The unmarked cars of European street signs: Part 2
Living near Stuttgart, I sometimes have to remind myself that I can drive two hours and pass through three different linguistic zones. That’s hugely exciting! Of course, it also creates some difficulty for me, an American, when it comes to everyday tasks. Such as not recognizing what you just ordered in a restaurant, or aimlessly wandering the place in search of the toilet before finally gathering the courage to find the waitstaff and point at your pants. Pictures often suffice when there’s no help around, which is better than written messages burdening people with words they can’t read or pronounce anyway. Well, maybe they can … but I definitely can’t.
Matthew Anderson is an American engineer who relocated to Germany a few years ago for work. In his spare time, with reckless abandon, he pursues a baffling obsession with unexceptional Eastern Bloc cars. We don’t ask him too many follow-up questions.
With another year nearly in the books here in Europe, the continent’s street signs I wrote about in Part 1 of this story keep on giving. Here is a gathering of a dozen or so new gems that I’ve spotted in the past few months.
For the sake of my own convenience, let’s start in Germany and work our way outward. Kurzzeitparkplatz Nur für Eltern = Short term parking spot only for parents. Here at this boarding school in the town of Schwangau in the Bavarian Alps we have a display of spatial efficiency, thanks to the beautiful (I’m not even kidding this time!) German language. But it’s a bit sad to tow away the vehicles of visiting parents, especially if they’ve lingered just a bit too long after an arduous journey from 1950s East Berlin in their two-stroke IFA F8. Even more impressive is that the local municipality chose a Yugoslavian-built TAM 4500 as their Abschleppwagen of choice.
And what’s this? Below, at the same school, we have more wrongly-parked parents being reported by their mortified teenagers. But this time the hook is on the family’s first-gen Rabbit, or Golf if you’re from over here. Although, it’s a poor strategy to get your only chance of hand-me-down transportation trapped behind chain link and razor wire, until your folks dig their way out from under tuition invoices. As a general note, Mk I Rabbits are all over signage here, so I tend not to report them unless it’s an emergency.
Stuck in a “Stau,” or “traffic jam” and refusing to turn off your engine? Might as well put that nine-inch pumpkin and open diff to good use and give the gift of a Tiger Paws tires neutral-dropped directly into sublimation! The car in question? Judging by the volume of smoke and square haunches extending well beyond the C-pillars, I’m wagering an Argentinian IKA Torino 380W. One must also respect the driver for his extremely broad shoulders and apparent no-nonsense approach to weight reduction, by way of removing the passenger seat. It’s a bit tough to tell from here.
Near the city of Heidelberg, I honestly never thought I’d see a sign warning 1961 Dodge Polara drivers against completely breaking up the pavement. But here we are. The Romans came through this region and built some pretty wonderful roads which, thankfully, are still around today thanks to the extremely limited stock of of 1961 Dodge Polaras. Plentiful signage helps, too.
Hitched to the back of a Toyota Dyna is a perhaps an early 2000s Chery M1 with 8-inch drop spindles and a set of 24-inch pro touring monobloc wheels. Or the artwork was reluctantly taken over mid-project by someone whose sole exposure to automobiles was in plush toy form. Obviously more curious is the choice of language. Here in Alpine Garmisch-Partenkirschen, tourists from all over come to enjoy hiking in the summer, or skiing and snowboarding in the winter; given there are no English road signs in such an area, who knows why they decided to mint one single Arabic-language road sign in the entire town.
Here below, we have a sign stating that the parking spot in question is specifically for trolleys giving tours of scenic Alpine locations. And the car being swept away by the Bedford CA tow truck? Obviously a late-1990s Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Coupe sans FE4 suspension package. Perhaps annoyed with nose-heavy grey-market U.S. sports sedans digging their front sidewalls into each hairpin bend, this municipal sign-maker took his frustrations out on the die cutter.
In a small land with 80 million inhabitants and limited parking, it’s not uncommon that a place to squeeze your kleinwagen in close proximity to the office is a benefit bestowed upon deserving ladder climbers. Here we see a sign warning that all others, save for company management, will be removed at their own expense. Especially one particular employee who drives a Peugeot 407 SW and can not take a HINT that someone VERY IMPORTANT parks here! Honest coincidence or passive-aggressive? You be the boss on that call.
Let’s head about an hour East into the Alsace region of France, an area traded back and forth between Germany and France throughout the past 170 years. This history has created a culturally blended environment. Think French joie-de-vivre with German architecture and organization. Natrually, its dialect defies either classification. Even the signage is a mashup. Mal stationné (wrongly parked) here in Strasbourg? Two options for you. If you showed up in an Austin Kimberly, America, or MG 1100, you get the la longue dépanneuse (long tow truck, obviously a Saviem SG2). Rock up in a Spanish-market Renault 7TL with accessory fender skirts? You get la grande dépanneuse (the tall tow truck; a Berliet GAK, of course).
Now driving back across the Rhine, through the Black Forest, across the heart of Swabia and to Lake Constance, we have arrived in another border region. Somehow, while walking on a footpath, my wife and I accidentally crossed into Switzerland. Other than my 17 Euro sandwich and sign featuring my one-that-got away car—a SoCal sun-baked Facel-Vega repowered with a 260 Ford V8 in the late 1960s—I would have never noticed. In Switzerland, where everything is expensive, one would expect a Monteverdi 375 but no, here we have the understated Facelia. Even from here you can tell it roached its Pont-à-Mousson cylinder head and was consequently swapped with a small-block Ford and T-10. (Back in 3D land, I’m still kicking myself that I haven’t found the real car.)
Heading Southeast from Konstanz and into the Alps, we have another Fiat—this time reminding us to turn our lights on before heading into a tunnel-like structure. Unlike the mold covered OSCA spider, here we clearly have a 1200 Vetture Special. Impossibly cute and concise wording.
Next we’re rambling down the Dalmatian coast, boarding a ferry, and hopping off on the island of Hvar. The North and South coasts of Hvar are separated by a decently large mountain and there are two options: over or through. The Pitve Tunnel is about a mile long, one lane, and less than 8 feet wide or tall. Traffic in and out is controlled by a stop light on each side, operated by a traffic sensor that may or may not sense traffic. Once in the tunnel it’s complete darkness, with no room for tracking error along the undulating pavement. The speed limit of 50 kph (30 mph) is fully acceptable. The sign here at tunnel entry explains that one should maintain a reasonable following distance from one Lada 2101 to another, as well as to the stop bar. And if your Zhiguli is missing a rear wheel, forget it.
Back in Germany, here in ye ole Fressnapf, the pet supply store demands only the finest Mark 9 Jaguars be abgeschleppt at their owners own kosten. Though there isn’t enough tow truck detail for my liking, I do appreciate the prominently featured hook.
Same message as above, but really, why make a duplicate sign only to differentiate the removal of Mark 9 Jaguars and Oldsmobile Cutlass Salons?
As if there aren’t enough reasons to travel, signs are yet another thing to observe, absorb, and enjoy. These one-off designs might seem like they are giving way to more generic alternatives, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case. It appears that these regional differences will continue to persist, just like food, language, and dumb Americans trying to find the toilet.