You’ve just arrived in Germany at one of its major airports (Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, etc), you’ve got your luggage; and you’re now headed to the car rental counter for a chance to drive on the infamous Autobahn (or any part of the country’s 636,000km of roads).
Ohh, perhaps in a convertible since spring and summer are so beautiful in Germany.
Errrr… put on the brakes for a moment.
Yes, driving in Germany is probably one of the most exciting things you could possibly do in your lifetime — but it ain’t no easy feat.
If you’re coming from the U.S., you’ll just need your passport and driver’s license to drive here. Otherwise, you’re required to have an International Driver’s License. Hmmm, rules already and you haven’t even gotten behind the wheel yet. ;-)
Please… those 30-inch thick road beds on the Autobahn are so worth the wait — have some patience.
A proper, valid license isn’t the only thing you’ll need. You’d better learn the “rules” of the road — and fast if you want to survive out here — one of them is never to pass on the right (big no-no).
Someone behind you flashing their high beams? Uh, Sunday Driver, get out of the left lane you’re going too slow. Whatever you do, don’t flip ’em the bird on the way by — they got the right of way.
Oh, and get this, running out of gas on the Autobahn is illegal! There’s no excuse to run out of fuel — there are service areas with Tankstellen (gas stations) every 40 – 60km. They’re open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week with restrooms and a restaurant or snack bar.
They’re like service plazas found all over the New Jersey or Pennsylvania Turnpike in the US — only better. ;-)
All right, it’s time to be serious now for a minute. Whatever you do, do not (DO NOT) drink & drive. The legal limit for blood-alcohol is .05, but Germany’s getting stricter by the minute. Some places will throw the book at you for a .03.
Want to sample the best of German beer, wine, or schnapps? Leave the keys to the Audi or Mercedes behind, OK?
If you’re not imbibing, remember to always wear your seatbelt. You’re traveling at speeds of 250 km/h (160 mph), or faster in some areas, so safety first.
Don’t worry if you find yourself in trouble. There are callboxes along the roadside to help you. You don’t even have to worry about which way to find the closest one, there are posts that point an arrow to it.
I would, however, worry about where you’re going. Germany’s road signs on the Autobahn list their routes by city (the furthest city listed first) instead of numbering east/north/whatever. You don’t want to find yourself in Stuttgart if you’re headed to Kiel, do you? Learn to read a map (or use a GPS) so you know which cities are along the way to where you’re going.
Just don’t stop along the side of Autobahn to do it — that’s illegal too. ;-)