Raddeln Unterwegs Mit Dem Radler

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Sunday afternoon on a bike trail going through the Black Forest. You and a group of campers carrying backpacks are on the trail with their bikes, each one with an Alsterwasser (EN: lemon sherry)  in his hand, all are quatsching about black bears purging their campgrounds with one of them carrying away a Coleman cooler full of beer with the handle in his mouth, another making his home in a kiddie pool cooling off, and another one chasing the campers on their bikes out of the forest- and through the windows of a liquour store- all underage and their bikes banged up in the end! All of the sudden, as one of the campers was talking about how the bear threw his bike over the fence and onto the property owned by a steel thief (who snatches the bike and tries selling the parts for the price of scrap metal),  you ask him if he is insured. The answer is no, but the response comes as follows: “You better because we have a beer on the trail!”   Looking ahead, anticipating that it was a case of the best Lammsbräu Radler, they see a great big black bear in the middle of the trail! And he is indeed guarding the Lammsbräu, wanting to try it because of its sweetness.

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By Diginatur (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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As an annoyed native speaker of English, on the run for your life as the bear chases you and the campers, your response: “That is not a beer, you idiot! That was a BEAR!!! Bear as in Bae- AAA- ERRRR!”

As a baffled camper, he responds with (______________).

While the campers are on the run with a bear on their tails, their only true insurance is the fact that they are on their bikes and can cycle as fast as they can. Otherwise they would have to climb up a tree. But while the bear story reminds the non-native speaker of English (esp. the German-speaking people) that there is a difference between bear and beer, both phonetically speaking as well as semantic-wise, our topic for this article is cycling in Germany and ways to keep your bike safe from even the craziest of thieves.

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As I wrote last year in the Files, the bicycle is the second most common form of transportation in Germany behind public transport. Over 72 million residents in Germany own a bike, whereas 40.2% of bikers use this precious form of transportation on a daily basis. 49.5% of users take the bike at least once a week.  Like the Danes who bike in Copenhagen and other cities, the bike is, to the Germans, also like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bread is just not good enough with butter. Peanut butter is OK if you want to offer the conductor of the Deutsche Bahn that as a peace-offering for not having a train ticket in your possession (because the ticket machine at the station you left is kaputt). But with jelly, it’s sweet. Biking is almost free, you are independent and can get from point A to point B. You can see the rarest places on the narrow streets of Flensburg, bike along the Baltic-North Sea Canal from coast to coast and see ships and bridges galore. You can take your family camping just by crossing the Fehmarn Bridge from Bad Oldesloe and Oldenburg and camp at one of the island’s several campgrounds, while biking from the bridge to the ferry at Puttgarden in a matter of a half hour. In other words, biking is healthy, easy and fun.

Yet speaking from experience, when something happens to your bike, whether it is theft or vandalism, it takes away the fun from the form of transport, like a person switching your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with one with just butter or peanut butter. It’s simply not good.  A while back, I had a chance to ask some bike experts and other bike enthusiasts about how they can keep their bikes safe, I had a few answers that will surprise you. Here are some facts that will help you keep your bike safe and in use for many years to come.

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Typical of a used bike. This one I had while living in Bayreuth in 2009.

Buy a used bike while in a city- This fact is the norm if living in a big city, like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or even the Ruhr Area. Bike thefts are more common as the population increases. Therefore it is unwise to present yourself with a brand new Stevens bike when commuting to work in a big city unless you have extra protection. Used bikes are inexpensive and if you know how to repair it properly, it can last a long time.

Learn to fix your bike yourself- While there are some parts, such as a tire rim, gear system or even the lighting system where you need professional experts to fix, sometimes incremental fixes, such as replacing a tire, oiling the chains, replacing the headlight and odometer can save a trip to the bike shop. If you are a novice, a repair book or even some advice from a friend who fixes bikes can help.

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Tune your bike regularily- If you bike long distances- be it commuting or going on bike tours- it is important to have your bike inspected to ensure that any problems detected can be solved right away. Pending on how often you bike, inspections are best done 3-4 times a year, especially if you bike in the winter time. Trust me, people bike in the snow to work in the winter time. I’ve done this myself.

Insure your bike- Germany is not like Switzerland when it comes to insurance. While that country obliges you to have the Vignette, Germany may end up using the Swiss example in the near future, for even though insurance is not obligatory unless you have Haftpflicht to protect your bike from theft at home, it is wise to have it just in case. This includes the ARAG and DEVK, which has a complete coverage of bike insurance, covering you from theft and accidents. Other insurances have this as part of their main insurance plan. You should check this out when you have a bike and are often on the trail with it.

Keep your proof of evidence- For reasons stated in the next tip, when buying your bike, make sure you keep your proof of purchase and all information pertaining to it. In case anything happens to the bike, you may need it. Sometimes the bike store where you purchased it may have that information in their databank in case you don’t have it on hand.

Code your bike- Steel and rubber are becoming the commodity that thieves and desperados are taking advantage of, both shamelessly as well as professionally. That’s why the police encourage  you to code your bike so that the information is registered in the files and in case your bike gets stolen, they can track it down in a hurry.  They are effective, and a person can get his/her bike back without having to worry about buying a new one, as seen in the clip. The only caveat to this is by the time the bike is found, all that is left is the frame as the rest are taken for the purpose of (….). If a person is desperate to steal a rubber handle of a bike horn, he/she is willing to do everything. But being safe than sorry, coding means security against such theft. The police and other authorities have coding sessions on a regular basis, so ask if you are interested.

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Know your bike- Most victims of bike theft don’t know their bike is stolen until it’s too late. One second the bike is in the bike stand, the next second it is stolen. If this happens and you report it to the police right away (which you should), make sure you know your bike and its description to the finest detail. This includes providing a photo of your bike, however, it also includes what your bike has for features, such as the brand, color, features but also other items, such as dirt, scratches, stickers, etc. A few months back, my bike was stolen, forcing me to report it to the police. I was amazed at the number of features I could remember on my bike, as seen in the picture above- can you identify some unusual features my bike has? …..

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Know your neighbors and contact them- Your neighbors are a primary commodity, especially when they see you cycling and know what bike you have. Therefore, in case something happens to your bike, inform them right away. They will keep their eyes out and ensure that your bike is safe and sound. Most of the time, they are willing to cooperate with the police and other authorities should the theft be reported and that be a necessity.  I was fortunate that one of my neighbors in the apartment block, who had been informed of someone stealing the bike, found it a few blocks away while I was reporting the incident. However not all stories have happy endings. Therefore, take good care of your bike and….

Lock your bike if not in use- It takes a second for your bike to disappear. It is stupid to have your bike stolen- stupider when you don’t lock it beforehand. Two seconds with a key saves a whole day at the police station reporting it, period.

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Flensburg Points apply to the bike- Like the car, the bike is a vehicle and therefore, the rules of the road apply to the cyclists, even if they are on the bike-autobahn and other bike trails. Obey and you won’t have to pay for a Flensburg point.

Use your head, wear a helmet!- While some people believe helmets can be harmful than helpful, here’s one story a professor mentioned to his students at the beginning of a lecture, a while back: On his way to his lecture, he was involved in an accident with a car. He suffered a concussion after the impact but survived thanks to the helmet he wore. Can you imagine what would have happened had he NOT worn a helmet? If you are a fool, try it. But if your life as well as your family and friends matter, then maybe you should think and wear it! 80 Euros for a helmet is better than 80,000 Euros for funeral costs.

Biking can be a lot of fun for yourself as well as the family. Already it is the second main form of transportation behind public transportation, regardless of purpose. It is just a matter of following a few points regarding taking care of the bike, and the vehicle can be your friend for life. Bikes deserve to be treated just like a horse. They can get you from point A to point B, but they deserve the treatment as any pet- or car. If the bike fails and you are tired of it, give it to someone else, or do like I did to a used one: tie it to a light post and allow someone to take it for his own. It was a custom I invented when leaving a university for another job offer elsewhere in Germany- not just as a way of leaving a mark for what I did there, but for someone willing to take my used bike for his/her purpose, while purchased my current bike, a black Diamant with the name of Galloping Gertie, which has not failed me since then. Sometimes, a good brand name plus good maintenance goes a long way, especially after the thousands of kilometers she has accumulated in such a short time. You can do the same too. 🙂

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A Tribute to Helmut Schmidt

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Former German Chancellor handled the RAF Affair and the NATO Double-Pact during his regime (1974-1982) dead at 96.

HAMBURG- Helmut Schmidt, whose political career lasted for over 60 years both in and outside government and left a positive image for Germany in terms of international and domestic policies has died. Schmidt passed away this afternoon at a hospital in Hamburg after complications from a surgery in September to remove a blood clot. He was 96 years old. Schmidt was a member of the German Social Democratic Party from 1946 until 1982, which included his roles as Minister of Defense  (1969-1972), as well as Minister of Economics and later Finance (1972-1974), all under Chancellor Willi Brandt. When he resign amid an espionage scandal in 1974, Schmidt took power as German Chancellor and ruled the country with a coalition featuring his party and the Free Liberals. Schmidt became the only Chancellor to lose his office through a Vote of No Confidence on 1 October, 1982, thus ushering in the era of Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democratic Party. The reason was the FDP’s alliance with the CDU, which made Schmidt a lame duck. Kohl still holds the record of being the longest reigning Chancellor, ruling for 16 years until 1998. During his time in power, Schmidt championed the strengthening and expansion of politics on the European level, including the introduction of a European currency (which was eventually introduced in 1999 and replaced the German Mark in 2002), as well as fostered domestic spending to help the unemployed, expand health insurance, and pass health and safety laws. He put an end to the reign of terror caused by the group Red Army Faction, and his policies involving the Cold War, led to the NATO Double-Track Policy, where mid-range missiles were stationed in West Germany, causing protests in many cities. Schmidt was loved and hated by many within and outside Germany because of his policies and his comments on certain events, especially on the international front. However, after he stepped down in 1982, Schmidt became an avid writer and editor, having been co-publisher of the German newspaper Die Zeit and authored several books, mainly focusing on politics and his memoirs about his time in Bonn and Hamburg. However, there are a few more facts that we don’t know about Schmidt. And therefore, we have the:

Large Blog ImageFAST FACTS:

 

  1. Upon his death, Helmut Schmidt became the oldest living former chancellor, having outlived Konrad Adenauer by five years. Adenauer died in 1967 at the age of 91. He has also outlived the oldest former US Presidents, Gerald Ford (1972-76) and Ronald Reagan (1981-88), both of whom lived to be 93 years old. They died in 2006 and 2004, respectively.
  2. During the Great Flood of 1962, which hammered Hamburg and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Schmidt, who was Hamburg’s senator, initiated moves by taking charge of the Federal Police and the Germany Army and directed them to the flooded areas, rescuing people stranded on top of houses and providing aid where needed. This overstepped boundaries and led to a change in the German Constitution which forbade the use of federal forces unless deemed a necessity. The flooding and natural disasters were added as a necessity in 1968.
  3. Schmidt was an avid pianist, having recorded music for several composers from the 1980s on.
  4. Schmidt was an avid smoker, having smoked heavily, both privately as well as in public and especially on TV shows. This was his signature for his character which was carried all the way to the end, despite controversies involving him violating smoking bans.
  5. Schmidt was the automatic go-to guy to talk to when asked about several political themes, both on the German as well as the international fronts. This included his views on the environment, whose opposition to shutting down nuclear power plants and his comment on global warming being hysterically overheated stirred a lot of controversies, but conceded that a population explosion is the biggest threat to mankind because of the potential exhaustion of resources. He was on many talk shows, having been interviewed in German and English.
  6. He was the focus of a Loriot caricature in the 1970s, when he was at his height of popularity amid several scandals and incidents affecting Germany.
  7. Schmidt’s interest in politics came during his experience serving the Army during the Third Reich and witnessing a trial that was considered biased and brutal, as the Nazis ordered the execution of conspirators responsible for trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler, including Claus von Stauffenberg, whose streets in many cities were later named in his honor.

Helmut Schmidt, despite the controversies and the opposition from others, was considered the elder statesman with open arms. Whenever he was asked about certain political current events, he was quick to provide some food for thought, something for people to think about and discuss, something for politicians to think about before enacting or vetoing any measures being debated first in Bonn and later in Berlin. Schmidt was considered the face of Germany in the 1970s but is really the face of European politics and international affairs, for his policies and advocacy for a more European model of politics, while ensuring that countries are able to keep their sovereignty and maintain a democratic regime in tact. Cooperation was for him the key to a peaceful environment, something that was anything but that during the Cold War, but was later carried out when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union warmed up and eventually, when the two divided Germanys became one in 1990. Schmidt made and maintained ties with many politicians, many of them are still alive today. But despite warnings of smoking being unhealthy, Schmidt was unphased by it, for smoking was still for the intellectuals, and he provided that no matter where he went or who he talked with. Schmidt will be missed for his character and his guidance in international affairs, especially now, when we have bigger issues affecting Germany and we have to go on without him, or at least with the lessons he gave us.

Schmidt is survived by his daughter, Susanne, who has followed his father’s footsteps by working for Bloomberg Television, but is preceded in death by his wife Hannelore “Loki”, who died in 2010, and his infant son.  Leb wohl Herr Schmidt und vielen Dank für Ihre Beiträge und Mithilfe. Gott segnet Sie.

Helmut Schmidt Highlights:

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The Flensburg Point System: 60 years of Ensuring Safety in Germany

A surprise awaits you around the corner. Photo taken in February 2011

A situation where no one should be in but it is unavoidable: a driver travels on the Autobahn 10 encircling the capital of Germany, Berlin, going 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit (the maximum allowed is 120 kmph) and talking to a business partner on his cell phone. Suddenly right before turning off to head north on 115 in the direction of Charlottenburg, one of the city’s suburbs, he is blinded by a flash and almost puts his car into the ditch. However, he only fishtailed before straightening the car out on the entrance ramp and continuing onto his destination at a company located on Kufurstendamm near the center of the city, Mitte.  A week later at his home in Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony, home of Audi and Volkswagon, he receives a letter from the Berlin police department with his picture on there, looking very concentrated on his conversation with his business partner- a tall bleach blond female, with whom he had lunch, followed by completing that business proposal that no one really knows about- with his cell phone in his hand. According to the report, he went 150 kmph and was talking on his cell phone while driving- as proven in the photo. End result: 70 Euro fine, plus a point in the Flensburg system. Plus because of his record of wreckless driving and several violations in the past 2 years, he had accumulated 18 Flensburg points resulting in him relinquishing his driver’s license until he takes a course in disciplinary driving. “This is impossible!” he said and he vowed to contest that to the police and if needed, to the Department of Motor Vehicles (Das Kraftfahrzeugamt)  in Flensburg.

The Flensburg Point System is one of the most complex systems ever developed in the modern world. Introduced as a concept in 1957, it was designed to promote safety on Germany’s highways, as the country has always been known for fast cars, like BMW, Audi, and Volkswagon, a complex Autobahn network designed to get drivers to their destinations as quickly as possible, and fast drivers who want to show off their muscle with their car in front of the women. However, with the expansion of the Autobahn network combined with new innovation of cars to make them run faster, there are also drivers who use and abuse their cars and the roads, sometimes even shamelessly. The Flensburg Point System is designed to keep the drivers in line and have them obey the laws that are in effect; furthermore it stresses the importance of safety to the public as a whole.

How the system works is complex but can be explained in simpler languages. The point system is based on a  catalogue developed by the Department of Motor Vehicles where each offense committed by the driver is categorized based on severity. The more severe the crime, the higher the fine a person has to pay, and the more likely a person will receive a point in his personal file, which is stored at the office in Flensburg.  Some examples of such traffic offenses that occur in Germany include the following:

  • Going 25 kmph over the speed limit of 50 inside a town like Itzehoe: One must pay 80 Euros and will receive a point in the file.  If it was over 70 kph, then it is 480 Euros in fines, 4 Flensburg points and the driving license is revoked for three months.
  • Using the shoulder as a passing lane on an Autobahn in the direction of Würzburg: 75 Euros and 2 Flensburg points.
  • Driving down the wrong way on a divided highway (or dual carriageway) in Jena: 75 Euro fine and 4 Flensburg points
  • And for those who love to talk on their cell phones while driving: If caught, you are obliged to pay 40 Euros and you earn a Flensburg point in the process. Even if you are a cyclist and you get caught, you still have to pay 25 Euros but you do not receive any Flensburg points.

The point system is also used for reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol, where a person could earn as much as 7 Flensburg points, together with fines of up to 2000 Euros, loss of one’s driving license for up to five years, and even spend some time in prison.  So for example, we go back to the first example with the gentleman who was photographed for speeding while using the cell phone in the direction of Berlin’s suburb of Charlottenburg and we imagine he did have some wild concoctions with the bleach blond lady while talking business, like the B-52, Bloody Mary, Black Triangle, and/or the Flensburger Aquavit, and decides to drive back to his home in Wolfsburg. He starts weaving uncontrolably along the Autobahn 2 in the direction of Magdeburg when he is caught by the police near the town of Burg. After taking a breathilizer test, it was revealed that his blood alcohol level was 1.2, which is 10 times the legal limit. The end result (apart from being taken into custody): 7 Flensburg points, loss of his driving privileges, a massive fine, and 5 years probation. The loss of his driving license could span from the minimum of 6 months to five years, but it could also be permanent, should he have a horrible driving record. Had he been in an automobile wreck with that high alcohol content, he could face prison time plus civil action from those affected by his buzz driving.  In simpler languages, consumption of alcohol will cost you 7 points no matter the amount, plus more money out of your pocket- a “good” weight loss incentive for those wanting to dare this tact, which I personally would not do.

This leads to the question of how much is enough in terms of racking up the Flensburg points. As mentioned at the beginning, the man who raced to his meeting with the bleach blonde partner but was caught on camera for speeding and phoning had 18 points and therefore had his driving privileges revoked because he reached his maximum point value. How the point system is tallied is based on a category created by the Department of Motor Vehicles which is listed below:

1-3 Flensburg Points-  No sanctions

4-8 Flensburg Points- Voluntary driver’s training

8-13 Flensburg Points- Warning and recommendation to participate in the Voluntary driver’s training

14-17 Flensburg Points- Compulsory driver’s training

18 or more Flensburg Points- Loss of Driving License

One can actually reduce the number of Flensburg Points by taking part in the driver’s training seminar in order to improve the driving skills, or taking part in other forms of programs provided by the law enforcement agencies. The reduction of points depends on the number of points the driver accumulated. For example, if one has 7 Flensburg points, he can take part in the driver’s training and have 4 points taken off his record (which means he has 3 points in the end). If he has 12 Flensburg points, he can only deduct 2 if he participates in the program. This can only be done once every five years, but the points stay in the records for two years if and only if no other traffic offenses occur during that time.

If compared to the system in the USA, the Flensburg system is valid for all of Germany and as there are almost 50 million drivers in the country, their records are kept centrally in Flensburg and all traffic offenses are reported and sent there by the local authorities and the state department of traffic safety. This is impossible to do in the US given the size and population and therefore, the responsibility of regaulating the traffic laws and keeping track of the person’s records lies directly with the state governments, except when a person moves out of state, in which case, the records are transferred from the previous state of residence to the one where a person lives in. It is also obligatory for Americans to change their driving licenses when moving as unlike the German driving license (where there is just the biographical information and the place of origin on there), the American equivalent has the residing address of the license holder. In fact the only form of identification that is universal in the US is one’s passport, which can be used for showing ID when entering and exiting other countries. The problem with that is the fact that only half the US population holds a US passport, like yours truly. In Germany, the driving license serves as an ID card as well, except for the passport, which is required of all Germans (and Europeans in that matter since the country is part of the European Union), and can be used as ID both in and out of Germany.

And while Germans still indulge in alcohol, and in particular their beloved beer, the driving under the influence law is also universal, for the intention is to promote responsibility to those who enjoy a good wine but also have to drive. It is not like in many “dry states” where it is a sin to drink and drive. In many states like Iowa, Utah, and places in the Bible Belt (states located in the Central Plains, like Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the like), one can pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines just for having a drop of alcohol in one’s blood, while driving. For many it is considered paranoid and invades one’s own personal rights. But yet to many, alcohol consumption is considered a sin, even if a person is allowed to start drinking legally at the age of 21, which is five years older than those who drink alcohol in Germany. But the alcohol issue is another topic to be discussed at another time.

In celebration of 60 years of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Flensburg and to tout the success of the Flensburg Point System, an attempt to fool the public took place on April Fools Day, where there was a claim that there would be a giveaway in the point deductions to all drivers- 60,000 to be exact. This was retracted as a joke, but to many people, this attempt to fool the public into believing that the point system was providing indulgences to those who committed the gravest offenses was considered not appropriate. To the Evangelical Church, it was part of the religion. To many, having something like this would be a slap in the face of German culture, as the Flensburg Point System is part of the German culture and such indulgences would allow drivers to get away with “murder.”  In the end, the joke was on those who took part: the radio stations, the ministers of transportation, and even the Department of Motor Vehicles, which initiated the joke. However, it makes the author wonder how one could make the April’s Fool Joke more appropriate and not lead to discussions like it was presented on many forums. Sometimes jokes like this are best left alone and not carried out.

In the almost 12 years that the author has been residing in Germany, there was only one time that he was caught, which was for biking on the streetcar tracks going along the shared space corridore between the railway station and Domplatz cathedral in Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital, five years ago. While I was fined, I received no Flensburg point. However, had I listened to music while biking, I can guarantee you a point would be given, as some of my students have already received. While the violation is questionable as many cyclists have done this, the Flensburg Point System shows how effective traffic laws and safety are in Germany. And while some issues have arisen and become a major concern, like texting while driving, biking while listening to music, driving while phoning with your cell phone and “buzz driving”, the Flensburg Point System has adapted to these changing trends with the slogan: never mess with laws. Obey them for your sake and for others as well.  And while the police can apprehend many who are caught violating the traffic laws, for those who have gotten away with traffic violations so far, others have shown and should show others who wish to be reckless that whatever manoever is attempted is one that is illegal. Obey the laws and avoid the Flensburg points. And yes, point giveaways are fattening. They can be deducted by earning them through education, period!

Useful links:

https://www.kfz.net/autorecht/punkte-flensburg/

http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/bussgeldkatalog/so-funktioniert-das-neue-punktesystem-35765670.bild.html

 

Note: Black Triangle is a mixture of Coca-Cola or Vita Cola, a Czech or Eastern European beer and Vodka. It is named after a region in Eastern Germany where Saxony, Poland and the Czech Republic meet (nearest towns are Usti Na Ladem and Zittau), where it was infamous for its air pollution during the Cold War, thanks to its extensive use of nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Author’s Note: Since the publication of the Flensburg Point System in 2011, the reform has taken place, with the new point system being in place since May 1, 2014.  More information can be found here.