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Germany - Driving tips

If you ask the average person in the street what they know about Germany, they will most likely say "Isn't that the country with those Autobahns where you can drive at 300km an hour?" (Try it!) While I have frequently driven at speeds well in excess of 130km/h, the RECOMMENDED top speed, I'm often overtaken by cars that must be doing at least 180km/h, if not 200km/h. This makes for very quick travel times from one side of the country to the other, although many sections of Autobahn are speed limited to decrease noise pollution near urban areas and for safety reasons through tunnels and near intersections.

Travelling at high speed chews up a lot of petrol, which is not cheaply priced. A litre of premium lead-free petrol "Bleifrei Benzin" costs around 1.2 euros (2004)with the tendence of increasing. Higher octane petrol costs more. Diesel fuel cost around 1.10 euros(2004). Petrol is far cheaper in neighbouring Austria or Poland. Recently though the government has called for a European Union-wide solution to the cut price competition from countries which apply lower taxes on petrol.

You will find multi-level parking houses (often closing from 10pm Saturday night until early Monday morning), and many streets have metered parking or time-limited parking for which you must display a parking disk. There is no need to worry about leaving your car parked on the street. People happily leave their BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes parked on the street, safe in the knowledge that the paintwork is not going to be scratched by someone walking past with a key. Authors comment: Although I wouldn't recommend it, we (accidentally!) left our car (a VW Cabrio) parked on the street overnight, unlocked, and it was still there the next day.

Most car parks have special "Frauenplätze" (parking spaces for women) which are close to the door, for easy manouverability of prams and strollers, but also for the safety of women alone at night for example in an empty car park house.

When going further distances within Germany and throughout Europe, particularly if you are taking a reasonable amount of luggage with you, driving is a good option. The roads are generally smooth and fast, although you do need to take special care due to ice and snow in winter. Winter tyres (made of softer rubber) are recommended, if not mandatory, for winter driving. In summer there is the additional hazard of lanes being narrowed or disappearing altogether due to roadwork.

The school holidays are staggered throughout the different states of Germany to avoid congestion on the roads due to holiday makers, as 65% of Germans go on holidays with their car, rather than by alternative modes of transport. Despite the staggering of school holidays, the roads become very busy at the start and end of the holiday period. Sunday afternoons are also a time of heavy traffic.

When travelling across country borders, budget for additional time spent in long queues at passport control, particularly when travelling to non-EU countries for which you need a visa. Always ensure you have your passport and the correct visa with you before you leave home, otherwise you will have to turn around and drive back again, as visas are generally not available at the border. Driving between EU countries is fairly seamless these days, but make sure you have sufficient identification with you just in case.

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