It’s been quite a while since I heard/read this historical tidbit, long enough ago that I don’t even remember the source, and some of the details are a bit fuzzy. Still, it is liberty-related, and I’ve been thinking about it recently especially in regard to not understanding certain groups’ concept of the roles of laws, government, and law enforcement, so I figured I’d share even though I’m not quite sure what the moral is… or ought to be.

Back in the 19th century, there was a bridge in downtown San Antonio that was designed for pedestrian traffic only. I can’t remember now whether horses could be ridden across, but it certainly wasn’t built to withstand the weight and stress of carriages, let alone freight wagons, and forget taking a herd of cattle across it. The city fathers therefore wisely passed an ordinance restricting use of the bridge to human pedestrians only, and a sign was posted to that effect in the three languages that were dominant in San Antonio at the time. But the three texts were not exact translations of one another; rather, they were phrased in the best manner to get the point across to their target audience:

English (and I paraphrase from memory): "Pedestrian traffic only. Violation punishable by $[x amount] fine."

Spanish: "Pedestrian traffic only. Violators will be punished by the police."

German: "It is forbidden to drive animals across this bridge." (No ‘or else’ involved, just "Es ist verboten"!)