Cologne Considering Tax For Snakes on Streets (Discos could get tax incentive to encourage Size Zero Models)

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Not to be outdone by its southern neighbours in Austria (see article on fines for cow bells – here) or by its capital city of Berlin (find out about fines for horse poo – here), Cologne is considering introducing a fine for snakes found on the city pavements.

Before I jump into this exciting story, let me explain some technical terms for any readers who are not so familiar with the German language. The German word for snakes is ‘Schlangen‘. The same word in German is also used for queues or lines of people (or anything else for that matter, like cars on the road).

Like many cities Cologne needs to constantly find innovative ways to balance its financial books. This means looking for new ways to raise taxes. Recently the town council (which in German is called a ‘Rat’ and normally meets in the ‘Rathaus’ or rat house) has been considering introducing a tax for queueing in the streets; a Schlangensteuer. If they are not very carefully in formulating the text there could be additional revenue for them from any residents who are caught allowing their pet snakes to roam the city’s streets.

There are many queues or lines to be found in Cologne’s streets; outside of discos, the underground/metro stations (U-bahn), the cathedral (Kölner Dom), Bars and stalls selling curried sausages (Currywurst). Therefore this is a potentially lucrative way of raising much-needed tax revenue.

According to Robert Kilp the leader of the municipal public order office (or Leiter des Ordnungsamtes as quoted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 3rd August 2012) the tax will be calculated using a pretty simple calculation. The idea is that officers of the municipal public order office will patrol the streets in front of discos, clubs and other such venues known to make use of public spaces where their clients stand in line. It should be noted that unlike other cities Cologne does not have to contend with queues in its red light district because it eliminated this (called the Kleine Brinkgasse) when the city issued a license to build Europe’s first high-rise brothel in the Hornstraße in 1972 (locally referred to as the place for multi-storey sex or more formally the ‘Pascha’). With 126 rooms on 7 floors this was another innovative tax raising initiative. According to Wikipedia the venue offers a money-back guarantee of satisfaction to clients (it wasn’t clear from the article how you get hold of the sales specification).

Anyway, enough of the digression, let’s get back to the schlangensteuer. The public order officers intend to calculate the Cologne ‘Snake’ tax by measuring the size of the city’s queues in square metres. For this they will take an appropriate measuring device and simply multiply the length of the line by its width. The idea is to then tax the owners of the venues at the rate of 9.4 euros per square metre per day. The logic behind this is that the lines are: ‘an extension of the business premises which impinges on a public thoroughfare’. The town council intends to debate this draft proposal once it returns from its summer pause.

Needless to say some of the owners of the venues are a titsy bit upset about this proposal. According to Christoh Becker the Managing Director of the North Rhine Hotel and Guesthouse Association: “The city is making itself a laughing-stock, how do they want to control the snakes on the pavement, you can’t simply burocratise this kind of thing”. Admittedly there will be a problem in measuring the size of the queues: they are not always straight; sometimes you have fat people; some times they are thin; and the length of the line can vary at different times of day and night. Despite this, Public Order Office Leader Kilp points out that the city has managed to solve more difficult issues in the past.

Despite Mr Kilp’s optimism there will certainly be a number of challenges going forward. Not least of these is the annual ‘Karnival’ for which Cologne is famous. How will the officials decide what is a ‘normal’ queue and whether the lines of people who make up the carnival processions should also be taxed (they are certainly impinging on a public thoroughfare)? If they should be taxed who will measure their size, and how, and who should pay?

If the queue or snake tax gets off the ground it is possible to imagine a situation in which discotheques provide incentives for thinner people to wait in line because this will reduce their tax bill. You can imagine the sign by their door ‘Size Zero Models Welcome to Stand in Line Here’ – now that could open up a whole new barrel of worms (or ‘little Schlangen’).

The latest I have heard on this tense situation is that despite being on holiday the Oberbürgermeister of Cologne (Jürgen Roters) has himself made it clear that he will personally intervene to ensure that a sensible outcome is reached. Hopefully this will happen soon so that Cologne’s snakes and overweight disco fans can hang around in the streets without fear of being taxed.

If there are any further exiting developments in this area I will let my regular readers know immediately. Should you be interested in reading other similar English articles adapted from the Alpine press please take a look at my archive which can be found here.

Happy ‘Schlanging’

Chris Duggleby.

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