Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

Life in Münster, Travel: Germany

Bist du blind?

The other morning my flatmate and her boyfriend were in the kitchen laughing like drains. So much so, that I went in to see what was going on. Dildo pool as it turns out. The TV show they were watching was replaying a 90s game show that set up celebrities by asking them to partake in unusual games and challenges. One of those challenges was playing pool whilst wearing a dildo, with the dildo, obviously, as a cue.

Hold that image for a second and allow me to take you back to a cold, dark night a couple of weeks ago.

I was walking home from work and came to a one way street with a crossing at which the walking man was red. I looked both ways, despite it being a one way street – I am just a careful jay-walker – and noting that, short of walking on my hands across the street, I was going to make it across the 3 metre crossing at least 3 whole minutes before a car made it to me, I crossed.

On the other side, a man stared at me as if I was casually skinning a squirrel and, as I passed, hissed, ‘bist du blind?

I raged the whole way home. The whole way. Am I blind? No, you gnarled old fuckwit, I am not blind, but I’m not going to stand on the side of the road for 5 minutes in the freezing cold twiddling my ice-block thumbs whilst waiting for the green man, when there is genuinely no traffic in a 2 km radius. It is my decision to do something so daring as to nip across a 3m side street and I am making it with my eyes wide open. Bist du ein dickhead?

Clearly, when I barged in the front door at home, I had a meltdown and boomed at SG, ‘I am so sick of being disapproved of when I break a rule, what is wrong with you people?’

I’m not sure if I have mentioned it before, or if the above makes it clear, but Münsteranians (and I suspect, based on SG’s behaviour, many other Germans) don’t jaywalk.  Oh you will see the occasional daring citizen leg it across an empty street, but they will be judged. By God. Who has long been fattened and feted by the German church tax. For me, jaywalking is a logical action if the circumstances are fitting. I’m not saying I do some Sydney-style running at slow moving vehicles and then spring bokking across their path, but I do cross the road if there is no oncoming traffic and it is perfectly safe to do so.

Anyway. Hold the image of me raging and allow me to tell you this little tale.

A friend of mine the other day was pulled over by a policeman and fined for riding his bike on a cobbled street before 4pm. Think about that.

Sometimes, Germans are so relaxed, so laidback, so ‘leave-it-to-mature-decision-and-discretion, we’re-all-adults-here’, it’s quite marvellous. Sixteen year olds can buy beer and wine.  There’s the autobahn that, for large stretches, has no speed limit. On game shows, if the contestent is a nude lads mag’s model, then it is no problem to flash through her, seemingly, entire portfolio on screen, as she jogs into shot. On prime-time variety shows, it is no problem to prance about in a dirndl and moon visiting celebrities (Jessica Biels’s face was funny). On that same game show, it’s no problem to host genuinely insane stunts that can and have put people in wheelchairs.

This is the same country in which you can get fined for giving someone the rude finger whilst driving. Oh sure, slip on a pair of kangaroo boots and try and jump across some ungodly stretch of cars, in the name of Saturday night entertainment, but don’t give a driver the rude finger!

Sometimes, when they’re not getting naked, drinking beer and enjoying a game of dildo pool, they are such sticklers for the rules it makes me want to scream and start breaking every single one I can. I want to ride a bike on cobbled streets repeatedly for the entire hour of 3-4pm whilst giving everyone the rude finger and swearing in people’s faces (fineable offence as well, apparently) and then I want to just go and stand in the middle of a road, point to the red man and shriek ‘you did this to me Germany.’

The great thing is, I would probably receive the utmost psychiatric care. My compulsory insurance premium’s high enough.

Main image credit

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  1. Fiona von Strudel

    14 December, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Hahaha, we had a similar thing happen to us in week 3 in Berlin, except we got ‘ja hallo, es ist nicht gruen!” yelled at us by a guy on a bike – we weren’t in his way, there were no cars, nothing! I found that towards the end of my stay I had become indoctrinated and also gave greasies to those who dared cross on the rot Ampelmann. Wie schrecklich und boese!

  2. admin

    14 December, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I have really curbed my jaywalking as well, if only to avoid the tutting as I cross the road, from the 5 people behind me and 5 people on the other side. The shame is too much!


    14 December, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Loved this. So funny what each culture holds dearest, isnt’ it?

  4. Pierre-olivier

    15 December, 2011 at 3:57 am

    Rules are designed to be broken…Keep breaking them..

    1. Anna K.

      20 June, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      Not this! You are seldom alone – your action (moving on red light) can make bad example for a child. It’s not a stupid rule – it saves life. Best education for children is an example, not words. We have enough another rules for breaking them. 😉

      1. Liv

        21 June, 2013 at 6:53 am

        Fear not! I do not do it anymore … if there is a child around. But … if there is NO traffic and NOT MANY people and definitely NO CHILDREN … I pop across safely!

        1. Marcus

          7 December, 2014 at 11:28 am

          The Childs are the reason!!!!!!!!
          We have 60Million Cars in Germany and City and Streets…..

          1. Marcus

            7 December, 2014 at 11:32 am

            City’s and Streets are smal…..

      2. Loyal

        24 February, 2014 at 10:44 pm

        I had a similar experience a few years back – except instead of “bits Du blind?” A furious mother lectured me on setting a good example for the children. I took her challenge and lectured right back at her about setting a good example about making a educated decision, the benefits of taking risks and the strength and fortitude which is required when taking a stand against the state. (My anger was a deeper red than the doof Ampelmann).
        Like I said, that was a few years back. Now I stand and wait for the green man. I want to set a good example (for the children)…

  5. Tinka

    17 December, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    The funny thing is: I totally comply to the rules in Germany (ie, not crossing the street when the rote Ampelmann is on). As soon as I step out of the plane in Great Britain, I am the worst jaywalker in the history of mankind.

    No idea why this is so, but I genuinely believe that I just adapt to the society I am part of at that specific moment. This might explain why I have no problem spitting out my chewing gum in Germany, but was terrified of doing so in Singapur (30 canings, here we come!).

    1. admin

      18 December, 2011 at 8:57 am

      An excellent skill to have! I am trying VERY hard not to jaywalk in front of people, although the other day on the exact same Bist du Blind street, there were about 7 of us waiting and the cars had stopped and the green man took AGES to come and everyone was doing the sort of walk, sort of stay thing and I just charged across the street. Honestly, fuck it!

  6. Andreas

    25 June, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Naja, mag sein das dir diese Regeln unsinnig vorkommen. Trotzdem solltest du sie einhalten, einfach aus Respekt. Und da ist es egal ob du völlig allein dort bist. Ich komme ja auch nicht nach Australien, erkläre eine Regel für unsinnig und missachte sie einfach. So sind wir nunmal, nimm es einfach hin 🙂

  7. Ma Ya

    22 November, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Hehe, this is so funny, thanks for sharing. I am a sworn jaywalker (had to look up the word, though), because I hate waiting on the green ampelmännchen, come on! Especially after having crossed streets with eight lines in every direction in China just walking slowly without any traffic lights at all and no problem whatsoever! But it’s a place of daily disagreement between me and my fellow Germans, including my boyfriend, family and friends. If children are present, I can force myself to hold still by counting slowly in my head, but it’s a real strain. At the same time, I enjoy pushing the ‘Bitte Warten’ button on Fußgängerüberwegen, so cars will have to wait, even if I don’t wanna cross, evil me 😉

  8. passportsandpamplemousse

    26 November, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I really love your writing style! very engaging story and you had me laughing the entire time.

  9. Lauren Beckwith

    28 November, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Ahahahaha. I also have had this experience. I crossed the street and had a teenager yell at me ‘ÜBER ROT DARF MAN NICHT’ and i am pretty sure I sent a raging text message to everyone i know and posted a fb status letting the germans know that i will cross the fucking street WHENEVER I WANT. (this is still a sensitive topic for me)

    1. Liv

      29 November, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Hahahaha – I watched two teens jaywalk last night and muttered to myself, ‘too cool for school.’ I AM NOW GERMAN

  10. Stephan

    2 December, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Re getting fined for giving somone the finger: Have a look at the first article of the Grundgesetz. It’s not about freedom of speech, that comes fifth.

  11. svenjaherrmann

    5 December, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    hahahah I always jay-walked in Munster once I experienced time abroad I totally agreed with the rest of the people, it makes NO sense to stand around when there is no car! My friends always yelled at me ” you are not in New York City nor DC”!! I laugh about it and so should you! Seriously especially strangers yell at you for that … they just need to stop to be frustrated about everything. Immer am meckern.

  12. Tante Ju

    10 December, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    What will happen in Australia or US when a car hits a pedestrian crossing the street? I’m pretty sure the car driver will be seen as guilty first until it could be proven that the pedestrian appeared “from nowhere”, jaywalking. That’s not funny. Some people even make a business out of that.
    Same in Germany. With one addition: If there are traffic lights this would mean that the car driver ignored red light and that caused the accident with injuries. The driving license will be revoked, maybe even for lifetime. It is hard to proof that the fault is with the pedestrian. Never saw any pedestrian hit by a car admitting the own fault knowing of the chance of getting a lot of money from the car insurance.
    In Russia and some other countries this led to dashboard cams in the car, which are illegal in Germany for privacy reasons. As soon as you have a driving license you learn to see this from a different point of view.
    I agree, it makes no real sense to wait on red traffic lights when there is no traffic around. But quite often people do not realize or notice dangerous situations. That the reason of the high number of accidents in households or within small radius around homes, predominantly on streets and crossings.
    Living in Münster you might have noticed cyclists ignoring any traffic rule and thinking they are cool and they have everything under control. As a matter of fact there are so many accidents with deadly injuries in Münster, where this “cool mand everything under control people” are killed, that police force is ramped up and cyclist get fined even for stuff that is not really serious. Let’s wait for some decades and people might wonder why the cyclists in Münster are following every single rule? (ok, that might not really happen as most cyclsits are students come from somehwere else and always thinking they are so bright until they enjoy the coffin).

    There are good rules and dumb rules, but it is not always easy to differ between those at the right time.

  13. Chris

    12 December, 2013 at 12:12 am

    I can feel with you. I am German and jaywalk all the time. Especially since in the town where I work the traffic lights must have been programmed by monkeys. At one intersection that I have to pass daily, the lights are red for pedestrians while the cars at the next intersection 200 metres away have also red and won’t be around for quite a while. And on another intersection, cars have red and pedestrians green, then the pedestrians’ light switches to red but the cars’ light also stays red for anohter 20 seconds – so damn stupid and a total waste of time. But interstingly, it has been a long long time since somebody complained to me about jaywalking. Maybe people here in the southwest are a little bit more relaxed than in Münster? On the other hand, a lot of people jaywalk or “jaybike” at these two stupid traffic lights, which makes me believe that they are really so annoying that they breed jaywalkers as a natural consequence 😉

  14. Matthias Büchse

    27 July, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    I jaywalk whenever I feel like it, and I have been German my entire life. Sometimes I am in a hurry, so I jaywalk; sometimes I am too lazy to ascertain the situation myself, so I wait for the green light.

    German columnist Max Goldt once wrote how he actually viewed the red light as a kind of decreed resting break, which he generally liked to enjoy — unless children were present. Then he deliberately jaywalked, so that the child had a chance to say what it was programmed by its parents and teachers to say, namely: “Sie sind aber ein schlechtes Vorbild” (Look how bad a role model you are).

    If some self-righteous idiot pulls the “Bist du blind?” crap on you ever again, you have my blessing to just respond with the middle finger and maybe “screw you”.

  15. Miriam

    23 August, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    I don’t know what’s going on…. Maybe people from Bremen are vicious criminals, but we jaywalk all the time…

  16. Liz

    14 October, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Why are you angry at that man? He scolded you and that was the right thing to do. You knew you were doing wrong, yet got angry against him. I understand it was cold and maybe there was no child that you could see around, but it was still wrong.
    Maybe he felt he was the child, maybe he also wanted to cross over and was holding onto the rule, but you just broke it. He’s right to tell he finds that upsetting. It’s THEIR country and they like it that way. I find very low and rude from other fellow foreigners to try to change Germany into their personal version (normally a hateful version) of a “better” Germany. I am glad that there are Germans around like that old man, who dared to tell you on your face, you were doing wrong.
    Please, don’t get me wrong, I did it also without knowing and I received the dirty looks. Now, I understood where they come from and try my best to follow the rules, because this is not my country and I have to respect it.Truth is, I even like it better than my own because Germany has good rules most people follow and those rules make life in Germany very good.

  17. Stella K (@stellamonde)

    28 October, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    What a child screamed at me when I came back home after studying in Southern France (which kind of programmed me to view traffic lights as fun street decor): “Rotgänger Totgänger!!! Grüngänger leben länger!!!”

  18. Mal

    12 April, 2015 at 10:40 am

    This is amusing, in the UK, we are taught as older children to look carefully, and not just go for the Green Man, but people do more conscientiously seem to stand there when there are young children waiting. My German teacher (who is German, but has lived in the UK for many years) thinks Germans will “dob you in it” , a good command of slang there, far more frequently. e.g. Wash your car windows with a bucket of water? You’ll likely be told off, even when it’s clear that you are just cleaning the windows enough to drive to the official car wash, and not using detergent. Lots of other rules it’s easy to break inadvertently. Doing some (quiet) gardening on Sunday? you shouldn’t be. I understand not mowing or using noisy tools, but Germans seem good at extending rules to ridiculous extents, and seem culturally inclined to obey them. I am over-generalising here, of course. Just accepting cultural differences helps, e.g. children seem rude at times by not adding “please” and “thank you” to the usual UK extent, but they can and do shake hands and greet visitors, even when shy.

  19. Cornelius

    4 February, 2017 at 5:07 am

    Very amusing read!

    I, for myself, don’t understand rule-Nazis nor anti-rule-Nazis – when it’s clear to see that i won’t impede traffic (for me the decisive question is: would it even for a malicious car driver be impossible to hit me?), then I jaywalk. The less audience, the more likely I am to jaywalk. The more children around, the less likely I will. Point is: I decide on occasion. I accept the rule, by I don’t necessarily follow it.

    The second part of every rule is: how likely is it that you’re gonna get caught breaking it, and are you willing to bear the consequences? In the case of jaywalking, bystanders will likely not be able to identify me, they are not permitted to detain me, so I will be long gone before the police arrives. But, if push comes to shove, it will be fined with a mere 5€, but it will also count as a traffic offense, of which too many can endanger your (German) driving license. Have never been caught with jaywalking though, despite I may be a highly professional, but at the same time also utterly considerate jaywalker.

    I recognize us Germans love bureaucratic stuff. And being humorless to a point where it we find it exhilarating ourselves.

    So, in my eyes, in conclusion you should neither be blindly following rules (like the poor narrow-minded old man did), nor should you adhere to careless, let alone aggressive disobedience. It’s about responsible law-breaking – just like, in my eyes, you did.

    P.S: when people after catching me jaywalking try to shame me, I just counter their expectations, friendly mannered. Are you blind? No, I saw the street was free. Are you dumb? No, that was on purpose. Do you want to give a bad example? No, do you?

    P.P.S: It’s usually not considered a traffic offense when you cross a street when there is no Fußgängerampel nearby, and unless you don’t cause an accident, it won’t endanger your driving license either. If you recognize that you have been watched by the police, just greet friendly or leave as if nothing happened – chances are good you’ll get away with it, as, contrary to crossing red Ampelmännchen, there is no law explicitly prohibiting just crossing the street (Though there is a law that obliges you to use a pedestrian crossing when nearby). Happy and attentive jaywalking, and always stay safe!

What do you think?