Driving the autobahn is a terrific window into the German society.
The rules take some preparation if you’ve never driven in Germany before. The speed limit has a habit of changing rapidly and it’s easy to be taken off guard if you’re not paying attention. But that’s rule #1: German’s take driving seriously. I never once saw someone trying to buck the system and cause a problem. There’s plenty of road on the right for slower cars – a lot of the new, small, gas-friendly cars are permanently relegated there. The left lane is for one of two things: Passing or driving very, very fast. Most people are the former – even if they have nice cars that can get some speed. The latter is for the select few who have awesome machines and are regularly speeding along at 150 mph easy.
Despite the fact that people can – and do- drive so fast, rule #1 applies. Everyone takes driving seriously and is attentive. It would be a fool who wandered into the left lane without being completely sure that there are no automotive masterpieces rushing up from behind. Everyone signals turns (at least that’s what I found). This even goes for BMWs, which in the United States are apparently sold without them.
One last comment on rule #1: I did not observe a single person trying to handle a drink or phone while driving on the autobahn.
Rule #2: Driving is fun. Because everyone does a pretty good job with rule #1, driving is a pleasure. In the States, there is always a self-righteous old lady (sorry about the sexism) clogging traffic and setting people’s emotions to a boil. In Germany, there’s nothing to be self-righteous about. The law allows people to enjoy themselves.
Rule #2a: Don’t rent a crap car. I did. I had a woefully underpowered Nissan Quashicore (At least we dubbed it so, with the motto: “Starving for power!”) We’re both science geeks, so it was funny to us – well, at least to me. Laura got the joke, but only smirked. I laughed for both of us. If you follow rule #2a, then rule #2 will apply.
Rule #3: Don’t get the GPS: Sorry Garmin, your device sucks with respect to pronouncing German street names. We would have done much better with a good old fashioned map. OK, maybe the GPS did help some, but it’s just not smart enough to allow you to adjust directions according to roads you would like to take and listening to ‘The Woman In The Box’ gets just tiring in the city, where the long Germanic street names are compounded by very aggressive traffic, old roads that just might be alley ways too small to get through safely.
OK, sorry. Enough about driving. We’ll probably be taking the train on future travels unless we can afford to drop the extra $1000+ for a nice car to get us through.