Recently I experienced my very first case of German road rage.
My wife was driving, and we approached a rather typical intersection leading into a typical German town. The left lane was “straight or left turn” and the right lane was “right turn only” based on the indicating arrows painted on the pavement. Our car was situated in the left lane, stopped on a red light, and when the light turned green my wife proceeded into the intersection and was almost sideswiped by a black BMW station wagon proceeding through the intersection from the right, “turn only” lane.
Luckily the other drive slowed down and my wife swerved to the left just enough to avoid any contact between the two vehicles. And breathing fast she drove into the single lane “straight” exit of the intersection. However the driver of the black BMW station wagon sped up and looped around our car and then stopped right when the road narrowed, blocking our path forward. The driver got out of the car, and started walking towards our car aggressively while shouting in German. I immediately unbuckled my safety belt and got out of the passenger door as well.
The driver was just shy of two meters, about five foot eleven, very “husky” upper torso of someone who lifts weights without cutting fat, or someone who works manual labor such as carpentry or masonry. I’m tall, and leaner than that, but evidently something in my face said, “I will fight you if you don’t stop where you are and back the fuck off.”
He stopped. He was clearly younger than me, and probably stronger as well. But being taller and having the body language of someone who isn’t afraid to take a hit made him rethink his aggression.
My wife, in her halting German tried to apologize (however she had done nothing wrong, as she wasn’t the one trying to go straight through an intersection from a turn only lane), and he sputtered more German at us and then eventually got back into his BMW and moved along. Maybe he decided that yelling at someone who didn’t understand him was a waste of his time.
Now I have no idea who this particular gentleman was, but I do know that I instinctively reached for a pocketknife that I routinely carry for my job that doesn’t comply with German knife laws. So I carry a much less robust Swiss Army knife for normal utility jobs when interacting with the German public. I felt incredibly disarmed without that familiar tool by my side.
With a knife not an option (and a pistol out of the question) the situation had very few options for me. I’ll lay them out.
1, had he continued to approach my wife aggressively, I would have continued to approach him and close the space between us, but I would have had to come around the front of my car to get to him and then he would have to choose between yelling at my wife or dealing with me. As it was, simply splitting his attention between two adults (one of whom was indicating resistance) was enough to give him pause.
2, when he stopped, I stopped, giving him an option to not press the situation. Getting into a physical altercation is always best avoided in my opinion, but showing any weakness to a bully invites the bully to continue to press. Predators home in on weakness, had he continued I would have closed the gap and started a fight.
3, his physique was suited to wrestling, so my only real shot at winning a grappling scenario would be a neck choke until he passed out or died. Punching someone when their adrenaline is up is a good way to do pretty much nothing unless you get very lucky and hit someone with a glass jaw. But the longer a fight would have gone one, the more of an advantage he would have gained being younger and stronger (unless he had crap for endurance, but I’ll never know).
4, a physical altercation would have ended both of us in the clink, or possibly the morgue. I’m not young man any more, so fighting is something I no longer do for recreation, and working into a rear naked or triangle choke is a quick way to kill someone if you hold on for a few seconds too long. I didn’t plan on standing up and exchanging blows with someone younger and stronger (fighting is a good way to get hurt).
Now, had I not been in the car, just my wife and two children, would he have behaved the same way? Or would he have seen a relatively helpless mother of two and toned it down? I don’t know. But I do know that I was willing to go to the pavement to stop him from being a threat, at that moment I didn’t care that I’d get hurt, only that this guy wasn’t going to threaten my family.
I also know that what took a few minutes to write transpired in about fifteen seconds of real time. The “tactical options” that ran through my head were literally about how to gain a position of advantage so I wouldn’t get creamed right away in a fight. Any thoughts of trying some sort of martial arts form went straight out the window and all the “tactics” fell back to boxing and combatives training (say what you want about combatives, it at least gets people used to both proximity of an opponent and pain, and boxing gets you used to taking a hit). This probably means I’m not training enough on skills that will transfer into actions when there isn’t time to mentally prepare for an angry German motorist.
This incident was a wakeup call. I’m closer to 50 than to 20, and being fit for my age doesn’t mean I’m fit compared to anyone else. Injuries don’t heal as quick as they used to, and the gray in my hair reminds me that time is marching on. My wife and I waited a good while into our marriage to start having children, and so I need to double down on the workouts and training to be ready just in case someone threatens them again.