It’s official, I broke German law — and like pretty much everyone — had no idea what I did wrong. You know how the officer always approaches you and asks “Do you know why I stopped you?” And then you’re always like “No idea…” and then it turns out to be something completely ridiculous?? I.E. pretty much every traffic stop you ever had? Yeah, well, that’s what I did in Germany. I broke the law while riding my bike.
So here’s the background story. I was riding my bike back with Kevin & R.T. from a Kneipe in town and we happened to enter the bike lane just as the “DO NOT CROSS” red light illuminated. Having already been in the street, it made no sense to stop so we continued. No sooner did we get ca. fifty feet before we were kontroliert/gehaltet by the polizei! He told us that we rode through the red light and that is illegal. The fine for that was 45 Euros. I can’t really complain about this because this is an example of a cultural thing. When the RED LIGHT is illuminated, you NEVER cross the street. Ever. It’s just a cultural thing. Traffic may not be for miles, but Germans will always wait for the GREEN LIGHT. There’s a lot of Chicagoans on this trip and I can tell that this whole waiting thing just isn’t flyin’. I mean, in Chicago, the light is just a suggestion, right?
Then…we were also informed that we broke the law by riding our bikes (in the bike lane) on the wrong side of the street. He made some smart remark about how this isn’t Australia or England and that we must always ride on the right. To me, this is a bit more ridiculous. Had we been riding in the street, I can understand…but, c’mon! We were all really shocked that we had to pay 15 Euros for this. I mean, do the police really have nothing better to do? I think this is an example of American laws-just-for-the-sake-of-making-money rubbing off on Germany. There was no harm in us riding there (especially because it was night).
The reason this exciting event gets a blog is because it’s an example of all the cultural differences over here in the Deutschland. German society is very conformist…and for the most part, Germans don’t seem to know how to bend the rules. I swear, there is a law for everything you do over here…but that’s what you can except from the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratic Republik) — the former communist East Germany. I mean, we cooperated with the polizist, mainly because we had to. There’s no way a police officer in the states could give someone a citation for that…for if they did, said violator would be bitching all the way to the courtroom until blue in the face! Here, it isn’t like that all. Everyone just follows the rules. That’s especially tough for Americans because our entire culture is pretty much based on challenging authority, and German culture is the complete opposite: never challenging (or at least until recent).
So that’s my exciting story of law breaking in Deutschland. I knew it was bound to happen as bike riding is practically like driving a car. Note to Dr. Vivian: Next program–include a crash course in proper bike riding ettiquette. I hope this event doesn’t go on my German bike-riding record!!