So here I find myself in Germany once again. Mr G has business here, and a couple of times a year, for board meeting weeks when other wives/spouses are included, I make the trek with him.
In past blogs I have written a bit about Berlin – a fascinating and handsome city which has a rich (and tragic) history. On this trip, for reasons not necessary to yarn on about, we are only spending a couple of days in Berlin. On the front end, we arrived in Frankfurt, where we picked up a rental car (diesel BMW sedan) and drove to Weimar – which is pretty much in the center of the country, and which also enjoys an interesting history.
Everything you’ve heard about driving on Germany’s autobahns is pretty much true – on the major highways that crisscross the country, there are stretches of road that have no speed limit. There are also many sections with speed limits posted, and it is serious (and expensive!) to get caught speeding in these zones.
The signal for no limit is subtle – a round white sign with five black lines running diagonally across it. If you haven’t brushed up on the local signage (which you always should, when driving in a foreign country), you would not know that this sign means fill yer boots.
But not everyone goes like hell on these unlimited speed ribbons of tarmac. The big trucks that rumble along the highways in vast quantities, moving freight into, around, and out of Germany tend to stick to the right lane, which is appropriate for slower vehicles, and have speed restrictions everywhere. Every now and then a truck will move into the center lane to pass slower moving trucks, but usually they don’t stick around there, unless there is a lot slow truck volume. Ironically, yesterday, we came upon a traffic accident as we were approaching Berlin, between two large commercial trucks – one carrying a load of Audis, and the other a load of beer cans. There was car and can carnage all over the highway, but fortunately it did not look like anyone was seriously hurt.
For folks driving modestly powered cars, the middle lane is the way to go. And it is pretty clear that not everyone in Germany can afford an Audi, BMW or Mercedes (the most common brands for the higher end cars here). There are lots of (European) Fords and VWs and Toyotas (and many others) – and it would be a stretch, and rather inadvisable, for these modestly powered cars to venture into the left lane on the Autobahn on the ‘no limit’ stretches, for they are likely to get smoked from behind by a high end car, coming up fast in the left lane – cars that can fairly effortlessly cruise along at 220 kph. In fact, we moved over to let a car pass us when we were going 220 kph (about 135 mph for you US readers) – an Audi which had to be going at least 280 kph, and which left us in its dust as it zoomed by. And there are Porches, Ferrarris, Lamborghinis and other extremely high end (and fast!) cars that are seen from time to time. These guys are insane – often exceeding 300 kph. At that speed, a crash will leave nothing but crumbs…
Speaking of insane – check out the Youtube video linked just below. I believe this was filmed somewhere like Italy or Spain. This kind of driving is not what the Autobahn is about – people go very very fast, but they do not recklessly endanger others like this – passing on the inside, weaving etc etc. Germans are nothing if not orderly and rule adherent ;^) If the cops could actually catch these guys in Germany they would throw the book at them…
In Germany, people are taught to drive on the autobahns properly, which is to say, pass on the left, and move over to the right to allow others to pass you. And stay out of the fast lane unless you intend to really boot it. People drive with an eye on their rearview mirrors, and are generally very quick to get out of the way. If only in Canada, where there is a mind-boggling number of clueless drivers.
But mistakes do happen in Germany – the most common being someone pulling out of the middle lane into the fast lane to pass, without accurately assessing the speed of the car roaring up in lane one. Mr G had to stomp on the brakes a couple of times so as not to cream a few of these doofuses.
And there are stories of much carnage when the wall came down in Germany, and people from East Germany, and other countries that were also behind the Iron Curtain, ventured onto the slick West German autobahns in their underpowered Trabants, and other eastern bloc tin can cars. They did not know the rules of the road, and there were many catastrophic crashes – so much so, that there was serious consideration of doing away with the much beloved no limit speed zones. The Germans love their cars (and they should – they consistently crank out awesome automobiles), and they love to drive them fast. There would have been national mourning if speed limits were imposed.
Now, about Ausfahrt. On my first trip to Germany, quite a few years ago, we were driven by one of the company’s professional drivers, from Berlin to Dresden (formerly part of the GDR, and site of a massive retaliatory bombing massacre at the very end of WW2) – about a four hour commute. I sat in a jet-lagged fugue in the back of a high powered Volvo wagon, behind the driver. I was looking out the window as we went, taking in this new (to me) landscape. I noticed a few things – firstly that it was impossible to focus on anything in the foreground (this was because, as Mr G revealed later, we were averaging 200 kph ;^), and I also noticed many many signs for Ausfahrt. There are many places in Germany that I had never heard of (including Erfurt, a lovely city in central Germany that we visited this week – an adventure that I hope to share in a future blog) – but with so many signs for Ausfahrt, I began to wonder about its importance.
Well, you probably guessed – it means Exit in German ;^)