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driving in germay

we are planning on a trip to germany to visit such places as the Rhine Valley, Romantic Road, Black Forest, Alps, Castles and Munich. We plan to drive. Does anyone have an advice on rentng a car and how easy/hard it it to drive? Also we're thinking either the end of May/beginning of June or Early September (before Oktoberfest)... looking to avoid crowds... any hints.. thanks for all your help... first trip to Europe here!!!!
Also ... excepting opions on your favorite place in Germany... looking low key, scenic, good beer & wine, not major into night life... thanks again!!!

Posted by
12 posts

Driving in Germany is one of my greatest accomplishments... And I lived. It is not difficult. Make sure that you understand a few rules of the road before you go. First, do not travel in the left lane. It is for passing only. Second, there are speed limits when traveling through city areas. The speed limits are on the signs overhead. You WILL get pulled over and you must pay all fines right then and there. The cops ride around in unmarked cars. Third, most of Germany is under construction which will make your travels longer. Fourth, passengers in cars CAN drink beer while they ride in the car; however, they have a zero tolerance for the driver. Fifth, try to avoid driving in larger cities. Parking is a hassle and it can be very confusing / complicated. We parked the car at the hotel and took taxis. Yes, more expensive but easier and safer. All in all, it is pretty much like driving here except you will get passed as if you are standing still and accidents at those speeds do not usually end well. As with anything, use caution and common sense.

Posted by
310 posts

Kathy, I have driven all the places that you mention except the Rhine Valley. As previously stated, it is not very complicated. Start by using Google to search for "German highway signs". Get a good GPS and a good map. Understand that if you are going to Weis then signs to Weis are what you follow. "Zentrum" is a yellow sign and leads you to the center of the city you are near or in. Stay to the right and keep one eye on the rear view mirror when on the Autobahn. Be prepared for someone to ride your tail if you are in the left lane. Don't tap the brakes, just move over. You may find that you are on the Autobahn not as much as you are on the secondaries. As for rental car. I have used Avis and Hertz although Auto Europe is highly recommended by others.
PM me if you have any other questions. I am afraid it would be to lengthy to answer here.

Posted by
33 posts

Kathy,
If you can drive in Chicago, you can drive in Germany! Biggest difference in US and Germany... They are not rude! We spent 2 weeks in 2006 and are returning in several weeks.

Posted by
3696 posts

Driving in Germany... easy, very orderly and fast. Just follow their rules and pay attention. I have driven thousands of miles there and prefer it to driving here in the US. One of my favorite places in Germany (and I do love it all) but Lake of Constance (Bodensee) tops it all for scenic, beautiful and I find it to be extremely peaceful even though the towns may be busy. Watching the sunrise over the beautiful lake surrounded by mountains is breathtaking. Don't know about the beer, but the wine was great.

Posted by
12040 posts

Here's a pointer that a lot of people miss- when you enter a town and see a yellow sign with the town's name, it means two things. One, you've entered the town limits (obviously). But two, it also implies that the speed limit has now dropped to 50 km/hr. There may not be a speed limit sign to otherwise indicate the change... but there could very well be a speed camera! Hopefully things will improve by the time you arrive, but there is a particularly large amount of road construction on the Autobahn network right now, especially in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Posted by
3031 posts

I will sort of deviate from the crowd here and say that while driving in Germany is easy, the autobahn may be a bit stressful if you're not a speed demon. On the sections where there is no speed limit, cars will be passing in the left lane going faster than anything you've ever seen. It's no joke. Unfortunately on many parts, the Autobahns are just two lanes, so what you have are large semi trucks doing 50 mph in the right lane. You want to pass. You look...clear...clear, OK go - holy crap where did that Audi on your tail come from and why is he flashing his lights and why isn't he slowing down?!? Just be prepared for that scenario, and either be comfortable going slow with the trucks, or be prepared to gun it to pass, frequently. One way around this is to take country roads. It's slower, obviously, but more scenic and will take you through charming little towns. And with all the traffic and construction, particularly in the state of Baden-Wurttemburg, it will certainly be less stressful. On the plus side, drivers here are generally courteous with regards to passing, merging, and so forth. Signage is great once you understand it (study before you go: http://www.transchool.lee.army.mil/adso/documents/zeichen.pdf). Directions are easy. I don't bother with a GPS here. As long as you consult a map to know what towns are between you and your final destination, it will be difficult to get lost, because you will see signs pointing you towards one of those towns frequently. Even if you make a wrong turn, it's easy to get back on track by following those beautiful signs. Public parking garages are well marked. If traveling into a larger city, consider following signs to a Park and Ride marked P&R instead of driving yourself crazy trying to figure out narrow one way streets.

Posted by
12040 posts

Sarah's description of Autobahn driving is dead-on. On a two-lane stretch, be prepared to either drive painfully slow or terrifyingly fast. And be aware that just because that Porsche/Audi/Mercedes/BMW behind you is flashing his headlights, you are not obligated to let him pass. I also find that it's much easier to navigate by road signs than by GPS in Germany. Signs will point you in the direction of any town, tourist site, parking lot/garage, road, hotel, restaurant, and even medium to large business that you'll need to find. I found that my TomTom made some very strange route recommendations. After it insisted I drive through a cornfield to reach Burg Eltz and on another occassion, drive off a loading dock into the Rhine, I put it away, started trusting the road signs and haven't gotten lost since.

Posted by
337 posts

and you must pay all fines right then and there I know this is nitpicking, but as a non-resident you'll have to post bond for probable fines right then and there.
German cops aren't "Judge Dredd" and can't sentence you to a fine on the spot. I know that distinction is rather abstract when you'll almost certainly lose the bond because you can't practically (language barrier, not in country) contest the charge(s), but it is a different thing.

Posted by
12040 posts

"You WILL get pulled over and you must pay all fines right then and there. " That sonds like Austria, not Germany.

Posted by
813 posts

Here's my 2 cents for German driving.....as has already been mentioned, follow the signs posted on the autobahn. Just today our GPS was confused, it will most likely take you to the first possible exit into a city/town then wind your way through it. Many times, there's a better way into the town and the signs will tell you 'city center', or the ring road around the city, not through it. Secondly, get gas before you think you'll need it, don't get below a quarter tank thinking you'll just pull over at the next exit. You can sit in traffic for an extra 3 hours without cause (usually construction or accident, but sometimes no reason!) and distances between gas stops can be lengthly.

Posted by
59 posts

On the Autobahn instead of being pulled over you are more likely to be flashed by a mounted speed camera, and receive a ticket in the mail. This has happened to me only once after many years of driving in Germany. The car rental company was notified first and charged it to my credit card. I don't remember how much, but at the time thought it was not terribly expensive. Distance and exit signs will list the cities in reverse order as here, with the closest at the bottom of the sign. My favorite place in Germany is Bamberg, a 1000 year old city in northern Bavaria. Well-preserved medieval architecture, a compact and walkable old town area, and the best beer!
I use gemut.com for car rental arrangements, best rates and they will take care of you.

Posted by
84 posts

wow, i can't thank you all enough for your comments and advice...my husband should especially appreciate the police and speeding comments since he drives like speed racer lol! i'll be in touch when i further narrow down my plans and think of more questions... i already ordered the road map! thanks so much agan! kathy

Posted by
182 posts

I second the use of gemut.com. We've used them 2 times in the past. They are very helpful and I always get the best price through them.

Posted by
12077 posts

Nice roads, logical signage, easy driving. The left lane on multiple lane roads is for passing. If you use it, pass quickly and get back to the right before someone drives up your tailpipe. The weather in September is nice so you shouldn't have weather issues. For renting. I suggest shopping lots of choices, then choose the best option - no one company is always the best for every itinerary. Gemut is unique in that they want a lot of information before they quote a price, I was kind of put off by that - especially since they didn't offer the best price after all that. Save money by renting downtown rather than at the airport, there is usually a big tax for picking up at the airport. Once you pick up, dropping off at an airport isn't an issue. To avoid crowds, visit the most touristy places on your itinerary during the week. You can also try to visit early in the morning or later in the day, tour busses generally stop at the big sights between 10am and maybe 3pm. Places will still have pretty good crowds, including lots of locals on nice weekends in September. September is also harvest season. I'm not sure when the "new wine" comes out. Try some if you get the chance, it tastes like fresh grapejuice but can have a kick. On the Rhine, I usually drink wine - because it's wine country. In Munich, I'm more likely to try a local beer.

Posted by
12 posts

Yes, one one trip we did in fact get pulled over by the German police in an unmarked BMW. They held up a sign that said "HALT". We pulled over and they made my friend sit in the car and watch a video of what she did wrong. They do not speak English, so don't be prepared to understand them unless you speak fluent German. She was fined on the spot. She was asked for her driver's license and she only provided them her International Driver's License (which is not a license at all). I thought for sure that she was going to be in jail the way she was acting... Just be very mindful of the speed limits: red circle around a # is the speed limit and an "X" through the number means no speed limit. It is usually indicated when entering and exiting a speed zone. When my son and I went, we rented a BMW and it was LOADS of fun!!! He was completely freaked out about how close the traffic is to you in construction zones and how fast they go... In the blink of an eye they can appear... Of all the places I have gone (WILL NEVER DRIVE IN ITALY), I love it in Germany the most... Have fun!

Posted by
12040 posts

"and an "X" through the number means no speed limit". To be completely accurate, it actually means that the special speed zone has ended and the default speed limits now apply. Meaning, 50 km/h in town limits, 100 km/h on secondary roads and no speed limit on the Autobahn.

Posted by
3031 posts

Since your husband is a speed demon, he will enjoy the speed limitless parts of the Autobahn (I DO NOT). You might want to consider renting a car with good horsepower to be able to accelerate quickly if he's not going to want to stay in the slow lane. Just remember to follow the limits when they do exist. There's a curve on a highway near my house that has a limit of 60 kph (just for that curve). I never really thought of it as a speed limit sign but rather a "recommended speed for that curve" sign like we have in California, so I took it really fast the other day. Sure enough, flash and then got a ticket in mail. Speed limits are not suggestions, lol. Also if you see German drivers slowing suddenly in front of you for no reason (no traffic that is), be aware there is probably a speed camera that they know about that you don't. My favorite places in Germany...Berlin (but you're not going there). The Rhine Valley was fun on a boat, the Mosel was better for relaxing. Weather will probably (no guarantees) be better in Sept and crowds too, May/June isn't terrible. Less rain in Sept though. Best wine comes form the Rhine and Mosel, although don't neglect the Franconian wines either, they're pretty good. Baden has decent wine. Wurttemberg, well, I drink it because it's cheap. Bavaria is beer country, all the beer there is fantastic.

Posted by
3031 posts

Outside of the big cities that I love so much, I'd probably have to say that my favorite smaller town in Germany is Lindau on Lake Constance. When the weather is nice, it's just heavenly. It's also nicely situated coming from the Black Forest heading towards the Bavarian castles.

Posted by
9 posts

Spend a lot of time in the Alps, including Berchtesgaden. Head into Austria, visit Salzburg. We also loved Berlin.
Don't be afraid to dump the car and travel by train. The train system is excellent and the people are very helpful.

Posted by
791 posts

I personally hate driving in Germany these days. The idea of the autobahn as some automotive utopia where you can drive as fast as you want is largely a myth. Between staus, construction, trucks and slow drivers, I find driving the autobahns more of an exercise in frustration than anything else. The big trucks are the scourge of the autobahn. Particularly on the two lane autobahns when you're trying to drive around 140-150km an hour, you have the trucks going about 90km an in the right lane hour combined with Herr slowpoke who cuts you off in the left lane and proceeds to pass the trucks going about 100km an hour. And he doesn't just pass the truck and move back to the right lane to let you by, he will pass about 10 trucks before he'll move over. Doesn't matter if you put your left blinker on to let him know you want to get by, he will cruise in the left lane doing 100km/hr until he feels he has passed every truck that he wants to. You can't get too close to him as a means of letting him know you want to get by either, they have a tailgating law in Germany now. It's also illegal to "flip the bird" in Germany so if you see someone tapping their index finger to their forehead, that's their way of flipping you off. I actually prefer driving the autostrada in Italy because in my experience, Italians are much better about moving out of the left lane and letting go by. The A8 between Karlsruhe/Stuttgart/Munich is the worst. The A7 between Wurzburg/Ulm/Fussen is actually pretty good though, it's very straight and seldom has a lot of traffic so you can sometimes really fly on that stretch.

Posted by
12040 posts

"The A8 between Karlsruhe/Stuttgart/Munich is the worst." By far! A5 between Heidelberg and Freiburg is also pretty bad.

Posted by
791 posts

True, it's very congested but the stretch south of Heidelberg is all 3-4 lanes so it moves much better than the A8.

Posted by
16 posts

I've used gemut.com several times and would highly recommend them. Even though they book through AutoEurope (which, in turn, books through one of the brand name rental agencies), they have always beat the price on the AutoEurope website, in some cases by a considerable amount. This was especially true when I wanted a car with automatic transmission (which I prefer when driving through mountainous regions). And they never asked me for extra information, as one writer suggested. Driving in Germany is very easy. The roads are very good, and well marked. If you drive on the Autobahn, make sure you stay in the right lane(s) unless you are passing. The left lane is for passing only, and on stretches of the Autobahn where there is no speed limit, cars in the passing lane may be traveling at 100 mph or faster.

Posted by
17931 posts

Go on line and find a town in the Mosel Valley that has a "Strassenweinfest" a weekend you are there. These are a blast, all the local groups are there raising funds selling sausages and desserts, and local wineries have booths selling wine and unfermented grape juice (I forget what they call it). The best are the strolling brass bands. The German ones play it straight, but the Dutch bands are absolutely wild, crazy costumes and clever arrangements of pop tunes. They reminded me of the Universty of Wisconsin band. Mosel Valley is very popular Dutch weekend destination. Book a room at a "Weingut", small mom and pop wineries that have a couple of guest rooms that are really nice and go for only 50 EU or so a night, and they reduce the rate if you stay 3 days or more. Burg Eltz is in the neighborhood and easier to reach by car than train. And rent bikes for a ride along the Mosel on paved trails on an old railroad bed.

Posted by
84 posts

thanks again for all your help,comments, advice, etc. gives me lots to think about in planning my trip..... kathy