Jessica was casually talking on the phone to a friend, as one does, while slowly riding her bike across a Danziger Straße pedestrian crossing at 10 o’clock at night. The Ampelmännchen were red, but there wasn’t a soul in sight – so what the hell... Except that a policeman was laying in wait. Jessica was easy prey: she barely speaks a word of German. Maybe that encouraged the copper to show some real imagination when it came to calculating her €95 fine - €45 for running a red light at a pedestrian crossing and two times €25 for talking on the phone. His logic? Danziger Straße has two separate roadways… Baffled, Jessica tried to protest but to little avail. And actually, it could have been worse. He could have doubled the €45 fine, too.
Most new Berliner cyclists don’t think about this sort of stuff much; they usually just grab a wobbly flea-market clunker and start peddaling. So… welcome to the Bußgeldkatalog, one of Germany’s weirdest books. Yep – it’s an annual catalogue of the myriad fines you’ll have to pay if you break this or that traffic law. The list of fines for bike-related offences makes for pretty interesting reading. For Berlin newcomers who hail from more car-centric cultures, it’s a bit of a wake-up call. Germans actually consider cyclists legitimate Verkehrsteilnehmer (love that word!) – meaning there are real, bike-specific laws which the police is actively trying to uphold with traffic-light traps, inspections and so on. Here are a few of my favourite fines and their word-for-word descriptions:
- Carrying a passenger of over seven years of age on a one-seat bike: €5
- Hanging on to another moving vehicle or riding with free hands: €5
- Riding without functioning brakes or a bell: €10
- No working lights: €10- Riding the vehicle when your hearing is compromised (i.e. wearing headphones): €10
- Using a mobile phone while riding your bicycle: €25
- Ignoring a red light: €45
- Ignoring a light at a pedestrian crossing: €45
And my favourite:
- Ignoring a red light that has lasted longer than one second: €100-€180 (if you cause an accident)
The list goes on and on. The incredible thing is that riding without brakes, possibly the most dangerous thing you can possibly do, is four times cheaper than running a red light. At the end of the day, to avoid harm to your body and bank account, you should (a) not recklessly break every rule in the book (maybe just limit yourself to one big infringement per day), and (b) make sure you have the right kit for your bike: a bell, a decent light, wheel reflectors and functional front and back brakes.