Lately, I have met several new people; some at parties, some business-wise. One thing these new acquaintances have in common: they all look at me in wide-eyed disbelief when the conversation turns to the topic of travel and I mention that I do not drive.
"You mean you don't have a car," is the usual first reaction. No, that is not what I mean. What I mean is that I do not have a driving license, never had one and - in all likelihood - never will have one.
Since this has come up quite a few times recently, I have started to wonder why I actually am so completely not bothered about cars in general and owning my own car in particular.
The total lack of interest may have something to do with the way I grew up.
Grandparents on both sides of the family never owned a car, and to my knowledge, neither of the four had ever learnt how to drive.
My mother took her driving test in the early 1960s, when traffic on the streets of our small town in South Germany was nowhere near what it became only two decades later; she gave up on driving when, after a short stint in the countryside, we returned to live in town.
For my father, driving was essential, as he used to work shifts at the printing press for the local newspaper, and there was no public transport by the time the night shift ended.
But, as I said, it was essential to get from A to B - not something you did for fun, and the money simply wasn't there to own a car just for fun, either.
When I was around 5 years old, my family moved to a small village near the French border, maybe 2 hours' drive from our original town.
People did not have two or three cars to each household back then; the village was mostly home to farmers who had a car and a tractor, plus bikes for everyone in the family.
The place was small enough for me to easily get anywhere I wanted to on my own two stubby little legs, and my tiny bike and my roller skates were not so much seen as means of transport but as ways to have fun (and the occasional accident when I became too daring - which was quite typical for me back then).
By the time I started school, we had already moved back to town. School was only a 5 minute walk from home; all the shops for our daily needs were in the same direction, and it was only on very rare occasions that one took the bus to the other end of town instead of walking there, or even the train to the next small town where some relatives lived.
We still had bikes, and used them often in the summer to get to the public swimming pool. I also still had my roller skates, and my best friend and I spent endless afternoons in working on our "figure skating" routines, imagining ourselves in the pretty costumes we had seen on telly, receiving flower bouquets from our admirers, and smiling beautifully into the cameras.
At 17, almost everybody in my class was taking driving lessons, paid for by generous parents or grandparents.
As much as our parents and grandparents loved us, neither I nor my sister were offered the amounts of money needed for those lessons, and we were too lazy (and too interested in clubbing and music) to try and find after-school jobs or other ways to raise the necessary funds; therefore, we both left school without even one single driving lesson under our belts.
Later, when I started to work at the library, once again I lived close enough to walk; it happened only on particularly awful stormy, cold and wet autumn nights that I took the bus home after work, and every time I hated to spend money on something I still deemed unnecessary in my mind.
Of course by then, several of my friends already had their own cars - and I don't deny that it was comfortable to stick to them for a night of clubbing; so much easier (and probably less dangerous) to go to Stuttgart and back by car than having to make sure you got the last train in and the first train out (which usually meant meeting my dad under the door, when he was leaving for work and I was just coming in to go to bed).
I got married at 22, and my husband had a car. This, for a brief period in my life, did open some new possibilities for holidays and other trips that had not been possible before, or at least not possible without a lot of planning. Soon, though, with the disintegrating of that marriage, the benefits of actually owning (in monetary terms) more of that car than he did, disappeared, and once again, I relied on my own two legs plus public transport for most of the distances I needed to cover.
My second marriage was to a man who, like myself, never had a driving license and never owned a car - two of a kind, it seemed.
We still had some very nice holidays together, got all our shopping done, were able to go to work and managed to keep many other appointments both for business and private purposes.
When I became a widow, many of my friends and acquaintances offered to help in whichever way they could; for some of them, that meant offering lifts or helping me with my groceries shopping and similar. Much as I appreciated all those offers (and still do), so far, they have largely not been necessary.
Yes, there are times when a car is most convenient; take last week, for instance.
I was meeting a friend at the aiport; their plane was cancelled and the next one delayed, so that we ended up meeting hours later than what was originally intended. Had I relied solely on public transport, I would have had to take the last train back, which would have meant to spend a mere two hours together - way too short for someone you meet less than once a year!
So, in that case, I was glad for the taxi taking me back home at a time when no trains were available. But generally, I do not feel I am missing out on anything for not being able to drive.
So far, I always got to where I wanted - and back.