When I checked in to my hotel in Oldenburg, the man at reception told me he was giving me the “mini room”, sounding as though he was doing me some kind of big favor. Of course, I thought he just meant a small room, which didn’t surprise me because I had gotten a good price from one of the booking sites.
He told me that the “mini room” was not in the main hotel building, but in a smaller building out back. I didn’t pay much attention to what was painted on that back building, just went in and found the room number on the second floor.
When I unlocked the door, I was shocked to see that there was a car in the room, or rather half a car, and pictures of cars on all the walls. My first impulse was to go back to reception and ask for a different room, but I soon decided not to do this, since someone had obviously gone to a lot of trouble and expense to decorate the room, and they had no way of knowing I was an inveterate autophobe.
The car was a Morris Mini, or perhaps an Austin Mini, in any case one of a long series of small economy cars that were made in England, mainly in Frankfurt’s partner city of Birmingham, from 1959 to 2000. It happened that from my visits to Birmingham in the 1990s I was slightly acquainted with one of the chief engineers of the Longbridge automobile factory, otherwise I wouldn’t even have known what kind of car it was.
Of course I was not happy about sharing my room with a car, or even half a car, but since it had no motor and was securely bolted to one of the walls, it was obviously not capable of doing all the things that cars usually do. It was not polluting the atmosphere. It was not making noise. It was not endangering the lives of pedestrians and cyclists. It was not even blocking a cycle path or a sidewalk. So I decided I could grudgingly tolerate its company for a few days and nights.
(As I have mentioned elsewhere, the German language has a nice word for grudgingly, namely zähneknirschend, which is literally ‘teethgrindingly’.)
During my thirteen years as a member of the now-defunct website VirtualTourist, I used to change my motto every few months. Some of these mottos were about other things entirely, such as “An opinion without 3.14 is an onion” or “Wanted dead and alive — Schrödinger’s Cat!”, both of which I must have found on the web somewhere, but many of them were about cars, for instance:
- The world is full of wonderful places. Help keep them wonderful by not driving in them.
- Cities are for people, not cars.
- Cars are evil.
- Your car stinks! (And pollutes the atmosphere.)
- Cars destroy neighborhoods.
- If you’re on four wheels, you are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.
- Don’t sentence yourself to life imprisonment in your car. (Unless you have committed some heinous crime.)
- Cars cause blight.
- Human rights are for humans, not cars.
- Your car is killing you. Get rid of it now, while you still can.
- Jaywalking is a human right. Jaydriving is not.
- Burn carbohydrates, not hydrocarbons.
- There is no such thing as an environmentally-friendly car.
- Your family doctor and your local bicycle shop can help you quit driving.
- Don’t subject your children to the automobile torture.
- Freedom’s just another word for — not needing a car.
- The surface of the earth is too valuable to be wasted on car parking.
- A bicycle is — the freedom you thought you were getting when you bought a car.
- Don’t let cars ruin your city.
But the motto I eventually settled on was:
- Cars from now on will have to be lighter, smaller, slower, cleaner — and fewer!
The Morris Mini was in fact lighter, smaller and slower than most other cars, so I have to admit it was somewhat less noxious. But only somewhat.
The decorations in the Mini Room included a display case with matchbox cars and, on the bottom shelf, a figurine of the British actor Rowan Atkinson in his role as the simple-minded “Mister Bean”, who used to drive around in a Morris Mini with his teddy bear (also shown in the display case). “Mister Bean” was inspired by the French film character “Monsieur Hulot”, as played by Jacques Tati (1907-1982) in such films as Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot and Mon Oncle.
Monsieur Hulot also used to drive around in a special kind of car, namely a rickety Salmson AL3 from the years 1923-24. (Salmson was a French company based in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.)
Appropriately, the view from the Mini Room consists mainly of a parking lot for cars.
My photos in this post are from 2016. I wrote the text in 2021.