Germans and their pedestrian crossings

Nearly every English-speaking German expat writes, with much glee, about how Germans will patiently wait 15 minutes for the walk signal to come on even if there have been no cars on the road for the past hour.

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Note: I’m posting out of chronological order, because if I don’t, this blog will not be updated until climate change kills us all.

English:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every English-speaking German expat writes, with much glee, about how Germans will patiently wait 15 minutes for the walk signal to come on even if there have been no cars on the road for the past hour, and about how the easiest way to upset a German pedestrian’s travel plans is to tell them to take a route that does not involve clearly delineated road crossings, maybe throw in a war joke about how the Allies should have set up zebra crossings and red men. I suspect this is a Germany blogger initiation ritual of some kind; I’ll update you if I receive a membership card in the mail a few weeks after publishing this post.

Despite this, I have found in my 2.5 weeks here so far that the “Germans never jaywalk” stereotype is nowhere as extreme as most make it out to be. It’s been a little disappointing, to be honest, as I was looking forward to finally feeling comfortable about waiting for the walk signal to come on surrounded by my non-jaywalking brethren. Being at university has diluted it a great deal, but it still pleases my law-abiding Singaporean heart to only cross the road when the green man comes on.

Among the few other places in this country I’ve been to, the truth of the stereotype fluctuates quite drastically with how dense and urban the area is. It makes sense, I suppose – you should be the most careful in places where you think you’re the least likely to get hit by a car. Hence, mostly deserted suburban street in Mainz: traffic signals are the word of God. Quiet downtown Berlin: most people wait if there are cars in sight, but some do cross the road if it seems empty. Busy downtown Berlin: more jaywalkers than – I would say Elm Street*, but I don’t think anything in the Western world surpasses that, so let’s just say those parts of Berlin have lots of jaywalkers.

Central downtown Mannheim is the same as the last, although I think the jaywalkers here do not do it out of spite for rules, nor for convenience, really. I don’t even know if it counts as jaywalking if you have no other way of crossing the road: the urban planners in this city at some point thought to themselves “pah, who will ever need to cross Kurpfalzstrasse (for instance)? Anyone can get all they require in their half of the Quadrate!”. The section of Kurpfalzstrasse that I cross daily is just so blatantly unfriendly to foot traffic, with odd turns for traffic and several foot-snagging tram tracks laid on the already-uneven cobblestone (and no road crossings of course), that they couldn’t have been thinking anything else. More about Mannheim’s sometimes bizarre city layout later.

I think, though, that Germany bloggers shouldn’t make fun of traffic-light obedience so mercilessly. You do see flickers of irritation and self-doubt on people’s faces when they stand waiting by a road that has but one car in the far distance, happily and harmlessly trundling on at 5km/h…towards the collision that can only be averted if the pedestrians do not so much as take one foot off the sidewalk. They fiddle with shopping bags. There are anxious glances to the car and back to the traffic lights. People standing across each other on either side of the crossing avoid each other’s gazes, both knowing they seem a little foolish, and that in no way would their lives be endangered if they crossed the road, but yet…something compels them to remain waiting. Should I go or should I stay? Imagine having to enter this world of inner strife several times a day, every day. Have some sympathy.


 

*Actually, the section of Elm Street in New Haven that runs between two sides of the Yale campus must surely be one of the most jaywalked roads in North America, or at least New England.

Related reading: The Red Dictator: Crossing the Strasse

First attempts at packing for Mannheim

My first attempts at packing for a summer in Europe.

My apologies for the month-long delay between Beginnings and this post. It’s been a wearying end of the semester. The past five days have been a frantic rush consisting of a final examination, rushing a web app (note: it’s not entirely functional yet), packing into the wee hours of the morning, sleeping for a few hours, then packing the rest, pushing 40kg boxes down three flights of stairs, almost missing the deadline for summer storage in the school buildings, doing the final presentation for aforementioned web app – and then, and then – sneaking back into the dorms to clean up my old suite. I’m grateful to have had help from my friends – I don’t know how I’d have managed otherwise.

Packing went slower than it normally would have because I had trouble deciding on what I needed for the summer. This problem shouldn’t even exist, because if you can pack for a week, you can pack for three months. But still…although my internship isn’t going to require any special equipment, and the dress code is university lab casual, I feel a little anxiety about wanting to not look like a slob. Because, you know, ‘Europe’. As much as I feel stupid for over-romanticizing the continent, I can’t help but feel like the average level of street style is much closer to Yale than Singapore. Reading about how Europeans apparently don’t wear shorts was in particular very alarming. (I also think this is not true, at least, not for where I’ll be going.)

Singapore doesn’t really have seasons to speak of, and I haven’t been in New England long enough to grow fond of the dry air, eternally chapped lips, static and other assorted nuisances of winter…but the sartorial variety that cooler weather affords can’t be denied. Wear as much as you want! Soft, baggy, form-hiding knits! Interesting textures! Boots! Scarves! Tights! Pea coats! Pea coats! It’s much easier to be well-dressed when you don’t have to worry about overheating and perspiration-drenched shirts that stick to your back and vast expanses of skin. Dressing for summer requires effort. Researching the climate, for instance. The Weather Underground says that for the same period as my trip last year, the mean maximum, average and minimum temperature in Mannheim were 28, 21 and 12°C respectively: warm days, cool nights. Nice, but hard to dress for. Layers work best for this kind of weather, but since I don’t own that many layer-able clothes, I have to make do with being a little colder in the evenings, or bringing a cardigan and a fleece/blazer wherever I go.

Picking bottoms was easy, and jeans are wonderful. But most of my tops are T-shirts: not the fashionable clingy kind that articles about styling T-shirts talk about, but the unisex graphic-print kind that the same articles urge you to throw away. I had to find a few favorites that were muted enough to be suitable for pairing with various items for maximum versatility. Here is what’s in my suitcase so far.

no-style european summer

I haven’t got a scale, but I’d put the current weight of my suitcase at 15-20kg, including all my stuff, and the concert dress and scores I’m leaving behind. Far too heavy for my taste, but it will be easy to throw out two or three pieces, and the oxford heels can go if they must.

I hadn’t realized just how many clothes my style-anxiousness had made me pack until I created this graphic: there are 30 items in it. Thirty! I’m definitely going to have to rethink the bottoms, settle on a pair of shorts; the jean shorts are more comfy, but the dressy ones are…dressier. I actually do use belts for their original purpose, and am bringing two to have two ways of keeping my pants up, plus a skinny orange waist-belt to add a little interest to an otherwise plain blue dress (it’s not as fancy as the one pictured here.) The internet also tells me that scarves in summer are apparently a thing in Europe. I may toss a cheap lightweight crepe scarf into my luggage, just because it weighs next to nothing. Lastly, I packed two pairs of black tights to cover my legs in case I start feeling awkward about not being skinny.

Honestly, I could fit everything for the summer into my trusty hand-me-down carry-on if I wanted. If you haven’t ever done this, you should try it: travelling with just one piece of hand-carried luggage is incredibly liberating – I did it for the first time when I went to Cuba earlier this year and it just feels so great to know that you have all your stuff with you. The worry that your checked luggage will get lost is a subtle weight that you don’t really notice until it’s gone. Alas, since summer 2014 involves meeting up with family, it’s also my only chance to replenish my stock of Singapore food, and we’ll probably be doing some shopping – so I’ll be using my ridiculously huge Samsonite to be able to haul everything back. It gives me trouble on trains, and I don’t have enough to fill it up so my stuff moves around even with the straps fastened…but until I get a mid-size suitcase this will have to do.

Beginnings

From June till August 2014, I will be in Mannheim, Germany, birthplace of such glorious inventions as the bicycle. In this post I outline what I’d like to achieve with this blog.

From June till August 2014, I will be in Mannheim, Germany, birthplace of such glorious inventions as the bicycle. I will be working at the Central Institute of Mental Health, assisting with research on social cognition in borderline personality disorder. I have my own thoughts on mental health and overpathologization, but all the same I’d definitely like to learn more about social cognition and the world of clinical psychology. Plus, I’ll be living in a really different country (the US wasn’t that much of a culture shock) for two months! It’s going to be terrifying and hopefully lots of fun.

Friedrichsplatz Mannheim
Friedrichsplatz Mannheim (Photo credit: Chingon76)

I’m starting this blog to keep track of, and keep myself accountable regarding, a few things:

  • I had/have many feelings about my summer not being anywhere close to the tech industry ideal, or not as cool/lucrative as what many of my friends are doing, or – I’ll stop now, but I know that I am totally mentally exaggerating how bad it is. Summer 2014 is definitely going to be cooler than I think it will be. I want to keep a record of that.
  • The details of navigating Grownup Things like housing and cooking.
  • My attempts at teaching myself German, and then forcing myself to use what little I know in an industrial/university town where almost everyone speaks English.
  • Mannheim! Most people outside Germany haven’t heard of it – I certainly hadn’t – and I’d like to contribute to the content available on the English-speaking internet about Mannheim.
  • Work! I hope it will be interesting, that my colleagues will be nice, and that I will be able to make a contribution given how little I know about psychology (read: almost nothing)
  • Continuing my aikido training over the summer under a different teacher/style, as a beginner with only a few months of experience.
  • Experiencing part of Europe for the first time, as a Singaporean with close ties to China living in the US for college. I think there will be lots of interesting little cultural details to write about.

That’s not all. Before leaving, I’m also going to have a few weeks of downtime to relax, prepare for my trip, and also:

  • Refresh my knowledge and skill in graphic design.
  • Make a new personal website (if all goes well, this blog will be migrated to that site)
  • Create (or start on, at least) a new artwork that I’d be proud to show others – for the first time in ages
  • Work on one small user experience design project and document the results
  • Make a simple web app?

It’s a lot to accomplish in three weeks, so this blog will be even more important in keeping me motivated. If I can’t finish these in the three weeks, that’s all right, but I want to have these done by the time I’m back in school.

I hope that this project will help me get back into blogging again. I have a regular blog and experience on several others, but despite several attempts I’ve always felt a little strange about making it part of my public identity again – it was started 7 years ago and abandoned for five of those years, and picking it up again would be like trying to add to a piece of old clay that has already dried out. I am very apprehensive about posting in my existing blogs because of a mixture of perfectionism and fear and personal stuff – but hopefully I can try to push those feelings to the back of my mind with this fresh start.

A final side purpose of this blog is to work on the wordiness problem that has plagued my writing for many years. I’m aiming to keep every post here under 1000 words, and to get comfortable with the fact that writing doesn’t have to be over 500 words long to be worth something.

picture of people cheering

I made a post! I made a post after almost a year of not blogging! It’s only 600ish words long!

(P.S. It would be really helpful, motivation-wise, to know that friends are reading this. There is a comment form below! And if you hit Follow on the sidebar, you can get updates in your email or WordPress.com reader.)