How to Fight Boredom in Germany and Land in Jail | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 17.02.2006
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How to Fight Boredom in Germany and Land in Jail

Being bored is not only an important part of the German philosophical tradition. It can actually be a lot of fun. And it keeps the German police forces busy.


He'd probably much rather tie himself to a bed right now

Recently, an 82 year old retired German man drove over 60 kilometers (40 miles) in the wrong direction on the autobahn between Hamburg and Lübeck. In a scene resembling "The Fast and the Furious" for senior citizens, the octogenarian daredevil completely ignored the blue lights and the sirens, not to mention the fact that he was going against the traffic, until 10 police cars formed a road block that made him pull over.

Regenwanderung auf der Autobahn

Some bored Germans also like to walk on the autobahn

He tested negative on both alcohol and drug tests and appeared to be in good physical and mental health.

What could have driven this otherwise law-abiding citizen to an act of wild abandon? Nothing else but eternal boredom.

A thousa n d shades of gray

Germans have a long and profound relationship to what Schopenhauer referred to as a "tame longing without any particular object." As the case of the speeding German grandpa shows, however, boredom is not always tame. Sometimes, it leads people to truly extraordinary acts ranging from petty heroism to accidental masochism.

A 52-year-old man recently walked into the police station in Darmstadt, in the German state of Hesse, and announced that he wanted to press charges against his drug dealer.

Haschisch Tafeln

It certainly doesn't look very nice

The sounds of collective jaw-dropping echoed through the halls of the police station, as the officers listened to the righteous indignation of the man who felt cheated after buying 200 grams (seven ounces) of hashish for 400 euros ($476).

The stuff was "of absolutely inferior quality and totally non-enjoyable," the man said, according to police spokesperson Ferdinand Derigs.

To the great disappointment of the dope consumer, the police refused to mediate and ask the dealer to exchange the goods. Instead, it decided to press charges against the man who -- out of having absolutely nothing better to do -- came to seek justice.

Boredom patrols

If German policemen were forced to read German philosophy, they would -- provided they didn't die of boredom themselves -- also learn that ennui is no simple thing. One of the greatest and most contested philosophers of the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger, who could by no account be described as a philosopher of fun, saw in boredom, or in what he called the "drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence" -- humanity's terminal sinking into general indifference.

Are all Germans that bored? Doesn't the world, in which party girl Paris Hilton is considered for the role of Mother Theresa in a forthcoming Indian movie or in which pop icon Madonna consistently refuses to stay with her own age, offer enough hilarity to cheer everybody up?

One shouldn't be too critical of the Germans. After all, they carry the burden of an overwhelming philosophical tradition on their shoulders every day. Thanks to Heidegger & co., there are Germans who wake up in the morning to ponder the history of metaphysics as they tiptoe their way to the bathroom. There are Germans who look into the mirror while brushing their teeth, and, while observing the dark circles under their eyes, inevitably ask the big question: Why is there something, rather than nothing?

A vicious circle

If you ask big questions while brushing your teeth, you will likely end up being an 82 year old speeding on the German Autobahn. But if you don't ask these questions, you may end up doing something really stupid, like a 16-year-old youth from the western German town of Schwelm, who tied himself to a foldaway bed because he was, as he later told the police, simply bored out of his mind.

Symbolbild Handschellen

Don't use these when lying in a fold-out bed

What the young man didn't realize, while playing his own captive with a tow-rope and wire, was that a foldaway bed is called that for a very good reason: it actually folds away. When the police entered the apartment, having been alerted by the neighbors who heard the boy's screaming and cries for help, they found the visibly embarrassed youth trapped inside the contraption of his own, man-eating bed.

When all is said and done, boredom is not always entirely boring. For some people, at least, boredom is a great excuse for discovering the happy-go-lucky, risk-taking, dormant beast within. Despite what the overworked German police officers may tell you.

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