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Old 27th August 2013, 20:33   #1
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Default The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn

The name “Idiot’s Guide” isn’t quite the recipe for a best seller……Yet strangely such books do sell

And the first one of its kind that I came across was an Idiot’s Guide to Chess. An idiot’s guide to chess I thought!!! … seriously?? Seemed like an oxymoron till I came across more such in the later years. An Idiot’s Guide to Quantum Physics, An Idiots Guide to Calculus, An Idiot’s Guide to Learning French and the killer “An Idiot’s Guide to the Theories of the Universe” …. the last one assumes you to be an idiot to start with and then goes on to convince, with a series of convoluted theories, that you are actually one.

This being Team BHP, I shift gears to the more relevant stuff. As a child most of us dream of fancy automobiles, of limitless speed and possibly combining the two. For ordinary souls, who do not have the resources to book an F1 track or still better own one, the autobahn is the closest realization of such dreams and yes a bit more. And before I proceed further one disclaimer, so as not to get in trouble with the German Law Enforcement authorities (Believe me, you don’t want to get into an argument with one of them. There is only one way to make them change their mind. But it’s surgical and hence expensive)

Disclaimer:
I do not hold a German license and this article is not meant to be a guidelines for driving in Germany. If that’s what you are looking for, this is probably a more accurate hit

http://www.bfgnet.de/hive-europe/fil...in-Germany.pdf

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The Autobahn (A40)

Now let’s take a step back and begin at the beginning. It was a sultry winter day, the temperature on the lower side of the 30s, when I reached the RTO office in Kolkata, to enquire about a document called International Driver’s Permit. The visa had come through, but a rummage through hundreds of sites could not quite convince me whether you need an IDP or not to drive in Germany, with the responses ranging from “Yes Absolutely” to “What’s an IDP”. Now that I know, I would be inclined to give the later response a slightly higher weightage. Having failed to get past the multiple fortifications of pimps hovering outside the heritage structure, I decided to approach a driving school.

For a hefty sum of 3k, they promised to take all the trouble on my behalf. The voice of the Mr Sen, had a conviction about it that made me feel uneasy. True to his word I was required to visit RTO just one more time, and wait just 6 more hours as “SIR” who was to do the final verification, was busy in an endless meeting over cups of tea. Finally when I was ushered in, he asked me a very interesting question “Where are you going?” One glance at me thoroughly convinced him that I can drive in Germany and then with an air of authority handed me a small booklet made of paper the quality of which would put some of local newspapers to shame. On it was the bold assertion, IDP for Germany only

When I pointed out that the IDP should not be country specific, but for the entire Schengen region, he gave me a look that made me freeze. My friend, philosopher and guide from the driving school who had been accompanying me all along, gave me a stern look asking me not to bargain for more than I have already got. As I stood outside the building, with swarms of pimps advertising their services, I was left wondering whether the document I was now holding was worth all the trouble.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-idp-1.jpg

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-idp.jpg
IDP: Indian Driver Please (give way)

5 months have gone by in between. My work brought me to a city called Essen on the North-Western frontiers of the country. Harsh winter (-10 degree) gave way to pleasant summer (20 degrees) and the convertibles started flaunting their beauty. The country which is the home to some of the best brands in automobile industry, is remarkably finicky about their cars. Most are in perfect shape, cars I mean . A walk down a modest neighborhood, and you would come across rows Porsche Carerras, the BMW 3 series, the Audi R Series jostling for space. As for the Mercedes, they are everywhere in all shapes and size, most of the white ones have a small yellow placard on it which reads “TAXI”. After salivating at such sights for a good 4-5 months, during which most of my travels were using the exceptional railway network, time had finally come when temptation got the better of me. I logged into a SIXT site and booked the only convertible they offered. A Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet. At 50 Euro a day which did not include the 20 Euro insurance as I later found out, the deal wasn’t a particularly economical one, but that’s how it always is with me and my wife will vouch for the same.

In the course of the next few days I read up a few articles trying to familiarize myself with German driving. So far what I had observed is that they are trigger happy and honking is common and you would be reserved for some particularly harsh treatment if happen to appreciate some Gothic architecture as the light turns green. Also few nations are more obsessed with rules and punctuality. Some additional information that I found out that proved helpful

1. There is a concept priority roads as in all of Europe.

2. You always yield to the right in case both of you are on a road with equal priority

3. In most places the default is no right turn on red. However some places also have a green fixed arrow beside the electric signal. That means you can look and go, with priority of through traffic

Would be happy to answer any simple queries for the first timers.

As I approached the Car Rentals, was overcome with mixed feelings about what was in store. True I have driven quite a bit outside India, a little bit in Oz and Swiss, and reasonably more in US, but the autobahn was like a Mecca to all speed lovers and my intro blog in TeamBhp will convince you why I had those mixed feelings.

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/introd...cognito-2.html (Road to Team-BHP: Incognito)

The lady at the desk was a charm, not because of how she looked or what she told, but because she spoke in “ENGLISH”, a rarity in these parts. Keeping the IDP away and throwing a cursory glance at my Indian license, in her somewhat broken English she apologized for not having the car that I had asked for. Instead what they had was BMW 320 D Convertible Diesel with manual transmission and if I would be willing to adjust. Trying to keep a straight face, I said I was willing to overlook this service issue on their part, if she was to accompany me to the car and set the navigation system to English. This she gladly obliged, and showed me many other features of the gleaming Black beauty that I was not aware of. As she left us, me and my companion for the day, the occasion seemed to be a bit overwhelming one.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-side-view.jpg
The Car

Back at my place, wifey seemed reasonably satisfied with the look and feel of the car and off we went. She was in charge of all the accessories, like the AC, the audio system, the navigation system, the food supply while I took care of the driving bit. It’s only after we were in the car that we zeroed in on our destination. Hamburg at a distance of about 340 km from Essen is a sprawling city in the North. I did not care much though, coz this one was more about the road, than about the destination. The nearest Autobahn was barely 2 km from my home (read rented apartment) … And soon I was in the middle lane of the three lane A40

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-car.jpg
From My Window

To start with let me quell a myth, that there are no speed limits on the Autobahn, This is only partially true. Don’t just floor your accelerate, the moment you hit one. There are sections of the Autobahn especially the ones near the cities where there are speed limits even down to 80 kmph at places. Also keep an eye on the construction zones as speed limits drop sharply at as low as 60 kmph and there are certain sections of the road where speed limits apply for certain hours of the day. If there is a speed limit you can be sure it is enforced, remember the German obsession with the law. These aberrations apart the rest of the road is all yours, you can go at any speed that your car and conditions permit. The sentence itself does shoot up your adrenalin and when you are actually on one these sections of the road, the best thing you can do is DRIVE.

Back to our story, the fist 40 kms or so appeared to be boring with heavy traffic and a speed limit between 100kmph to 120kmph. The car was behaving well and it appeared that I had been able to tame it somewhat. At the 20 minutes mark the road really open up as I was greeted with the following sign.

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Go for it now

This means the end of all speed restrictions. With the horizon in view, I placed my foot firmly on the accelerator with an arrogance that I had not been able to show since I learned to drive. Guess I was already too late, coz cars had already started zipping past me on the left lane. 120….. 140 ……150 ….160 and still I was categorized as a slow moving vehicle. It was not until I got to 165 that I affected my first real overtaking on the Autobahn. From the corner of my eye I glanced at my wife with a sense of achievement. She looked impressed, not with me but with the biker already close on my tail, and zipped past me before I could complete the thought process. With a stern face, I decide to look straight ahead, and feebly depressed the accelerator paddle a bit more. At 180 it appeared the BMW commanded a bit more respect, but some of the drivers could not quite spot the small frame of me tucked somewhere inside the drivers seat which was raised to its full potential.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-tucked-.jpg
Tucked In

Overtaking can be fun but here’s something to be aware of. Every time I changed lanes I kept a careful eye on the side mirrors. On one such occasion a black dot appeared in the horizon, and seeing the size grow alarmingly I aborted the overtaking. Within seconds a black something whizzed by next to me, making me wonder if I was at all moving. I quick glance at the speedometer confirmed my ground speed at about 168 kmph.

However what was everyday drive to work for most Germans was intense driving for me. So after 1:30 hrs decided to stop at one of the innumerable parkings equally spaced along the autobahn. Do not risk a hard braking or a sharp change of lanes if you see one late. The next one is only a few minutes away. Most are equipped with WC and some also have a convenience store. Stopping on the autobahn is illegal unless you have an emergency. In such cases you can park on the shoulders and use the emergency phones spaced at 2 km intervals on the autobahn, should you need assistance.

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Parking Sign

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-parking.jpg
The Parking Area

At the parking we finally did it, we went topless. As I merged back into the autobahn, got a fair idea of what the ambience felt like. The blast of the wind, the deafening roar of some modified engines suppressing the combined hub of more modest ones and the continuing absence of speed limits gives you a high that could only be surpassed by riding a bike on the stretch. But after a bit of time it gets a bit taxing and you, at least me, tend to tire quickly. The euphoria was cut short by the serious voice of our navigation system, indicating that she has spotted some congestion ahead and wants us to step off the autobahn at the next Ausfahrt (read Exit). Her views were soon confirmed by some dynamic speed limits urging the traffic to come down to saner levels of 120kmph. Beware of these dynamic speed limits, typically electronic ones, that are posted on the overhangings mostly before a congestion, accident site or a construction area.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-going-topless.jpg
Going Topless

With a heavy heart I stepped off the Autobahn and entered the country road that the navigation lady had so thoughtfully planned for us. It was wonderfully scenic and 70 kmph seemed like a crawl. Also disconcerting was the sudden presence of priority roads and less priority roads and all the yielding and glaring. Some 30 minutes on this stretch, the lady finally commanded us to join back the autobahn. Sadly she had missed the mark and made us join the autobahn at the point where the congestion was at its worst. I could already see some of the drivers exasperated with such delay…. Remember the obsession with punctuality. The amused expression on my faces did not seem to go down well with them, one of them choosing to show his displeasure by honking at the vehicle ahead of him.

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Ausfahrt

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-scenic-route.jpg
On the Country Road

I can go on and on and on, but let me cut short by saying that the top speed I reach at one point was 185kmph and by the time I was on the city limits of Hamburg, the adrenalin had dropped somewhat and I was getting a better hang of things. Like most big cities in Germany, Hamburg also has a densely crowded city center. You are much better off leaving your car slightly outside the city limit and use the local transport. There are some P+R facilities where you can park your car and take the available public transport. Else you will soon find yourself, as it happened with me, in the labyrinth of lanes and bylanes and Einbahnstrasse (one way streets). And if your intended destination does not have parking you might end up spending the rest of the day looking for one. With our car parked at the Hauptbahnof (Main Station) we went to see whatever little we could. Soon learnt that Hamburg was hosting a cycle run the following day, so hotels are overbooked, and most roads will be closed next day.

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Approaching Hamburg

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One of the Many Bridges

Taking no chances we decided to leave Hamburg that very night and embark on the 300+ km return journey. In between an incident had happened. Unfortunate or Fortunate I was to find out much later. As I was approaching the ramp leading from the 4th floor to the 5th floor of the parking, the car shot out a crazy sound, warning me I had come too close to the wall. After squeezing into the only available parking of the six storied Parkhaus, I jumped out to check if everything was ok. It wasn’t !!! There were some faint scratch marks on the passenger side corner of the front bumper. My spirits had sunk immediately, and for 100 km on the way back I kept estimating the price they could charge me for repainting the entire car. Then after I had convinced myself that I will have to shell a 1000 Euros, I decided to enjoy the drive, whatever was left of it.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-hamburg-hauptbahnoff.jpg
Hauptbahnof (Main Station)

Night driving on the autobahn is a charm. You can concentrate only on the road ahead and the lights always give you an indication of approaching vehicles. Also most of the time bound speed restrictions are also lifted at night, so you are on your own again. Another comforting factor is the lack of police cars. On US highways or turnpikes those blue flashing lights always seem to remind you that “Big Brother is Watching” and you end up spending more time looking at your speedometer than on the road ahead. Found patches of rain on the way back, which did slow us down a bit, but was an experience on its own.

Reached the sleeping city of Essen at the dead of the night and not wanting to spend the rest of the night looking for a parking returned the vehicle to the Car Rentals and dropped the keys at the box. The whole 770 km driving took us a little more than 6 hours and in the process the car guzzled up nearly 60 liters of pure diesel. Through the night my wife tried to comfort me saying that 1000 Euro was a small price to pay for the experience, I wasn’t quite convinced though. On the next morning I ran to the car rentals both fingers crossed to enquire about the cost of the damages. The boy heard my story smiled and said that scratch was over there "before you took the car", and pointed to the paper that I had signed which clearly mentioned scratchs 5-10 cm deep on the passenger’s side of the bumper.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Autobahn-better-half.jpg
Better Half

Whether I had missed the wall or grazed the wall at the exact spot where there was already a scratch will perhaps never be determined, and I am all too happy about that. May be that’s why I call this The Complete Idiots’ Guide to the Autobahn. Now whether it’s a Complete Guide for an ordinary Idiot or an Ordinary Guide for the Complete Idiot is for you to figure out …. On that note I sign off
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Old 27th August 2013, 23:12   #2
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Very Informative.

Would like to add a couple of things though that I have experienced on the Autobahns.

U Signboard

If you noticed the U signboards, they play a significant role. If you follow a certain U once you exit the autobahn it can guide you to the next entrance incase of a detour or stau. Odd numbers go in one direction, even numbers in the opposite direction.

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Stau

It indicates that there is a traffic jam ahead. This is where the U signboards become useful. You take the exit, follow the sign and you enter the Autobahn after the congestion.

When will Indian Govt. start to issue IDPs made of decent quality! A Traffic cop once laughed at me when I showed him my Indian Hand Made IDP
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Old 28th August 2013, 00:11   #3
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One more important point, the acceleration and deceleration lanes must be properly utilized during entry and exit. I had my German DL test today and my 'Fahrlehrer' and the examiner were pretty happy with the way I used these lanes. Needless to say, I cleared my exam.

I was driving around the first 6 months without any IDP, no problems faced- a reason may be I can converse pretty well in German.

Incognito, if you happen to pass by Aachen, do give me a buzz, we can meet up.

Spike
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Old 28th August 2013, 00:25   #4
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Thanks Spike. I did visit Aachen in the middle of winter once. the next time around will surely give you a buzz.

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I had my German DL test today and my 'Fahrlehrer' and the examiner were pretty happy with the way I used these lanes. Needless to say, I cleared my exam. Spike
Congrats!! Would be good to know about your experience.
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Old 28th August 2013, 01:12   #5
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Thanks Spike. I did visit Aachen in the middle of winter once. the next time around will surely give you a buzz.
By winter, I will be in South Germany, Bavaria to be precise.

Quote:
Congrats!! Would be good to know about your experience.
Thanks, it was a routine affair -

1. Gefahrbremsung (Braking under emergency)
2. Einparken (Parallel parking)
3. Umkehren (Reversing around a junction, corner)
4. Überlandfahrt (City driving- around 20 mins)
5. Autobahnfahrt (Autobahn - around 10 mins)

Total around 45 mins. And then, the examiner asked basic questions about the car to a Masters student in Automotive Engineering . The car was a BMW 3er Diesel.

Was a good experience.

Spike
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Old 28th August 2013, 01:16   #6
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Wow, great write up from the master story teller. Waiting for the next update in 2017
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Old 28th August 2013, 14:31   #7
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A great detailed write up on the German Autobahn. Driving 180 on the German Autobahn with limited exposure to the roads is a bit risky. No matter what car make is that (BMW or whatever) is not safe at such high speeds. It is a risk to both yourself and other road users.
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Old 28th August 2013, 17:57   #8
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Great write up Spike. Took me back to the euro road trip that we undertook last year across 7 countries. What was harrowing though for me was that rules and signboards changed each time you crossed a border and with Swiss rules being the strictest i had to really pay a lot of attention as I would get used to the rules of one country and then we would need to cross a border (We crossed borders repeatedly throughout our journey). The first day of our trip itself we drove across 3 countries from Interlaken in Switzerland to Prague in Czech via Zurich, Stuttgart, Munich and finally Prague in Czech. I called it breakfast in Switzerland, Lunch in Germany and Dinner in Czech.

However coming back to the topic, out of all the highways, motorways, etc the Autobahn was the coolest. Though while we were there a lot of patches all along were being resurfaced and hence there were speed limit restrictions I would desperately look out for the crossed signboard. It was so much fun seeing all the german exotics just whiz pass you. Yes for me that was the major fun part as we had rented a very modest Toyota Avensis station wagon as my parents were part of the trip and we had a lot of luggage . I also remember being told or reading that there is a minimum speed limit of i think 120 kmph to be maintained when the speed limit restrictions are lifted off correct me if i am wrong.

With regards to the IDP, i too took one along with me as we were renting the car from Zurich and i was told that Swiss laws are very strict but the lady at Hertz did not even look at it and was more than happy with my 10year old paper booklet type Maharashtra license that too just a glance

Anyways great write up and please do keep posting about more of your trips.

Cheers.

VVB

Last edited by vvb8530 : 28th August 2013 at 17:59. Reason: Sorry mods for the repeat posts. Kindly delete the first one.
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Old 28th August 2013, 18:56   #9
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I also remember being told or reading that there is a minimum speed limit of i think 120 kmph to be maintained when the speed limit restrictions are lifted off correct me if i am wrong.
The official minimum and the recommended maximum speed limit on the Autobahn in Germany is 60 and 130 kmph respectively. Anything below 60 is not fit to drive in the Autobahn.
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Old 28th August 2013, 21:10   #10
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Thanks guys for contributing with your inputs. Will be better informed the next time around.

As for the minimum speed limit the default is 60 but there are some places where you encounter a Blue Circular Signal with a number in white. This number indicates the minimum speed limit for that section or that lane whichever is applicable

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Old 28th August 2013, 23:47   #11
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Thanks guys for contributing with your inputs. Will be better informed the next time around.

As for the minimum speed limit the default is 60 but there are some places where you encounter a Blue Circular Signal with a number in white. This number indicates the minimum speed limit for that section or that lane whichever is applicable

Attachment 1130907
Yes, there are certain restrictions that require one to drive less than 50 kmph at certain stretches but I have so far never encountered one such limit of 50 kmph on the Autobahn. It is however not allowed to drive a motor vehicle on the Autobahn if that vehicle's top full speed is less than 60 kmph. It makes sense!
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Old 29th August 2013, 16:34   #12
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Excellent Description. It is always fascinating to read about road trips abroad and the different experiences they have to offer. What upsets me the most is that, in India we do have a few roads that can offer Autobahn like abilities, but they are not open to high speed driving. The Agra expressway is an example. The road is perfect, it is wide, it is elevated and fenced, it is straight, but it is also legally limited to a 100 Kmh. I mean isn't frivolous for our government to spend millions but ending up with the same travel times. On the flip side, I do know how pathetic the conditions of cars are in our nation. With people sticking new treads on completely worn out tires, and not getting their vehicles serviced to save a few thousand. Stricter norms need to be established and awareness should be spread among the people so that people think twice before putting their own and others lives on risk. Shame.
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Old 29th August 2013, 18:34   #13
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Spike
Hi Spike, Could help but notice the similarity between the "NO SPEED LIMIT" sign & your avatar.

Cheers
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Old 29th August 2013, 18:37   #14
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Fantastic share of your experience. thanks.
i came to germany a month back for 2 years assignment.
i am driving New Golf diesel DSG. when i arrived, I was not confident of driving here because of left hand drive. but soon after i took 1st lesson of my driving here for German License (3rd day of my arrival), i felt confident and started driving.
now it's joy to drive here. been to Berlin recently and Autobahn drive was super fantastic. i could touch 190 but avoided going above.
Traffic rules are strict here and too many so to keep attention all the time on signs.
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Old 29th August 2013, 19:13   #15
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Neat write up... brought back memories of my first international trip which i specifically planned for driving the autobahns. It was such a pleasure on those roads. I rode an Automatic car so it wasn't as stressful for a first timer.
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