In Quiet-Loving Germany, Motorcyclists Protest A Possible Ban On Loud Sunday Rides Germans abide by a host of laws to keep noise at a minimum after 10 p.m. and on Sundays. Thousands of motorcyclists have been riding in roaring protest through cities in response to a proposed ban.

In Quiet-Loving Germany, Motorcyclists Protest A Possible Ban On Loud Sunday Rides

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/905374694/911024171" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:

People in a lot of countries really heard it when they went into pandemic lockdown. It was so quiet. But in Germany, it just sounded like Sunday because on Sundays, Germans can't mow the lawn or do laundry or any other noisy activity. It's against the law. And now lawmakers are looking at adding riding motorcycles to the list. Here's Esme Nicholson from Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS TOLLING)

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Shh. It's Sunday in Germany where the peal of church bells is about as loud as it gets, unless you live in a picturesque rural village.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE ENGINE)

SONJA SCHUCHTER: (Through interpreter) Many villagers have stopped using their gardens on sunny weekends. Instead of enjoying their morning coffee on the terrace, they stay indoors and shut all the windows to escape the roar of the engines.

NICHOLSON: Sonja Schuchter is the mayor of Sasbachwalden in the Black Forest She says that on sunny Sundays, up to a thousand motorcyclists pass through her village, and about 20% percent of them really rev their engines as they ride. These are some she recorded last Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE ENGINES)

SCHUCHTER: (Through interpreter) Why on Earth motorcyclists think they can make so much racket when we refrain from using our lawnmowers is beyond me.

NICHOLSON: Michael Lenzen agrees. He says he's not the sort of neighbor to get out the hedge trimmer after Sunday lunch either.

MICHAEL LENZEN: (Through interpreter) I wouldn't dream of mowing the lawn or cutting the hedges on Sunday. As a motorcyclist, I've got better things to do.

NICHOLSON: Lenzen, who's been hitting the open road for 38 years, is president of Germany's motorcycle association. He points out that while noisy gardening is forbidden on Sundays, anti-noise regulations don't apply to passenger vehicles. All the same, he appeals to fellow bikers to be considerate.

LENZEN: (Through interpreter) We sympathize with people who live near popular biker routes, and so we're asking our members to slow down as they ride through villages.

NICHOLSON: For lawmakers, this isn't enough. Germany's upper house, the Bundesrat, has proposed banning bikers from popular routes on Sundays and holidays...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE ENGINES)

NICHOLSON: ...Prompting thousands of motorcyclists to ride their bikes in protest through cities across Germany. But even the mayor of Sasbachwalden, Sonja Schuchter, says she doesn't want an outright ban, just some respect from the bikers for state-sanctioned peaceful Sundays. You see, noise in Germany keeps a strict schedule. On Sundays and after 10 p.m. at night, you're required by law to keep quiet. That means no spin cycles, no vacuuming, no power tools and no mowing the lawn. Sieglinde Geisel, who's written about the culture of noise, says silence became a trend in the early 20th century when the aspirational German bourgeoisie started to revere tranquillity in reaction to an ever noisier world of machinery.

SIEGLINDE GEISEL: It was very, very chic and very sophisticated to be sensitive to noise and to be silent and to have the library.

NICHOLSON: Geisel says that today anti-noise legislation can be quite severe, particularly in parts of southern Germany.

GEISEL: I mean, there are extreme cases like where you cannot go with your kids on the playground during lunchtime during like - from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. because there's also something called Mittagsruhe. You have kind of nap time. You should have - (laughter) which is a nice thing.

NICHOLSON: Back in Sasbachwalden, villagers objecting to the motorcycle noise are unlikely to get respite soon. Germany's transport minister, Andreas Scheuer, says he has no intention of instituting a Sunday biker ban. So for now, residents upset by the noise will have to make do with two classic German engineering solutions - the earplug, invented in Berlin a century ago, and perfectly sealed windows, something Chancellor Angela Merkel is particularly fond of. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.