I’m not a big fan of driving. So I wasn’t thrilled when I discovered that I needed a rental car to get around Germany.
As a commuter in New York, I notice a common trend: every sixth driver is a moron, and every fifth driver an asshole. (I’d say I’m probably underreporting and also not taking into account douche bags.) In my daily data collection, the morons and assholes typically drive German cars: Audis, BMWs, and Mercedeses (that doesn’t sound right). (The douche bag will usually drive a pick-up truck, which are no longer purpose-driven, or a Lexus.)
While my research is slightly biased and the data is recorded only in my head, a UC Berkeley study concluded that when a vehicle came to a crosswalk, where they were meant to stop for pedestrians, the drivers of luxury vehicles–Germany makes a lot of those–were less likely to stop, whereas the drivers of “lower-status” vehicles allowed pedestrians to cross every time.
In the interest of full disclosure–but only about cars, as there are a few secrets I hope to secure–there’s another reason I’m disinclined to drive a German car. For years, just seeing a Mercedes or BMW made my blood boil. Many German car companies were complicit in Nazi crimes, benefitting from Jewish slave labor. My grandparents were Jewish slave laborers; my grandfather was forced to work for IG Farben while in Buna-Monowitz at Auschwitz. While I didn’t listen to them when they said “Leave alone the mothballs in the closet,” I did listen to them when they suggested ‘Don’t buy from companies that made us slaves.’
But Germany has changed; it’s not the same Germany. They have advanced their education on the Holocaust, accepted guilt, and outlawed anti-Semitism.
A few weeks ago, I was at a party where some JINO kid was accusing an Orthodox Jew of being a bad Jew because he drove a BMW. When I heard it said out loud, I thought ‘This kid is crazy.’ But the more I played it back in my head, I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s about right.’
Sure it’s hypocritical of me to advocate against buying German cars and still travel to Germany, building their economy when I purchase bratwurst and liter beers, but I should point out a few facts:
a). German cars piss me off these days because of the aforementioned assholes and morons driving them, and less so because of a company’s involvement in persecuting my people. (Paradoxically, the only product I eschew is Maxwell House Coffee, the iconic advertiser on all the Haggadahs that were in my grandparents’ house during the seder. Sure they were just trying to attract customers, but whenever I think slavery in Egypt, I think Moses, boils, killing of the first born son, and bad coffee. None of which sits well with me, though I do want to visit Egypt one day.)
b). If we avoided travel to the places where Jews have been persecuted, we’d have to fly to Northern Canada and walk in circles.
c). While Germany has expressed their guilt over the Holocaust, I still listen to my dead grandmother. For example: Don’t shave my head too close to the scalp, as that reminded her of how the Jews looked in the camps; Don’t marry non-Jewish, which I’ve already made good on; Don’t waste food, which I don’t because I’m an over-eater; Don’t buy a German car, which is easy enough, though I read great things in Consumer Reports.
But I digress.
In Germany, as I’ve explained, I was not looking forward to my rental car. I walked to the Avis counter with unease. They handed me the key. I walked to the lot, focusing on remembering the number of the spot and not inspecting the literature or key tag for the make of the car. When I arrived to the spot, parked there was an anti-Semitic Ford.
Now that I’m this far in the essay, I don’t really have much to say about driving in Germany. It was swaths of lovely farmland, and like America, every sixth driver was an asshole, though I must say there was a significant reduction in morons.
The anti-Semitic car drove fine, though I still would never buy a Ford, even though Grandma did not forbid it. Perhaps she was only aware of European Jew haters; there are a lot to keep track of. Anyway, when I arrived in the city of Erfurt, the car did go a bit too fast down a hill–How’s it feel to be the scapegoat, Henry?
Weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from Avis. They were informing me that they had sent my information to the authorities. Avis was kind enough to only charge me a 29.75 Euro administrative fee to simply pass my address on to the office of ticketing, so that the government could issue me what would most likely be a 10 Euro fine.
But Avis could have saved themselves the trouble because the German police already had my information. While I had parked my anti-Semitic car in the underground hotel parking lot, a kind Austrian man, who perhaps also disapproved of Ford’s hatred of the Jews, crashed into my car. The damage was minor–just a scratch–but the Austrian man insisted that we inform the authorities.
“This is Germany,” he said. Apparently, everything had to be reported to authorities. (This connoted something historically bad.) In any case, we rang the police. But they refused to come.
Then the Austrian man suggested a solution: “Can I offer you fifty euros and we’ll leave it at that?”
A third-party, German woman told me not to take the payoff: “This is Germany,” she said.
We followed typical accident protocol: exchange insurance information, take photos, garner a signed note from the party at fault.
The third-party, German woman had another suggestion: “Let’s call Avis.”
“Why?” I had the insurance. Why waste time over a scratch?
“This is Germany,” said the third-party, German woman again.
Avis, a company that puts the highest value on time, apparently earning 29.75 Euros for two minutes of labor, informed me that I had to get a police report, which translates in most places to ‘Go waste time.’
So I called the police again, but they still wouldn’t come. I drove the evidence to German police headquarters.
I’ll spare you the mundanities of spending hours in a German police station. (The only thing of interest was that the bathroom door would not lock, despite being equipped with a lock. I have no idea why. Perhaps maintenance was on strike.)
While I didn’t learn much about driving in Germany, I learned a lot about renting a car in Germany. First, you’re nearly guaranteed to get a car from a company that at some point in its history was not a fan of the Jews. (For me that was a con, perhaps for you that’s an incentive. Regardless, please stop at crosswalks.) Also, Avis won’t notice a scratch, (unless you call to tell them). So if you have a minor fender bender in which you are not at fault, take the fifty euro payoff. It will cover minor driving violations, as well as administrative fees.