No Limits

Americans have a lot of myths and misconceptions about Germany.  We think that all Germans wear lederhosen and dirndls– they don’t; that’s just in the South of Germany.  We think that all Germans love beer and pretzels- ok, that part is actually mostly true.

Before I moved to Germany, I had a weird misconception that the Autobahn was a single world-famous stretch of roadway.  I stupidly didn’t register that “Autobahn” is really just the name for Germany’s entire system of highways until I was already here and seeing the separate segments of the highway.  I now know that Regensburg sits at the intersection of the A3 and the A93, and both of those roads are considered “The Autobahn.”

We think that the entire Autobahn has no speed limit.

nolimitsIt only takes one time on the highways here to see that this isn’t entirely true.  There are places on Germany’s roadways with no posted speed limits, designated by the circle and slashes seen to the right of this paragraph.  One ADAC estimate says that roughly half of the Autobahn  does indeed have a posted speed limit.  I can attest to this, since I drove on the Autobahn last week for the first time.

I don’t usually have a car here- when I moved over, I sold my beloved Honda Civic in favor of using the bus and train to get around.  I didn’t want to deal with the expense of parking, of getting gasoline, of insuring a car- and I really don’t need one here.    I drive when I’m in the United States, but not here.

When several of us went to Zürich for business last week and I had the opportunity to sign on as a second driver for the rental car, I didn’t have to think too long before signing up.  As a result, I got to drive a bit in both Germany and Austria.  I have a few thoughts on the experience:

  1. The places that do have speed limits here are somewhat infuriating because the speed limit changes rapidly and often.  In a five-minute span, you can find yourself seeing multiple speed limit changes.  It’s usually somewhat logical-  120 kilometers per hour to 100 to 80 as you approach a tunnel, for example.  Sometimes, though, it can be downright schizophrenic:  120 kilometers per hour to 80 to 100 to 60 to 120 and then, suddenly, no limits again.  In the US, highway speed limits tend to be one speed for much longer stretches of roadway.
  2. Even on the sections of the Autobahn that don’t have posted speed limits, there is still a recommended speed.  The Richtgeschwindigkeit, or recommended speed, is 130 km/h.  I can say from my new experience that 130-140 is actually a very comfortable speed.  This is perfectly logical, since this is roughly equivalent to 80-87 miles per hour.
  3. Our rental car was a Volkswagen Touran, which is basically the minivan version of a VW Golf.  This car isn’t really built for speed-  at one point on a straightaway, I took the car up to 180 km/h (112 mph) just to see what it felt like.  It felt terrifying.  At that speed, the entire vehicle felt like it was catching an updraft.  There was no sense of real control of the vehicle, and I was concerned that any good gust of wind would completely crash us.  I leveled it back down to a more relaxed speed very quickly, and didn’t break a three digit mph speed again for the rest of the trip.  I saw plenty of people doing 200-220 km/h on the Autobahn, but you really have to have the right car to do it without spontaneous outbreaks of sudden and horrible death.

Would I rent a fast car some time and drive fast on the Autobahn again?  Probably, it was kind of fun despite the terror.  Maybe next time I just need a faster car…

Have you been on the Autobahn?  What’s the fastest speed you’ve ever driven?