I will finally take the opportunity to jot a few things down about experiences here and my first subject will be driving. The German are VERY serious about their driving. Many people here never obtain a license because of the great expense involved and because of easy access to a fantastic public transport system (highly subsidized though). No driving for sixteen-year-olds here.
The Test: Tennessee has partial reciprocity on driver’s licenses with Germany. To obtain a Germen license we had to take the written portion only as well as sit through six hours of a first aid course presented in German. Governments are all the same because the law states that we only must attend the first aid course. The fact that it was all in German was irrelevant! We studied a CD with over 900 sample questions in the question bank complete with randomly selected questions forming unlimited thirty question tests. Yes, the study guide and the test are in English but it is the Queen’s English. So if one parks “behind” a crosswalk, is that before it or beyond it? Give yourself an A if you said beyond it. What is a sunken curbstone? Why it is shallow portion of the curb where one’s driveway enters the road. Right of ways, towing (yes towing), passing vehicles (bicycles, trams, busses, trucks, and cars), stopping distances were all heavily emphasized. At the end of this we both have a new appreciation for how silly the English only initiative within local government in Nashville was. We each had over twenty hours of study invested before we took the test. I went first and reported that I only observed one woman crying outside the DMV building. Tricia went a couple of weeks later. She even had a better score than I did. Oh, think nice DMV not the creepy one we experience in the US.
No Massive SUVs: The cars are certainly smaller here but you really do not want a big car. You would not be able to drive it in town and certainly would have a hard time parking it. I would have been unable to maneuver my old F-150 within our underbuilding parking garage.
Care and Respect: Surprisingly, with as small as the parking spaces and the large amount of street parking required, I am not sure I have ever seen a car with a door ding or dings on their bumpers from parallel parking. They are simply that respectful of each other’s property. That is something we could use in the US.
Ich Liebe Mein Auto: Germans love their cars and so does the government. This is the after all the land of Audi, VW, Mercedes, BMW and Porsche. One is taxed on how large the motor is and the “environmental impact” the car has. Sure you can have that big V-8, but you are really going to pay for it. We have a “huge” 2.2 liter diesel in our car by the way. The other taxes involved are from the fuel itself. Diesel is the least expensive fuel here and it comes in around $8 a gallon after you run the liter/gallon and Euro/USD conversions. Premium gasoline is over $9 a gallon. We really do not drive much here so the extra cost for fuel is simply not realized. Given the choice, I would rather ride my bike around town. The car is a real hassle. If it is raining (happens a lot here), I would much rather drive though!
Toyota All the Way: Driving a BMW or Mercedes is not a big deal here since they are so common. Repairs are easily arranged because all mechanics know how to work on them. Tell a German that if they drove a Toyota or Lexus and they would never see their mechanic again and you would get a blank stare. Toyota/Lexus is certainly here but has not caught on like in the US. In the 1980s Americans were tired of their Detroit wonders built with poor quality and planned obsolescence when Toyota and Honda arrived in force. That did not occur in Germany to the same extent. The Japanese did challenge the Germans though to better engineer their cars. With all the traveling we expect to do, we decided on the reliability of a Toyota. Ich kann das nict glauben! For the record, we bought a 2008 Toyota Verso, which is only sold in Europe. Think of a super small scale Highlander. It is a front wheel drive, 6-speed manual transmission, 4-door hatchback with the exact same NAV system as our US Highlander. It has collapsible third row seating suitable for dolls I suppose. The main selling point is the back-up camera which is not on any of the German cars I have observed. It even has a front camera to peek around corners as you try to nudge into traffic. Couple the cameras with the “parktronic” obstacle device that beeps when you approach an object to the rear, you are ready for any parking situation that presents itself.
A Line of Ants: My observation has been that the Germans value predictability with other drivers. I liken it to a line of ants proceeding to a destination. If one ant gets out of line and/or acts in an irrational manner, the other ants simply go bananas. Drivers respond with flashing lights and horns if you “get out of line”. I truly feel like I am receiving a driving exam every time I get on the road. Round-a-bouts: I love them but they are not for the timid. Wish we had them in the US. They really keep the cars moving.
Here is Your Sign: The road signs here are mostly different from the ones we have in the US. A Stop sign does curiously say “Stop” though. Maybe “Halt” is a little too mean. What is truly unusual is the actual number of signs. It seems there is a sign for every possible situation. Instead of declaring a law saying that one must yield to a vehicle already established in a round-a-bout, they put up a yield sign at every road leading into the round-a-bout. I did an internet search for round-a-bouts where one must yield to a vehicle that is entering from the right and a few obscure ones were reported in the WHOLE country. Seems like that is where the signs should be. If you want to know if you must yield or not to that car to your right on an intersecting road, look and see if you have a “priority road” sign just prior to the intersection. Oh, there are two types of priority signs. I asked one of my German friends about all of this and he shrugged his shoulders and agreed. He told me there is an initiative to reduce the number of signs that are stating the obvious.
The Autobahn: We assumed like most Americans that once you entered the famous Autobahn system you could set you cruise control on 150 MPH and drive like we have all wanted to do in the US with no repercussions. Well, that is not exactly true. The maximum recommended speed for the Autobahn is 130 KPH (80 MPH). You may go faster than that BUT if you are the cause of an accident, you better have a good reason for exceeding that limit. There are places where speed limits are imposed and they are normally in high density areas or tunnels. The lack of a speed limit sign is when you may increase your speed if desired. This is the one instance where the lack of a sign tells you what you can actually do. Combine the speed limits with traffic (a lot), road construction and you will find that you average what we do in the US; about 70 MPH. The good news is that trucks stick to the right line and do not impede you travel. Also, there are no losers hanging out in the left lane oblivious to faster traffic from behind. Everyone seems to know their place on this stretch of road.