The Autobahn

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!


  1. Qatar wants to buy 25% of the autobahn.
    just kidding 🙂

  2. I learned to drive in Germany. It took a while to get the hang of but
    when I did wow what fun.

  3. sounds like a gas.people probably average 40m.p.h. in the states.

  4. mitchell says

    ug, no one knows how to drive in the states! its very annoying.
    i hope to experience the autobahn one day.

  5. i’d be happy if everyone would just used the passing lane correctly.

  6. I used to work for a gentleman who was from Germany. I can recall having a conversation with him about the Autobahn. One thing that i remember him telling me is that on the restricted (speed limit) sections, They are TOUGH on enforcement. As an American you think otherwise. I got the impression from him that if you did get stopped for a violation on the restricted sections, You would only wish you got pulled over by a Buford T. Justice from the states lol

  7. Oh man, I want to drive the Autobahn someday.. in the right kind of car of course.

  8. I would love to drive on the Autobahn. For something to work like that in the states people would have to have a major attitude shift. People here camp out in the left lane and think everything is all right if they are going the speed limit or below. If you flash your lights they get mad and go slower, or we never know if they will flash a gun at you, as we pass by them.

  9. Haha, absolutely true and on the dot Ryan. Driving in Germany can be hectic given the strict rules and every citizen acting as an enforcer of the law.

    Other than that, the quality of the cars, the roads (no potholes), less traffic = awesome experience.

  10. Sounds like they spend a lot of money building and maintaining the Autobahn. You wouldn’t want to hit a big pothole going 150, would you? But they don’t have as many miles of freeway to maintain as the U.S. so I think it would be difficult to build an ‘Autobahn’ here in the U.S. Although, maybe we should make that request to Obama and he will be happy to spend money if we tell him it will create jobs. Build a new superhighway from Seattle to L.A. to Florida to New York, that would save a lot of driving time.

  11. I saw a program on the History channel a couple years back. I think it was this Modern Marvels one:

    Pretty cool stuff with some great facts.

    I like how the drivers flash you like your driving the 24hrs Le Mans. That’s how it should be. Left lane for passing ONLY and when you flash (or honk for that matter) people get the F out of your way. Not so in the US (just look at I-5 for example). Makes me want to go to Germany for a trip down the Autobahn.

  12. anyone driven in texas?think all lanes are created equally.drives me nuts.

  13. Also, 99% of the time here in Oregon when you get up to a slow driver in the left lane they have a Washington license plate.

  14. It happened again yesterday. Left lane… slow driver… Washington plates. This is not a random statement, it happens every day.

  15. passing shouldn’t be such a choir.

  16. @ maria, would that be you and your passengers singing while passing? .If so.. you are right, singing and passing is a chore 🙂

  17. Bianka, the German says

    Now imagine all those alien drivers on our motorways with no German license, and the stupid accidents that may bring 😛
    But what I can fully confirm is this:
    Being flashed from behind translates to “Move over, NOW!!” and don’t even try to think about *not* doing it. You can be prosecuted for that (holding up the show). Also, Police sometimes pulls over the ones who flash (if it’s too extensively and not keeping your safety distance to the vehicle in front) and prosecute them…

    Enjoy the driving!
    Unfortunately German cars have a cut-off at 270 kph, which is pretty crap

  18. Driving on the autobahn before I get “old” is definitely on my list of things to accomplish. It seems as though Germans take the rules more seriously then New Yorkers/New Englanders though!

  19. @ Joe, East Coast (north particularly) driving is taken seriously!…If you equate it to NASCAR and “Days of Thunder” style lol “Rubbin` is Racin” 🙂