27 September, 2013

Cars and Transport

Following my previous post about some of the differences between the US and Germany, I feel inclined to explore one subject in particular: CARS. While I have little personal contact with cars in my daily life here, and my host family doesn't have a car at all, I naturally see them all the time around the neighborhood and in the city. I couldn't help but notice that there is a distinct difference in the types of cars driven here versus those driven in the states.
To illustrate this difference, I did an oh-so-scientific survey of car brands over the past two days (only 5-10 minutes of observation total, so take these numbers with a grain of salt) and recorded the most commonly seen makes of car. Here are the results, from most prevalent to least prevalent (and including national origin):

Volkswagen (German) - 28% (26 cars total)
Audi (German) - 11% (10 cars)
BMW (German) - 11 % (10 cars)
Ford (American) - 11% (10 cars)
Mercedes (German) - 10% (9 cars total)
Opel (German, subsidiary of GM) - 5% (5 cars)
Peugeot (French) - 5% (5 cars)
Smart Car (German) - 4% (4 cars)
Fiat (Italian) - 2% (2 cars)
Skoda (Czech) - 2% (2 cars)
Honda (Japanese) - 2% (2 cars)
Renault (French) - 2% (2 cars)
Nissan (Japanese) - 1
Seat (Spanish) - 1
Porsche (German) - 1
Hyudai (South Korean) - 1
Kia (South Korean) - 1
Mini Cooper (German, subsidiary of BMW) - 1

Things that stand out to me from this information are 1) four of the five most common car brands are German, 2) Ford is the only American brand represented here, and 3) many brands are sold here that are not available or even know in the US, such as Opel, Peugeot, Skoda, and Seat. There are also different (and often unknown) models of cars made by familiar companies, such as this Smart Roadster:

Yes, that is a real-life Smart Car

Also noteworthy are the things I haven't seen: minivans, pickup trucks, Hummers, Land Rovers, and other unnecessarily large vehicles. There just isn't the same desire for large, unwieldy vehicles here as there is in the US, and for good reason: the parking spaces here are SMALL! You would not fit a minivan in the average German parking space, and on many streets there aren't even lines marking where you should park. People just squeeze their cars into any space they can find, even when that includes parking half in the road and half on the sidewalk, which is very common. And since parking is so limited in the city, people parallel park very close to the cars next to them.

If I had included all forms of private transport in this list and not just cars, however, the greatest percentage would most likely not even be a car brand. That honor would go to... BICYCLES! It seems like everyone here has a bike, and there are bike lanes on nearly every street. When walking down the sidewalk I have to constantly remind myself not only to look for cars when crossing the street but to look for bikes as well. Getting hit by a bike is a definite danger here, and they are much quieter and stealthier than cars, so paying attention instead of leaping blindly into the street is very important.

As I mentioned earlier, this information should not by any means be considered representative of Germany as a whole (or even of the city of Karlsruhe), since my "survey" was done in 10 minutes and was only conducted in one tiny part of the city. However, even this limited observation does bring up some general trends that I think are likely to be seen in other places as well. And hey, this is my blog, so who says I have to be objective?

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Anyone want to help me make a more accurate comparison? If you feel like participating, I invite you to do the same sort of survey that I did of the types of cars you see on a daily basis and write down the results in the comments/message me on Facebook (including the country you are in, if that is unknown to me). I'm curious if there are trends in the US that I was previously unaware of.

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