High-stakes games on the roads of Berlin & East Germany

We’re in Leipzig, Germany, after a somewhat dramatic day of travel yesterday getting through Berlin traffic.

While we waited in our rental car to make a left turn at the remaining piece of the Berlin Wall, a lime-green motorcycle sped around us, using a marked bicycle lane to get into the intersection where he plowed straight into a car that was also waiting to make a left turn in the opposing lane from us. The motorcyclist flipped high up into the air and landed on the pavement past the car. The woman driver in the car’s face was one, not of surprise, but of annoyance.

As far as we could tell, the motorcyclist had not touched his brakes (there were no telltale tire streak marks on the pavement), so he impacted at full speed. We got our car out-of-the-way and raced back to check the motorcyclist who lay unmoving on the pavement, with a crowd of people around him and cars still speeding past. He lay facedown across the lane, in a posture as though he had just fallen asleep there, one knee tucked up toward his stomach, in faded-black loose pants and, if I remember right, a green motorcycle jacket that matched his bike.

Two Chinese men were knelt down at the inert man who mercifully was wearing a helmet. His mangled bike, front end spun off sideways from the body, was still where it crashed about 10 feet from where he lay, but in a few minutes someone would drag it off the road and onto the sidewalk. A German woman, speaking English, was standing over the men who were trying to move the unconscious motorcyclist. She said, “Do you know what you are doing?”

It turned out they did. They were Chinese doctors on vacation, and they were moving him so they could make sure he was breathing, although moving anyone, however, gingerly after such a landing, had to be very risky business indeed.

The man remained motionless the whole time we stood there, but it seemed that he was breathing. People were on cell phones calling for help, and when it was clear that we could be of no assistance, we left. Dave was shaken. I was concerned for the man, thinking of his family who would be getting a very sad visit from the police that evening, and of the terrible gamble he made and lost rushing into that intersection.

The police and ambulance took a long time to get to the scene, which surprised us even more later when we drove away and saw how close to a hospital the crash took place.  The ambulance did not hurry away afterwards, but was there for almost 30 minutes. In Canada, that would be a worrisome sign, but we understand that in Europe, there’s more critical care equipment in ambulances, so it may be that they were working on the man and didn’t want to move him too quickly.

It seemed odd to Dave, but I photographed the motorcycle – my old newspaper instincts kicking in, I suppose. The lingering feeling is the wish that there was some way to go back to that instant before the crash, to tell the man, slow down. The chance you’re taking is not worth it.

Intersections and left turns – they are the most dangerous places you might find yourself on the road. Be careful out there.

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