So I finally braved the Autobahn this past weekend. I must brag on myself and let you know just how well I did. If you aren't impressed with my driving on a freeway as a 33 year-old American, let me share some information with you.
THERE IS NO SPEED LIMIT
That's right. This is not a myth, but fact. On most open sections that are non-urban areas on the autobahn there is no speed limit. That means your nuts-o brother-in-law's uncle's cousin with the turbo-charged, nitro-infused, NASCAR wanna-be sports car can drive as fast as he would like (assuming he ships said car to Germany and gets an international or US forces in Europe driver's license). This also means that Germans grow up cruising this limitless fulfillment of the need for speed. I, however, grew up and learned to drive in the good ol' USA where there are speed limits everywhere...even the middle of nowhere West Texas. So the idea of this kind of speed, in a MINIVAN no less, is a little daunting. Smartypant's frequent caution about the dangers, snares and perils of the autobahn while he drives us around hasn't done a whole lot to boost my confidence. Finally, after driving around locally for a couple of weeks now, I decided I was brave enough to give it a shot.
I probably shouldn't have waited so long. Getting the van over 35mph was toe-tingling enough at first because it's been a month since I have driven a vehicle at normal US highway speeds. We were headed to another military base to do some shopping and were travelling caravan style with another family. Now our friend doesn't drive slow...in fact, he'll run off and leave you if you don't keep up. He started out behind me but soon passed me and later complained that he couldn't take one more minute of following me because I failed to use my cruise control. Whatever. Anyway, I managed to get up to a good speed (somewhere around 85mph) and topped out on the way home at 95mph (although I chose not to maintain that speed). Now this sounds pretty fast, but let me assure you that I was regularly passed by small cars that could pass for rollerskates.
(Yes, that is one of those Smart Cars; yes, Germans seem to love them. Might have something to do with the minature parking garages)
At one point I was passed by an Audi that was going so fast that the Herd-mobile shook and I felt like I was standing still. He was easily, EASILY driving upwards of 130mph. Not only was he driving that fast, but dude was changing lanes! If you think it is impossible to get up to that speed on a somewhat busy highway or wonder why he would bother changing lanes, let me share some rules of the road here:
Never drive in the left lane. It is for passing only. This is not a suggestion. The locals will ever-so-kindly let you know with a *ahem* polite honk of the horn that you need to move over. The left lane is used for passing. Period. End of story. So this means there is lots of lane changing going on. So with the high speeds, changing lanes can be tricky. The driver must be constantly aware of all cars on the road, even ones far behind you. When you put your blinker on and start to change lanes, it is not enough to check your blind spot, because dude in the Audi may be 500 yards back, but he's moving at close to twice your speed. Stay where you are. Once he's done trying to single-handedly blow you off the road, you can pass safely.
Of course, going that fast has it's consequences. Most insurance companies will not pay if you have an accident going over a certain speed deemed "safe" (somewhere around 130 or 140 kilometers per hour, I think). And, the faster you go the more horrific the carnage if you wreck. So with all the freedom found on the autobahn, My lead foot and I are quite comfortable with our 80-85 mph mark. I think I'll let Mr. Audi have his speed thrills and I'll sit back and enjoy the ride.
*all photos courtesy of that awesome thing called the internet*