Merkel, German men & motor cars

The power of the engine decides one’s status – the stronger and louder, the more masculinity. 

In September 2021, outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel took herself off to Germany’s International Motor Show celebrating Germany’s lasted achievements in cars. Almost since its invention, the automobile has been a weapon, as well as a symbolic prosthesis for male self-worthiness

Regularly, one can observe young men in their cars checking the power of their engines at traffic lights. Reflexes snap setting in motion a mechanism that could hardly be stopped. These men are operating a nervous interaction between the car’s clutch and the accelerator pedal. Their glances go frantically back and forth between the traffic light and the rival. 

The scenery was reminiscent of duels between gunslingers in a cheap Spaghetti Western. Both waited for the starting signal. The traffic light jumped to yellow and within fractions of a second they accelerated. Their sound-amplified engines howled, tires squeaked, cars shoot forward. A few hundred meters down the road, they interrupt their race just as rabidly – and, before the next red light, it starts again.

The fact is that such inner-city races are held at traffic lights and they have become rather common. Two years ago, two young men ran several red lights during a late night race. One of the two crashed into a car at 100 miles an hour. The driver died at the scene. A court found that the two young men had acted with intent accepting the potential death of other road users.

Both were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. In 2019 however, another court overturned the judgment. But then in June 2020, a higher court confirmed the original conviction. Fast cars seem to be a kind of a Viagra-substitute to enhance male pride and Uber-masculinity. Yet, in the same year a Porsche came off the road and crashed into a traffic light – a twelve year old boy barely survived. 

Increasingly, German courts are moving towards harsh punishment for reckless driving. Until now, speeding drivers were usually only convicted of negligence serving up to five years. Regularly, it is treated as an administrative offense, punishable by a fine and the temporary cancellation of a driver’s license. 

Sadly, when male honor is at stake, everything else does not matter! The car has become a male self-esteem prosthesis boosting a weakening male sense of self. The power of the engine decides one’s status – the stronger and louder, the more masculinity

Instead of attenuating the engine noise, engines are deliberately amplified by sound generators. On many evenings, inner-city streets are turned into race tracks. Juvenile men proudly present their thundered racing cars, painted in black and with tinted windows. In some cases, their mothers even get cleaning jobs to pay the leasing rates for their son’s super-charged on-road racing cars.

For many German men, the car, just like soccer, performs an important socio-psychological function. The throttle is the only lever left to operate. The flashy car becomes the pressure valve through which to let escape the jammed anger that has grown inside them. It is an instrument of aggression for those who have to live a life shaped by the permanent defense of oneself. Asphyxiated by inhuman life and even more callous working conditions, they remain trapped in immaturity, impotency, and powerlessness.

As a consequence, the road is becoming more and more a place of aggression, road rage, and a form of urban warfare. According to a report by the World Health Organization, we kill about 1.3 million people per year worldwide in road accidents. It is like killing the entire population of Dallas – every year.

Yet, there are more and more cars – 70 million new cars in 2020 alone. Increasingly, these are off-road vehicles, pick-ups and SUVs – also known as: UAVs or urban assault vehicles. Germany testifies to the unbroken trend towards SUVs and urban warfare on roads. Inside a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), many drivers fancy themselves as the little commanders-in-chief inside their rolling fortress.

Even for the majority of the population, the car has long become a socially-accepted instrument for the realization of homicidal and even suicidal tendencies. Murder and suicide often come together particularly in the moment when destructive and self-destructive energies are turned on, leaving a trail of destruction behind. 

The car allows the combination of both forms of homicides and suicides – the term rampage is increasingly used. And it can be used by racists to kill – not only in Charlottesville. On New Year’s Eve 2018/19, a 50-year-old unemployed German man deliberately drove his car in groups of foreigners. Ten people were injured.

In April 2018, another man drove his van into a café killing four and injuring a further 36 people. The car has become the weapon for German men who do not have firearms and do not know how to obtain them. In February, a car crashed into a crowd of people in front of a bakery at the entrance to the pedestrian zone in the city of Heidelberg. The car caught three bystanders before hitting a lamp-post and coming to a stop. Two bystanders were injured and a 73-year-old man succumbed to his injuries hours after the crime in a local clinic. The driver fled on foot but was shot by police. 

In August 2013, a 46 – year-old man drove his car through the city of Regensburg. He broke through a construction site barrier, drove at top speed through a pedestrian zone, injuring pedestrians. Finally, he crashed into the glass front door of a laundry shop killing a five-year old girl and her three-year-old sister. 

During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, a man in his car broke through the barrier around the fan mile at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, driving into the crowd and injured twenty people. A court declared him mentally ill as he was sent to a mental hospital. 

Germany is not alone. In neighboring Austria, a 26 year old man drove his SUV into a crowd at a pedestrian zone of Graz’s city center. After that, the man attacked people with a knife. Three people died and more than thirty were injured. Nice in France (2016), a man drove a truck into the crowd of revelers and killed 86 people

The rampage with a car as a weapon has established itself as a new mode. It happened again on the evening of 19th December 2016 in Berlin. An Islamist assassin drove a trailer into a crowd at the Christmas market. Twelve people died and 55 were injured. On February 24th, 2020, a 29 year old man drove a Mercedes into people in the town of Volkmarsen injuring dozens of people including a large number of children.

The perpetrator was arrested facing 91 cases of attempted murder – the trial is still pending. In a similar rampage, a man in Trier drove his SUV through Trier’s pedestrian zone killing five people and injuring twenty-four others. German police managed to stop and arrest the 51 year old man. The man was drunk and had apparently spent the last few nights in his car. 

His act was reminiscent of the Münster rampage (April 2018), where a 48-year-old German drove a minibus into a roadside cafe killing two people and injuring twenty others. The man shot himself at the crime scene. His motives remained in the dark. 

Many of these men – always men! – embody a form of hyper-normality, which, apparently, sometimes goes pregnant with its opposite – male destructiveness as well as Demonic Males: the Origins of Human Violence. The apparent normality of our petit-bourgeois social order gives birth to male monsters – every day.

In many cases, all too often male perpetrators are questioned by police but advised by their lawyers to come up with a plausible sounding statement. The initial, “I do not know why I did this” is no longer the most honest truth by the time questioning takes place. Once again, idyll and horror lie close together. Madness and Civilization are not as neatly separated as we have been made to believe.

In the midst of our normal Christmas shopping frenzy, violence suddenly breaks out. It shows that our petit-bourgeois shopping society is made up of money and senseless commerce. At the surface, it is pretended to be peaceful society – a simulation, as French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) pointed out.

There is a permanent threat of urban warfare at its hidden core. It is no coincidence that the murderous weapon of a very normal man is his car, the SUV.

Originally developed for the military, today they turn streets into war zones. Men climb on board, sink into the leather seats and drop the door into its heavy lock. All sounds fade away, nothing can harm the self-imagined warrior any longer. SUV drivers have the feeling of sitting in a castle. The higher you sit, the more you underestimate your speed, the small others appear, and the more risky when you drive. A little pressure on the accelerator and you are already moving at 100 miles per hour on Germany’s infamous Autobahn and elsewhere.

From the point of view of the SUV driver, small- and medium-sized cars turn into little vermin. SUV drivers – given the sheer mass of their cars – assume everyone and everything gives way – especially pedestrians, children, dogs, and cyclists. 

One is tempted to think that with the SUV, the inhuman doctrine of Social Darwinism has produced its very own vehicle that suits its twisted ideology. In an SUV, one is an Uber-master of any situation in the traffic – men ride a majestic cannonball into madness. Men is the king of the road and Lord of life and death. 

Yet, mass death by cars not only hits people. The number of animals killed by cars is stratospheric. By now, many understand that a hare, a hedgehog, a robin and a fox have the same right to exist as a human being. Animal ethics tells us that we inhabit the same earth. With this level of ethical awareness, many are gripped by horror in the face of the daily massacre.

Yet, the destruction of nature continues unabated. The people live in oblivion to our global deforestation and adjacent environmental vandalism. The racing SUV driver remains unmoved. They follow a motto of madness in the face of forest deaths saying, my car also drives without forest!

On the historical dialectic of the car which is, after all, not much more than a reactionary extension of a horse drawn car-riage, our beloved cars did not always have a bad press. In its beginnings as an everyday vehicle, it was also an instrument of liberation for many – mostly very wealthy members of upper society. Much later, the capitalist miracle which many grew into was carried forward by the Fordist industries.

By the 1950s, the German automobile had become one of the central products of mass production and mass consumption. Cars became affordable even for workers who made them. Whether bought from the first self-earned money for a few hundred Deutsch Marks, or borrowed from the father or older siblings, the car expanded the radius in which young Germans moved.

Still today, Germans get their driver’s license on their eighteenth birthday – the hallmark of the formal adulthood. Even the revolt of the late 1960s made use of the car in various ways. As Germany’s government responded with so-called emergency laws – the semi-dictatorial Notstandsgesetze – to anti-war rallies against the war in Vietnam, universities boiled over. 

Young Germans traveled from educational protests of teach-in to teach-in in old, scrap-metal cars. On the back seats of these cars, not only anti-war speeches were composed, but also cuddling, eating, drinking, sleeping, sex, and listening to music took place. Some nights were spent on dark, lonely streets banging hard rock.

Yet, the infamous back seat of a car became part of Germany’s sexual revolution. Meanwhile, the car radio became the medium of subversion. Many of these emancipatory aspects – which a common car once possessed – shouldn’t be concealed or forgotten. Yet, this was a long time. 

Today, the development of the figures alone is proof that cars have overwhelmed us: in 1960, almost five million cars were registered in Germany; last year it was almost 48 million. This came with severe consequences: the car remains the cause of one of the most common deaths of children in Germany. Of the 153 fatal accidents involving children under the age of 15 registered in 2019, for example:

  • 54 occurred with a means of transport (mostly cars);
  • 33 children drowned;
  • 21 children fell into death;
  • 17 children died from a choking accident;
  • 6 children died because of poisoning; 
  • 2 children died as a result of smoke, fire and flame; and 
  • 20 died of unknown causes.

Yet, while the car may well be one of the most common causes of death for children in Germany, it has also become a symbol of hyper-consumerism and status. However, the pathologies associated with driving go even further than that. 

Even though cars are the means of clogging streets, road congestion and traffic jams, a car is stationary for a whopping 23 hours per day – a monstrous 95.83% of a car’s existence that it does not move at all. Still, those few trips Germans do cause massive problems. Yet, the stationary car will be even more stationary as people work from home even in a post-Coronavirus world. 

Yet, alternatives like the electric car and even the most beautiful, gender-fair, ecological, e-scooter electro-skateboard, and bicycle-based capitalism remains capitalism. It contributes to the acceleration of our common global environmental destruction. 

Rapidly, we move towards the 6th mass extinction and a future of an uninhabitable earth. Yet, we stick to our cars, our hyper-consumerism, and, of course to consumer capitalism. Adorno might have been right when saying, immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them.

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