I was riding my bike to the hardware store about 20minutes from our home in Germany. It was a sunny afternoon and there was little traffic. After stopping at a quiet intersection, I quickly resumed riding through the red light. Shortly thereafter I looked behind, saw a police car trailing me and knew immediately that I was being pulled over.
I’m good with cops in these situations. I’m 100% cooperative, humble and, most importantly, open: I admit guilt without stint. Doing so has enabled me to get out of tickets about the last six times I’ve been pulled over. This time, however, I felt I would not be so lucky. These guys, I sensed, wanted me to be ticketed.
I had never been pulled over on a bike before. I had never been pulled over outside the U.S. before. Both officers were younger than me – a depressing milestone. They seemed like the type of young men who spend most of their time lifting weights in their parents’ garage then throwing back beer at Germany’s equivalent of Hooters. When the first one stepped out of the car I said (in German) with the ingratiating tone of an experienced comedian: “I can’t speak German very well”. He replied (in German) “You can’t ride a bike very well either!”
He asked me where I live and said “On Kirchstrasse, with my wife”. “Show me your identification.” German authorities never ask questions – they make demands. I showed him my American drivers license. “Do you have something that shows you live at Kirchstrasse?” “No,” I said. Then, “Well, I do at home.”
His partner at this time was sitting in the vehicle with my drivers license and speaking on the phone – lots of back and forth. From the other officer the questions to me continued and I continued to answer. It became apparent that they were having some difficulty.
After about ten or fifteen minutes the other officer exited the car and approached me. “Okay. You will take us to your home to show us a document proving you live at 161b Kirchstrasse.”
“Oh, OK” I said, genuinely surprised and delighted (I suffer from clinical boredom and revel in such detours from the expected). There was a pause. “Um, do we put my bike in your car or do you follow me?” I asked.
“No,” said the cop. “You lock your bike and we drive you to your house.”
“I don’t have a lock” I said.
If things were going badly for these poor fellows before, this, I sensed, might be a knockout blow. The other officer returned to the car and the phone while his partner and I chatted about my background (American, comedian, etc). Another ten minutes passed. Finally, the officer exited the vehicle and they spoke to each other incomprehensibly.
Finally, I was handed back my drivers license and addressed in that scolding tone that suits German particularly well: “You ran a red light and the fine is 100 euros (about $130). Whenever you are in Germany you are required to have a proof of residency on your person at all times. Because you don’t have your proof of residency we must drive you to your home to get it. But because you don’t have a lock on your bike we can’t drive you. In the future you need to have your proof of residency with you at all times and have a lock for your bike. Only by doing so you will be able to receive your 100 euro fine.”
He didn’t really say that last sentence, although he may as well have.