Good for a street fight

city ​​traffic: The street fight

The Street Fight - Page 1

Freedom, what a big word, it is so cheap to have, just imagine the following scene: a person on a bicycle, on the way home. At Hamburg Central Station he turns into a crowded street called Lange Reihe, at late yellow, maybe even at red, but doesn't bother anyone. The road is slightly sloping, the person who otherwise spends so much time inside like a bookshelf can finally let all the pent-up energy out of his body, he feels able to compete with everyone. Without braking, he meanders through a row of cars, rings the doorbell, squeezes through gaps, only the bus is too wide to overtake him, but no problem. Quick jump onto the sidewalk, through between pedestrians, at Café Grüneberg it's getting too narrow, back onto the street.

It must have happened here.

"I was in the second row of the car at the height of Lange Reihe 84. In front of the Grüneberg. I fetched empties from home and got in. At that moment a cyclist overtook me," Joel V. reads from his slip of paper. To be on the safe side, he wrote everything down.

Because, for whatever reason: The harmless situation got into trouble. At first it was just a little crooked. Then she became unsavory. Then brutal. And now Joel V. is here: in the district court of Hamburg-St. Georg, room six.

It's a day in late June, but Joel V doesn't take off his down vest even inside in room six. He is a short man in his mid-thirties, elegantly dressed, with polished manners and a neatly trimmed beard. Joel V. runs a restaurant, his demeanor: professionally friendly. Next to him sits his defense attorney, a lawyer with a terrier mind. His client wanted to read out a statement, he just barked into the room and made the linoleum floor squeak with small, angry pounders. Now Joel V is reading aloud how, almost a year ago, he parked his Range Rover in the second row in the evening rush hour. And how this cyclist then threaded his way past him.


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"I passed him again and he spat on me. I just thought: What's wrong?" Says Joel V. "Then I looked forward and there was a pedestrian." As if out of nowhere, in the middle of the road. "That's why I'm in the irons."

Joel V. still looks outraged in court when he remembers the reaction of the cyclist behind him. He was probably inattentive or overwhelmed, in any case he did not react quickly enough to Joel V.'s emergency braking and crashed into the rear of him. "He said to me: 'You will see what you get out of it.' "

That sounds like a cheeky cyclist. Snotty. After a "spit" like him Picture- The newspaper immediately baptized it, and of course: It could have been like that, because as everyone knows, cyclists are often snotty, take their freedom as it suits them, meander and jostle and do not accept when others do the same. That's what those behind the wheel say.

Despite all the oil crises and eco-movements and fuel price increases: Germany is a country for car drivers. "Every seventh German job depends on the car", that is almost a household word, and even if experts consider it excessive: It shows how important the industry is, how insane it is to mess with it. Probably because of this, Germany is still one of the last countries in the world with highways without speed limits, alongside states such as North Korea and Lebanon. There is no toll for cars. A city politician who is responsible for the elimination of parking spaces can pack up, a provincial mayor, who is allowed to inaugurate a bypass, is king of the village for a day. The power of the central organ of German motorists, the ADAC, could only be broken by the ADAC itself - not by getting on people's nerves with its loudspeaker prowess, but by pushing motorists with fake car surveys.

The dream of moving forward without having to move has inspired people to this day. Every year, probably again this year, three million new cars are registered nationwide.

At the same time, four million new bicycles are bought.

Slowly, very slowly, something is happening in the driving country. A new power is rolling into the streets, on two wheels. Of course, the car remains physically superior to the bicycle; every car is a potential murder weapon. Statistically it looks different. Today every German household has 1.4 cars - but 2.4 bicycles. The e-bike is accelerating this development, sales more than tripled from 150,000 in 2009 to 480,000 in 2014.

The cities in particular are doing a lot to increase the number of cyclists - and no longer just the small and medium-sized ones like Münster, Oldenburg and Freiburg. Two years ago, Munich announced that it wanted to increase the proportion of bicycle traffic in the city from 17 to 20 percent. Berlin wants to achieve at least 18 percent by 2025. But the most ambitious is Hamburg. The city has announced that it will double the cycling quota by the twenties, from currently 12.5 to 25 percent. Hamburg wants to become a "bicycle city" like Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

The bike makes people feel confident

Hamburg is currently the best place to see what it means when more and more people switch to bicycles. When tens of thousands of them suddenly use the same roads as the drivers, when they know the same conflicts and get caught up in the same stories - and when they tell these stories very differently.

The first witness is called into the courtroom, Gregor S., 34 years old, red, parted hair, V-neck, briefcase. Gregor S. looks like a law doctoral student or an election campaigner for the Junge Union. He is the "Spucker", the cyclist, involved in the same story from the Lange Reihe as Joel V.

Gregor S. clears his throat and starts a lecture: "On July 31, 2014, on the way home from work, I drove down the Lange Reihe towards the northeast." He reports how Joel V. parked his SUV "illegally" in the second row and was obviously annoyed to be overtaken by a cyclist. How Joel V. let the engine roar and overtake the cyclist at high speed. "Without a prescribed safety distance of 1.50 meters!"

In the dock, Joel V rubs his hands over his eyes and cheeks as if wiping his smile from his face. It was two months ago that he had to surrender his driver's license when this conflict turned him from being an SUV driver to being a pedestrian. In these minutes Gregor S. turns him from a respected restaurateur into a lawbreaker.

Gregor S., on the other hand, seems relaxed. He is a software engineer, and the German authorities speak fluently from his lips: "While I was overtaking, I vented my anger so much that I made a spitting gesture in the direction of the car," he says. He doesn't seem embarrassed.

Gregor S. rides a bicycle. And the bike apparently has magical powers. It transforms people. It makes him faster and more agile. It puts him in danger and still spurs him on, because the cyclist can feel how far he can get with his bare muscle power. It also makes them forgetful, because people who ride a bicycle suddenly don't seem to remember that they occasionally drive a car through the city themselves or are on foot, perhaps even with a stroller.

Above all, however, the bicycle allows people to feel confident. Because he knows exactly that he is on the fundamentally good side. That he's the one who doesn't pollute the air. That doesn't make the city noisy. Who doesn't park up the paths, doesn't clog the streets with traffic jams and doesn't kill small children.

Who, please, should think it's bad if you spit on someone's car?

Gregor S. holds his chin up high when he describes how Joel V. freaked out in the long row in view of the dripping saliva and cut right in front of his bike - only to have to brake hard there. The pedestrian for whom Joel V. claims to have "hit the iron" did not even exist. Other witnesses will confirm this later. And when asked, Joel V. won't even be able to remember whether this pedestrian was supposed to have been a man or a woman, tall or short. The defendant sinks into his down vest like a turtle in its shell. Gregor S. completes his report triumphantly: he drove the left handlebar into the right rear light of the SUV and was injured by splinters. His hand was full of broken glass and blood.

All because one grown man has overtaken another grown man?

In front of Joel V. and Gregor S. there is a magistrate who on this day only has to judge superficially about braking distances, parking bans and spitting. In reality, the dispute is about bigger things: power, rivalry, freedom.

The question of who will own the streets in the future. About what is perhaps the last ideological conflict in this country today. It is, to which we shall come back, also one of the last conflicts of the generations.

Can the cyclist, with all the good things and all the solutions that he brings to road traffic, perhaps also bring a problem into the cities?

"The brutalization of the fight cyclists must finally be stopped" - that is one of the sentences that will be remembered by the former Federal Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer, CSU. Ramsauer's sentence was followed by an excited debate about racing, boozing, telephoning cyclists. The police union called for mandatory labeling and a lowering of the alcohol limit for cyclists. A helmet requirement was discussed. A predominantly young crowd started the "Ein Herz für Kampfadler_innen!" Campaign on the Internet.

The Hamburg revenant of Peter Ramsauer is called Wieland Schinnenburg, is 56 years old and from the FDP. The member of parliament Schinnenburg says, three years after Ramsauer, not "Kampf-Radler", but "Rambo-Radler" - the dispute is coming to a head and so is the rhetoric.

For some drivers in Hamburg, the bicycle city is a horror vision

It's the beginning of July and Hamburg is struggling to find out how the city could become a bicycle city. It's funny that this is planned here of all places. Hamburg is the city in which cyclists feel more unsafe than in any other German metropolis, as data from the General German Bicycle Club has proven time and again. In no other big city, a survey has shown, cyclists know the road traffic regulations so poorly and so often get into the saddle while drunk. For some drivers in Hamburg, the idea of ​​a bicycle city is therefore like a horror vision. Schinnenburg is one of the last to defend motorists.

Schinnenburg does not come to the meeting in an Italian restaurant at the town hall by car, but by train. In the morning he removed tartar in his dental practice in Schleswig-Holstein, took the car home, parked it there and then took the subway to the city center - he says he couldn't find a parking space here even with his Smart he. And Schinnenburg is already on the subject. Lack of parking space. Parking fees. Motorists, the "milking cows of the nation".

More bicycle traffic is good, says Schinnenburg. "But precisely then we have to do more to ensure that the cyclists abide by the rules. So far there is no mechanism to bring the Rambo cyclists to reason."

There are many who believe that it is not so much because of the cyclists that they disregard the rules of the system - but because of the system that the cyclists disregard. And that the problems will solve themselves once Hamburg becomes a bicycle city.

Schinnenburg just shakes his head. "I am in favor of fair competition for all modes of transport," he says. "I reject a one-sided preference for cyclists."

He sees just such a preference in the Senate's bicycle strategy. From now on, 50 kilometers of bicycle lanes are to be renovated or rebuilt every year. As far as possible, all one-way streets should be passable for bicycles on both sides. The city's bicycle rental system is to be expanded and there are to be more parking racks. The bike paths should be cleared of snow in winter. And, Schinnenburg believes that this is the greatest cheek: wherever it is possible, cycle paths should be laid on the road - traffic experts agree that the risk of accidents for cyclists is significantly reduced if the wheels do not drive behind parking lanes and bushes on the pavement have to. Schinnenburg doesn't trust that. "The Senate does not really care about traffic jams. Parking spaces and trees are being destroyed - and now cyclists are being sent into a dangerous clinch with trucks and motorists' tracks are being taken," he says indignantly.

You can only take something away from someone that they consider to be their property. The road as the property of the motorist: this has been the case in Germany for generations. The infrastructure of the cities with their multi-lane main roads, which promise free citizens free travel and spread the illusion of being able to reach any destination independently at any time, testifies to this.

The reality is that those who expect independence will find traffic jams, a lack of parking spaces and tight spaces. That anyone who drives a car crawls through the most strictly regulated area of ​​public life. The fact that there is no free travel at all, except for cyclists, who take advantage of it ever more brazenly - at least that is what happens to those who enjoy less freedom of movement.

The reality is that driving a car has become a permanent disappointment.

And that there are also people like Frank Bokelmann.

Many years ago, when Frank Bokelmann was 19, he got his driver's license, but driving a car has always been difficult for him. "Get this out of the garage, look for a parking space, that's not for me," he says. He was behind the wheel for the last time on August 13, 1988. It wasn't a special day, he just made a note of the date. That says a lot about Frank Bokelmann. He likes numbers. He likes bikes. And he really likes it.

Frank Bokelmann is a physicist, but he works in the Hamburg tax authorities as a sales tax specialist. "There is really music in the sales tax," he says happily and walks away from the authorities building with long strides, a folding rule in hand like a riding crop. "When I was still a tax auditor, I had a table in the office that I could use to calculate exactly when I would get to appointments by bike," says Bokelmann. He developed the table himself, a matrix of the number of kilometers, the number of cross streets and the wind strength. "I knew that if I was more than a minute later than the matrix indicated, the bike path was bad."

Suddenly Frank Bokelmann bends down and places the folding rule across a cycle path. "Ha!" He calls out. "Only one meter wide! And a safe distance of only 30 centimeters from the parked cars!" He's over 50, but he looks proud like a little boy who has discovered a treasure: an irregularity. Because according to the regulations, the cycle path should be at least 1.50 meters wide and should leave a distance of 75 centimeters from the parking spaces.

Bokelmann walks a few meters further, points to a sign: "Cycle path not strewn". "Do they have a sock shot? The cyclist doesn't vanish into thin air when it snows," says Bokelmann. He doesn't like that.

As soon as he moved to Hamburg in 1994, Bokelmann wrote his first letter to the police, many were to follow. He was one of the first to protest bad bike lanes by simply refusing to use them. Today, 20 years later, cyclists don't even have to do that anymore, they are allowed to drive on the road - unless a sign expressly banishes them to the cycle path. "So one": Frank Bokelmann points to a blue circle with a white bicycle in the middle.

It all looks strange, but if you walk through the city next to him for a while, you first notice how many bike paths these signs are still on - and how many of them are dilapidated, bumpy, plowed by roots, eaten away by potholes, interrupted in the middle, parked up , locked with garbage cans.

Drivers can lose their driver's license

Two years ago, the Federal Ministry of Transport asked people who refused to ride bicycles.When asked what would motivate them to take the bike to school or work, every second responded: better bike paths. One in four said: more bike paths.

Frank Bokelmann says goodbye on a cycle path where three cars are parked. "I think rules are important," he says. "But as a cyclist it is often made difficult to keep up with it."

That's the interesting thing about talking to cyclists: their honesty. None of them even try to convince you that they are complying with all the regulations. But everyone has a reason why they break it. Every encounter brings a new individual ethic to light, a distinction is made between law and rules.

Between being at risk and being dangerous.

Between law and morality.

Between "us" and "them".

In the past year, more than 85,000 cyclists were involved in road accidents across Germany. 396 cyclists died, 12 percent more than the year before. Amazing: It is not the Rambo cyclists who are to blame for most of these accidents. More than every second collision was caused by other road users. According to the police, car or truck drivers who turn without looking, who shoot out of driveways too quickly, disregard the right of way, reverse or drive too close are particularly dangerous.

Every cyclist knows them: motorists who scratch cyclists' elbows, as it were, because they are overtaking them so closely. Who turn on their windshield wipers when the sun is shining and spray the antifreeze in the eyes of the cyclist next to them. They turn around with screeching tires, knowing that a collision can cost them sheet metal damage, but the cyclist or pedestrian can lose their lives.

The cyclists fight back in their own way. Not everyone knows this: If nobody catches me, I can drive over red. If no one gets upset, I can roll over the sidewalk. If a driver complains, he should take a look at his CO₂ balance or his pelvis.

Even as a child, cycling was freedom. Anyone who learned it was initially pushed by their mother or father, but as soon as it worked, you rushed away from your mother, so quickly that she could no longer catch up with you. It was on a bicycle that people experienced the feeling of self-determination for the first time.

Even in traffic, it is difficult to catch up with or get by a cyclist - no matter how old he is. His bike doesn't have a license plate and he doesn't have to register his vehicle. He is barely recognizable under his windbreaker and so fast that at most he can get a dirty look.

"I have not endangered anyone."

"I looked before."

"I can see that."

Four officers, two women and two men, sit around a gray table in a gray police office and shout the typical excuses of cyclists into the room. The policemen belong to the Hamburg bicycle squadron, which was set up in 1996, with just ten officers - for a metropolis. The Dutch were a role model for the people of Hamburg. In Germany, the idea of ​​teaching cyclists how to rule was still new. During their operations, the bicycle policemen are still reminiscent of sheriffs in the Wild West who have to teach lawless cowboys law and order. Sheriffs with bicycle helmets. Instead of riding horses, they sit on well-equipped trekking bikes, and on chases they are allowed to drive over red, like patrol cars. Nobody escapes you.

"It's also popular: 'Don't you have anything better to do than harass cyclists?' ", says an officer at the gray table," and: "I'm in a hurry." "

"Yes, exactly," says her colleague, "but those who are in a hurry are those who discuss all the longer."

This can be explained psychologically: Every rule violation is associated with costs, sometimes with a penalty, mostly with a bad conscience. But for those who think they are morally on the good side, the costs are low. The conscience remains pure.

"When we say to a cyclist after violating the red light: 'That is 60 euros plus one point plus administration fee', many people fall out of breath," says one of the officials. Not only the traffic in Germany is tailored to motorists - but also the punishment of traffic sins: A cyclist who drives over red gets a point at the Federal Motor Transport Authority, which actually keeps a record of the sins of the car.

Only in summer is the squadron ten strong, in winter it is halved. Five of the officers then control the car traffic. That, say the police, is more relaxed. "Motorists don't discuss that much. They have a different sense of wrongdoing."

But drivers also know how high the cost of violating the rules is: they can lose their driver's license. Your ticket to the community of road transport.

Cyclists, on the other hand, have nothing to lose. You can give them points in Flensburg as often as you want - they can get back on their bikes. Cyclists don't have to do anything, they are only allowed to. Like children. Does that mean that they are assumed to be benign? Or for the fact that they are not taken for full, that they were not originally intended in the community of road traffic - and still feel it?

Hamburg, for example, was laid out as a "car-friendly city" after the Second World War, with wide street aisles. The traffic should flow. This meant car traffic. It only occurred to the planners in the sixties and seventies that bike paths would not be impractical either, but by then the space was already taken. The cyclists had to take what was left. So little.

That is no longer enough.

The younger people are and the bigger the city they live in, the more often they cycle. That came out in 2013 in a study by the Federal Ministry of Transport.

Conversely, this means that anyone who drives a car regularly has to be old and from the village. The battle of cars against cyclists has become a battle of models of life, a battle of generations.

There were times, during the economic miracle, when the bicycle was considered a means of transport for the poor wretch who couldn't afford a car. Then there were times when the bicycle was considered a means of transport by the eco, who came to the office in the morning with a helmet hairstyle and at least one forgotten bicycle clip on the pant leg. Back then, a whole generation drove golf and dreamed of having two children, a Labrador, a house in the suburbs with a front yard and carport. In the postmodern era, a car no longer stands for prestige, but for provinciality and dependency, while the bicycle is a symbol for youthfulness and flexibility.

The police and drivers are powerless against a "critical mass"

Let's take the parcel carriers. The motorized parcel delivery man is sweaty, wears baggy trousers and is late. He parks his car in the second row. An underpaid, unfortunate figure. The bicycle courier, on the other hand, is well trained, nimble and punctual. He may be badly paid too, but that doesn't matter: He's a casual guy and he loves his bike - he wears it over his shoulder so no one steals it. The young, urban avant-garde is on the move, courted by city planners and politicians. Some authorities already oblige building owners to create bicycle parking spaces when planning new houses - parking spaces for cars are of secondary importance. Because the Juste Milieu has a new status symbol: the bicycle. There is a suitable design model for every type: the pastel-colored Dutch bike for the mother, the stylish fixie for the hipster, the pedelec for the retired college teacher, the chopper for the relaxed macho, technically high-precision mountain bikes, limousine-like cargo bikes, folding bikes, lovingly from their owners pimped up and polished, as is otherwise only known from owners of lowered Golf GTIs from the suburbs.

A Friday evening, the last in July. On the Alster swans and sailing boats cross under a blue fluted sky, people stroll along the shore. It rained for days, but this afternoon the wind died down and the mood turned. The forces work differently.

It is packed on the Alsterwiesen, calls fly in the air and now and then a Frisbee, there is a festival mood. Everyone has a bike with them. A man named A. hits the neck of a beer bottle on the pedal of his mountain bike, the bottle cap flies off, A. picks it up, takes a sip and looks satisfied over the meadow. "That's more than 4,000," he says, despite the holiday season. "Well."

You are not allowed to write the name of A., where he comes from and whether or how deeply he is involved in the organization of this event - every month the police are looking for someone to whom they could attach a complaint for violating the assembly law, but there is none. "This isn't a meeting either, it's just a bike ride," says A. and gets on his bike because the doorbell rings in the crowd.

First only from one handlebar, then from dozens, then from thousands. The bicycle train starts rolling, someone takes the lead. Thousands of wheels roll on the road, at first in a slow stream and so slowly that A. has to support himself with the tips of his toes, then faster, more fluently, but nobody knows where to go. Just follow the one who is driving ahead. "That's part of the principle," says A.

Because what is happening right now is not a demonstration with a prescribed route - but a "critical mass" against which the police are powerless and so are politicians, and motorists are even more so. The Critical Mass does not need a permit, because it follows literally what the road traffic regulations allow. Accordingly, more than 15 cyclists are allowed to ride on the road as a "closed association". And: This association is considered a vehicle, from tip to tail. So if the first one drives over green, all those who drive behind him are allowed to follow if red.

This can take a while. Traffic light phase after traffic light phase. A. looks ahead: nothing but bicycles. He looks behind him: nothing but bicycles. He looks into the side streets: nothing but cars. In a traffic jam. A Mercedes driver gets out and rages: "Make way, you eco-wretches!" A. shakes his head. "That is also part of the principle," he says.