Monday, December 17, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: The Autobahn and Directions

The famous no speed limit sign (
This past weekend we took a road trip to visit friends and family in Stuttgart. Although in distance we live farther away from Stuttgart than before, the drive does not take much more time and is  much more relaxing. Instead of spending the entire drive on tiny one lane roads, now we can go door to door almost completely on the Autobahn. Ahh, the famous German Autobahn.

The Germans love the Autobahn just as much as the rest of the world. The idea of being able to go as quickly as you wish is the dream for most any boy over the age of 16. The thing is, as great as the Autobahn is (and it is great), it is not exactly what all the hype makes it out to be.

First of all, there are many fewer places on the Autobahn in Germany that you drive without a speed limit than the average American (or we think anyone else outside of Germany) would believe. Although the system is very complex and (as of 2012) the fourth longest highway system in the world with almost 8,000 miles (13,000 km), it is important to realize that Autobahn means highway, not no speed limit. The number of stretches with no speed limit are almost non-existent in some parts of Germany, and quite common in others. It depends where you live and other factors such as traffic, road repair, and more. Sometimes you are going along with no speed limit and then there is a speed limit for a few kilometers (and very tricky traffic cameras to catch those who do not slow down) for a few kilometers, before the famous no speed limit sign appears and you are on your way again. Additionally, unless you are driving on a Sunday afternoon or late into the night, most times there are too many cars to go whatever speed you want (and you are not crazy so you keep a reasonable speed even if you can go as fast as you wish).

This was something that he noticed when road tripping through the USA. Although the idea of speed limits (and quite low speed limits) in the USA sounds horrible, if you are not in the middle of Nevada (which we were but that is another story), there are few times you could go more than 10 miles over the speed limit without having to slow down and dodge cars every few minutes.

We don't want to break any dreams, so even with the traffic camera, speed limits, and traffic, we will stick to the idea that the Autobahn is awesome (Actually, it really is!)

West and East listed on American signs (
A difference that we notice between our cultures every time we get into the car are the signs on the highway that tell you where to go. In Germany, city names are the only thing used on the highway to describe one highway direction from the other. In the USA, highways say not only what city they are heading past, but also the direction (north, south, east, west). This makes it much easier if you are not familiar with the area but know the general direction you want to go. It drives him crazy that she is always telling him that we need to go north and west, because this is completely useless in Germany, unless you happen to know that the cities named are in the north or west.

Only city names on German signs (
Another difference is how you give directions. In the USA, when asked where you live in comparison to somewhere else, you never give the distance in miles, instead you give the time (e.g., I live 30 minutes outside of New York City). This would never happen in Germany. The number of kilometers are always given and never the time it takes to travel that far. Perhaps it is because of the long distances people travel regularly in the USA, or perhaps because 15 miles can mean such different things depending if you are in a city always filled with traffic, or in the middle or no where. Whenever she tells people she comes from so many minutes away from San Francisco they just look at her like ooookay, and then get distracted by ooooh San Francisco. The problem is that no matter how long she lives here, kilometers still feel "foreign" and knowing that someone lives 40 km away sounds like a great journey, when really it isn't too far.

Yup, that is what we thought about on our drive back to Frankfurt this Sunday, so we thought we would share it as a Mix-Up Monday.

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