Interesting Facts About Germany: Teddy on the Road- the History of the Gatso

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While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:

“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.”  (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)

A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”

A burst of laughter followed. 🙂

Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?

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It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.

My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso.  Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?

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Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.

However, this device can do the trick! 🙂

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For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.

In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.)  The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city.  One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:

Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.

Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge……   😉

Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.

Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.

And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉

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Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉

 

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Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and  British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here

 

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Newsflyer: 11 June, 2014

Unknown photographer. Used in connection with article found here: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/lwx/lightning/va-lightning.htm Public Domain

Giant Storm Causes Widespread Damage throughout Germany.  World Cup in Brazil in Full Gear.  Hamburg SV Handball Team Finished?

Getting off the train this morning at Erfurt Central Station in central Thuringia, passengers received a shock of their lives, as the sounds of thunder and lightning made the state capital sound like warfare going on. Pick any war in the last 20 years and it was reenacted by mother nature. And this in addition to heavy rains that flooded streets and brought the vehicular infrastructure to a complete standstill for a time.  But this was the overture to the series of storms that occurred over the course of two days, ending today, which is comparable to Hurricane Kyrill in February 2007, and caused severe damage throughout all of Germany. More on that and a pair of sports-related items in the Files’ Newsflyer.

Video of the Storm

Kyrillian-sized storm cripples Germany:

Local Flooding in Cologne, Rostock and Berlin. Downed trees in the Ruhr River area, northern Hesse and Saxony-Anhalt. Train services suspended. Power outages everywhere. This was a familiar sign when Kyrill brought all of Germany to a complete standstill in 2007. Yet with the storm system sweeping through Germany yesterday and today, it brought back memories of the event. Sweltering heat gave way to golfball-sized hail, high winds and torrential downpour that caused critical damage to many cities throughout Germany. Fallen trees and flooding caused several raillines to suspend services, including the hardest hit area, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the German railways suspended all services statewide yesterday for the fourth time since 2007. Officials there are predicting services to return to normal by the weekend. Stations in Essen, Dusseldorf and Cologne were cut off from the rest of the rail network. Raillines between Berlin, Hamburg and places to the north and west were either closed down or rerouted. Over 100,000 travelers were stranded or had to find alternatives, which didn’t fare better with motorways being blocked due to downed trees and other objects.  Damage is estimated to be more than $135 million. News sources are predicting a clean-up effort taking up to more than a week to complete; this includes restoring the infrastructure affected by the storm. More information and photos can be found here.

Hamburger SV Handball Team to Fold?

Once deemed as the one of the powerhouses of German handball, especially after winning the Champions League Title last year, the handball team from Hamburg’s days as a Premere League team may be numbered. Faced with a 2.7 million Euro deficit (ca. $4.4 million), no president since the resignation of Andreas Rudolph in May and with that, the team’s main sponsor withdrawing its financial support, the team was denied entrance to the first and second leagues. Its last attempt to save face and be allowed to play next season in the Premere League is to overturn the decision by the German Handball League through the arbitration panel. The decision should take place on Wednesday. Should the panel uphold the decision or Hamburg withdraw its appeal, the team will be forced to play in the Regional League (3rd League) in the next season. In addition, the team will not be allowed to participate in the European Cup in the next season, despite finishing fourth in the standings. Melsungen would replace the spot left vacant. And lastly, the team will most likely file for bankruptcy, which could lead to the club being liquidated, should no one step in with money to help them. Such a free fall would be catastrophic, as Hamburg has competed well against the likes of the 2014 Season and German Cup champions, THW Kiel, as well as Berlin, Rhine-Neckar Lions, and the 2014 Champions League winners, SG Flensburg-Handewitt. More information can be found here.

World Cup begins tomorrow

Germany and the US are two of 32 teams that will go head-to head with the competitors beginning tomorrow. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will take place in Brazil at 12 several locations, with the Championship to take place on July 13th in Rio de Janeiro. For the first time since 1930, all the teams winning a World Cup will participate in the competition (Argentina, England, France, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Germany).  Spain is the returning champion, having edged the Netherlands in the 2010 Cup. This is the fifth time the Cup is taking place in South America, which has been won by teams from that continent the last four times. That means Brazil is the heavy favorites to take the Cup. More interesting is the pool play, in particular, Group G, where the US and Germany are in. They are scheduled to meet on 26 June in Recife. The stakes are high for the head coaches of both teams, who are both looking for their first World Cup title. Jurgen Klinnsmann is being criticized for the American team being Europeanized, which could be his downfall if his team does not make it. Joachim Loewe is hoping that winning the title will improve his chances of a contract extension before 2016. With both teams hobbling with players banged up from regular season competition, it will be interesting to see how the match will turn out, let alone, who will go far in the Cup. More on the Cup to come in the Files. If you want to know more about the tournament, click here for details.