Move Over or Fork It Over! New Laws for Rettungsgassen on German Highways

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An example of a Rettungsgasse on Motorway 659 as an Ambulance makes way toward the accident scene. Photo taken by LosHawlos for wikicommons

New Fines plus Points in Flensburg and Driving Ban to be enforced for blocking emergency lane on German highways. Even for driving and using E-devices. 

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BERLIN/FLENSBURG-  Many people travelling in Germany probably don’t know the term Rettungsgasse, especially if they hear this word on the radio while listening to the traffic report and at the same time, travelling to their destination. A Rettungsgasse is an emergency lane that is created by travellers on German highways, so that police, rescue crews and paramedics can travel to the scene of the accident as quickly as possible. This emergency lane is created when an accident occurs, causing traffic on the highway to come to a halt. While this practice is used mostly on motorways (Autobahn), expressways (Schnellstrasse) and other roads that have multiple lanes, many people don’t know how to create one. An illustration below provides you with some steps on how to create one (hint: Spur is German for lane)

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Image courtesy of Inga Jablonsky

To sum up, drivers are to move off to the side as far as possible to allow passage and save the lives of those affected by an accident.

Yet many drivers are unaware of the fact that when there is a jam on the highway and cars in front of them and crews travelling with blue lights and a Martin horn, that they should move off to the side and let them pass. For a Martin horn, it sounds like this:

In some cases, drivers have blocked Rettungsgassen on the highways, thus hindering crews from going to the scene.

Some of whom, as seen in the video above, have used Smartphones and mobile phones to photograph or even film the scene of the accident.

Effective immediately, it will cost drivers doing one of the two or both more than just money. The German Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure (BMVDI) has passed a pair of much stricter laws involving both traffic violations.  For blocking the Rettungsgasse and not paying attention to the sirens of the police and rescue crews, one can expect a fine of at least 200 Euros and two points will be added to the driver’s record at the Office of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg. According to the laws in Flensburg passed in 2014, eight or more points means revokation of the driver’s license and possibly retraining on how to drive at the expense of the offender.

In this case, being a spectator, texting while not paying attention or just intentionally blocking the emergency lane will be very costly.  Not building a Rettungsgasse constitutes a fine of 200 Euros plus two Flensburg points. Not building this important lane when the crews go to the scene means 240 Euros, two points and a one month ban from driving.  Blocking the lane while causing damage and endangering lives means a fine of 320 Euros, two or more Flensburg Points, driving ban PLUS confiscation of the vehicle and other items as evidence to be used in court AND possible prosecution!

If you use your electronic device, regardless of whether you are driving or in a traffic jam and/or forming a Rettungsgasse, you can expect a 100 Euro fine and a Flensburg point. Endangering others constitute 150 Euros and two points. Causing damage means 200 Euros, two points and a one month driving ban!

For both offences, the sanctions have increased by more than two-fold as there have been more and more reports of drivers blocking the Rettungsgasse both intentionally as well as unintentionally, many of whom had been either texting or using devices to film accidents. Even doing the latter alone has caused numerous accidents and fatalities in general. According to studies by the Center for Disease Control, an average of nine people die every day from accidents caused by distracted driving, over 1000 are injured.

But the sharp increase in fines and sanctions for blocking the Rettungsgasse comes as officials are cracking down on drivers who do not create these lanes during traffic jams, even if no accidents are reported; most of the traffic jams occur on heavily travelled motorways in the western half of Germany as well as in large cities. This includes the Motorways 3, 6, 7, and 9, as well as motorways and highways in cities, like Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg.  But even more so, the introduction of tougher sanctions comes in response to the freak bus accident and fire last year near Münchberg in northern Bavaria, along the Motorway 9. 18 people died, including the driver, who rescued as many passengers as possible before succumbing to the smoke and burns. According to reports, drivers blocked the Rettungsgasse and took pictures with their phones, thus hampering rescue efforts.

With the introduction of tougher measures, drivers will be forced to pay more attention to the road and not with their electronic devices. Especially when traffic jams occur on the multi-lane highways will drivers be forced to assume the worse and create the emergency lane to allow for rescue crews to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

As a county engineer in Iowa once said: These laws are there to save lives.  It is hoped that these measures will get the driver to think about the lives of others at risk while driving.

So please, pay attention, put the phone down and please the people in front of you. You will do yourself and them a big favor and save yourself some money, time and your car. Thank you.

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Emergency lane laws are similar to the ones in the United States, Canada and other countries. The Move-over Laws that have been enacted since the 1990s require drivers to move over one lane to provide a lane’s width of space for people at the scene of an accident, car repair or any other sort of emergency. Failure to comply can result in the loss of driving privileges for at least a half year in many areas plus fines in the hundreds.

Drivers not originating from Germany but are caught by police for traffic violation are asked to either pay up at the scene where they are pulled over, or they receive a letter addressed to their home countries requesting the fine to be paid. In these cases the point system is usually not enforced. In worst cases, they may be taken into custody at the police precinct.

 

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The Problem with Soccer in Germany Part 2: Fan Behavior- How the German Soccer Leagues should crack down on fan violence

Could basketball and handball surpass soccer as the most favorite sport to watch in Germany? It may be the case, after watching this basketball game between Bayreuth and Oldenbourg in the German Basketball Premier League in Dec. 2010. Bayreuth lost a heartbreaker on its home court 85-84.

Going to a soccer game on a Saturday at a German soccer stadium is a ritual for at least 10 million fans. For 90 minutes they enjoy the company of their friends and family, cheering for their favorite team, booing at the referees for making a wrong call, singing and supporting their team with slogans and fan waving, and when their favorite team scores the winning goal, they race to the entrance of the locker room, cheering and congratulating the team on a job well done.
Yet looking at soccer in Germany this year, the scene presents a rather different story. Instead of cheering for their team, fans are taunting them even if they lose, throwing firecrackers and smoke bombs in the stands and on the field. Fights are breaking out between the fans of both teams, while some are chasing the fan bus, throwing stones at the windows and harassing the driver. And the most climatic event to signal the end of Premier League Play was on 16 May in the relegation play between Hertha BSC Berlin and Fortuna Duesseldorf, when thousands of fans stormed the soccer field to celebrate Duesseldorf’s promotion to the top flight league and Berlin’s relegation to the second tier league- but with two minutes left in regulation! It took 20 minutes to bring the fans back to their seats before the game could continue, which had contain so much chaos, and as a consequence, involved the German government afterwards. While the team from Hertha filed a complaint and demanded that the game be replayed, it fell on deaf ears on the part of the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the DFB Supreme Court. Still, it is a cause for alarm in Germany as the problem with fans, the team and even the law enforcement has reached a point where tougher measures will have to be made before the start of the 2012/13 season.
Normally one will see such fan behavior in American sports, as millions of viewers have seen some events that have led to questions about the role of fans and athletes. The best example can be found in the event on 19 November, 2004 at a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, where a brawl among the players gave a fan an incentive to throw an object at Ron Artest, who raced into the stands to beat him up. Other fans and players jumped in and a minute later, the court was loaded with people throwing punches and kicking each other. The game was called off with less than a minute left. Artest and at least 10 other players other received suspensions of up to a year; the fan instigating the attack was banned from attending any professional basketball games at the place where the brawl took place- Detroit-for life.
In Germany, many people take pride in the country’s sports, whether it is handball or basketball. While watching a game in each sport in the last two years- a basketball game in Bayreuth (Bavaria) and a handball game in Flensburg, the mood of the fans was spectacular, as there was cheering and jeering, people meeting new people, and there were no firecrackers thrown in the sporting complexes, let alone fans running onto the court to hinder a game. Even the cheerleaders and the DJs managed to involve the fans and provide them with a spectacular show, to make the trip to the game worthwhile. An example of such sportsmanship between the fans and the players, were found in a game between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Gummersbach on 27 April, 2011, a game which Flensburg won in a seesaw match 29-25.

Yet the fan problem in German soccer has become so dire that the DFB, German soccer leagues, the federal government, police and its labor unions, and other parties are coming together this summer to discuss ways to crack down on fan violence. Already conclusive is the fact that fines and sanctions against teams, whose fans instigated the violence, have had very little effect on curbing the violence. Banning fans from attending any soccer games, as has been stressed by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich after the disastrous  game between Duesseldorf and Berlin may not be the most effective as fans can find creative ways of entering the soccer stadium masquerading as someone else and causing trouble there as well. The police and its union have strongly recommended that each of the 54 top flight teams and the DFB provide security fees and take points off the standings for teams instigating the violence. Yet many teams may not afford high fees for security, and for some who are cutting costs in order to compete, security is one of those aspects that has been on the chopping block.
The most viable solution to the increase in fan violence is to combine all the variants and add a five-year ban from competing on the national and international level, leaving them stuck in the Regionalliga (the fourth league) to set an example for other teams to clean up their act and be square with their fans, while at the same time, demand that each team entering the top three leagues to have strict security measures in place for every game and tournament. This includes taking finger prints and facial scans from each fan entering a sports stadium and having a database for them so that they can be tracked, scanning them for all forms of firecrackers and any materials that could potentially cause a fire, and even involving the German military at places where violence is the norm at the soccer games. In the case of the 2012 season so far, that would mean cities like Frankfurt and the surrounding areas, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Karlsruhe, where reports of violence have been recorded the most, would have military presence.  A record of the violence during the 2011/12 soccer season can be found here. The last part is a common practice in regions prone to violence, like the Middle East and Africa, yet it seems like the trend has arrived here, which makes more law enforcement through the police and army a necessary and not a luxury.  Should teams not afford strict security measures, they would not be allowed to compete in the top three leagues.
In the event that violence breaks out during or even after the soccer game, a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” rule should be enforced on all teams, keeping track of the record of violence committed by fans of the teams as well as scrutinizing the teams that are unable to control them. First strike means fines in the six digits and three points taken off, second strike means doubling of fines and six points taken off and the third strike means automatic relegation one league lower. If the event happens the fourth time, a five-year ban should be imposed. This rule is based on a law in the US dealing with drunk driving that was passed in the 1990s, which exists in most of the states- first strike meaning heavy fines, second strike meaning revoking the driving license and the third strike meaning jail time, in some cases, permanently. Yet its origins come from America’s favorite past time sport, baseball.  A ban from attending any soccer game for those committing the violence should be enforced, but the responsibility of keeping order at a soccer game lies solely with the two teams competing with each other. Therefore, one should consider the punishment for each insubordination a punishment for all involved.  While these measures are probably the harshest and it may contrabate the Constitutional Laws, resulting in the involvement of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe on many occasions, but given the sophistication of the violence committed at German Soccer games, if even the German government is stepping up pressure for action, then the situation is at the point where inaction is no longer an option.
If there is a silver lining to all the violence, especially at the end of the season, it is fortunate that there have been no deaths or severe injuries reported. But it takes a tragedy to change that. It may not be the one similar to the infamous soccer stadium fire at Bradford City (in the UK) 0n 11 May, 1985, but one death will change the way we think about the game of soccer in Germany. We have already seen that in other places, as one can see with the violence at a soccer game at Port Said in Egypt on 1 February of this year, where over 70 people were killed. Unfortunately, Germany has taken one step closer to the danger zone and should the violence persist by the time the whistle blows to start the next season, we could see our first casualty recorded, regardless of which league game it is. When that happens, it will change the face of German soccer forever to a point where if there is a soccer game, the only way we will see it is on TV…….. as a virtual computer game!

 

 

Flensburg Files Fast Fact

Thestadium fire at Bradford City was (supposedly) caused by someone dropping a cigarette into the wooden bleachers full of rubbish, causing a fire that engulfed the stadium in less than five minutes. 56 people died in the fire and over 260 were injured. The fortunate part was the fact that no barriers to the soccer field were in place, like it is in today’s soccer stadiums in general, which allowed most of the fans to escape through the soccer field. It was a tragic end to the team’s promotion to the second tier of the British Premier League. The stadium was rebuilt in several phases (finishing in 2001), including replacing the wooden bleachers with steel and concrete. Since the fire, a ban of wooden bleachers have been enforced both in Britain as well as the rest of Europe.

 

Flensburg Files’ Fragen Forum:

After reading this article and watching the clips, here are a couple questions for you to mull over and discuss with other readers:

1. How would you approach the problem of fan violence in soccer stadium? Which measures are the most effective in your opinion: fines and other sanctions against teams, finger print scanning and keeping a database of the fans, point reduction in the football standings, banning teams with fan trouble from competing in certain leagues, or a combination of some of the measures? If none of the suggestions work, what would you suggest?

2. Do you think handball and basketball will surpass soccer in Germany in terms of popularity? Or will soccer remain a household name, like America has its household name sports of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey?

3. Do you think fan violence is a universal problem in sports or is it focused on selective sports?

 

Please submit your answers in the Comment section, which is here after this article.  Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you readers!

 

 

 

 

 

The Pope’s Visit from the Columnist’s Point of View- live in Erfurt:

The flag of the Vatican hanging outside the window of a townhouse near Augustiner Kloster


There is a book that was released a few years ago entitled “1000 Places to visit before you die”, providing the reader with the top 1000 places that people should see in their lifetimes; among them include the Galapagos, Great Barrier Reef, the Alps, and of course cities like New York, Cairo, Rome and the Vatican.

Perhaps they should release a book on 1000 things you must do before you die sometime in their lifetime.

Each of us has a “To Do” List containing at least 200 things that we should do in our lifetime, whether it is bungee jumping, meeting an important statesman or even accomplishing feats not known to man. Nine out of ten of us- myself included- have the encounter with the Pope on our list.

Consider that mission completed.

Friday the 23rd of September, which naturally coincided with the first day of autumn, was the day Pope Benedikt XVI came to Thuringia, and everyone in the city of Erfurt, as well as Leinefelde and Etzelbach were busying themselves for his arrival,  which included special deals on Benedikt merchandise, such as Benedictus beer, traditional Thuringian specialties, and even chocolate products bearing the Pope’s name. Sections of the autobahn A-38 were blocked off to provide buses with parking opportunities for the vesper service in Etzelbach. Even sections of Erfurt’s beloved city center, including Domplatz (where the cathedral is located) was barricaded to prepare for mass services the following morning. This included a corridor between the Airport and Augustiner Kloster, located north of Krämerbrücke, where policemen and women from all over the country were lining up to escort the Pope and his constituents to their destination.

Friday was supposed to be the day to take care of some university-related errands in Erfurt, but given the high security and restrictions in traffic because of sections being blocked off, it had to be put off to another time. But it did provide me with an opportunity to see and get some pics of the Pope himself, as he was scheduled to meet the cardinals and other important church officials at the Augustiner Kloster.  It would be a one of a kind event, something to share with the rest of the family.

It was 10:30 in the morning at Erfurt Central Railway Station, people were going about their business, selling their goods and getting to their destination by train. All was normal with the exception of policemen patrolling the platform to ensure that there was no trouble.  While no one really showed it, there was a chill of excitement in the air. The Pope was coming and everyone wanted to make sure that his stay was a memorable one. After all, the region he was visiting was predominately Lutheran even though well over half of the population was either agnostic or atheist.  It was his plan to embrace the population in hopes that peace and prosperity dominated politics and products.

Domplatz fenced off
Behind the scenes at Domplatz: Preparing for Saturday morning mass

 

Arriving at Domplatz at 10:45, it was clear that everybody was gearing up for the Pope’s arrival. Already the pedestrian zone in front of the cathedral was fenced off in preparation for the holy mass service, scheduled for the next day at 9:00. Bleachers were already lined up and the speakers were being established so that all of Erfurt could listen to him that morning. The Pope was scheduled to land at the airport and be escorted by caravan to Augustiner Kloster, but given his seal tight schedule and the fact he was flying from Berlin, he was at least a half hour behind schedule when he arrived at the airport. But still, the city had to keep to the schedule and cored off the route at 11:00am, forcing street cars and traffic to make a wide detour around the city center. When an important figure, like the Pope, shows up in a city like Erfurt, it is not a good idea to go either by car or by public transport. If anything, the bike is the most viable option, given the city’s infrastructural landscape. But it was not a problem, as I had my bike with me, an eastern German brand Diamant black city bike going by the name of Galloping Gertie, and it was not a problem getting around, let alone parking it near the cathedral to attend the event. By the time the corridor was sealed off, I was on the north end, and like many others- journalists, photographers and innocent bystanders alike, it was more of a waiting game until the Pope’s caravan showed up.

The Pope's Motorcade at Domplatz

11:45am- the Pope arrives. Five cars and a van, escorted by police motor cycles and Germany’s version of the Secret Service.  It was obvious when the Pope was going to pass through when two different sets of squad vehicles passed through- the first were motorcycles to provide a signal to the police lining up that the route was no longer to be crossed. Five minutes later, three cars pass to provide a signal that the Pope and his caravan was coming.  Then came the caravan- a dozen police motorcycles followed by five black cars and a van- the Pope was in the fourth car and was waving at the crowd. Cameras were firing off photos like the paparazzi following a celebrity. It was no wonder why the Pope’s car was driving as fast as possible. While it was possible to see him waving, it was next to impossible to get a clear shot at him. The fortunate part of the whole deal was that I was able to photograph his car and film his motorcade passing by at the same time- a feat that can only be accomplished by an expert photographer/ journalist (barring any bragging rights with this statement).  After passing through down the sealed off corridor, I made my way back to the bike, which was parked on the other side of the corridor and it took over 45 minutes to get to as lines of police officers ensured that no one crossed until the Pope left the city center, which would not be before 2:00pm. The walk was worth it as I had a chance to meet those who wanted to see the Pope but were barricaded so far away that it was impossible to do.  Although I did eventually get to my bike, which was parked on the southeast end of the fenced off Domplatz, I found it nearly impossible to maneuver around the city center given the high security and masses of people roaming around the streets. But it did provide me with an opportunity to do two things:

Benedikt XVI mugs at a store near Fischmarkt
  1. Check out the small booths that sprouted up in the city center.  With the Pope’s visit came many opportunities to sell knickknacks bearing the seal of the Pope on there- whether they were beer mugs (which I have more than enough in my china hutch), T-shirts with a sheep on there with the Pope’s name in vein (I have plenty of those in my stock, including a couple I picked up during my USA visit) to Benedictus Beer with the Pope’s name on it (I’ll prefer my Flensburger beer,  thank you.) And while the Pope had already mentioned to a crowd in Berlin a night earlier that modernization and consumption was poisonous to today’s society, it seems that many people did not listen to him and decided to make that easy dollar in an attempt to show that they appreciate his visit. This definitely spoils the meaning of his visit, which is to listen to him and take something valuable from his sermon with him. I sometimes wonder if everyone will listen and not just the few, who like me do not fancy things that clutter up our space in our lives…. Eventually I did take a souvenir home with me- a box of Canadian chocolates (of course, with the Pope’s seal on it), courtesy of a candy-export company in western Thuringia. Unlike the American counterpart, this sortiment tasted creamier and more like fudge, which was mouth-watering for someone with a sweet tooth.  For me, it is more appropriate to try something new than to take something back to show to everyone that he/she was there.

 

Around the corner at the pharmacy near Augustiner Kloster (where the two police officers were standing)
  1. Find another pocket for some photo opportunities for the Pope’s trip back to the airport for his trip to Etzelbach for his evening vesper. While the police had formed a line to provide a corridor for his trip to and from Augustiner, it did not necessarily mean that it was impossible to get some closer shots of him. People living in apartments above the corridor were probably the biggest winners as far as seeing him live is concerned, while those who were on those narrow side streets right up to the barricade came in a close second. I was one of those who benefitted from the latter as I found another spot which was closer than the one I had to put up with on the north end of Domplatz.  Despite the fact that he was behind schedule, we were treated with an even longer motorcade at around 1:45pm, as he and at least a dozen cardinals and bishops were enroute back to the airport to catch a helicopter flight to Etzelbach for a vesper that evening. There, the Pope was in a limousine bearing the white and gold flag of the Vatican City, the smallest city-state in the world with only 1,000 people. Unlike the route to Augustiner, he rolled down his window and waved at a huge crowd as the limo was mastering the sharp corners in slow motion. Sadly however, my poor Pentax had to keel over and expire due to low batteries, but it did not matter. Seeing the person up that close (at the most about 50 meters) and smiling to a crowd brought my day, as well as those who wanted to see him for the first (and perhaps last time for many).  I don’t know if anyone I knew had come that close, including a friend and former classmate of mine, who went to the Pope’s sermon in Colorado in 1993 (Pope John Paul II led the Church at that time).  But it was one that is worth remembering and justifying marking off my list of things to do before leaving this planet.

There is one caveat that I do regret and that is meeting him eye to eye. Despite his sermon in Erfurt, where he favored tradition over modernization,  peace over materialism and greed, and harmony over inequality, if there was an opportunity to ask him one question, it would be this: How do you see society in general, from your point of view and that of God’s, and what would you do to change it? It is a general question, but one that requires a lot of thought which goes beyond whatever sermon he has given to date and beyond the scandals that he and the Church has endured over the past two years. While chances of that ever happening are a million to one, maybe when reading this article, he might consider at least answering it when doing his next sermon.

FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACTS:

  1. As many as 160,000 people attended the masses of the Pope in Germany including 30,000 in Erfurt, 65,000 in Berlin and 25,000 in Freiburg im Breisgau. Most striking is the fact that in the eastern part of the country, around 60% of the population is not religious at all; especially in Berlin and parts of central and eastern Thuringia. And the statistics can be clearly indicated through a poll conducted by the eastern Thuringian newspaper, OTZ (based in Erfurt) where over 61% of the population were indifferent about the Pope’s visit and only 17% were happy that he came.
  2. The visit did not come without incident. In Berlin, the Pope was confronted by thousands of people demanding a solution to the problem of sexual abuse in the church. Since the scandal broke out in Bavaria two years ago, the Pope has come under fire for not handling the issue properly although many pastors and bishops have resigned amid scandals both there as well as elsewhere in the country and beyond.  In Erfurt, a man opened fire at a group of officers while attempting to break through the barriers. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the shooter who fired four volleys was apprehended.
  3. While security was tight, the police should be commended for handling the visit in a professional manner, which includes helping guests find their way to their destinations, answering questions about the visit and at times escorting people across the sealed off corridors to help them get to their destinations. This was evident in the photos taken below during the Pope’s trip through Erfurt.

 

FLENSBURG FILES’ LINKS TO THE POPE’S VISIT AND PHOTOS CAN BE FOUND HERE:

Links (Note- sublinks available here as well):

http://www.mdr.de/thueringen/papstbesuch/papstbesuch120.html

 

http://www.otz.de/web/zgt/suche/detail/-/specific/Erfurter-Domplatz-zum-Papstbesuch-im-Zeitraffer-1022102618

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15403923,00.html

 

Photos of the event taken by the columnist on 23 September 2011:

Police lining up at the front of the motorcade at Domplatz

 

Pope's plane arriving at Erfurt Airport

 

Pope spectators waiting for his arrival at Domplatz (taken in front of the barricade)

 

Directions to Augustinerkloster (due east from Domplatz)

 

Police helping visitors find their way to their destinations