Autobahn Adventures: The Prevention Of

Someone else drives in Germany. I can, and have when I was at university there, but I didn’t like it then and I like it less now. The rules of the road are not the same as the US, for all that things appear similar on the surface. The autobahn not having a speed limit (in good weather, when a limit is not posted, and there is not a wreck, and not in a construction zone) is just the start. So here are a few observations I’ve made over the years:

1) Follow the rules. They may be strange, but follow them.

1a) Because everyone else is, and you will get a lot of unwanted attention from other drivers as well as the Polezei if you don’t. Seriously, there is a lot less bad-road-behavior in Germany because people do what you expect them to do. The exceptions are glaring.

2) Be patient. Traffic will move, even if it takes a few hours. Staus and Verstopungs (traffic jams and full stops) happen and clear themselves if you are patient. You are moving, even if at a crawl.

3) You can’t get there from here. Germany has fewer connecting roads, and fewer miles of road per capita than the US does, so the main routes are the routes, often. Cutting cross-country to avoid the Autobahns might not be viable, once you really look at a map.

4) You must learn to parallel park and do it well and quickly.

5)ADAC is your friend. They are the folks in yellow and black who can provide emergency service. A membership is worth its weight in gold.

6) There are speed limits on the autobahn in certain high-traffic areas

7) and there are “idiots who think they are Niki Lauda.” Don’t be that guy.

8) Cars get close. Really close. Really, really close. This is normal and accepted. Please do not panic, or leave too much space between cars. The space will be filled. Snugging up to the car ahead of you is considered good manners, so as to make room for more cars in the line.

9) Horns are taken very seriously and are to be used sparingly at best.

10) Street lights are on the side, not overhead. I still have not gotten used to this, and always look in the wrong place.

11) Cars with places from Eastern Europe and southern Italy are going to ignore most of the rules, or so it feels like at times.

12) Cars with American plates are going to ignore some of the rules, or so it feels like at times.

13) British cars… generally don’t get that far east, but there are always a few exceptions.

14) If your little road tax stamp expires, you will meet a police vehicle ten minutes before you reach the closest place to get a new stamp. Because Murphy’s Law applies across international borders.

15) It only seems as if all the cars are black sedans. There are some silver and dark, dark blue ones, and I have heard rumors of a white vehicle, sort of like rumors of Moby Dick. And of course crimson or yellow sports cars can be found, briefly, as they pass you going a lot faster than you probably ought to try going in that rental car.

*Niki Lauda is a famous Austrian race car driver and former airline owner.

12 thoughts on “Autobahn Adventures: The Prevention Of

  1. You left out “If you see flashing headlights in your rearview mirror, get out of the way RIGHT NOW.”

    More war stories: When The Wall fell, a lot of East Germans motored to the West to see for themselves. The German government had to broadcast warnings to watch out for them, because they were putt-putting everywhere, including on the autobahns, at about 50 kph in their little Trabants and coal-burning Wartburgs. (Well, not really coal, but they were two-stroke and could put out a lot of smoke).

    By the way, I drove a Trabant one time. Very interesting, but a death trap. The gas tank is between the lawnmower engine and the cardboard dashboard. Really.

  2. Oh, and one of the rules on the autobahn I liked were the MINIMUM speed limits to be in a certain lane.

  3. Know whether your rental car uses gasoline or diesel fuel. Know that diesel for cars is not the same as diesel for trucks. Your only clue is that some diesel pumps are marked “PKW” and some are marked “LKW” (from memory, and I forget which is which). Ask someone at the gas station before you make an expensive mistake.

    • I did a semester. We couldn’t do a full year because it would “cost” us two years, since their semesters were skewed from US (April – July, Sept-Feb). And trying to get certain credits to transfer over was impossible.

  4. +1 on Eric!!! Move over, because the little red car can EASILY be doing 100kph faster than you are… And the Porsches are speed limited from Hertz at 200kph! Don’t ask me how I know…

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