The German Jaywalker

In Berlin, Wayfinding, The Art of Travel Fall 2014 by Lila Faria1 Comment

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a free, NYU-sponsored trip to Weimar. The trip was outstanding—We toured education-based museums, drank wine sponsored by our school, and ate far too much ice cream. I learned about the Bauhaus Movement, and the way architecture has been used to teach German children in the past. It was an outrageously informative trip, and I feel like I learned a lot.

Although most of the trip centered around academics, it was informative in a cultural sense, as well. One of my favorite moments actually took place after the tours and academic events ended: We were given a break of about two hours, during which time we could do whatever we wanted. While most members of my group split into cliques, I broke away from my friends and took a walk across town.

I was looking for an appropriate place to sit and write, when I approached a crosswalk. Not thinking clearly, I did something that seemed natural for most New York City dwellers: I checked my surroundings for incoming cars, and then proceeded to cross the street.

The world stopped. Nearby cars slowed to honk at me. A set of children gasped, as if I’d been cursing in their presence. But, for a while, I couldn’t figure out why.

After I’d crossed the street, I realized what I’d done wrong: When I had crossed, the walking sign had still been red.

German Traffic Lights

German Traffic Lights

I was a jaywalker.

In New York City, jaywalking is done casually. Large groups jaywalk alongside policemen, without a care in the world. Nobody cares, so long as no one gets hurt.

Weimar is not the same. While New York is a large city, Weimar is a small, rule-following town. While in New York City, people focus on walking quickly from place to place, Weimar-dwellers have the time to relax. People gasp when you jaywalk in Weimar because, according to Weimar civilians, jaywalking is considered a crime. They prefer staying safe over creating disorder, and only enjoy strolling if it’s allowed.

Before arriving in Germany, I’d heard people refer to the country as being very strict with regards to rules. In the past, people had even told me the rule-following society might make things unusually orderly and dependable (if not a little bit boring).

Nevertheless, my experience jaywalking in Weimar was the first time I’d ever seen even a glimpse of the traditional rule-following culture. The “Berliner” is about as “New Yorker” as a German civilian can get – people rush around the city here almost as much as they do in the U.S. But the Berlin world is considered separate from the rest of Germany for exactly this reason – it is disorderly and packed, yet still sustainable and smartly done. It is an unusual place due to its architecture, and also the people it attracts. And, for this reason, it has a unique society.

I am happy to be living in Berlin. The city is dependable and nice, and the architecture/historical aspects of the city are fascinating. Yet, when I miss authentic European culture, it can be nice to get out once and a while.



  1. Hey Lila!

    Jaywalking is always a weird thing in other countries because it’s hard to gauge whether or not it’s okay until a weeks in or so – at least that was the case for me. I think in Europe pedestrians don’t have right of way, or maybe just how it is in London. That might explain why people are so shocked? But I’m glad you’re enjoying Berlin. And I think it’s cool you got to experience a more authentic and traditional side of the country. Looking forward to more of your posts!

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