Friday, 6 July 2018

How to pay a parking fine in Germany: The frustrating tale of a 15 euro ticket.


I admit it - we did the wrong thing! I am the third most law-abiding person on the planet. Only the Dalai Lama and the Pope are ahead of me in the queue. If a sign says don't do something I absolutely do not do it. I don't swim outside the flags (you have to live in Australia to understand that particular piece of lunacy), I don't litter, I don't speed and I don't park where I am not supposed to. Nor does David, while I am around at least. Except on a recent trip to Germany we did and with all the hassle and grief it caused us we are never, ever doing it again.


Three weeks ago we arrived at a holiday house in Nonnenhorn, on the shores of Lake Constance. You probably know the sort. Booked through Home Away, the more upmarket version of Airbnb, the apartment looked perfect on the internet. It wasn't cheap, but it had a view of the lake and it looked clean and modern. There was a catch, of course - there always is.  The apartment was on the third floor of the building, the carpark was below ground - and - the elevator wasn't working. The three flights of marble stairs, 48 steps in all, between the parking garage and our front door looked perilous.

Nonnenhorn is a quiet little village, the sort of place your grandmother might live. The street outside the building was wide enough to accommodate our car without blocking the road. There were no 'No Parking' signs or other street signs of any kind. We were tired, we were distracted and our sole focus was on getting us and our luggage into the welcoming confines of our apartment. We decided to put the car in the street while we unloaded. That way we could at least avoid one of the flights of stairs. It took us 15 minutes at most.  In that 15 minutes Nonnenhorn's parking inspector swooped and we received a ticket.

It didn't surprise us that we weren't supposed to park in the street, no-one else was - but hey we weren't parking we were just unloading. I have my suspicions that the inspector lived nearby and pouncing on unsuspecting tourists was his favourite past time.  Be that as it may we accept that Nonnenhorn must get its revenue from somewhere and if that means stinging guileless visitors for the price of a parking ticket we accept it. 'Nonnenhorn 1: Lindfields yet to score'. After all the ticket was only for 15 euros, not much more than the price of a couple of coffees. We were mildly irritated but that was it.

UNTIL, that is, we tried to figure out how to pay the ticket. The ticket was in German - fair enough. David and I speak three languages between us. One, our native language and two others well enough to understand road signs and get by in holiday situations. None of those languages is German. Google Translate to the rescue - we hoped. Using the little instant translation/camera thingy on my phone we discovered the ticket made even less sense in English than it did in German. It described itself as a 'caution'. Apparently German parking fines only get nasty and turn into tickets if you are foolish enough to dispute them. Provided we accepted our guilt and played the game the 'caution' promised to stay benign. We had two weeks to pay. Absolutely nothing on the ticket gave instructions on how to pay. I took to Google which, unusually, turned out to be no help at all.

In response to my query 'How do I pay a German parking fine?', I got -
 'At some point, most of us who own cars here are probably going to get slapped with a speeding ticket or a parking fine. The latter are especially common with often confusing signs and parking regulations'
That was hardly news to me. The advice went on with -
'So you’ve received a fine for a minor parking offence? 
Naughty naughty. What do you do now?

The simple answer in most cases is you have to pay up. It might sound harsh but it’s not the ... officer’s fault that you don’t know the applicable law. He is just doing his job. Those fines pay his salary, right?'
After a fair bit more tut tutting and moralising the advice came down to - 'pay the fine'. Yeah right but HOW? There was also a nice little kicker along the lines of 'failure to pay with 14 days will result in the fine increasing significantly'. The one useful piece of information I did manage to garner was that German traffic fines are usually paid by bank transfer. To do that we would need an EU bank account. Needless to say, we don't have one.

I abandoned Google and put my trust in Facebook instead.  One of the best things about being a travel blogger is that I am part of a community - a community of warm, friendly and helpful fellow bloggers who will go that extra mile to help a colleague in need. Some of the best holiday experiences I have had since the beginning of my blogging career have been meeting up with fellow bloggers, either showing them around my home city of Sydney, or meeting them in far flung destinations. My fellow travel bloggers came out in force with advice and offers of assistance.

German speaking Silke Elzner of  'Happiness and Things' offered to translate the ticket for me. Shandos Cleaver of Travelnuity gave the advice that her husband received a similarly small German fine. Like us, without an EU bank account, he was unable to pay it. In the end he mailed the cash and that worked. Rachel Heller of Rachel's Ruminations very generously offered to pay the fine for us through her Netherlands bank account and suggested I could reimburse her via PayPal. Other bloggers suggested we let the car rental agency deal with it. We know from experience however that can be expensive. Earlier this year we incurred a small toll on a stretch of road in Florida. There was no cash payment option. The car rental company charged a US$9.00 administration charge to pay a 30 cent toll for us. That's a fee of 3000%. At that rate our 15 euro fine would increase to 450 euros. While we didn't expect an administration fee quite that high we knew it would be several times greater than the fine.  The one thing everyone agreed on was that without an EU bank account paying the fine was going to be tricky.

It was Friday afternoon, we were supposed to be on holiday, the whole parking fine thing was beginning to stress us out. We put it in the 'too hard' basket until Saturday. On Saturday we would go to the local Tourist Information Office, confess our guilt, throw ourselves on their mercy and ask them how to pay the fine. Saturday came and went and we got no closer to a solution. The young girl at the tourist office looked at the ticket as if she had never in her life seen such a thing - 'You mean you can get fined just for parking your car?' She zeroed in on the word 'Wasserburg' printed part way down the ticket, and suggested we might try there.

Wasserburg was the next small town along our otherwise idyllic stretch of Lake Constance coast. We inspected the ticket again. There was the name of a bank 'Sparkasse' followed by what appeared to be BSB numbers. This was clearly the account into which we would transfer our 15 euros if we were the owners of an EU bank account. There was a branch of Sparkasse in Nonnenhorn. Of course - all we had to do was visit the Sparkasse and pay the fine directly into the nominated account. We had no idea where the money might go after that but frankly, we didn't care. Being Saturday the Sparkasse Bank was closed. We would have to wait until Monday.

On Monday we rode our bicycles to the Sparkasse, confident our German parking ticket dilemma days were behind us. The lady behind the counter looked at the ticket with only slightly less mystification than the young girl at the Tourist Information office.
'You can't pay directly into this account. Do you have an EU bank account?', she asked
'No, we are Australian tourists.'
'Do you have a friend in Germany who has an EU bank account and can pay the fine for you? 
'No we live in Australia, we don't know anyone in Germany.',  
The conversation continued for a while in this same frustrating, circular manner. She wanted to be helpful but there was nothing she could do. She suggested we go to the local Rathaus (Town Hall), in Wasserburg and try to pay the fine there. The address of the Rathaus was on the ticket. We had half an hour before it closed for lunch and we were still on bicycles. We weren't risking any more parking fines by taking the car.  With 10 minutes to spare we fronted up to the Rathous where the Burgermeister's secretary joined an ever-growing list of locals who couldn't help us. She did however direct us to the cashier where she was sure we could pay the fine - at last!

The young cashier looked at the ticket as if she had never seen such a thing in her life. This was beginning to feel like Ground Hog day. She clearly did not want to take our money.
'Nonnenhorn', she said. 'This was issued in Nonnenhorn. You must pay there'. 
Like Vesuvius about to erupt, David had had enough. Steam was starting to escape from his ears.
'It has your address on it. Look! We can't pay it in Nonnenhorn? There is no Nonnenhorn address, only your address in Wasserburg.' 

With great reluctance she took his point and FINALLY accepted our money - 15 euros in crisp clean 5 euro bills!
'I will send it to Nonnenhorn for you', she said and returned the ticket to us with a bright shiny blue 'paid' stamp - at least we thought at the time it was a 'paid' stamp. Looking at the ticket now we are not so sure. 

We began to walk away.  A few feet down the corridor the penny dropped. She had taken our money, she had stamped and returned the ticket as if it were a receipt but she not taken down a single detail of either the fine or its payment. No-one, least of all the Nonnenhorn parking authorities, would ever know we had paid the fine. We turned around and headed back to the window just as she realised the error herself. She took the ticket and popped it in a photocopier. Then she returned it to us again.

'You will send it to Nonnenhorn', I said hopefully, exhausted and defeated by the entire saga.
'Yes', she replied.

At last! But somehow I doubt that will be the last we hear of our 15 euro German parking fine!

Does this say paid? I have no idea.


Have you ever received a traffic ticket in a foreign country? Did you pay it - and if so how?


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34 comments:

  1. You are good Lyn. I would have the ticket and myself vanish into thin air after the vacation LOL.

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    1. Haha - it was tempting but not a practical option. The car rental company would have just taken the 15 euros and a significant administration fee off our credit card.

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  2. Hahaha! Well, maybe I shouldn't laugh at your misfortune, but I can't help it. After reading your post I could tell you are one of the most law-abiding persons on the planet. It would have never occurred to me to pay this ticket. No, not in a million years! We get parking tickets in Europe quite often, but we never paid any one of them. If they want tourists to respect their rules, they should first make sure they display them in at least 2 languages to give people a chance. If I understand the rules, I'm not going to park there. But they make it so tricky in some places that it's impossible not to get it wrong. So if they don't play fair, I'm not going to be fair either. They have no way of coming after you for that fine, so don't worry about it even if they send it to your home address. Just file it carefully... in the trash!

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    1. I love your advice here. I wish I had had it before we tried to pay the ticket. I am not so sure they can't come after you though. I realise the local authorities would not have the resources (or time and energy) to track us down but if the ticket got sent to the car rental company surely they would have paid it on our behalf and charged us for it together with a large administration fee. Given your experience, next time we get a ticket in Europe we might just try not paying it and see what happens.

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    2. It's your supposition that the car rental agency would have paid the ticket on your behalf, but you don't really know that. Right? Every time we have been ticketed in Europe we were driving rental cars and they never came after us. Once, in Dresden, they found out from the rental car our home address in the USA. We received the ticket here (besides finding it on our windshield), but still didn't pay it.

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    3. Yes, you are right. I don't really know. The problem is we didn't want to find out the hard way.

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  3. You don't have to worry, Beitrag erhalten means paid ( payment/fee received) :)
    #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Thank you. I was afraid to Google it just in case it mean something like 'there is no way we are recording this ticket as paid'.

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  4. Gosh what a saga... I hope you have send the end of this problem. A great story nonetheless - thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Sometimes the best travel stories come from the most annoying experiences.

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  5. I have never gotten a parking ticket on a foreign country. But, once I had problems paying up taxes on a state where I had an internship. I found out during a pre-employment investigation. I was asked why I had a case on a court on the state of Maryland. I freaked out! After several calls, I found out the money I paid was credited under the incorrect social security number. Things were solved but I was scared for several days. Hope you do not hear about the ticket again.

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    1. OMG - I would have completely melted down in your situation. I have no faith that the parking fine won't come back to haunt us but the worst that will happen is our car rental company will charge an outrageous administration fee - I hope!

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  6. Oh brother! Sorry you had such a difficult time paying it!It's unfortunate there wasn't a website to go to for further information that was translated in multiple languages! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!
    (www.caliglobetrotter.com)

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  7. We've several parking tickets in a couple European countries, didn't pay them and returned to those countries and rented cars without any issues.
    I have heard that some things have changed in Italy for sure, maybe other countries, if you're driving a rental car the rental company will automatically charge your credit card for the amount of the ticket. I can't confirm this as it hasn't happened to us since we heard of the changes.

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    1. It was the admin fee of the rental company which we were concerned about. Someone told me that most car rental companies charge 35 euros which is more than twice the fine.

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  8. Such a charming article. I'm sorry we had to chuckle at your despair, but you wrote it so amusingly. We will have to be sure the we never rent a car in Germany, so we don't have to pay a parking fine. Thanks for sharing your pain.

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    1. I confess that I enjoyed writing the post. It was worth getting the fine - almost!

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  9. I got a speeding ticket in Spain once. I could tell you about that nightmare, but I don't think you want me to completely take over your blog.

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    1. Haha - I have heard some horrendous (and expensive) stories about speeding tickets but you sound like you still have shell-shock.

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  10. It can be horrendous when you find yourself tangled up with bureaucracy! Having read about your experience I will take good care not to get a parking ticket in Germany...

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    1. It isn't as easy as you might think. The only sign which indicated we should not park where we did was as we entered the village, about a kilometre away and even that wasn't clear. I think the only solution is to not park anywhere - just keep driving lol!

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  11. What an ordeal! First of all, a 3rd floor apartment with a non-working elevator for an upscale version of Airbnb? That was the culprit!

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    1. It was worse than you think. I didn't put this in the post because I thought the post was long enough. An old gentleman with a walker was in the garage a couple of days before we left. He told us the elevator had been out of action for 12 weeks. He claimed he knew a way of making it work and wanted to show us. We all piled into the lift, (against my better judgement) he pressed the button for his floor and then he jumped (as much as he could) up and down. It didn't work and David and I got out and took the stairs. The next day there were firemen everywhere. The old guy had become stuck in the lift - not overnight - but long enough so that he looked really shaken when they rescued him.

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  12. Yes, I have seen traffic tickets in a foreign country. In some cities in Spain there are streets that passenger cars cannot drive down during certain times. Signs are clearly posted in Spanish but by the time you read the sign and translate (if you even have time before you pass the sign in your car), it's too late. Cameras take photos and the government eventually sends an infringement notice out. I never saw or heard of the ticket until our home exchange partner notified us months later. They paid it for us as they had an EU bank account. And we paid for an electronic toll on our side for a home exchange partner who didn't know how to deal with New Zealand cashless toll system. Progress can be very impersonal.

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    1. I didn't know New Zealand had a cashless toll system. Is that something new? The whole cashless toll thing is becoming very widespread and car rental companies don't seem to be much help. We find they are willing to sell you toll tags for around $10 per day which is fine if you are on a business trip lasting a couple of days but doesn't work for a tourist renting a car for weeks on end. We often travel in the USA which has the added complication that you need a different tag for different states. The whole toll thing is becoming a nightmare.

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  13. Oh dear! Be sure to let us know the final end to this nightmarish parking ticket story!

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    1. I will. I am sure I have not heard the end of it yet.

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  14. Oh so frustrating when traveling and trying to be the law-abiding visitor! I am like you when it comes to following the rules so can understand your frustration. We once saw a Greek car with a parking ticket under its back windshield wiper and the driver came up to the car, read it, put it back under the wiper and drove off -- we assume she was waiting for it to fly away. Do let us know if the story ends here or continues.

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    1. I am hoping the story will end here, but I have no confidence that it will. The driver you saw was doubly wrong - not only didn't she pay the ticket but she also let it become litter.

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  15. Oh what a saga!! I'm sorry this happened to you, but I really enjoyed your narrative!! In retrospect it is funny. :-)

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    1. It is the really annoying things on holidays that make the best dinner party conversations. It is a pity you have to go through so much grief to experience them.

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  16. My Mother just had a similar experience with yours! She just started working in Germany for a few months as a nurse. She studied German language and culture before she went there but apparently, she didn't study enough. Your narrative is way more funnier than hers!

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    1. Your mother has my sympathy. I have heard so many stories about fellow travellers arriving home to find fine after fine in the post. Some are apparently scams, although I am not suggesting ours was.

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