German bike helmet ads labeled stupid and sexist

The German Transport Ministry’s provocative marketing campaign to boost the use of helmets while riding bikes has been denounced as sexist by several female politicians.

“It is embarrassing, stupid and sexist for the transport minister to be selling his policies using naked skin,” said Maria Noichl, the chairperson of the Working Group of Social Democratic Women (ASF), in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. She said the posters “must come down.”

The campaign, which was unveiled on Friday, features young scantily clad women and men wearing bike helmets, along with the slogan “‘Looks like sh*t [the helmet], but saves lives.”

The ad can be seen in several German cities this week.

Read more: What Berlin can learn from Germany’s cycling metropolis Münster

Taxpayer money for ‘sexist’ ads

The deputy leader of the SPD’s parliamentary group for women, Katja Mast, also called the campaign “embarrassing, stale and sexist.”

“Taxpayer money should not be spent to put half-naked women and men on posters,” she told the Passauer Neue Presse on Saturday.

  • How to ride a bike in Germany

    Bike license

    Children in Germany become acquainted with bikes at a very young age. Practically before they can walk, toddlers can be seen scooting around on pedal-free wooden bike-like constructions known literally as a “run wheel” in German. A few years down the track, police officers come to schools to guide 8-to-9-year-olds through an official “bicycle license” program, where kids learn traffic rules.

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    Find a good spot

    Münster (above) in north-western Germany was named the country’s most bike-friendly city in 2015, according to a poll of over 100,000 cyclists by German Cycling Club ADFC. Karlsruhe and Freiburg came in second and third, respectively. Needless to say, big cities don’t mesh well with two-wheelers. Berlin came in 30th due to parked cars on bike paths, construction sites and uncleared winter snow.

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    Plan your route

    Germany’s is strewn with an extensive network of cycling paths. They lead bikers into woods (like the Bavarian Forest), urban jungles (like the cycling “Autobahn” across the Ruhr region), and through agricultural delights, like the Ahr Valley path pictured here. The region is known for its hillside vineyards and red wine. Legs getting tired? Just stop and enjoy a glass of the local specialty.

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    Be nice to stray pedestrians

    With so many designated bike paths in Germany, cyclists are inclined to take them seriously. That means if you aren’t rushing to your destination on your two-wheeler, then get off the path! And we mean pronto. If you’re on foot or cycling too slowly, you run the risk of bells driving you insane — or getting yelled at or run over. If you’re a biker, please be kind to those who forget the rules.

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    Sunday in Germany

    When the first rays of spring sun make their grand appearance, flocks of bike riders take to their local paths. If you look carefully, you might spot a small phenomenon: An abundance of elderly couples with matching cycling shirts and his-and-her bicycles. The sight is enough to make anyone fall in love again.

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    Dress appropriately

    In spring most of us have to come to grips with the Christmas cookies and Easter chocolate we’ve been hiding behind our baggy sweaters for the past few months. While Spandex is not very compatible with winter blubber, its sweat-whisking capabilities are practical — and Germany loves everything practical. No matter how seriously they cycle, many bikers in Germany make a point of dressing the part.

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    Rule number 1

    The most important bike rule in Germany is: Don’t ride drunk. This might seem absurd, since bikes are an ideal alternative to driving drunk. Up to a certain blood-alcohol content, this may be true. But a very inebriated cyclist is at least as dangerous to the nearest car driver as vice versa. That’s why you can lose your driving license if you’re caught swerving too much. Next time, call a taxi.

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    A little help never hurt

    Riding a bike in Germany doesn’t mean you can’t afford a car. It’s a legitimate means of transportation, not just a piece of sports equipment. That’s why it’s also perfectly acceptable to get a bit of assistance from a small motor. So-called e-bikes are not an uncommon sight — though they’re admittedly most prevalent among certain age groups.

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    Carry your bike

    In Germany, you’re allowed to take your bike on trams and trains (with a special ticket). But beware: You might get mean looks if you try to cram your huge, greasy two-wheeler onto a packed tram on a hot day. Can’t you just ride to your destination? That’s where foldable bikes come in handy. They take up less space — and keep your fellow tram passengers happy, too.

    Author: Kate Müser

Josephine Ortleb, also from the SPD’s parliamentary group for women, told the paper that the campaign needed “neither women as objects, naked skin nor sexism to make young people aware of cycling safety.”

She said the “sex sells” campaign proves that the government urgently needs a strategy for gender equality.

A Transport Ministry spokesman defended the campaign, citing figures showing that only 8 percent of bike riders aged 17-30 wear helmets.

The spokesman told German news agency EPD that the main target group was young people who refuse to wear them for aesthetic reasons.

An initial evaluation had revealed that the campaign has been effective at reaching out to the target audience.

Victim blaming

The posters, however, drew further criticism on social media for other reasons, including accusations of victim blaming by emphasizing the need to wear helmets.

Others blamed drivers and a lack of separate cycle lanes in several German cities for the number of accidents involving cyclists.

Read more: German activists start shaming irresponsible car parkers with yellow cards

However, many social media users, along with Germany’s road safety association DVR, backed the suggestive ads.

“It’s important to reach the target group of young people because the helmet wearing rate in this age group is terribly low. We succeeded in doing that,” said Christian Kellner, the DVR’s chief executive.

“The helmet cannot prevent accidents, but it can protect against life-threatening head injuries.”

mm/amp (dpa, epd)

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