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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Lifestyle‹  ›EN‹   –  05.04.2010

Life in Motion

A recently published book about living without a car in Germany by author Carsten Otte spawned an interesting book reading event here in Freiburg: during a two hour tram ride through town, Otte entertained an audience with his experiences as a pedestrian, bicyclist, and train passenger.

It was a clever promotional gimmick, in any case. I wonder, though, if he was simply preaching to the choir or if he actually managed to draw in some die hard car owners – the ones who, in his view, really need some convincing. Because, as the subtitle claims, “Goodbye Auto” is more than just a story about “life without a driver license”: Otte tries to convince the reader that the end of individual motorized transportation as we know it – i.e. car ownership – is near.

What struck me most about the whole thing was the underlying implication that car ownership, and all the trappings that go with it, has become as second nature to Germans as it long since has been to Americans. This, in a country (at least in the urban areas, where the majority of the population lives) where getting by without a car must be easier than just about anywhere else in the world! Between excellent bike paths, good local public transport networks and reliable train service for long-distance trips, there aren’t many occasions where one really needs to own a car. Need, as in: there simply is no practical alternative to the car for getting to your destination - the case in a lot of places I’ve lived in the States.

Yet, even here, where excellent alternatives abound, the dominance of the automobile has increased steadily over the past decades. Compared to my childhood days, the number of parked cars clogging up city side streets and the general level of car and truck traffic have gone nowhere but up. And folks like us, who intentionally don’t own a vehicle, now generate almost the same raised eyebrows as you’d get in the U.S.

It is generally considered a sacrifice to forgo the “freedom of movement” and the “convenience” a car offers, and to instead make all your trips by bike and public transport, year round, in every kind of weather. But it really is a choice – one that has, to my mind, a lot to offer. For one, these alternative modes of transportation can generate stories galore: there’s just so much interesting stuff that can happen along the way! And if motorists think public transport is too crowded, unreliable and uncool, they should sit down with Carl Hoffman’s new book, “The Lunatic Express”. It takes readers on truly dangerous trips with the worlds’ poor, people who commute daily on totally overcrowded buses, trains and ferries. After reading of those adrenalin-spiked rides, the seemingly weird guys you meet on the bus won’t seem so bad anymore, I promise. It’s all a matter of perspective, as they say.