Germans are pretty serious about red lights. Okay, when you’re driving – that makes sense. But pedestrians also adhere to this rule.
I’m sure that when I was a kid, I always had to wait with my mother until the light turned green before crossing the street. But now, having worked in DC and lived in Paris – two big cities – I got into the habit of crossing when it was safe, regardless of the light. I’m not sure what the actual rules are on that in DC, but in Paris, there are definitely no rules, or at least nobody follows them. Seriously. I remember hearing a German lady call out behind me in Paris last year, “Hey, the light is RED!” as I crossed the street with a crowd of other people. There were no cars coming at the time, and I laughed at her comment, thinking to myself, “How typically German.”
So, I must admit I got used to that, crossing the street whenever I personally deem safe. It makes no sense to me to stand there and wait when there are no cars and I could cross safely. If a police officer sees you do this in Germany, however, they can and will give you a ticket. So far I’ve been lucky.
This is the button you have to press (by resting your hand on it – pretty cool, actually) to signal to the signal that you’re there and want to cross.
But the kids!
I was in one neighborhood once where I saw a sign underneath the pedestrian traffic light that said, “Nur bei grün – den Kindern ein Vorbild.” (Only cross on green! Set a good example for children.) Something similar to this sign, found on another blog whose author, Wolfram Heinrich Aldersbach (what a name!), points out that the grammar of the sign is actually not quite right. As he says, it implies that you should only set an example for kids when the light is green. So, implicitly, not when it’s red.
(Picture from his blog.)
Because of this mentality, I am actually more likely to stand there and wait for the green light when there are children present. But I stand there cursing this written (and unwritten) rule, and imagining myself back in Paris, fighting through the insane mass of cars, bicycles and pedestrians, moving every which way and almost running you over multiple times a day…
On second thought, maybe it’s not so bad in Germany!