SIX FACTS YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE BRAVING THE GERMAN AUTOBAHN FOR THE FIRST TIME

Facts about the German Autobahn featured image

“Wow, you live in Germany? Have you ever driven on the Autobahn?”

Sound familiar? Many foreigners seem to view that place as some magical, elusive, amusement-park-type venue that people go to, so they can put the pedal to the metal for an hour and idle away some time.

If you thought so too, I’m sorry for the disenchantment but it’s just a regular motorway and, rather than to race, most people simply use it to irritatedly twiddle their thumbs while stewing in traffic for hours each day until they clock in late.

About 70% of the German Autobahn doesn’t have a speed limit but even there, you can only go as fast as circumstances allow. So with congestion, construction, and bad weather – which luckily is NEVER an issue in Germany – it’s very rare to be able to truly floor it.

In the meantime, read on for some practical advice to help you safely enjoy your next trip.

PACK SOME PIDDLE-PENNIES

There are two types of toilets at rest stops along the Autobahn. The signs will say WC, Serways, or Sanifair.

WCsare free of charge and are located at rest stops without any additional facilities. Only use those if you get a kick out of catching umpteen different diseases just by peering at the door handle from a distance before wading through a knee-deep mix of peepee and other bodily fluids. I’d rather tinkle into a bottle while in a moving vehicle – and I’m a girl!

If you want family-friendly, safe, and clean restrooms, Sanifair or Serways are the way to go. (Literally!) They’re located at the bigger rest stops that come with a restaurant and shop. They charge 70 Cents per person – however, you do get a 50 Cents voucher that’s valid for three years, which can be used nationwide at Autobahn restaurants along with gas stations, train stations, some malls, and even a few McDonald’s locations.

KNOW WHEN AND WHERE TO FORM AN EMERGENCY LANE

In 2016 Germany introduced a law to form a Rettungsgasse/emergency lane during congestions in between the two lanes farthest to the left. If there are only two lanes, scootch over to your side and leave as much room in the middle as possible.

Do this whenever traffic is creeping at or below walking speed – so basically as soon as you inch onto the Autobahn during rush hour. That way, emergency vehicles can dash to accidents more quickly, which in turn increases the potential victims’ chances of survival.

Failure to create an emergency lane can result in a minimum 200 Euro fine and two penalty points.

DRIVE DEFENSIVELY

As someone whose first car was a 15-year-old Citroen Saxo that wouldn’t go faster than 120 km/h / 75 mph – but only downhill in dry weather with tailwinds and during a waxing moon between 4.37 and 4.53 am in months that end in -y – let me tell you that the Autobahn can be a risky place for slow cars. The other motorists won’t take you seriously and will cut you off – so try to be prepared and drive defensively.

Does that mean spending the majority of your time stuck in the right lane between trucks? Yes. But would it take you more than 30 minutes to outrace an eighteen-wheeler that’s traveling at full speed? Also yes.

If the car behind you is tailgating, keep cool. Do not let them rush you, but also try to make way as soon as safely possible, to not accidentally provoke any breakneck maneuvers by others.

BEWARE OF GHOST DRIVERS!

Tune your radio to one of the local stations to get alerts of so-called Geisterfahrer aka Falschfahrer/wrong-way drivers.

As a kid, I always assumed the radio hosts were warning us of real ghosts. I pictured my family having to dodge oodles of cars, steered by shadow figures with top hats. Why top hats? Because apparently, they’re very worldly spirits. They may not know what ramp to use but they sure as hell know how to dress dapper!

Apparition or not – whenever someone is going in the wrong direction, the radio hosts will interrupt the program immediately to give updated warnings and also announce when the driver has left the Autobahn.

Only use the right lane and don’t pass if you’re in an area with an active Falschfahrer warning!

construction motorway

CAREFUL WHEN IT COMES TO CONSTRUCTION SITES

Measurements of lanes in construction sites have been outdated for years. Oftentimes they are only authorized for cars that are a maximum of two meters / 6.6ft wide, even though about 70% of newer cars in Germany exceed that limit.

So if you have a soft spot for side mirrors, you might want to reconsider passing through construction in the left lane.

BECOME A CAR CONNOISSEUR

One of the Autobahn’s unwritten rules is to clear the way for speedier cars. Know the make and model along with their maximum velocity compared to yours, and learn to identify them just by getting a glimpse of their radiator grill whooshing towards you in your rearview mirror.

Always make room for them by merging onto – or staying in – the right lane. Preferably before they’re forced to slow down.

Making them lose speed might cause drivers to not only flail their arms like wacky inflatable tube men, but also to tailgate, swerve on purpose, or even flash their lights at you – all of which can, and oftentimes will lead to accidents.

Is it your right to be in the left lane, as long as you’re passing other cars? Absolutely! Should people behind you put the breaks on in that situation? Also yes. But a motorway where drivers zip along at more than 200 km/h / 125 mph is not the place to teach other motorists a lesson, as things can quickly turn into a scene straight out of Final Destination if you’re not being cautious.

ENJOY THE RIDE

The Autobahn does lose its glamor after a bit – but it’s still pretty sweet to be whooshing down the road whenever possible. Plus, getting to your destination quickly is the whole point. You don’t want to be late for Weißwurstfrühstück, do you?

So play by the book, bring some tinkle-nickles, and then enjoy safely zooming your Sanifair-cleansed tushie all over the German Autobahn.

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4 Responses

  1. Kylie says:

    Up until I read the section about ghost drivers, I found the autobahn incredibly easy to drive on compared to small (but fast!) Back roads and village roads. 😅

    • Tina says:

      Absolutely – the Autobahn can be so much more relaxed than those tight back roads… especially with huge tractors coming towards you 😉
      Don’t worry about the ghost drivers, though – I’ve never encountered one, so it’s not like that’s overly common. 🙂

  2. When I first saw “ghost drivers” I was thinking, what kind of “Christine” “Maximum Overdrive” ish Germany got going over there 😱😱😱??? But still people driving the wrong way on any highway is super scary! That makes me think about that Quentin Tarantino movie “Death Proof.” 💀

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