Thursday, August 30, 2012

License plates

License plates in the US follow the States, whereas towns and districts issue those in Germany. The first letters (up to three) printed on a German plate designate the origin of the vehicle.

It is easy with single letters, e.g., B stands for Berlin, M for Munich and H for Hamburg; well, that is wrong for although Hamburg is bigger than Hannover, they left the H to the smaller city preferring HH standing for Hansestadt Hamburg. Even though the Hanse has since long disappeared, the people of Hamburg are so proud that entering the city by car, you will read: Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg). I miss that road sign. During the last 30 years, I crossed the boundary of the city, where I spent all my high school days by train or plane only.

In fact, three big German cities are federal states: Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen (HB for Hansestadt Bremen). Smaller cities get two letters, and my friends in Madison know that FR stands for Freiburg. Like in the States, the administration issuing license plates lets you chose the following letter-number combination (here for an extra fee of 20 euros). Below is my Freiburg license plate:

When driving along the German autobahn, you will notice that the variety of license plates is great. People like to play games with those letter combinations, So you may read BA for the city of Bamberg interpreted as blutiger Anfänger (bloody learner), GS for Goslar: genüsslich schlafend (sleeping pleasurably), WW for the district Westerwald: Wilder Westen (wild west). Three letter combinations for smaller towns are even funnier like FFB for Fürstenfeldbruck: Fahrer fährt blöd (conductor drives stupidly), OAL for the district Ostallgäu: Ochse am Lenkrad (ox behind the wheel) and SAD for Schwandorf: sieht alles doppelt (meaning the driver is drunk).

In combining small towns and districts to form larger entities, many a letter combination in Germany has disappeared over the last twenty years. Some people are unhappy, having lost their identity like those of Merseburg (formerly MER) now driving with their new license plates QM (district Querfurt-Merseburg). Two weeks ago, a German professor (doesn't he have anything else to do?) opened the summer theater in filling the famous journalistic summer hole proposing not only to reactivate those lost license plates but to introduce new ones keeping people attached to their hometown happy. Forget about the Euro crisis and the war in Syria. Instead, think about new letter combinations like LOL?

Well, there is still one benefit in all this. In the future, guessing license plates on long car drives will keep grouching kids quiet, hopefully for extended periods.

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