Cars bearing old German number plates are the latest trend on the streets of Cairo. Many Egyptians regard the discarded plates as chic.

Cairo crazy about German licence plates
Egyptians favour the "D"

Giessen, Eichsfeld, Kusel, Berlin – cars bearing old German number plates are the latest trend on the streets of Cairo. Many Egyptians regard the discarded plates as chic. What counts is the small "D" on blue beneath the EU circle of stars. By Johannes Sadek

In his car accessory shop in Cairo, Salim Warda has a lot on offer: windscreen wiper blades, petrol tank caps or lithium button cell batteries. Among the plethora of items relating to cars and their upkeep, there are also several number plates hanging on the wall that any German would instantly recognise: on the left, a blue bar, inside a "D" under a circle of stars for the European Union. Then there are the letters "ME" for Mettmann, a local municipal district in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Warda is not a collector of licence plates, nor has Mettmann suddenly been incorporated into Greater Cairo. In the Egyptian capital, German number plates are more of an accessory, a chic extra to spruce up one's own car. German number plates can be seen on taxis, vans, minibuses – you name it. In Cairo's sea of metal, one seems to pass by every minute. "Demand is high, people love them," says Warda. Whether on a BMW or a Mitsubishi, a German number plate is the thing to have.

No lack of German number plates

Look around Al-Taufikaija, Cairo's market for new and used car parts, and you'll soon stumble across stacks of them. "GI" (Gießen) and "HR" (Homberg/Hesse) are on offer, as are "EIC" (Eichsfeld/Thuringia), "KUS" (Kusel/Rhineland-Palatinate), "B" (Berlin) or "BN" (Bonn). Car owners usually mount the number plates under or next to the Egyptian ones, so that the blue bar appears next to the Arabic numbers and letters. "Stylish" is how one taxi driver describes the look.

Taxi with an old German under an Egyptian number plate seen on a street in Cairo (image: picture alliance/dpa | Johannes Schmitt-Tegg)
In Cairo, German number plates are more of an accessory, a chic extra to spruce up one's own car. German number plates can be seen on taxis, vans, minibuses – you name it. In Cairo's sea of metal, one seems to pass by every minute. "Demand is high, people love them," says car accessory retailer Warda

Egyptian traffic police officers are happy to tolerate such additions provided the local number plate can be seen correctly. From the German point of view, there are no concerns as long as the vehicle previously registered in Germany has been deregistered, says spokesman Stephan Immen of the Federal Motor Vehicle Authority in Flensburg. As a result, the licence plate loses its validity. Whether it then ends up in the dustbin, on eBay, or on the streets of Cairo is "relatively insignificant", Immen concludes.

For taxi driver Aiman Gab from Giza, himself the proud owner of a German number plate, there is more to it than that. "The Germans are geniuses. I admire them. They are highly organised and passionate about their work."

"Egyptians love German cars"

One of the licence plate dealers has a similar take on the subject: "Egyptians love German cars and Germany in general." Occasionally an "F" (France) or an "E" (Spain) shows up in traffic, but the "D" seems particularly popular.

Car parts market in Cairo (image: picture alliance/dpa | Johannes Schmitt-Tegg)
Look around Al-Taufikaija, Cairo's market for new and used car parts, and you'll soon stumble across stacks of them. "GI" (Gießen) and "HR" (Homberg/Hesse) are on offer, as are "EIC" (Eichsfeld/Thuringia), "KUS" (Kusel/Rhineland-Palatinate), "B" (Berlin) or "BN" (Bonn). Car owners usually mount the number plates under or next to the Egyptian ones, so that the blue bar appears next to the Arabic numbers and letters. "Stylish" is how one taxi driver describes the look

Egyptian and even Chinese manufacturers are now cashing in on the craze by making counterfeit plates. Salim Warda's Mettmann number plate "ME-4444" carries (obviously false) TUV badge, a seal from the Hohenlohekreis district office in Baden-Württemberg – although it was made in China. Egyptian imitations also bear the "D" and the EU stars, yet the font and colours clearly differ from the German originals. A fake sign from China will set you back 25 Egyptian pounds (1.30 euros), while an old German original costs 75 (3.90 euros).

It is not always possible to determine precisely how the German signs end up in Cairo. Some of them end up in boxes at road traffic offices, says car recycler Hagen Hamm. "No doubt a few get lifted from there." According to the ADAC, however, around 160,000 number plates are stolen in Germany every year. It is likely that some of them are sent abroad for the raw material price of aluminium. Kai Berkau from car service provider PS Team says: "There is no legal way to buy old number plates."

The fact that Egyptians are happy to attach German number plates to frequently dented cars produced in Asia is of secondary consideration. "It's about showing off," says Salim Warda. "Nobody cares whether they really drive a Mercedes."

Johannes Sadek

© dpa 2023

More on this topic