20 Sep The joys of driving in Germany
Licenses, Autobahns and the best of German car designs
I’m not one to get excited about cars, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and Germany is inarguably a world-leader in the automotive spectrum. Regarded as one of the most innovative in the world, and with seven manufacturers holding some of the most famous names like Porsche and BMW, Germany has every reason to toot its own horn. But while there are many lists about the most exciting sports car or luxury car, I’m more interested in the eclectic models and other facets of German automotive culture that make it so fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn.
Rules of Driving on the Autobahn
Firstly, Kraftwerk got it right. It is really, really fun to drive on the Autobahn (albeit they were saying ‘fahren’ not ‘fun’) when there are no speed restrictions. It is freeing, and it still boggles my mind that even if you feel like you’re flying down the road (my top speed to date is 180km or 111mph) there is always somebody faster. While there are areas on the Autobahn that are a speed-limit free for all, there are still many places where there are speed limits to be adhered to, so you can’t just burn rubber whenever and wherever you feel like it. There’s also the issue of passing at high speeds. I was a bit surprised at the extreme adherence to the rule of never passing on the right. If you want to pass, you pass only on the left, and if they’re going too slowly, they’re supposed to move over, but you never pass on the right. This isn’t a rule that I’ve ever noticed to be upheld in the US.
Getting a German license
The great news for Americans is that you’re allowed to drive in Germany with your American license for up to 6 months. If you want a German, license most of the states have an agreement for transferring over a license to a German one, and all of Canadian provinces have full-exchange agreements. If your state has an agreement, you just have to fill out a form and submit it to get a German license. It’s not all states, though, so that’s a bit annoying. But for those who do get the opportunity, it’s a huge luxury, because getting a license in Germany is way different than getting one in the states. Germany makes you take multiple classes, which aren’t cheap, before you take a test, which isn’t cheap, before you buy the license, which sits around $1,500 euros. It’s intense. Also, Germany, and Europe for that matter, are all about the standard transmission, so if you’ve only grown up driving an automatic, you’ll want to work on that before visiting or moving to Germany.
While rules of the road and other technical information is good to know, here’s the fun bit about the German automotive culture: Cars.
Let’s just go for gold right at the beginning. The cult classic amphibious car – the Amphicar Model 770. Created in 1961 to James Bond specifications, the Hanns Trippel design was built in Berlin’s Reinickendorf neighborhood and was a popular choice for novelty in 1960s film and television like Inspector Clouseau and the British series The Avengers. Also, considering how many lakes Berlin has, I don’t understand how this car isn’t en vogue in the city. If you lived on the canal you could just boat for part of the way to work, sounds great since people seem to be getting irritated with the traffic these days.
East German Trabant. Hang around Brandenburger Tor for a little while and you’re bound to see the Trabi-Safari’ caravan motoring down the roads. The iconic boxy car was the car of East Germany, and the process to get one was to register and wait. Wait time would be based on one’s proximity to Berlin, so it’s always been good to be a Berliner! The plastic framed “sparkplug with a roof” went out of fashion after reunification, but there’s now an annual Trabi race held in Washington DC to celebrate the fall of the wall, and with the resurgence of interest in East German culture from fashion to café décor, it has since regained its popularity as a cult favorite.
Honestly, I think this one is my favorite. The sheer ridiculousness of it reflects all the nostalgia that I have for a time I never knew. Produced from 1955 to 1964, the Messerschmitt has the creativity of the 60s and the practicality of the 50s. Rolling around on just three wheels, the strange structure is a bit of an aberration for German design in general, but it is said to have been quite easy to handle and cheap. It was all about creating a bit of chatter back in the day, so I can imagine it must have been fun to cruise around the city, and then safely park the collector’s item in the garage of an equally as eye-catching home.
By Alice Bauer