The German Autobahn is basically the German highway system. It’s famous because there are areas in which there is no speed limit. German road rules are also pretty specific and similar to what we see here in the states, which actually makes driving in Germany a lot easier than you may initially assume.
Some Practicalities Before Getting on the German Autobahn
International Driving License
Coming from the States, you will not need an international license. Just take your actual driving license and your passport to verify your identity when picking up your rental.
Side of the Street
Germans drive on the same side of the street we do: on the right. In cars, the steering wheel is also on the same side as us: on the left. So there’s no mental adjustment when getting into their cars.
On the German autobahn, fast cars pass on the left and slower cars drive on the right – just like we are supposed to do here.
Automatic vs Manual
Many European countries drive manual cars. I think there’s a lot more efficiency in gasoline use that way. So, if you’re practiced in driving a manual, go for it. I am not. I never have, so I made sure the car I rented was an automatic.
In the States, two way streets are divided by a yellow line and one way streets (or lanes going in the same direction) have white markings. However, in Germany I only saw yellow markings in construction areas. Two-way streets there have white markings, so be careful and don’t accidentally get into the left lane, as it likely is for traffic going in the other direction.
Below are what some of the German signage looks like:
Gas in Your Car
Gas is incredibly expensive in Europe, so many cars will be diesel, which you will readily find at gas stations.
German Autobahn Rules
As I mentioned above, the slower lanes are on the right and faster lanes on the left. However, I’ve noticed in the United States, that in some regions anyway, there tend to be quite a few slow drivers that just stay in the fast lanes. As a result, there’s sometimes faster drivers in the “slow lanes” that will pass you by.
In Germany, this is not the case. I drove on the autobahn between Heidelberg to Munich, from Munich to Garmisch, and Garmisch to Munich, plus small distances around these cities. I never saw anyone pass by on the right. If you are in the fast lane and see someone in your rearview mirrors coming quickly behind you, it is custom for you, the slower driver, to move over into the right lane. Passing by on the German autobahn only happens on the left.
Not all parts of the German autobahn have no speed limit. Watch for the speed limit signs and follow them closely. Certain areas do have restrictions. In the areas with no speed limit (you’ll see the sign above), I suggest that you keep an eye behind you. Slower drivers in fast lanes will not end well if you don’t get out of the way.
Navigating the Country
I thought driving in Germany was very straightforward. However, my cousin lives there and so we were able to use Google maps on her phone to help us get around. For rental cars, there is an option to include navigation. However, according to my cousin, the one time she and her friends did this, it was of no help. I’d suggest that you go prepared, with either your phone unlocked and a German SIM card, or you purchase an international data plan, so that you can just use your phone. It will likely be the most reliable method to find your way around.
The German Autobahn is pretty straightforward as well; it’s like taking a road trip here in the states, with rest stops along the way.
Driving in Germany, and on the German autobahn, is much like driving here at home. But, as with traveling in any country, just familiarize yourself with local rules and focus on adhering to them. Overall, it’s a really easy and convenient way to explore the country.
Be Confident: the idea of driving in another country can be nerve-wracking, but in Germany, totally doable
Be Careful: pay attention to your surroundings and adhere to local rules
Be Brave: on the German autobahn, take advantage and see how fast you can go!