"The Car Promises Freedom"
Germans buy an image, not a means of transportation.
Trains and busses are devalued.
Interview with psychoanalyst Micha Hilers
[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT 26/2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://zeus.zeit.de/text/2003/26/Interv_Hilgers.]
die zeit: On average, Germans are buying ever larger and faster cars and dirving more slowly. This game must make car drivers mad or crazy in the long run.
Micha Hilgers: That would be true if they viewed the car as a pure means of transportation. However real speed isn't as important as the feeling that people can move quickly and comfortably with a very potent motorized vehicle. Thus they buy an illusion more than a realizable possibility.
zeit: Drivers at the end of a 20-mile traffic jam often become furious.
Hilgers: Even if the promotion value of the car is zero, the symbolic value remains untouched. In the traffic jam, the car is a bearer of an image and promissory of freedom. The driver can still prove himself socially and transform his car individually into a concert hall or a disco.
zeit: Something else happens. In the traffic jam, the people with small cars say: "Now the ape with his 300 horsepower sees how fast he can go... "
Hilgers: Isn't this a marvelous regulation of the feeling of self-esteem? The soul is central here more than transportation advantages.
zeit: Does the German auto industry pay expertly on the keyboard of customer emotions?
Hilgers: Yes, because Germany still doesn't have a general speed limit. No limits are set to the power fantasy of the "homo driver". Therefore manufacturers vehemently resist a limitation.
zeit: Do you think consumers would buy smaller cars if gasoline were more expensive?
Hilgers: Only if gasoline were suddenly much more expensive. Increasing the price is unimaginative. Poorer citizens feel disadvantages because the richer ones drive great sleighs. The alternatives to the car must become more attractive, above all public transportation...
zeit: When politicians try to raise the price or limit car driving, they meet enormous displeasure from the voters.
Hilgers: Right. You must show alternatives if you want to introduce a new policy. These alternatives must be as concrete as possible..
zeit: The concrete idea of a regional train is not enticing.
Hilgers: Therefore the alternatives must also be attractive... A political change requires attractive alternatives that are promoted. Then renunciation can be proposed. You can imagine what you have. What you may receive is only vague. In other words, the loss is conceivable, not the profit.
zeit: What means of transportation outside the train must be more attractive?
Hilgers: Trains, busses and everything. Ticket purchases could be simplified. The way to the train could be better described. Everything must be transparent. Employees must be retrained.. When you board a bus in Denmark, the driver wishes you a good day. The joy in life of the customer is stimulated.
zeit: A bus is still a bus.
Hilgers: The busses could be more attractive. The art of deign students is displayed in Wurzburg busses.
zeit: Red-green introduced the eco-tax but the chancellor cultivates the image of the auto-man. What is the effect?
Hilgers: Disastrous. Transportation planners revived at the end of the Kohl era because they thought they could now realize alternative transportation concepts. This pioneering mood has collapsed.
zeit: Gerhard Schroder supports the car because that brings him votes. Why are Germans so wild about cars?
Hilgers: The idealization of the car and individual transportation goes back to the "Third Reich". The streets were designed more and more for high speed unlike the Netherlands for example. In addition there is our problematic relation to freedom. The car symbolizes freedom and adventure... The more we feel bound, the more we seek out such niches. The trend abroad is also to mammoth, stylish cars. Loudly bellowing trucks ran about in France 20 years ago. The scene is different today.
zeit: You assume the government was serious with new transportation concepts. Can people still believe this?
Hilgers: The message must be new options for the transportation participant, not crusade against the car. To that end, public transportation needs a better price structure, transportation connections, sensible stops and easily available travel information... The train restaurants are image-bearers. The zest for life of customers and their connection with the car must be respected. However as long as an auto-man is at the top, as long as the transportation ministry is used as political leverage (Abschiebegleis) in the country and the territories, a new transportation policy will hardly occur.
zeit: Critics must be credible. What car do you drive?
Hilgers: A BMW 318 Touring.
zeit: What image does that give you?
Hilgers: Success and also understatement because I'm not driving a larger car.