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Category: Favorite German Things

Commuting on the Autobahn

Commuting on the Autobahn

I have already written a post about driving in Germany, and in it, I mentioned that I could probably dedicate a whole post to the Autobahn. Well, here is that post! Though, I’m not debunking myths as much as telling you how to drive without getting run over by an angry driver in a BMW (it’s always the BMWs).  Now I commute on the Autobahn daily, so I feel like I actually have some of the experience necessary to talk about driving.

 

The left lane is for passing

I touched on this in the general driving post, but it’s one of the most important things to keep in mind when driving on the Autobahn. It’s essential for maintaining a good flow of traffic. You can’t just hang out in the left lane. By keeping slower traffic to the right, and having a dedicated lane for passing, Autobahn traffic is able to move more smoothly, and with fewer in-and-out weaving that causes jams and accidents.

A corollary to this is, only pass in the left lane. Drivers are not accustomed to regular passing on the right, so they are less likely to watch out for it. This can cause problems on highways with three lanes. For example, if a truck is driving in the middle lane, and a car is passing them on the left, they are not going to expect a car to also be passing on the right – which could cause an accident if they both try to merge into the middle lane in front of the truck.

Passing
This doesn’t look very safe.
Source: xenostral

The exception to this is at on-ramps and off-ramps, but in places where passing on the right is allowed, the lane markers are thicker, so drivers are reminded to expect passers on the right.

 

There are speed limits

This was also mentioned, but it’s the greatest misconception that the Autobahn is a complete free-for-all. C’mon, people, it’s in Germany – the land of Ordnung. Of course there are limits. There are sections with marked speed limits, primarily in heavier trafficked areas and major interchanges. And in the sections with no marked limit, there is an advised limit of 130 km/h (81 mph). You are allowed to drive faster, but if you get in an accident while going above this advised speed, it will count against you with insurance and determining liability. You are also expected to drive slower in the case of adverse road conditions, such as rain or snow, but again, the penalties will only come if there is an accident (unless speed limit signs had been posted for the weather).

Source: Michael Pereckas, Cropped by me
Source: Michael Pereckas, Cropped by me

 

There are speed cameras

I mentioned this in my previous driving post, but it does bear repeating. There are speed cameras on the Autobahn. These are much more common than American-style speed traps where cops hang out on the side of the road in conspicuous police cars. No, here they hid cameras under bridges all sneaky-like. The radio station I listen to when I forget to download podcasts actually announces where speed cameras (or Blitzer) have been spotted every half hour or so. I have no idea if this is a normal thing, or if I listen to a shady station.

 

You are never the fastest

So you understand the rules about passing on the left, but you figure that in your fancy-pants BMW (sorry, BMW owners, but you’re usually the worst offenders 😉 ) that you’ll be faster than everyone else, so you never need to leave the left lane. Hold on, buddy, is that a Porsche you see in your rearview mirror? You better get over, because you’re cramping their style.

Seriously, though. You are never the fastest person driving. There is always someone who will pop up behind you and jostle you to get over. The best thing to do is to just always get into the right if there is enough space for you to drive there for a bit, if only to give the speediest of speed racers a chance to pass. The German driving test I took has an actually time recommendation for this, but I can’t remember it now.

Fast Cars to the Left
This driver wants you to go faster or get out of the left lane!
Source: jo.sau, Cropped by me

 

It’s illegal to run out of gas

The Germans are really big on keeping things running efficiently – that means absolutely no stopping on the Autobahn unless necessary. You know what’s not necessary? Running out of gas. This is not a joke. You are expected to have sufficient amount of gas in your car at all times, and it’s considered your fault if you did not plan properly.

You really shouldn’t run out of gas though. If you are on the proper Autobahn, there is a maximum distance allowed between gas stations, and each stop with a gas station has a sign that tells you how far away the next one is. No excuses, keep your tank full!

Fun fact, I complained to Mr. Faultier about my “idiot light” turning on, and asking him about how far the car could go with that much gas – and he told me that he doesn’t think he’s ever let it get that low!

 

Source: Sauerlaender
Hopefully they didn’t run out of gas!
Source: Sauerlaender

Not all highways are the Autobahn

While Autobahn may be used colloquially to mean any German highway, the Autobahn system does not cover all highways in Germany. It’s similar to how, in the US, there is an Interstate highway system, as well as smaller state highways. From Wikipedia:

Various other controlled-access highways exist on the federal (Bundesstraße), state(Landesstraße), district, and municipal level but are not part of the Autobahn network and are officially referred to as Kraftfahrstraße

You can tell what type of highway you’re on by how it’s named. A # is an official Autobahn, B # is a Bundesstraße, L # is a Landesstraße – very logical, very German. Bundesstraßen in particular are very similar to Autobahnen, but they generally smaller,  more likely to have speed limits, and may not have a hard shoulder. Landesstraßen are generally even smaller, and remind me of itty-bitty country highways.

For a road to be classified as an Autobahn, it has to meet some very particular construction standards regarding central barriers, shoulders, curves, and so on. If you want an overview, the Wikipedia article is pretty solid. It has 96 references, if you also desire deeper reading.

 

Trucks have different speed limits

Larger vehicles, as well as cars pulling trailers, have different speed limits, indicated by stickers on the back of the vehicles. This is the most noticeable with semi-trucks, which have a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph). This usually keeps them in the right lane and easy to pass.  Until one going 81 km/h tries to pass another going 79 km/h and you have elephant racing (Elefantenrennen). If there are more than two lanes, everyone angrily gets over to the far left, which slows down the speedsters. If there are only two lanes, break lights flash and everyone starts swearing.

Elephant Race
Source: Tino Rossini, Cropped by me

 

There will be construction somewhere along your route

Always.

Construction
Source: WikimediaImages

 

Source for header: Sauerlaender

Never Pay Full Price For Pizza

Never Pay Full Price For Pizza

Mr. Faultier refuses to pay full price for pizza or any other delivery service. This is probably not a surprise for anyone who knows him.

In the US, if you want to order a pizza online – we don’t do phone orders, because that requires too much social interaction – you have to go to the website of the pizza place itself and place your order. Maybe you can luck out with deals, or scour the web for coupon codes, but you are at the mercy of the company you want to order from.

In Germany, third-party websites like Pizza.de, Lieferheld, and Lieferando allow you to order from participating stores in your area through their websites and apps. And if you create an account and download their apps, they will regularly send you coupons for a few Euros off your next order. This is why my phone has 3 pizza apps.

They won’t send you coupons all the time, but it’s often enough to get our delivery fix. Pizza.de and Lieferheld send out more coupons than Lieferando, but we discovered recently that Lieferheld won’t let you stack coupons, but Pizza.de will. This means that you can hold on to your Pizza.de coupons for a little while and see if they send you another one before the first expires and you can get double the savings.

Om nom nom! (Photo: czhanny)
Om nom nom! (Photo: czhanny)

We aren’t a full-price family, so this works pretty well for us. If you’re in Germany for awhile, get those pizza apps, and get all the coupons!

Photo used in header: Hans

New Year’s Eve in Germany

New Year’s Eve in Germany

NewYearinGermanyHeader

The holidays were a bit crazy for me, but now I’m back to work and settling into a routine again. Now that I’m back to writing, I thought I’d share a bit of what I did over my Christmas vacation.

We had a small New Year’s Eve (or Silvester) party at our apartment, which required a cleansing of the apartment, with a bit of help from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. It looked great, if only I could keep it that way.

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There are some typical New Year traditions in Germany that are a bit different for me. I’m used to staying up and making a bit of noise at midnight, but other than that, my American New Year’s Eves have been fairly uneventful. Germans, however, don’t just make a bit of noise. They set off an crazy amount of fireworks in the streets. It puts the Fourth of July to shame.

Now, our street was much quieter than Berlin, but we did shoot off fireworks for awhile.

I inherited my mother’s nervousness around them, however, and I made Mr. Faultier get the kids’ packs instead. Though, I’m not sure I agree with what the Germans think are appropriate for kids.

PyroFun!
Pyro Fun!

It was also strange to me that we could pick these up at the grocery store. Here, stores are allowed to sell fireworks just for a few days before Silvester. But that’s still a difference from St. Louis where they’re illegal all year round. You have to drive to a different county to get them. Here, we could just pick them up with our groceries.

We also attempted another tradition – Bleigießen. It means “lead pouring” and involves melting bits of lead and dropping them into water to see what your future will be like. Whatever the metal blob kind of looks like is supposed to symbolize how the new year will go for you. As someone who had to get tested for lead poisoning as a child because of shady miniblinds (pun originally not intended, but I’m keeping it), this worried me more, initially, than the fireworks. Last year, when I tried it for the first time, I was adamant about washing my hands immediately afterwards.

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This year, however, I don’t think we actually got lead in our packs, because they would not melt. I posted pictures to Snapchat (FaultierBeauty) but failed at actually saving them to my phone. We bought our packs from Tedi, but we talked to someone else who got some from Kik, and they also didn’t work. Did anyone actually have functioning Bleigießen this year? Please tell me where you got it from, because I don’t want to be disappointed again next year.

Finally, a true German Silvester would not be complete without watching Dinner for One. What is Dinner for One, you ask? It’s a 10-minute, comedic sketch, entirely in English that is actually super depressing and is played every year in Germany for New Year’s Eve. I really do not understand why it is popular, but it is.

It features an old woman who has her butler pretend to be her four dead friends at a dinner party, and as the dinner continues, the butler gets increasingly drunk as he has to drink for four people at each course. I’m still trying to figure out German humor. Even though it showed at a dozen different times, we still managed to miss it on TV. But we were able to pull it up on YouTube. You can watch it, too.

What are some of your New Year’s Eve traditions? Can you beat lead melting and depressing comedy sketches?

Eiskaffee – Favorite German Things

Eiskaffee – Favorite German Things

When you order an “Iced Coffee” in America, you get a cup of black coffee with ice cubes in it. When you order and “Eiskaffee” in Germany, which sounds like the same thing, you get coffee topped with a scoop of ice cream and whipped cream. I’ll let you decide which sounds better.

Eiskaffee
Mmm, lecker!

The first time I ordered an Eiskaffee I was pleasantly surprised, because I was truly expecting coffee with ice cubes. Instead I got one of these delicious concoctions. It was a translation error that actually worked out in my favor.

While “eis” does translate to, and sound like “ice” – Germans usually use it to refer to ice cream, because they don’t do the ice cube thing with drinks. If you want to avoid any confusion, just stick with “Eiswürfel” which is “ice cube(s)”. If you order a Coke and ask for ice in a very American accent, they will likely make the connection that you don’t want a Cola Float, but you can never be to sure. Unless you want ice cream in your Coke, of course.

Favorite German Things #3 – Apfelschorle

Favorite German Things #3 – Apfelschorle

Apfelschorle - Favorite German Things
Photo of bottle by srslyguys

Germans have a pretty big obsessions with 1) bubbly drinks and 2) mixing together beverages that most normal people would consume alone. It took me awhile to come around to sparkling water, but I finally managed with the help of Apfelschorle as a crutch. Apfelschorle is apple juice mixed with sparkling water. It’s not quite as sickly sweet as straight apple juice, but it covers up the bitter taste of the sparkling water. It comes premixed or you can make it yourself at home. The premixed ones are usually fifty-fifty water and juice, but when you make it at home you can make the ratio whatever you wanted. Our family doctor even suggested Apfelschorle that was 1/5 juice as an alternative to drinking diet soda – I supposed a smaller amount of real sugar was considered better than artificial sweeteners and caffeine.

This is unfortunately more difficult to replicate in the US. While apple juice is super common, it can be surprisingly difficult to find sparkling water. My advice is to avoid the water section of most stores – the sparkling water they have their is generally marketed as fancy and is waaaay overpriced. If you head over to where they keep the alcohol mixers, however, you will find much cheaper bottles of club soda or seltzer – I just buy whatever has only “carbonated water” listed as an ingredient.  These are still more expensive than what you will find in Germany, when I was living in the middle of nowhere it cost over $1 for just a liter, but it will be much cheaper than picking up some bottles of Perrier or whatever brand they sell at Starbucks.

My high school students were very confused whenever I’d bring in a bottle of seltzer water and drink it straight from a bottle. One of the students who actually worked at the grocery store commented that she just thought people used it for cleaning. I wonder how they would have reacted if they saw me mixing it up with apple juice!

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