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CULTURE

Daily dilemmas: Is it ever acceptable to cross the road at a red light in Germany?

It's an issue that's debated often in Germany. Should you ever cross the road when it's a red light (if it's safe)? Or do you risk getting a telling off? Here's your verdict.

Daily dilemmas: Is it ever acceptable to cross the road at a red light in Germany?
The green Ampelmann (traffic light man) in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Germans love rules – and they're not afraid to give people a stern telling off if they flout them (as one of our members Peter Mahaffey pointed out).

READ ALSO: 13 things foreigners do that make Germans really uncomfortable

Take crossing the road: if you stroll out when it's not a green pedestrian light – even if you feel it's safe to do so because there are no cars – you could quickly face some deathly stares or even some harsh words.

It's even worse if there are children nearby. If you're in a rush and leg it across the road just after the red light appears, you may be greeted with: “Es ist rot! Hier sind Kinder!' (It's red, there are kids here).

Crossing the road when it's a red light – jaywalking – is illegal in Germany and you can face a fine of between €5 and €10 if you're caught. 

However, in some countries across the world it's the norm to pay a bit less attention to traffic lights and, instead, cross the road when you think it's safe (whether it's green or not).

We asked The Local readers to decide if it's ever okay to do it – and here's the result.

On Facebook, 55 percent of respondents to our survey said NO, it's not okay to cross the road when the light is red. A total of 45 percent said YES, it's fine to do it if it's safe.

And over on Twitter there was a similar result, although it was a little tighter: 52 percent of readers said NO it's not okay and 48 percent said YES, it's okay if it's safe. 

Readers also shared their views on the issue – and their own experiences of the road crossing culture in Germany. 

On Facebook, Chad Michael Hanawalt was faced with this dilemma early on during his first trip to the Bundesrepublik. He said: “I crossed on red once in front of the train station in Bonn. I could tell people were not happy with me. Although in my defence, it was my first time in Germany and I had no idea this was a thing. But I know better now!”

Chris Walmsley has also felt the wrath of the German public. He said he'd been “shouted at in Mönchengladbach (western Germany) on a completely empty road by a lady taking her dog for a walk”. He's never cross the road when it's a red light again, well at least when there's other people around anyway. 

For Sid Young the outcome was even worse: he was fined €5 for it.

Alex Perry is not a fan of this law. “If I waited at all the red lights in Leipzig I wouldn't get anything done,” he said. The Ampeln (traffic lights) phases here are absurd.”

Debby Boon agrees. “This law frustrates me so much,” she said. “Drivers are allowed to decide if it’s safe to go but not pedestrians.”

Richard Bailey said everyone should cross the light on red if it's safe to do so.

“Obedience to ridiculous rules is shameful,” he said. 

'Wait for the light to change!'

However, others said citizens should stick to the rules. 

“It's an unnecessary risk, just wait for the damn light to change,” said Federico Leon. 

Many of our readers said it made a difference if children are around. 

'I guess you can get away with it occasionally when it is not busy – but never if there are children waiting at the traffic light. You'll get shouted or stared at for 'setting a bad example',” said one reader. 

Another respondent to our survey, Nabeel Ijaz Bhatti, said: “Normally it's not good to cross in red if there is traffic coming or a child or children are waiting to cross.

“They learn what you do. If not, they will ask their accompanying person questions about this strange behaviour.”

However Bhatti added that if there's no one around and the road is clear, it should be okay to cross the road. 

Rachael Dobšovičová said she has been influenced by German culture. “It’s so ingrained in me now after living here for long enough, I won’t even do it back home in NY,” she said. 

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CULTURE

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”

READ ALSO:

“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”

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