From the Alps to the Autobahn, a look at driving through Germany

Blog post posted on 20/04/23 |
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By Tony Manners

The thought of driving abroad can, at first, seem intimidating, yet it can also be hugely rewarding. Not only is it a great way to see where you’re visiting, it’s also a fantastic experience as you can often experience wide open, virtually deserted roads that are, literally, a world away from the ones in the UK.

We caught up with IAM RoadSmart member Tony Manners who lives in Germany in the farm state of Bavaria, which is about 40km (about 24.85 mi) south of Munich and close to the Austrian border.  The views from his home, he says, are spectacular and give him plenty of opportunities to tackle different terrains, from flat, open dairy farm countryside to the potentially treacherous roads across the mountains.

But you need to concentrate, says Tony, “There are some tunnels under the Alps towards Italy which are many miles long and it can be a challenge to hold your concentration at times. This leads to the Brenner Pass, a spectacular Alps crossing rising to over 4000 feet (about 1.22 km) at the summit, which is also on the border between Austria and Italy. This is driving at its most challenging, especially in winter. When the weather is too severe, the pass can be closed temporarily, but at other times it is worth the drive.”

Tony continues, “Germany is the crossroads for vehicles travelling across Europe so  it’s not unusual to encounter heavy traffic from all over the continent. German drivers tend to be polite but determined.

“On the Autobahns, they put on their indicators to change lanes and expect all drivers behind and to the side to move. They also pull out of junctions in front of you suddenly, with not much time for you to react – much to the annoyance of British drivers.”

Don’t flash your lights though, says Tony, because a German driver would be confused as this signal is not recognised here.

Road signs are obviously in German, so foreign drivers are expected to know most of them, and it’s beneficial for to know what a ‘Stau’ (a queue), ‘Baustelle’ (Roadworks), ‘Außer Betrieb’ (out of service – used on Autobahn signs when they are not working) and ‘Umleitung’ (diversion, a frequent problem in cities). Beware of ‘Einbahnstrasse’ signs, this is a one-way street or system and can cost you a lot of money if you ignore them.

So, what about the famed Autobahns? Officially known in Germany as the Bundesautobahn, the network is made of roughly 8,000 miles of road. But, can you do any speed you like?

"Yes and no" says Tony. Or Jein – a mixture of ‘Ja’ (‘yes’) and ‘Nein’ (‘no’).  “Often, restrictions are in place because of road works or ‘rush-hour’ queues, and you need to be careful to respect these or risk a big fine – in extreme cases, you may have your licence confiscated and points imposed if you are well above the speed limit. However, there are places where the speed limit is taken away and you are allowed to drive without limits, although you must still drive safely according to traffic conditions.”

Tony says his favourite drives take in the smaller, country roads. For example, in the south, there are many routes to so-called ‘chocolate-box’ villages and castles such as Schloss Neuschwanstein, which served as the model for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

Taking the IAM RoadSmart Advanced Driving course helped improve Tony’s driving skills. “The main problems when you are young are that, initially, you regard yourself as the ‘best driver in the country’ because you have just passed a test and feel that you are now fully qualified and experienced at driving.    

“The other issue is that you are neither of these. IAM RoadSmart showed me my limitations and helped me to overcome them in order to be safe and considerate to other road users.”