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GERMAN TRADITIONS

Why Germans are being warned not to cycle drunk on Father’s Day

Germany has a special tradition of drunken antics on May 26th each year. But doctors are concerned that a brigade of drunk cyclists could end up in accidents.

A group of young men head out on bikes on Father's Day
A group of young men head out on bikes on Father's Day. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Tim Brakemeier

What’s going on? 

Just a few days before Father’s Day on May 26th, German doctors issued an urgent warning for people to avoid riding their bicycles under the influence. 

According to physicians at the Asklepios clinic in Hamburg, the May 26th bank holiday – which is both Ascension Day and Father’s Day – is the time of year when the majority of alcohol-related bike and car accidents occur. 

Even New Year’s Eve – a  day of firework anarchy and all-night boozing – tends to be outstripped by Father’s Day when it comes to drunken antics and accidents in Germany. And doctors say the problem is getting worse. 

A few months after the start of the pandemic in 2020, revellers set an unfortunate record on Father’s Day when a whopping 657 bike accidents were recorded. Around half of the cyclists – 312 – were under the influence of alcohol at the time.

This year, following the scrapping of most Covid rules, there are concerns that things could get even more crazy than usual. 

READ ALSO: What you should know about Austria and Germany’s ‘Stammtisch’ tradition

Why are there so many drunk cyclists on Father’s Day? 

For more religious types, Ascension Day may be best known at a time to celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven to be reunited with the Holy Father. 

But in Germany, this celebration of the father/son relationship has transitioned over the years. 

In fact, Father’s Day in Germany isn’t so much a day when children hastily buy ‘Dad’ gifts and cards with pints of beer on them on Amazon (though gifts are appreciated). 

It’s more of celebration of male bonding, where groups of men do “traditional” things like binge-drinking and heading out on the town with a strict “no women allowed” policy. In some places, it’s even referred to more often as Männertag (Men’s Day) than Vatertag (Father’s Day). 

Man with Bollerwagen Father's Day

A man pulls a Bollerwagen loaded up with drinks on Father’s Day in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance / Ina Fassbender/dpa | Ina Fassbender

The tradition apparently dates back to the 18th century, when the day was dedicated to a celebration of fathers. Men would be apparently be carted into the village and the man who had fathered the most children would receive a prize (which was normally a large ham).

These days, the cart has remained a prominent feature of the revelry. 

In fact, one of the most popular Father’s Day activities is to fill up a trolley or Bollerwagen with beers and go on a booze-soaked walk or cycle trip with a group of male friends.

Another option is to cut out the middle man and simply rent a beer bike – a big bar on wheels that careers through the town – for your group.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t always lead to the best road safety practices. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Germans get wholly wasted on Ascension Day

But isn’t it all just a bit of fun? 

A lot of people obviously cherish their day-drinking rituals on Father’s Day, and the raucous traditions is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

That’s despite the best efforts of politicians like EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who criticised the fact that fathers didn’t spend enough time with their children on Father’s Day back when she was German Family Minister. 

But doctors are keen to highlight the dangers of being legless while in charge of a bicycle. 

“Riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol significantly increases the risk of falling,” said Michael Hoffmann, head physician at the Clinic for Trauma Surgery, Orthopaedics and Sports Orthopaedics at the Asklepios Klinik St. Georg.

For drunk people who do get injured, it’s also more difficult to assess the severity of a head injury – since coordination isn’t generally the strong point of the inebriated anyway. 

Father's Day

A group of men wheel their “Dad
Mobile” through Weßling, Bavaria, on Father’s Day. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peter Kneffel

Studies also show that the risk of serious or even fatal injuries is about twice as high for drunken cyclists as for sober ones.

“The impaired reflexes under the influence of alcohol certainly play a role here,” explained the head physician of neurosurgery at the Asklepios Clinic North – Heidberg, Paul Kremer, adding that e-bikes were particularly risky.

“They reach higher speeds without much effort, which an intoxicated person can hardly assess properly,” he said. 

Unfortunately, Father’s Day can also be a dangerous time for those who keep their wits about them, too. Apparently, sober cyclists can often suffer injuries when they’re involved in accidents with drunken day-trippers. 

“Anyone who rides a bicycle under the influence of alcohol not only runs the risk of injuring themselves, but also endangers other road users,” Hoffmann warned.

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Fact check: Is Germany really such a car-obsessed country?

From major manufacturers like BMW and Volkswagen to the world-famous Autobahn, Germany is said to be a country that loves its cars - but how much truth is there behind the stereotype?

Fact check: Is Germany really such a car-obsessed country?

In many ways, Germany is a car lover’s paradise. Not only are some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers based here, but drivers also enjoy numerous rights that they don’t elsewhere, from cheap parking permits to speed-limit-free sections of the Autobahn.

It’s no wonder then that the country has developed a reputation for being somewhat car obsessed. But how true is it really? We take a look at some of the facts. 

The endless Tempolimit row 

It’s a topic that’s almost never out of the news, and a debate that has been rumbling on for years: should Germany finally introduce a hard speed limit on sections of its Autobahn? 

In German politics, the Green Party has been one of the loudest voices calling for so-called Tempolimit in recent years, arguing that the move would prevent accidents and drastically cut carbon emissions on the motorway. However, the liberal FDP were dead-set against the move when the ironically named traffic-light coalition sat down at the negotiating table last year. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems that public opinion in Germany has been swinging towards the Greens. When framed as a solidarity measure in an ARD poll, 60 percent of Germans said they would be in favour of a temporary speed limit on the Autobahn, while just 35 percent were against.

Most surprisingly, even Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) – who’s said to be a huge fan of fast cars – has softened his stance on the measure in recent weeks. In an interview on political podcast Lage der Nation, Lindner signalled his readiness to negotiate on the issue.

“I would immediately be prepared to say that we would impose a speed limit in Germany if the nuclear power plants were to run longer,” he told podcast hosts Ulf Buermeyer and Philip Banse. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany introduce a motorway speed limit?

German car manufacturers 

One of the reasons Germany is so closely associated with cars is the unwavering national pride in its car manufacturers. BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are all German brands – and politicians in Germany have often been accused of being in the pockets of these big companies over the years. 

Indeed, former chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has been branded the “car Chancellor” for her perceived friendliness towards the car industry – even when it interfered with her environmental aims. And there are endless jokes on German satire shows about Christian Lindner supposedly taking his policy ideas from the CEO of Porsche. 

However, there’s no denying that car manufacturing plays a significant role in the German economy. In 2021, the sector employed almost 790,000 people and turned over a whopping €410 billion – accounting for 24 percent of domestic industry revenue. Seen from that perspective, it’s understandable that successive governments have wanted to keep these heavyweights on-side. 

Angela Merkel BMW

(Former) Chancellor Angela Merkel looks an electric BMW at a car expo in Hannover in 2018. Photo: picture alliance / Peter Steffen/dpa | Peter Steffen

Car ownership 

Though driving is clearly close to Germans’ hearts, it may surprise you to know that the Bundesrepublik is by no means at the top of the ranks in Europe when it comes to car ownership.

In a ranking of motor vehicles per capita in the EU, Germany actually ends up somewhere in the lower-middle, with a total of 14 member states – including France, Portugal, Italy and Finland – boasting more cars, vans and freight vehicles per person. (In case you’re interested, the Italian micro-state of San Marino topped this particular chart.) 

However, when you look at the number of motor vehicles in total, rather than just per capita, the stats paint a slightly different story. While Italy and France both have around 45 million motor vehicles in the country, there are 52 million of them in Germany.

READ ALSO: Will Germany’s motorists and cyclists ever learn to live with each other?

Average mobility spend

Of course, that’s not to say that the German love affair with driving is entirely a myth. A recent study found that the average German spends a whopping €233 per month on their Auto, which adds up to almost €2,800 per year, compared to just €33 per month on buses and trains. 

That’s not including the outlay for a car in the first place, which can cost well into the tens of thousands. 

Debates over right-of-way

The seemingly unshakeable bond between Germans and their cars has become the subject of heated debate recently as the government tries to encourage people to switch to more climate-friendly options. Some argue that people have become far too attached to convenience and need to make lifestyle changes, while others say the transport network in Germany just isn’t good enough to support this.

In fact, it would probably be fair to say that there are two competing forces in German civil society at the moment: those who are fighting to reshape cities for a more eco-friendly future, and those who are fighting for drivers to maintain their rights and privileges (at least for now). 

Climate activists in Munich

Climate activists glue themselves to the road in Munich’s Karlsplatz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lennart Preiss

The latest front for this battle is Berlin, where the Senate has recently been forced to re-open a busy street to cars after a court ruled that there was no valid legal basis to redirect traffic. Friedrichstraße had originally been blocked off the motor vehicles as part of a traffic trial in 2020 – but the cycle paths and pedestrian walkways had simply remained in place ever since.

As the signage redirecting vehicles is removed from Friedrichstraße, it seems that those who wanted cars to return to the busy thoroughfare have won the battle. But with the Senate vowing to push ahead with plans to pedestrianise the street in the long-term, they may not have won the war. 

READ ALSO: How Berlin Friedrichstraße ended up at the centre of the car-free debate

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