Driving in Germany

After careful analysis I have determined that it would be cheaper and faster for me to rent a car for a couple of days while in Germany rather than using the trains.

This will be my first shot at driving internationally so I want to make sure I know what I am doing.

How much have roads been upgraded in the East? I am assuming quite a lot, but my route which will take me from Berlin - Nordhausen - Munich will be a good bit in the East. So its a good idea to know if they have been upgraded to the point where people are going to be flying by me at 100 mph.

How well are the expressways marked with Gas - Food? I will need at least one fill-up on the way.

How are Germans as drivers? I know that I would hate to be on the New Jersey Turnpike if I have never driven in the States so just trying to get an idea of how carefule I need to be.

Germans are excellent drivers. The old days of unlimited speed on the autobahn are pretty much gone, although there are probably still areas where they can unleash the horsepower. Keep in mind there are numerous speed traps designed to periodically slow down traffic and they are equipped with photo radar. I can’t speak to the easter road system, although with typical German efficiency, they have probably been upgraded since the bad old days.

I’ve driven in Germany as recently as a couple years ago. I can’t tell you how it is in the east though, but in General I’d say German freeways (autobahns) are faster, with German drivers less forgiving. There are plenty of signs telling you you’re headed towards the next big city, and plenty of “gas & food” signs. Yes, you will get passed by someone going 110MPH, so always stay in the right lane. That’s for traveling. The left lane is for passing only and CHECK YOUR MIRRORS BEFORE PASSING because you’ll check and see it’s clear to pass but you’re not used to someone screaming along at 110MPH and they will ride right up your ass and start flashing their lights angrily.

In the US, people figure they have the right to travel in any lane they want. They do not do this in Germany. Right is for traveling, left is for engaging your FTL drive.

My advice - take the train.
Germans drive like insane crack heads. Tailgating inches behind your car is considered normal, speeds are ridiculously fast and one little patch of fog has been known to cause deadly pile ups of 100’s of cars.

You think gas prices are high here? Ha! Multiply that by about 3 times for the price of gas in Germany. Parking in large German cities is no picnic either.

So unless it has always been a dream of yours to rent a big Mercedes and drive like a banshee on an autobahn (and some Americans really like doing that), stick with a nice, clean train with excellent food, a good view of the countryside and a relaxing ride. Most likely your train ride will arrive punctually, and you have a chance to meet some interesting people along the way.

Good to know. With $6 a gallon for gas and a Volkswagen Golf, I don’t think I can achieve FTL so I guess I’ll stay to the right.

I was there not too long ago - didn’t take the same route. We went into Munich from ??? (can’t remember where). We did a good mix of autobahn and countryside driving.

Signage is excellent on the autobahns. We had a hard time finding a gas station once off them though, so keep your tank somewhat full. Food was not an issue - every town had a market, and there’s chains off the main highways, some of which you’ll recognize :slight_smile:

The other drivers were aggressive but polite - I did not experience any foolishness. Everyone uses their turn signals and stays in the proper lanes (be sure you do the same). There’s always trucks on the autobahns driving fairly slowly in the right lanes, so it won’t be like you’re the only one trying to drive at a reasonable speed. All the roads were in excellent condition. You’ll find a lot of farm trucks on the rural roads.

I too was apprehensive at first, but after driving in France, Italy, and Germany, I can say Germany was the easiest and most “American”. Plan to get a stick shift car though - automatics are rare, even as rentals.

The hardest part was reading the damn signs, only because German words are very long :slight_smile:

Yeah, but they’re mostly like “thisistheofframpingstung.” :wink:

Don’t believe the cowboy stories, it’s really not that bad. There’s still plenty of unrestricted Autobahns left, but remember to keep to the signed limits if they are posted. Lots of cameras there. Plus, there’s usually a good reason for limits (many exits in a city area, for example).

The Germans are not agressive drivers at all, IMHO. Just drivers that are used to speed. Flashing lights means “Please observe, I’m faster than you”, rather than a pure sign of agression. I’d easily call them the politest drivers in Europe.

Rent something with at least somewhat horsepower, as you’ll need it. Don’t be afraid to open it up when you can, just keep your distance and you’ll be fine. The keep right principle is very important all over Europe: we drive in the rightmost lane unless we are passing.

I don’t think it’s that easy to run out of gas on a German highway, there’s plenty of petrol stations. As a rule, make sure to fill up when the tank’s got a quarter left. When in trouble, take an exit and find a town, there’s always a station there.

The roads in the former DDR are of decent quality. Maybe not up to scratch to the roads in the “west” part, but nothing to be intimidated by. Have fun!

The Germans take their driving seriously. Which is why it’s possible to have unrestricted stretches of Autobahn (still about a third of the network, I believe) which operate safely. Stick to The Rules, and you’ll be fine. And don’t misinterpret flashing of headlights by a car behind - it’s not the aggressive gesture you might be familiar with, but an accepted way of indicating an intention to overtake. Still, get out of the way!

Oh yeah.

On the Autobahn, keep right unless you’re passing someone. And the difference in speeds between the fastest vehicles and the slowest is much, much more than you’re used to. You’ll catch up to the slow cars and trucks very quickly, and other people will be catching up to you very quickly. Look further ahead, and check your mirrors more often, than on the Turnpike.

When I had a rental car there, it came with an in-dash navigation system. I had to find the setup menu to change it to English. (Look for an option like “sprachen”.) The roads are all very well marked, but the road network is quite dense and it’s hard to describe the subtle disorientation of being in a place with no familiar landmarks anywhere. Get it set up before you start, tell it where you want to go, and follow its prompts. Driving there takes a lot of attention, and not having to look at a map was a godsend.

(And I do recommend the trains, too. I took the train a dozen times, drove twice. They’re a fantastic way to travel.)

A correlary to the keep right rule is that you never, ever, EVER pass on the right. European drivers will change lanes from left to right without even looking, because they know without a shadow of a doubt that there will not be someone occupying that space. It’s not only against the law to pass on the right, it’s actually enforced, and other drivers will report you for doing so.

Think of it this way: you Americans are the weirdos, with your keep your lane system. Everyone else has a keep right or keep left system, depending on which side the steering wheel is on.

No, I’m not bashing the keep your lane system, it has its advantages (and I do have my fair share of driving experience in the US). But keeping to above principle in mind will help you in Europe.

Another reason to get a decent horse power car: because of the greater speeds, the merging lanes onto the highway are relatively short. You wanna do at least 120, 130 KHP by the time you merge on to the rightmost lane in order to be safe. A cheapo 75 BHP VW Polo won’t get you there in time, and you’ll soon feel overwhelmed.

Another corollary is not to assume your rent-a-car can keep up. An American can quickly adjust to German driving, but just because you’re driving a German car on a German road doesn’t mean your car can actually handle some of those high speeds safely. The people passing you at 110MPH are driving cares designed for it. Your rental probably isn’t, unless you’ve specifically requested a high-performance car. Basically, just because there’s no speed limit, doesn’t mean your car doesn’t have a speed limit.

On review, my spelling of ‘corollary’ even hurts MY eyes.

I’m American, and I used to drive on the autobahn in a rented Opel Corsa loaded with luggage, which is about as under-powered as you can get. "Course, I was younger and dumber than I am now. :slight_smile: Obey the advice above and you should be fine.

Just repeating the bit about speed differences. I was driving a mid 80s SEAT car that couldn’t go over 140km/h (80mph) safely. Coming up to pass a truck, I’d check the mirror, note a tiny dot in the distance, put on my blinker to show my intent, recheck my mirror prior to actually changing to the fast lane only to find that dot was now filling my mirror and about to go past at some insane speed.

I travelled through Germany in a double decker bus too. From the top you’d see these skid marks that seemed to go forever, before disappearing into the trees, with a great swath of them knocked down too.

Remember that you can’t turn right on red, please. That and the lane thing are the biggest differences in the way we drive on Europe and America, and this one can get you killed.

The “keep to the right” rule has a caveat in busy, multi-lane traffic on areas with lots of exits. Since the right lane is the one most commonly used to join and exit the highway, people who aren’t doing either will often stay in the second-from-right in moderate traffic, rather than weave constantly.

If you’re on a multi-lane road, on the right lane, there is an incoming lane ahead and either you can see vehicles which will join or you can’t see well enough to determine whether there’s any, you should move over one lane to the left (it’s safer and helps fluidity). Make sure there’s no zooming A4 coming up in your rearview mirror before you shuffle, though.

** DMark is correct…Germans tailgate like crazy. Even at speeds faster than 60 MPH they’ll get right up to your bumper. Its frustrating if you’re not used to it, and unsettling. I’m in Germany now, so do what I do…pretend that every other car on the road is trying to cause a wreck. It works for me, to be super careful.

If you have a GPS that works in Europe that helps.

Rest stops and gas stations on the Autobahn are reasonable well marked, but you’ll have to pay a bit of a premium to use the Autobahn gas stations as opposed to any nearby gas stations on local roads (which are not signposted).

If you see an indication for an Autohof: that’s a rest stop/gas station near the Autobahn but not directly on it. The rest stops directly on the Autobahn are called Raststätte.

If you don’t have a passenger who can do the map reading while you drive I’d strongly recommend renting a navigation system with your car. Direction signposting is never by cardinal direction but always by nearby towns (sometimes with a major further direction added) so you’ll need to know the regional geography to decide which road leads in a particular direction. There are no road grid systems in cities either (except for a very few 17th century town foundations).

Be familiar with the right-of-way rules. If you assume you have got the right of way you’ll be taking your life in your hands because the other guy, if he does have the right of way, will assume you are aware of that.

I live in Germany and drive in Germany several times per week most weeks. I’m just back yesterday from a trip to Paris, and I’ve made several other long trips across and around Germany. I find that in the cities, Germans are pretty good drivers. They pay attention and are not as likely as Americans or some others to do seemingly irrational or unpredictable things.

Driving on the Autobahns is a different story, however. Autobahn driving is relatively stressful and requires absolute attention and vigilance at all times. As another poster mentioned, pretty much everyone is driving at different rates of speed. This means one is constantly overtaking or being overtaken. There are MANY trucks on the highway, plus the speed limit, where there is a marked limit, changes frequently, also. Forget trying to use cruise control, as the speed differences and traffic often make it impossible to maintain a constant speed for any reasonable length of time.

Pretty much every road in Germany is under construction at present, so expect to be stuck in at least one world-class traffic back-up on the Autobahn, which is known as a Stau.

The Germans do tailgate massively, and they will cut in front of you, or across you to race to an exit (Ausfahrt) with much less clearance than is commonly left in the US. While another poster mentioned that one should never pass on the right, I have seen it done and witnessed someone in a Porsche do it and avoid death by inches just last week. The Germans will do things commonly on the Autobahns that would earn one an aggressive driving citation on the Beltway around DC or elsewhere in Virginia or Maryland.

While there are still lots of places with unlimited speed, if you are driving over 130 kph (80 mph) and you have an accident, it is automatically your fault. Another poster mentioned cameras. They are known as Blitzers and they are ubiquitous. If you see a flash either ahead of you or in your mirror, you can expect a ticket in the mail shortly.

There are lots of gas stations and places to stop for food along the Autobahns. I’ve never had a hard time getting gas. Gas averages about Euro 1.44 per litre for regular, which works out to about $7.80 per US gallon.

The Autobahns around Munich are some of the best I’ve been on in Germany. I found myself moving comfortably with traffic at nearly 100 mph last time I was through there on my way to Siegsdorf for some fly fishing.

The signage is pretty good, with clearly named and numbered exits. Two things that I’ve found to be different are that there are seldom signs that identify what road one is currently driving on – no A5 or A3 signs along the route, as we have in the US. This is an issue because of the second strange thing – sometimes you have to exit from the road you are on to stay on the road you are on. Whereas the main through lanes for a highway in the US most often are on the left, in several instances the main Autobahn splits off to the right and one can inadvertantly end up on another highway if not paying attention. Sometimes it is a pretty long time until you see a sign that tells you that you are now on A67 instead of A5, for instance.

Use an online mapping service to get point-to-point directions to and from your destination.

Have a good trip, and above all, stay alert.