Wednesday, 20 June 2012

road trip or avsenkmorthu


When I was little and on a long drive with my family to visit the grandparents—epic cross-country odysseys as I recall, one activity that kept my sister and I occupied, after I-Spy, card games and general irritability, was the challenge to complete the alphabet (in alphabetical order) from billboards, license tags and traffic signs. We would make up all sorts of arbitrary rules about what didn’t count—something seen outside the window while at a filling station, for example, or consecutive letters on the same sign—and some letters were exceedingly rare.
Sometimes on long trips in Germany, I mentally register, play the same game, although it’s a bit tougher to play-through and I usually don’t finish because there are no advertising corridors along the Autobahn to block out the landscape (besides the scenery is almost always too captivating), and unless in Sylt, Quedlinburg or Xanten, one needs to rely exclusively on spotting license plates. In Germany and most European countries, license plates (Kennzeichen) are coded by the community, county where they are registered and so teach a little about geography as well. I know a lot of the German county (Kreis) abbreviations and keep a guide and an index in the car to help identify unusual ones and decipher foreign protocols. What would one find on the roads of Russia or Greece? In France, for instance, Départements are assigned two-digit numbers alphabetically or in Estonia, A is reserved for the district (Tallinn) with the biggest population, B for the second biggest and so on—methods which don’t seem as directly intuitive and recognizable, but Italy and Ireland code by county like Germany. Though one cannot discover a Europe-wide convention for identifying cars’ home (zu Hause), many countries have adopted a German standard as far as the look of license plates go: traffic signage in German first adopted industry standards through uniformity with the labeling of the rolling-stock of the Imperial Railways with the design of DIN 1451 (Das Deutsche Institut für Normung), a typeface (font) refined and distinct for all public works.
DIN 1451, sleek and san-serif as it appears on road signs, was also used for automobiles until the days of campaigns of domestic terror by the Red Army Faction: in response to members or associates alluding capture by changing the markings on their vehicles, a new stylized-serif variety was introduced that made it more difficult to forge one’s license plate (changing a I to an L or an P to an R with electrical tape or mistaking one letter or number for another) called FE-Schrift (that is, fälschungserschwerende Schrift, lettering harder-to-fake). The thought and care that went into these statutes is pretty interesting as well. After the prefix, I am not sure how the last letters on a plate are assigned (if there is any reason to it) but I do always seem to get stuck on J, except when in Jena.