Word of the Week: Reißverschlusssystem


Germans have a reputation for being orderly. Even when traffic accumulates on German roads, there’s a system in place to keep the order: the Reißverschlusssystem.

This word means “zipper system”, but it has nothing to do with the system that keeps your clothes together. This type of “zipper system” is used to merge two lanes into one when there is a lot of traffic.

Imagine this: you’re in stop-and-go traffic on a major road. Another road merges into yours. During normal traffic conditions, you would continue driving and have the right of way. When traffic is heavy, however, you would use the Reißverschlusssystem – a system of orderly turn-taking that allows two lanes of traffic to merge into one. In this system, cars from both lanes take their turns moving forward and give way to the car in the other lane (first one from the left lane, then the right, then the left again). This creates a pattern that resembles the interlocking teeth of a zipper, thus the terminology.

The zipper system allows the smooth transition from two lanes into one. Without the zipper system, traffic from the main road would continue driving and cars from the merging lane would struggle to get in. This system only works if cars begin to merge in the spot where the two lanes become one (the start of the zipper). When cars merge too soon, it disrupts the zipper system. In order for this process to be smooth and without the stop-and-go, cars must also travel at relatively similar speeds.

The Reißverschlusssystem is used in other countries as well, but Germany is unique because you will actually see street signs ordering the implementation of the Reißverschlusssystem. So for our American friends traveling to Germany, make sure you remember this word if you plan to rent a car! Don’t be that person who steps on the the accelerator when it’s your turn to give way to a merging car.

Zucht und Ordnung. ;D