Let’s just call it what it is, a rite of passage. I mean it’s just an interstate, right? Yet, whenever I tell someone we just came back from Germany, the first thing they want to know is did we drive the Autobahn. But now that I’ve done it, my gleeful response is , “You bet!” I will be the first to admit there was some trepidation as we arrived in Germany though. The original plan was to be in country by early morning, although travel snafus (which I will hold onto a later post as it’s a winner for sure) caused us to arrive many hours later. My baptism onto the Autobahn came in the nighttime hours. It was the number one concern I had heading into this vacation, but one that I had planned very carefully, that was until plans left us with a dark introduction. In a nutshell, it is what you would expect and have heard. Carefully merging into traffic is quite interesting to say the least. What appears as small dots of headlights in your rearview mirror quickly materialize into a full-out blowing your doors off experience. It’s so fast that you often wonder what an accident must look like? Luckily, we didn’t see one, but we saw many that seemed to be doing front bumper stands from having to put the brakes on in a hurry. It was like watching an amusement ride by the end of our trip, but definitely not on the front end of our journey. For tourists like me, it’s a white-knuckling experience.
For the most part, the people seem to know the routine. If you must pass a car, pass fast and get back over because you can guarantee someone will be going faster than you. Another thing that is different from the US are the signs, such as speed limits. You would think that a crossed out number would mean that you shouldn’t go that fast, but in all actuality it means that the slower speed limit just ended and you can resume full-on crap in your pants breakneck speeds at your leisure. Eventually, I composed myself and really found the Autobahn fun and a quick way to get from here to there if you’re in a pinch for time. I’m sure I hit at least 140! That is kilometers per hour! I ain’t that crazy, but I found others who were, as we appeared like a parked car as foreign vehicles screamed past us going upwards of 200 KPH and more. And yes, foreign vehicles. We Americans are very much under the impression that other countries must love our vehicles. Not so at all! Far from it as a matter of fact. In our 12 days, we saw exactly one ford, two jeeps, a Honda and a Chevy. That’s it. Audi, Peugeot (remember them), Mercedes, Alfa Romeos, BMW and Volkswagens. It’s easy to see how much our American auto industry is hurting when we’re the only ones buying them. One other fascinating thing we noticed was the lack of potholes? None, zilch! They get as much snow as us, maybe more and their roads were some of the smoothest I have ever been on, and we traveled at least 900 miles through 3 countries. Hmm, maybe we need to take a few road repair lessons from the Europeans, but I’m sure we’re too proud to ask. Their excellent quality interstates also could be the result of the fees imposed on those who use these roads. They have a tariff system for the truckers and the cars don’t get off easy either. Even if you’re visiting, be prepared to pay a tax in Austria and Switzerland. The tags are in plain sight on your windshield, so whereas you may get lucky enough to not pay (Austria has tags/vignette good for a set amount of days such as 10 days for 8 euro, Switzerland only offers a year pass which was 40 euro), I have read many instances where drivers were charged hundreds of dollars for not having these. We could have gotten away with it I’m sure, but on vacation do you really want to take the chance? Plus, nobody is going to tell you to get one, so many probably find out the hard way. Be smart and stop at a gas station or a smoke shop anywhere along the border and you can purchase these.
In conclusion, if you really want to experience Germany, the Autobahn is both thrilling and worth taking home to tell the tale, but never let the speed of the interstate prevent you from seeing the beautiful countries it slices through. The back roads, although slower and a bit more treacherous in spots is the picture you will carry with you long after you come home. So yes, I’m excited to talk about the Autobahn and glad I did it, but I doubt it will be the first thing I bring up when I talk about the trip, although it still may be the first thing I’m asked.