Driving in Germany is frightening — especially if you drive a minivan and the rest of the cars on the road are 1/3 the size of you. It’s hard to find parking spaces that I’ll fit into, and there are some streets that I can’t even drive down for fear of scraping the line of cars parked on both sides of the street.
But on main roads, things aren’t that different from the US.
Here are some of the differences:
Speed limits are in kilometers per hour. It’s not too hard to convert, because most US vehicles have both of them on the speedometer, so I just have to look at the orange numbers instead of the white ones. I heard so much before I came here about the autobahn and how there are no speed limits and Germans drive so fast. This is not true. Yes, there are parts of the autobahn that have no speed limits, but I have yet to see them. Even on those parts, the recommended maximum speed is 130 km/hr (81 mph) Most of the time on the autobahn, the speed limit is 100 km/hr, or 62 mph. That’s slower than the 70 on highways back in Tennessee.
In the city, the speed limit is 50 km/hr, or 31 mph. That’s much slower than the 45 on most major roads in the US. And on side streets and residential areas, the speed limit is 30 km/hr, or 18 mph. That’s crawling compared to 25 in my old neighborhood.
Besides the fact that the speed limits are lower, here’s a crazy fact: the Germans actually obey them! In the US, the flow of traffic would usually be 5-10 miles per hour above the speed limit. Here, if the speed limit is 50, people are going about 45. I drive pretty close to the limit, and end up passing all the other cars.
There are a million one way streets here. I’ve never gotten lost in the US, because I could always turn around and retrace my steps. Here, you can’t do that, because most of the streets are one-way. I’ve gotten so hopelessly lost here, once for over 2 hours. I’ve never used GPS in the US, but we bought one here. It is absolutely necessary. Besides the fact that the streets are often one way, they are very poorly marked, if at all. At many intersections they don’t bother putting up street signs at all. Often, if they do, it’s very difficult to see. They’re not out on the corner like in the US, they’re nailed to a building or hidden behind a tree.
One of the best things about driving in Germany is the fact that traffic moves much, much smoother. It may not be faster, but it takes less time to get places. This is because I can drive all the way across town and barely have to stop. Driving to my husband’s work, which is about 8 miles away, only takes 10 minutes. The same drive in the US would take 25 minutes. The Germans are big about right-of-way. In residential areas, there are no stop signs — anywhere! Every street just yields to the right. So basically, every time you come to an intersection, if there’s a car on your right side, let them go, if not, go ahead. Since residential areas are not very busy, this means you can usually get all the way out of the neighborhood without having to stop. In non-residential areas, you still have to yield to the right unless you are on a “priority road” as designated by a special sign (pictured).
On main roads, there are not very many stoplights. There are lots of roundabouts, which I LOVE! When there are traffic lights, the lights change differently than the US. They go green, yellow, red, yellow, green. The extra yellow tells drivers when it’s about to turn green, and only flashes for a second, giving the whole line of waiting cars the signal to get ready. It almost seems like the whole line of cars goes at once, instead of the next, next, next at traffic stops in the US.
Overall, it’s not too bad once you get used to a few small differences.
But don’t get lost.