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Towed Away!

August 1990

No, not me — but our street is a good place to look for illegal parkers. The location is similar to Georgetown, or maybe Foggy Bottom. Although the area is mainly residential itís about 5 minutes walk to the "Alte Oper," the restored Old Opera thatís similar in function to the Kennedy Center, and there are nearby restaurants and shops. The residences are in four- to six-story buildings, so of course there arenít enough legal parking spaces even for those who live here. In addition itís about three blocks to the banking area (you have heard of "Bankfurt?"). Fortunately we donít drive very often so once we do find a parking place the car may stay there for several weeks. Actually a parking garage space three blocks away comes with the apartment, but itís inconvenient enough that we rarely end up there, even last "winter."

A fair percentage of the residents do drive out and back every day. Many of them depend on the fact that ticketers work regular hours too, so every night there are cars parked along every inch of the street. Itís hard to believe that some of them can get out of the spaces theyíre in; often thereís not enough room to walk between them. Youíll find cars parked halfway around corners and on the sidewalk, if itís wide enough and thereís a way to get there (the steel posts along some downtown streets are not to protect pedestrians but to prevent cars from pulling up on the sidewalks). If thereís a gap between cars but the sidewalk isnít wide enough to park theyíll pull through as far as they can and leave the rear sticking out in the street. The tire industry must love it here — you hear tires squealing as cars drive up over the curb even during normal parking.

During the week the illegal parkers generally leave before the ticketers arrive; on Saturday theyíre not always up in time. And Frankfurtís secret weapon against even the most creative illegal parker, the Abschlepper, can get you anywhere! A couple of weeks ago a black Trans Am was the victim. Although its U.S. military plates might have been a factor, it was parked on zebra stripes, partially in a handicapped space, facing the wrong way up our one-way street. The police were writing up a ticket when I happened to look out our front window. Soon the Abschlepper arrived and I was there to capture it all on my camcorder.

The Abschlepper is a flatbed truck with a hydraulic crane mounted behind the cab. The driver got out to operate the crane, suspended from which is a rectangular frame with straps hanging from each corner. He slid a type of bracket under each wheel, pivoted the crane so the frame was over the car and snapped the straps to the brackets. A test lift showed that the car was more front-heavy than expected (it was a Trans Am) so he adjusted the length of the straps, hoisted the car, set it down on the truck bed and drove away. Some neighbors had also gathered to enjoy the action. One little girl asked me in German if it was going to be on television. I told her yes. Her older sister, recognizing a suspicious accent when she heard one, hurried her away.

In addition to the crane, many Abschleppers can also tow a car. To see a pack of them in action is awe-inspiring — they can clear out the better part of a block in a hurry! Actually, pack may not be a very good description, since they donít prowl on their own. However, now that private individuals can call them to deal with obvious parking infringements, it may be only a matter of time.

It is interesting, though, to see how many owners appear after the first couple of cars are taken. The police donít care as long as there is sufficient identification for a ticket and the owners pay the Abschlepperís fee and move the car from the illegal area.

© Copyright 2000 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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