Where the English pronounce “Your home is your castle” a German must be saying “Pride is my car”. The car my father drove for twenty years struck a sour note with our neighbours. It was a Mercedes 180 from 1958 and he got rid of it in 1978. In a country that calls a three year old car old, that is suspicious. We were considering putting it in the garden to use it as giant flower pot, so we did not have to give it up when the time came, but we came to our senses and sold it to somebody who was able to fix it up. How I can`t imagine, because my father could see the road through the bottom of the car while driving. The rear bumper had rusted through years before and was pushed in place with a piece of wood, wrapped with tape and spray painted in silver. It must be obvious that this car did not have to go through the German TÜV (car inspection) but went through the US-Military, until even they said “Sorry, but no”.
Although we were sad to see the Mercedes go, we were pleasantly surprised how comfortable a car could be when we got in the new one for the first time.
I remember the days when Germans were allowed to wash their cars in the Street and they did, as regularly as some people go to church, but on Saturdays. We did not do it as often, but it was fun playing with the soapy water on a hot day. But at some point it was decided that all that soapy water (and the Germans being so religious about cleaning their cars there was a lot) was destroying the environment and cleaning was taken over by Car Washes at Petrol Stations or moved to Self-Service Car Washes.
A special feature is the Car Wax of course. My father, you know the one that spray painted his bumpers, became very good at waxing the car and would call us out to inspect his handy work. We would cluck appreciatively and admire how the drops would glide off the hood of the car. A beauty.
So we almost behaved like the Neighbours, except of course we kept this car until it fell apart as well (and didn´t they fall apart very fast in the 80ies – Rust the devil) and my father could just not get himself to see the car as anything else but a means for getting from A to B, while the Neighbours spent an inordinate time discussing, taking care of and driving their car.
When he got rid of his last car due to his age, instead of lamenting, he rejoiced he never had to worry about repairs, taxes and fueling anymore.
Most of my friends had their drivers license at 18 and saved money for buying their first car. I couldn`t understand the rush, because I could get everywhere by bus and streetcar until a friend tried to teach me to drive. It was fun! So I got my licence too and with my first job, I got my first car (yes, a FIAT for me). The first weeks were great. I dashed here and there. Going out late was not a problem. I could miss the last streetcar and did not have to worry about walking down dark roads.
But soon I had the feeling I was on the road all the time, rushing to a shop for a single item, getting stuck in traffic jams, blinded by buckets of rain on the windshield and trying to avoid crazy drivers that believed to own the road. Driving every day became a drag.
And I remember when the Germans tried to live without the car for a day. The 70ies oil crisis saw the first of the “Autofreie Sonntage” (Carfree Sunday) which were met with some scepticism and resistance, but the first time people could experience crossing a road without worrying about being run over or the air being much clearer it caught on as a fun day out.
Nowadays we enjoy car free Sundays along dedicated stretches, such as the Bergstrasse from Darmstadt-Eberstadt to Heppenheim . Every two years, from 10.00 am to 18.00 pm the road belongs to pedestrians and cyclists. Savvy inhabitants and clubs offer Würstchen and Drinks along the 30 km stretch. For those that quickly tire of the unusual exercise there are plenty of “Weinstuben” (not for whining, but restaurants where to enjoy the local Wine) to stop in and probably not move from again while quenching another kind of thirst.
Sometimes footweary pedestrians will opt for the latter option after the new object of prestige in form of the best and smartest bike has nearly run them down several times.
I wonder if I should write about the rush of speed next time?