When I got to Germany back in November, I had a ride from the Munich airport to my hotel here in Regensburg. Along the way, though, I got to see the Autobahn for the first time, and I got to see the German countryside for the first time.
Neither was even remotely what I expected.
The countryside was decidedly more rural than I thought it would be. I didn’t realize before coming here just how much agricultural business goes on in Germany. Outside of the main city areas, it’s pretty much all farmland or forest, with the occasional village in between. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense: How else could a country brew this much beer if they weren’t also farming a metric buttload of hops for the brewing process?
This post isn’t about agriculture though, it’s about cars. While I was on the road between Munich and Regensburg, my eyes were practically glued to the window looking at cars and road signs.
Editor’s Note: One of my favorite jokes about German roadways is one that is only really funny to people who don’t speak German natively: “Where the heck is this town called Ausfahrt?” The reason this is funny is because Ausfahrt means “Exit.” I figured that out by the fourth time I saw it, but I’ve since learned that you can get this gag on a t-shirt over at the Army base. Even the Urban Dictionary riffs on this one:Biggest city in Germany. Almost every Autobahn exit directs to it.- Damn, I missed the exit.
– Don’t worry. The next one will be to “Ausfahrt” as well.
It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who thinks like that. Then again, I spent more than two months trying to figure out what the “Einbahnstrasse” signs were all pointing to before my friend Jenny explained, without laughing at me too much, that it means “one way street.”
I think I may have seen too many James Bond chase sequences to have a realistic idea of what the Autobahn would look like, though. I expected it to be wide and flat and fast. I didn’t see stretches of the Autobahn that really matched that description until much later, as it turns out. As I hurtled down the Autobahn in the airport liner van on that first day, I watched the cars that were going past us, and the cars we passed. Some things were completely as expected: Lots of BMW and Volkswagen, Mercedes and Audi. Also present, in smaller numbers, were expected vehicles like Fords and Minis, Suzukis and Hondas, Mitsubishis and Toyotas. And one Lamborghini, just to be contrary. I’ve since seen a Tesla Roadster, but that’s not at all common.
There were also some breeds of car that I’d seen in the past in the US, but not recently, like Renault, Fiat, and Peugeot. But there were also a lot of cars that I’ve never seen in the United States. I’ve learned their names now, of course. Citroen. Skoda. Opel. These three are very, very common here. (And some of the new Citroens are just adorable!)
After observing for a while, I noticed something interesting- nobody here has a huge car. Space is at a premium in all things. Parking lots are small. I haven’t seen anything like a Hummer or a Ford Explorer. I’m sure that larger vehicles might be in use on farms, but not in the cities. With gas prices currently running at the equivalent of eight and a half US Dollars per gallon even for the cheap stuff, this isn’t really a surprise. It’s priced per liter here, but after you convert liters to gallons, and Euros to dollars, it’s not cheap. I saw a Pontiac Trans Am purring down the street last week, and I thought I was hallucinating.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been building up a little collection of pictures of official vehicles, because they fascinate me. In the US, most of the official vehicles are common American brands, and that’s to be expected. Here, though, there is an entry level Mercedes that looks like it’s roughly the right class to compete with the Honda Fit. In the US, Mercedes is a luxury car. Here, all of the taxis are Mercedes.
The same thing applies to emergency vehicles. Ambulances and fire trucks are pretty much what you’d expect- a van is a van is a van- the smaller emergency vehicles, however, are pretty snazzy looking. the fire department’s smaller vehicle? BMW.
Emergency medical service? This one is an Audi. The 112 inscribed on the side door is because the emergency call number here is 112, not 911 as it is back in the US. This is also a good example of the German language trying to confuse me. Arzt is “doctor.” The vehicle says notarzt. Which means “emergency doctor,” even though my EnglishBrain keeps screaming “but it says it’s NOT a doctor!”
Last, but certaintly not least, are the Polizei. (And bonus, it’s next to a Skoda in traffic, so you can see one of those as well.) Our frendly neighborhood cops drive BMWs accented with green. I’ve been told by several people that the police are shifting gradually over to blue instead of green to match large portions of the rest of the world, but I haven’t seen any blue on the cars or uniforms yet around town. I happen to think these little hatchback polizei cars are pretty good looking, though.
I wanted an Audi before I moved to Germany. I wonder if I’ll still want one as badly when I get back to the US.