Hood vs. Helmet | Current Affairs | DW | 10.08.2004
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Current Affairs

Hood vs. Helmet

German law requires bikers to wear helmets, but a few elderly women belonging to Germany's Sorbian ethnic minority are refusing to comply, saying that the safety precaution interferes with their national costume.


A new generation of law breakers?

For decades, 79-year-old Maria Regell has climbed onto her red motor scooter to drive five kilometers (3.1 miles) to church in nearby Crostwitz. She's done so wearing her traditional Sorbian costume, which includes a cap. A cap that won't fit underneath a helmet. A cap she's refusing to remove.

The Sorbs are Slavs by origin and about 60,000 of them live in an area of eastern Germany that borders Poland and the Czech Republic, where they have defended their traditions for centuries. Under communist rule, Regell and fellow Sorbian bikers were granted exemptions from the helmet rule.

No one seemed to pay much attention until recently, when the parliament of the German state of Saxony took up the matter, ruling that Sorbian bikers are required like everyone else to protect their head against injuries with something stronger than a piece of fabric. Still, government officials aren't treating the matter too gravely. Saxony's economics minister burst out laughing when he announced the decision and had to hand over proceedings to one of his colleagues.

A government spokeswoman has since said it is unlikely that Regell will face prosecution should she continue to defy the law. "They're just five very nice old grannies who have always biked without a helmet," she told Der Spiegel newsmagazine. "There's no police officer that will keep them from doing so."

In the unlikely case Regell gets a ticket for helmetless riding, she won't have to pay the fine herself; her church pastor has promised to foot the bill.

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