When I married my German husband, Daniel, I had a few bits of culture shock to wrap my head around: potato salad made with vinegar instead of mayo, warm beer and…being the passenger in a pint-size car barreling 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) while constantly holding on for dear life on my “oh shit” handle. Yes, it’s true. You really can put the pedal to the metal on the autobahn in Germany. There are no speed limits – at least most of the time.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being the designated driver after a reunion my husband had with his hometown friends. We were 1 1/2 hours from home, and my first time behind the wheel on the autobahn it was midnight…and pouring rain. I was that typical woman driver with my chin kissing the steering wheel. When we arrived home, I had blisters on my hands from holding on so hard to the wheel. My husband is still so embarrasssed for me.
Here are the rules when driving the autobahn in Germany. Don’t break them. Germans take their roads, laws (and of course the German cars that drive on them) very seriously.
1. The majority of the autobahn has no speed limit, but when you are entering a city or a construction zone you will see speed signs. When you see a sign of a circle with a slash through the middle of it, that is your green light to hoof it.
2. Drivers are supposed stay in the right lane if driving under 100 km/h. The left lane is for the speed demons. If there are no cars in the right lane, you must drive in the right lane and free-up the left lane. Once there is traffic in the right lane, you must move back over to the left lane and begin hoofing it again.
3. When someone behind you flashes their headlights, that means, “Get the hell over, dude” and you must proceed to the right lane.
4. It is prohibited to pass a car while driving in the right lane.
5. If you enter Switzerland or Austria, their highways are also called the autobahn, but they all have speed limits – so watch the signs. Also, when entering Switzerland or Austria, you must pay a toll to drive on their highways. You must buy a sticker for your windshield or the police will stop you and force you to pay a hefty fine on the spot. So, if you are heading to Salzburg to enjoy The Sound of Music Tour, take extra cash for the toll. And don’t forget to tell the Von Trapp family hello for me!
The unofficial rules of the autobahn:
1. The meat-heads driving the Porches, BMW or Mercedes sedans get right-of-way on the autobahn. So if you are driving a SMART car or Fiat, you better stay in the right lane!
2. Don’t be an idiot, inexperienced autobahn driver and drive 200 mph your first time on the autobahn. Remember, the Germans have been driving those roads since birth and have confidence with their fancy cars. So if you are in a crappy rental car, don’t be a meat-head.
3. Never, ever, ever litter in Germany. They have the cleanest highways in the world, because they have zero tolerance for litter. So after you throw back a pack of Swiss chocolates, don’t throw your wrapper out the window!