It does happen, occasionally

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, 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.”

Raising the offending car

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.”

Car being loaded onto the tow truck

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.

Car being eased down onto the truck

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.

See more posts on Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
See more posts on the pernicious effects of cars.

15 thoughts on “It does happen, occasionally”

  1. Where we live, you drive a car whether or not you want to because everything is so spread out. We ride our bikes locally but can’t even get groceries although that may be changing, They are starting to build a grocery not too far from us. We are also getting a tiny shopping plaza within walking distance. This was promised 12 years ago and they just broke ground last month. Who know, we might get bus service some day! We do have a Prius and that helps. It only is driven about once a week but it is driven.

  2. “..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.”
    Thank you so much, for pointing this out, Nemorimo! This is a point that most adults, and especially those who like to drive, seem to forget: kids have far less ability to see things, especially if a smaller than average kid also happens to be short-sighted and cannot afford eyeglasses…

  3. I don’t think that the fine for illegal parking would hinder the driver of this car to continue his bad habit. Someone who can afford such a car has enough change to pay it without any pain. The only real inconvenience will be asking the police for the new parking and getting a taxi to get there. Let’s hope that he (I don’t think that it was a “she”) had arrived at his important appointment in the Westend at time.
    There was a brilliant cartoon in the Frankfurter Rundschau last Saturday showing a young woman locking her huge SUV at the curb and an elderly lady, that passed by, asked the woman to lend her wheeled walker to get better to the coffee shop next door…

  4. We’ve had at least two cars since shortly after our marriage. Granted for a time one of the cars was a 1932 Plymouth (and this was from 1963 so it was not a new car) which Bob used to commute to work. In 1971, we lived so far out in the country that it was a 20 minute drive to get into town. I was driving 100 miles a week just taking the kids to the library, music lessons etc. I was driving a VW bus. Bob was out at sea and the starter solenoid failed, so the VW had to be push started. I tried always to park on a hill. When we would get back to the car, the four kids (age 12, 10, 5 and 2) would push and I would pop the clutch to start the car. The only problem was getting gas when the gas station was not on a hill. as they would not usually let me leave the engine running. Being out in the country did have the advantage that wherever I parked, I was not blocking anything much. It was out in the country – no curbs, no cross walks.

    I don’t think I have ever gotten a parking ticket in 57 years of driving.

    1. My father had a 1936 Oldsmobile which he drove until well into the 50s. It boiled over on hills, but was otherwise quite serviceable. What I didn’t realize until much later was that no new passenger cars were built in the US during the war, so people had to keep their old cars running as best they could.

  5. What a difference culture makes regarding enforcement of these things…

    Pre-pandemic but not by much, I read a big, multi-part newspaper story about traffic in the city of Boston. Something I learned, that HORRIFIES me, is that the city has struck a deal with UPS and FedEx. Essentially, they’ve acknowledged those carriers will continually violate parking laws–including blocking active lanes of traffic, sometimes on streets without width to allow someone to get by!–and are pre-paying a defined, “generous” cash penalty in exchange for the city ignoring these constant violations.

    Having grown up on the west coast of the USA in a city with a modern grid pattern (and, admittedly, far lower density of people and vehicles), I am shocked over and over living in New England that ignoring road rules for the sake of convenience is commonplace. (Not stopping for pedestrians in a crosswalk is one exception to that; Boston historically has enforced that better than, say, New York City.) At my children’s pre-school, every day, all the cars would park illegally along a state highway, right under the signs saying NO PARKING. It was a suburban school, quite literally inaccessible in any other way than by car (no sidewalk even), and offered no parking lot at all for parents. Doing things this way was simply baked into the system!

    1. German drivers are generally quite good about yielding to pedestrians at zebra crossings, because that aspect is more rigorously enforced (and cheaper to enforce) than a lot of others.

  6. Great photos! Perhaps not such a huge problem here in Australia because of the newer wider streets and highrise carparks but nevertheless it happens, and in school zones for which there is no excuse. We still use towtrucks with the ramp and cable winch 🙂

  7. Definitely not often enough. I often think there isn’t a police force here and surely not enough of them.

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