While riding my bike through the Westend district of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, I came across this unusual and heartwarming scene. A policeman — one of the few Frankfurt policemen who patrols by bicycle — was writing out a parking ticket for a fat, shiny, black upper-class car, and a tow truck was preparing to lift it gingerly up off the street to haul it away.
It may be that they do this several times a day, but those of us who walk or cycle around the city can easily get the impression that there are hundreds of illegally parked cars, most of which are ignored by the authorities.
The website https://www.falschparken-frankfurt.info/, which was created by activists specially to deal with this problem, explains: “Children in particular are often affected by blocked intersections in the inner-city area — while adults can usually look over the parked vehicles, this is impossible for children. The vehicles parked in the intersection area are particularly dangerous here.”
The same website notes: “In some cities, illegal parking is being cracked down on — unfortunately Frankfurt is not one of them, as usually only the particularly cheap ‘parking tickets’ are distributed. Ultimately, however, every citizen can use simple means to put pressure on the authorities actually responsible for enforcing the road traffic regulations and get them to act.”
The General German Bicycle Club (ADFC), of which I am proud to be a member, also recommends reporting illegally parked vehicles: “Blocked cycle paths, sidewalks and intersections are not a trivial offense. The fact that others are endangered and hindered by the laziness or thoughtlessness of individual road users cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Although these trucks are still called ‘tow trucks’ (in American English), they no longer actually tow the vehicles, but raise and transport them with the utmost care, since the slightest scratch could provoke an expensive lawsuit. Cars are an object of extreme fetishism in Germany (and elsewhere), and this alone makes the police reluctant to have them removed.
This incident reminded me of a shameful episode from my own past. I don’t know if I should admit this in public, but for many years I was not only a pedestrian and cyclist, but also a car-driver.
I hasten to add that I was never addicted to driving; I never just drove around for no reason. But I was what you might call a Social Driver. I considered it my duty to chauffer people around the city, pick them up at the airport, that sort of thing.
Once I even got a parking ticket for parking too close to a pedestrian crossing. The policeman told me the tow truck was already on the way, so I would have to pay the truck driver 50 DM (the Euro at that time had not yet been invented) to prevent the car from being towed.
So I know how these drivers feel. I was in a hurry; I had an important errand (at least is seemed important at the time, whatever it was); I only parked for a few minutes — all the usual excuses. But I soon realized that none of these excuses justified putting other people, especially children, in grave danger.
My photos in this post are from 2020. I wrote the text in 2021.