Danger: Ossi driver ahead

Western Germans want their eastern cousins kept in the slow lane, writes Imre Karacs
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The Independent Online
It was one of those inalienable rights bestowed upon the people of East Germany when the Wall collapsed. Into their laps fell democracy and consumerism, powered by a turbo-charged currency.

In the hour of their union, the Federal Republic's new citizens traded in Soviet "champagne" for the real stuff, swapped Bulgarian fags for Marlboro and discovered the ephemeral joys of economic liberalism. To cap it all, they were given the freedom of their Western kin to charge down the Autobahn at whatever speed took their fancy.

We now know that the Ossis did not merit all this trust. To this day they drink too much, smoke too much, spend the new money way beyond their means and vote for the wrong political party. And, according to the latest statistics, they are shockingly bad drivers, incapable of going in a straight line once above Trabant speeds.

"What" - I hear you cry - "worse than the motorists we encountered when touring the Rhine? Worse than the BMWs that hunt in packs on the A3 skirting Frankfurt, their injection engines fuelled by testosterone? Worse than the lunatics who routinely use their vehicles as a battering ram, hurling towards a solid queue in excess of 120mph, tap-dancing on the pedals whilst keeping a steady two-inch gap from the bumper of the car in front?"

Much worse. Thanks to advances in crumple zones, air bags, steel bars and other life-saving technology, the number of motorway deaths on the carriageways of western Germany actually fell last year. But according to the latest government figures, Germany is one of the few countries in the Western world where road deaths are on the increase. Once again, the Ossis are to blame for the sad decline in German standards.

The statistics do not lie. They clearly show that your chance of dying on an eastern German motorway is nearly twice as high as in the western fast lane, and it increased by 22 per cent last year alone. It is fair to point out that the roads in the east are in worse condition than the highways that criss-cross old West Germany. Motorways in the new Lander are currently being upgraded, with the result that counter-flows, lane closures and jams are endemic on all roads leading to Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden. It can also be argued that the poorer Ossis drive cheaper cars than their richer Western cousins, and therefore have fewer life- saving extras.

But Wessis know that this does not explain the higher mortality in the east. The real reason is that, either for lack of experience or ability, Ossis simply cannot cope with Western driving standards or the dizzying speeds of the free world. The solution is self-evident, even if somewhat humiliating: Wessis are calling for a speed limit of 100kph (60mph) on the motorways of the east; a speed which would not blow even a two-stroke Trabi's gasket. The proposal has already been put to a vote in the august columns of Bild Zeitung, the nation's leading tabloid. The snap poll produced an overwhelming majority in favour of relegating Ossis to the slow lane. There is, of course, no suggestion of slowing down drivers in the west.

Opinion polls consistently show that eastern Germans regard themselves as second-class citizens in their own country. They earn less than westerners, their qualifications are deemed inferior or simply worthless and the marriage statistics indicate that East and West Berliners are about as emotionally compatible as horses and donkeys. And now, if some people in the west have their way, they will no longer be allowed to drive at the same speed.