s usually a negative place. The average German motorist despises cyclists (and vice versa). Although Germans often maintain that most people are both motorists and cyclists who should not hate each other, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Once a cyclist gets in a car, a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation takes place as the driver grasps the steering wheel and heads out to do battle with people on bicycles. And there are a lot of them in the average German municipality, large or small.
But that’s a topic we’ll save for another day. READ MORE »