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Hourglasses Are Helping German Drivers to Park for Free

MAINZ, Germany — Forget high-tech systems such as cellphone payments and solar-powered parking meters, German drivers hoping to run quick errands are now getting help from technology dating back thousands of years.

Officials in towns such as Kirchheim unter Teck are encouraging motorists looking for short-term parking to stick an hourglass to their windshields — giving them eight minutes at no cost before they have to return.

Image: Free 8-minute parking hourglass
One of the hourglasses offering 8 minutes of free parking. City Kirchheim unter Teck

"We originally limited the trial to a two-year term, but thanks to its great success we are now offering the service indefinitely," city official Andrea Edelmaier told NBC News.

The project was first trialed in Kirchheim in 2013 as a solution to its congested town center, where many shops are located in car-free pedestrian zones. Nearby street parking there can exceed the equivalent of $2 per hour.

It was made permanent late last year and is now being adopted elsewhere.

While some cities offer so-called "pretzel buttons" on parking ticket machines, which allow free short-term parking, Kirchheim decided not to make expensive changes to its meters.

Its solution of the humble hourglasses is intended for people wanting to hop into the bakery or run a quick errand at the pharmacy, for example.

The plastic devices cost 2 euro (around $2.20) — although some businesses have been giving them away as promotional items. More than 10,000 have been distributed in the town, which is home to 40,000 people.