For a fella who likes fast cars and going fast, there are few things more exciting than a jaunt on Germany’s Autobahn. My “first time” was about 17 years ago and was both a nerve racking and exhilarating experience. I had always liked going fast (“fast but safe” as I liked to call it), but in the States, you don’t have much opportunity for speed on public roads without fear of the smokies ruining your joy ride.
For those of you who don’t know, the term Autobahn refers to the freeways in Germany. The first German motorway was constructed in Berlin between 1913 and 1921. It was 19 km long and used for racing. That started a long, and at points sordid, history of roads dedicated to motor vehicles. Really, “get the horses, bikes and pedestrians off the road” high speed thoroughfares.
Today’s Autobahn roads are in unbelievable condition with features such as wildlife barriers, freeze resistant surfaces, and gentle, well-banked curves. They are designed for high performance vehicles to go fast on. About two-thirds of the Autobahn network has no permanent speed limit. Where speed limits come in to play would be similar to the reduced speed limits on our Interstates in and around most cities. Heavily populated or particularly dangerous sections of road have posted speed limits usually ranging from 80 to 130 km/h (50 to 80 mph). Construction zones also have speed limits of course.
Aside from loving to see the sign at the right (end of all restrictions), I love the German system for driving. It’s very expensive and time consuming to get your license in Germany. Consequently, they tend to take driving much more seriously than we do in the States. I had a very frustrating time driving on U.S. roads after driving in Germany. Germans follow strict rules and you can pretty easily anticipate what other drivers are going to do and how they’re going to react.
For instance, when you’re driving on the Autobahn, you only get into a left lane to pass. Period. If you’re in the left lane and you see flashing lights in your mirror, you have 2 options: 1. Get over NOW!; or 2. Run the risk of getting slammed into from behind. I don’t know how many times I’d see flashing lights way way back in the distance, immediately got over and seconds later had a Porsche or Ferrari go FLYING past me. It would happen much quicker than you think it could.
One of the craziest things I saw on the Autobahn was on a rainy night not too far from our house. We were driving to a store near Mannheim (about an hour south of Frankfurt). We came up on a short, straight stretch of road and I noticed something red tucked into some tall shrubs on the side of the road. Turns out it was a Ferrari Testarossa spun around and facing oncoming traffic. Not sure what happened, but the owner didn’t look too happy.
I have to say, even to this day, I feel all of the hype, mystique and allure of the Autobahn IS all it’s cracked up to be. I absolutely loved driving on it nearly every day for over 2 years, and most of that time was spent in cars that weren’t really up for true Autobahn experiences. I did, however, manage to average almost 100 mph on my way to work most days!