When I left the United States back at the end of September, I also left my little red car behind too. Anyone who had seen it would know it’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but it still got me from point A to point B (usually). It was a fifteen-year-old four door Honda Civic, which had three workings windows and three working doors and occasionally would die on the freeway or around sharp turns. The maintenance for it, more often than not, involved duct tape, superglue, and zip ties, rather than screwdrivers and wrenches.
I kept this car around because in car-centric American society, it is more or less a necessity. Outside of large urban areas, you simply cannot get around unless you do by car. Whether you own one yourself or not, it is almost always essential. Last year my family was living in Nebraska while I went to school in Morgantown, West Virginia, which is not a very pedestrian friendly town, with it’s twisty country roads (Country Roads… I know) and almost complete lack of planning, not having a car and walking places is almost out of the question.
I have now been in Rostock for a little over a month and have not been in a car since I arrived. For the average American to say something like this is practically impossible. Here in Rostock, and Germany at large, there is a very well established and well-maintained transportation system. They have high-speed trains connection major cities and regional trains connecting different regions. In Rostock there’s a light rail service connecting the outlying areas like the beach or the shipping yards with the center of the city. There is also an extensive bus and streetcar network throughout the city.
The streetcars really are my lifelines here. There are two stations within a ten-minute walk and the vast majority of my daily destinations are all on one line. I take the streetcars to class, to the grocery store, whenever I feel the need to go anywhere; I usually get there by way of streetcar, and I’m certainly not the only one.
It all comes back to culture and the realities of living in a different society. Europe is obviously a lot more compact and densely populated than the United States. Gas prices may also play a role since the price for gas here is currently the equivalent of over $7 a gallon. But whatever the reasons, a lot fewer people here drive, and even if they do, they do it a lot less often than we do in the United States.
So now here I am, over a month later, and not only getting by, but also being better off for not having a car. Even though it’s hardly a drastic or difficult change, it’s an adjustment nonetheless. It’s an example that we can imagine and relate to, which is important because isn’t this all about stepping beyond our cultural comfort zone and experiencing something new, even if it is something as simple as walking or taking a train instead of driving a car?