I’m sure everyone knows by now that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in Germany over the past few months, and I’m slated to spend an inordinate amount of time in Germany over the next few months as well. For the most part I like it over there. I mean, it does get pretty old after a while. It’s not like I’m backpacking my way across Bavaria exploring the castles and cathedrals by day and hitting the clubs and getting drunk with my fellow travellers in the hostile every night. All I do is work.
However I do get to do one thing in Germany that your average twenty-something tourist doesn’t get to do. I get to drive. Not many of your casual travelers are afforded that luxury. Renting a car there is ridiculously expensive. The insurance typically costs more than the car, and the cars they give out are pretty damn nice. It’s Germany after all, and a Mercedes is a rather pedestrian vehicle in their little world. I’ve had my fair share of rather blah vehicles. A Toyota, a couple of unimpressive Opel’s and a tiny little VW. But, and it’s a big but, I’ve also had the pleasure of driving around in a ridiculously powerful Mercedes, a turbo-diesel Volvo station wagon, and my last trip out the fastest vehicle yet, A BMW 5-series. I’m not really a sports car guy, but it was sick.
So we’ve all heard about the Autobahn in movies or on TV or whatever. But I had no idea. First, I was under the impression the Autobahn was a single road. I was wrong. Autobahn translates to Car-Way, and it’s just their interstate system. Just as we take I-70 up to the mountains, they take A-4 from Frankfurt to Cologne.
Then of course there’s the no speed limit deal. And it is absolutely as bad-ass as advertised. Now it’s not every man for himself; there are very strict regulations regarding traffic on the autobahn, much stricter than our traffic system. But the fact that these rules are in place, and actually practiced, means the speed limit doesn’t need to be regulated as tightly.
There are speed limits better than half the time I’d say. Cities, hills, bridges and the like have speed limits, and they’re pretty comparable to ours. In fact, now that I think about it, just about all the regulations I speak of exist in the states, just no one actually follows them. On the Autobahn, you keep right except to pass. Just like here, only people actually do it. When some crazy straight-out-of-Iron-Man Audi is bearing down on you at 135 mph with his headlights flashing it’s a pretty good indication that one should move over and let him by. It costs around $2,000 to get a driver’s licence in the first place. And once you get it, doddling in the left lane is actually grounds to have that licence revoked. As is passing on the right. As is a semi driving in the middle or left lane when signs indicate it has to be in the right lane. As is not using your turn signal. As is just about any traffic infraction, you get the idea. The result is that German drivers drive like they should. Traffic moves as it should. No one breaks the rules.
This hyper-regulation allows them to completely deregulate the speed of the vehicles when the terrain allows it. It’s easy to safely drive 120 mph in left lane when you KNOW the guy in the middle lane ahead of you won’t pull out and cut you off, and at the very least if he does, he’ll signal and you can slow down. Probably what impressed me the most was how well traffic moved in general. Going 140 is amazing for sure, but I was almost equally as astonished at how frequently I’d look down to discover I was going 115 in the middle lane without even trying to. Traffic just moves better, the cars are just built better, and driving is just more fun.
I actually feel safer driving there than I do here. It was quite intimidating at first, but the autobahn is by and large predictable. And when you know what the other drivers around you are about to do, it’s actually not unsafe to drive really, really fast. And I’ve found that it’s hard for me to NOT pay attention when I’m going that fast. It’s easy to get bored and distracted at 80, not so much at 130. The autobahn is right up there with the coolest shit about my trips to Europe. I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case if I had more time to play tourist. But as is, I work the whole time, but I have to get there, and the autobahn takes me there. And if you’ve never had the opportunity to hit 145 in an 8-speed beamer, I highly recommend it.