Well, I did it. I had no other choice. I did have another choice (ubahn), but I thought to myself “If you back down now, you may never get out there.” I practiced some breathing exercises, I played positive movies in my mind, and repeated the mantra that I usually say while running a long run…I got this shit! And by some miracle I arrived safely at my destination and returned safely back home. That’s right, after five years of living in Germany, I drove on the Autobahn and didn’t die.
For some this is no great fete. They drive the Autobahn with regularity. They are the ones who are daily a part of the flow that pumps through the transportation arteries connecting Germany’s cities. They are the ones who waste their lives in traffic jams (Stau) just so they can have those few moments of freedom on the road. They are the ones who bought that ridiculously horse powered car just so they could drive 220 kilometers per hour (136 mph).
That is what makes the Autobahn so scary. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone wants to go fast. And my limited horse powered VW Golf just can’t take that kind of speed.
I have driven 3200 miles across the great nation of the United States, alone. Never once was I nervous. Never once was I scared. I spent numerous summers in Massachusetts. If you know Massachusetts, their drivers are lovingly called Massholes. Never once did I fear for my life as I buzzed through rotaries or fought my way through the Big Dig.
Yet, in the midst of all of that scary speed there is order. Germany is a country of rules. And for the most part, Germans stick to the rules.
In the United States, the outside lanes are really for passing, but do people follow this rule? Of course not. They are taxpayers damn it! And if they want to use the whole road, if they want to hog the left lane even though the right lane is free, what are you going to do about it?
In Germany the outside lanes are also for passing. Slow cars stay in the right lane, uberschnell cars in left lane. If you hog the left lane when the right lane is free, you could be fined.
When passing someone in the right lane, look to see if the left lane is clear. You might see a tiny black speck far off in the distance. Look again, and if the car in the left lane is going 220 you will now see a black swishy streak go by you. Now it is safe to pass.
Trucks in the US can also be an annoyance. In the US the semi-truck is to stay in the right lane, especially when going slow up a hill. But we all know they have some need to pass, even on hills. Many times I have climbed mountain passes only to be stuck behind 3 semis who seem to be racing, at a tortoise pace, blocking all lanes to the other side.
In Germany semi trucks are to stay in the right lane. They are allowed to pass on the left, but this usually only happens in areas where there are 4 or more lanes. And you would never see them outside the first two lanes from the right. On some stretches of highway trucks are not even allowed outside the right lane. And on Sundays and Holidays, trucks are not allowed on the streets unless they pay for a special permit.
I don’t think I will be spending much time in the Autobahn’s fast lane, but at least I can now drive myself further than Edeka. Maybe I could even go as far as Ikea. Imagine…Köttbular and plastic containers are at my finger tips whenever I want them!
Have you ever driven the Autobahn in Germany? What scares you most when you are out on the road?
Here is a video of an American tourist going 300 kph on the Autobahn. Most of what he says about the German Autobahn is over exaggerated or just untrue. But this video is a good example of what the speed looks like.
For more info, here is a concise How-To Drive on the Autobahn on Wired.
Categories: Living and Working in Germany