Municipal Employees, Hedgehogs, and Bikes

| August 19, 2013

Yesterday morning I walked into the police station (as any person of questionable mental stability would do) and basically identified myself as someone who should not be allowed to operate a bicycle on the streets of Germany.

I walked in to ask for safety materials. Here, I am expected to ride with my child at all times until she is eight–to guide my child, who at six knows as much as I do about bike safety. Surely the woman who pulled over on Thursday to tell me I was crossing the street incorrectly would support my decision to gather learning materials.

So there I was, walking into my local Polizei station. In the vestibule stood a very commanding, very German officer in his late 40’s, in heated conversation with an elderly couple that was insisting upon speaking with the police on the other side of the door, regarding a pressing matter.

Let me stop for a second and say that I’m so glad this was not the same officer who happened to be in the Rathaus last week when I went in to ask if my dog needed to wear a seatbelt in Germany*. I’m also glad that there was no sign of the town employee I waved over on the street two weeks ago as he drove his little work truck past my house, to ask what to do with the hedgehog I had in my yard. Here’s how that went:

IMG_2192Sequoia and I discovered the hedgehog when we were sitting inside and heard Flash barking a persistent, staccato bark. It was not his “someone is walking by” bark. It was “Timmy’s stuck in the well” or something equally alarming. I rushed outside. The bark was quickly identified: It’s his “I found a living, breathing football that smells like something I hunt, but it’s covered in prickly shit and I can’t find its head” bark. This was immediately followed by my “OH MY GOD, IT’S A HEDGEHOG!” squeal of delight.

I pulled Flash from the scene of the hunt and locked him inside. Sequoia and I stared at the prickly ball, praying it was rolled up and not missing its head. I called Paul, who lives for these phone calls at work:

“Honeybaby, what should I do with the hedgehog Flash found before he kills it?”

We determined that I should put our new friend in Flash’s dog crate until we figured out what to do with it. I scooped it up with a fish net, rolled it around to make sure it looked like it was voluntarily balled up and not decapitated, and slid it into the crate. Internet research indicated that I should immediately provide water to a hedgehog that wanders into my garden because he’ll be thirsty. I’m not sure why he’d be so thirsty from the trek from my neighbor’s yard to mine, or if this is an African hedgehog who summers in Germany, but I was taking no chances. I spent two days running around the back yard gathering rain water and wet leaves like a crazed Survivor contestant.

IMG_2210That afternoon, I was able to check him out while he was sitting up. He was awesome. If not for my batshit crazy Jack Russell, now convinced that it is his new mission in life to hunt hedgehogs, I would have a new pet hedgehog. But alas, my brush with hedgehog adoption was fleeting: I could not in good conscience let him loose in our yard. In the morning, I was definitely going to figure out where we could release him safely when Paul came home from work. But “in the morning” is when a relentless Flash managed to open the cage. His own cage. In the time he was let out and should have been doing his business, he’d opened the cage from the outside and was fervently attempting to get the hedgehog to carry on a conversation with him. The hedgehog remained in a ball as I dragged my completely insane dog into the house. I came back out and told Sequoia we needed to find this thing a home, now. And that’s when the municipal employee drove past.

I flagged him down. He was in his 20’s and he had that “Is she waving at me?” look on his face. I told him I speak slowly because German is not my mother tongue and asked if he knew where I could take a hedgehog I found in my yard. This is a rough translation of what transpired:

“A hedgehog?”

“A hedgehog.”

“You have a hedgehog?”


“You don’t want it?”

“Are you allowed to keep hedgehog when you find it?”

“Yes, but you need a large cage.”

“I have a (cage motion), but I have a dog, so the hedgehog cannot stay.”

“The dog doesn’t want to play with the hedgehog?”

“The dog wants to play with the hedgehog but he just wants to WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF, always WOOF WOOF at the hedgehog. The hedgehog is scared.”

“Ah, you need to take it to the school.”

(Here we have some confusion. I’m wondering why the school wouldn’t already have a hedgehog if they wanted one.)

“Which school?”

“I don’t know the name. Over there. You need to take him to school so he doesn’t bark.”

(OH MY GOD, we are talking about Flash. What about the freaking hedgehog in my yard?)

“Okay, yes, that’s a good idea. But…where can I take the hedgehog?”

“You don’t want to keep it in the yard?”

“The dog will always WOOF WOOF WOOF at the hedgehog.”

“You need to take him to school so he will not bark.”

“Okay, but where should I take the hedgehog?”

“First, put it in a bag…”

“It’s already in a (motion cage)”



“Take it over (long directions are explained)…to the dumpster.”

“THE TRASH? HE IS NOT HURT. HE IS NOT DEAD. Can’t I take him to the woods?”

“Did the dog hurt him?”

“NO. He just WOOFs at it. I want the hedgehog to be happy. He is not happy here. Where will the hedgehog be happy? Can I take him to the woods? The woods near the playground?”

“Oh. He’s not hurt?”


“Do you know where the Mercedes dealer is?”


(Directions to a forest.)

“Thank you!”

Note to self: Stop leading with “Ich komme aus Amerika” so they don’t corroborate, have a hearty laugh about the American woman who’s a little off, and then come to the conclusion that all Americans will walk up to any government employee and ask for random advice on anything they’re needing to know that day.

But back to the vestibule, yesterday, where the police officer was telling me he’d be right with me. I nodded and wandered into a tiny waiting area filled with pamphlets. I rummaged through the piles; nothing on biking. After a few minutes, the policeman broke free of the elderly couple and came in to ask me what I needed.

I started by telling him that I speak slowly because German is not my mother tongue, I come from America. Like every German, he says no problem and then is patient as I explain myself: in America, we don’t ride bikes so much (he nods at this superfluous piece of information that every German knows about America); here I ride a bike in the street, I have a daughter, she’s young, I must ride with her, does he have any information about bike riding in the street and bike safety for children?

He must. He’ll go look. I tell him no problem, I’ll wait, it’s not urgent.

By now, the vestibule has gathered a few more visitors. The officer makes his way through, then returns pretty quickly. He rattles off about 9 months of German grammar lessons in ten seconds as he waves his hand at a map with, on the reverse side, some symbols and tips. It’s all he has, he tells me apologetically, but shows me that there’s also a list of books I can order if I’d like.

“Perfekt.” I thank him and watch him walk out into the small group of people waiting. He proudly announces that he got this one taken care of quickly, an easy one, he got rid of one of us. Well, almost. The old lady had to help me figure out how to open the door to make my gracious American exit.

IMG_2547Later, Sequoia and Paul and I decided to go for a family bike ride in between rain storms. I insisted that we stay near the house since there were dark clouds above. Paul led us down the trails until we turned around and I got in the lead. I steered us toward home. When we came up to the railroad crossing, the gates were lowering.

“We’ll be here about ten minutes,” Paul said.

“Really??” Well, sitting just seemed dumb. “Why don’t we just take a ride back in that direction?” Paul said sure, and I led.

Remember how I wanted to stay near the house? What I did was lead us in the exact opposite direction of the house, knowingly, because I did not want to wait for the train.

And eventually the downpour came. We were, of course, rained on. Fortunately, we soon found ourselves in trees. Which is where I broke my bell. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know how. I dinged the bell, a piece flew off across the trail, I flailed and yelped, I pulled over, Paul asked what was wrong (concerned that there might be an actual crisis), and then I tried to fix an irreparable bell as Paul repeatedly showed me why it could not be repaired. Thereafter, I called out “Ding” when passing. The rain didn’t last too long. We enjoyed a lovely ride through the forest.

Here’s how driving through wet forest with a six-year-old goes:

Excited, wide-eyed child: “Mommy, it’s like a rain forest!”

Me, trying not to crash into child who slows down while looking around: “It is like a rain forest! It’s beautiful!” while thinking, …because we’re being rained on, in the forest. PEDAL!

After having added about 9 km to our ride in order to avoid stopping for the train, we were approaching the Main Street that leads into town. And that’s when this railroad crossing lowered. I’d taken us nine kilometers out of our way to sit at a different railroad crossing.

IMG_2515IMG_2550After a few minutes, we crossed and made it into our town’s limits. Now we were riding on a dirt bike path when suddenly Sequoia, freaked out by some leaves on the bushes bordering the path because she clearly is more my child than Paul’s, swerved out of control and crashed her 4-day old bike, which now had a light dangling in pieces, scuff marks, and was about to make some new noises. Poor Sequoia was cut and bruised, and even wearing her helmet had managed to bonk her head. Thankfully, her bangs hid the knot on her head today, her first day of first grade–a huge, photographed, celebrated to-do in Germany.

Sigh I love biking?

*Germany expat dog owners: Online, I read that it was the law to harness a dog in the car in Germany. The officer at my local Rathaus said that it depended on the dog–if it’s a big or jumpy dog, put it behind a divider or in a harness; otherwise, no. That’s the word in my area of southern Hessen.

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Category: FAMILY, In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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  1. Laying it on thick | In Germany, A Broad | September 7, 2013
  1. Jacki says:

    “I flailed and yelped…Ding!”