Fahr’n, fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn, or, eingebaute Vorfahrt
Cars and Germany. This couple most likely conjures up images of Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Porsches. All sung about from Janis Joplin to your favorite rapper. If you were thinking Das Auto, you have Volkswagen and the Beetle (or a Jetta) on your mind. If you have money, maybe you are also thinking about Audi. And if you are German, Opel might be listed as well, not to speak of all those car brands that nobody has heard about since the Wirtschaftswunder (the German “economic miracle” of the 1950s and 60s).
Cars and Germany. That also stimulates the imagination of those who think that there is no speed limit on the Autobahn – which might get you, as a foreigner, into trouble when speeding it up on a German interstate (or motorway, depending on your English-speaking heritage). Those round street signs with a red circle and black numbers on white ground denominate the maximum speed (only a few Autobahnen these days have no speed limit, and even then it is usually only for a small section). Well, if the limit is 120 kilometers per hour and you were going 200, those digits might have blurred a bit. But don’t worry, you are in “good” company – with all those German drivers who think that the Autobahn (and the Bundestraße [highway] and the Landstraße [route] as well as innerorts [within a settlement]) belong to them personally. And themselves only.
Imagine yourself to be a good, law-abiding citizen (as everybody in the world thinks Germans are – taking the law literally and obeying orders without questioning them). You are sitting in your car – most likely an older model Volkswagen that Mama and Papa got you when you were allowed, in addition to getting a Führerschein (driver’s license), to vote and buy hard liquor, that is, for your 18 birthday or reaching Volljährigkeit. (Unless you belong to that special breed of Germans who do not get a driver’s license because they “do not need it” – most likely inner-city rich kids from educated families.) The Autobahn is zweispurig – that is, two lanes in each direction (sometimes three, seldom four). Unlike the States, where you should stay in your lane, the left lane in Germany is for overtaking – and as the right lane is usually stuffed full with LKWs (Lastkraftwagen = trucks, often semi-trailers) going 80 kilometers an hour (unless on Sundays or a Feiertag [holiday] when big rucks are not allowed to use the Autobahn until the evening), you as a regular PKW (Personenkraftwagen) driver will find yourself in need of überholen (overtaking) them to eventually reach your destination before you fall asleep (unless you are 70-years plus and happy with going a 100 kilometers an hour or less). Pulling into the left lane costs concentration and effort – your little Volkswagen is most likely to be equipped with not enough horsepower to “just” change lanes. You conscientiously check your rear mirror and the tote Winkel (blind spot), as told in driving school, let those Audis and BMWs pass you, and then change lanes. With the pedal to the metal, you finally manage to reach the speed limit of 120 kph.
Suddenly, you feel like someone is breathing down your neck. A look in your rear mirror reveals that a car is closing in on you, fast. But the right lane is one long row of one semi after another with almost no space inbetween them. Besides, you changed lanes to overtake them anyway. By now, that car is filling out your rear mirror – or rather, the front shield of said car because the driver is way too close to you (rule: half the speedmeter in meters, i.e. 120 kph = at least 60 meters distance between you and the car in front of you – not 60 centimeters like your pursuer). If you have not changed back into the right lane by now, the driver behind will put his high beam on and off or honk at you. He is most likely to be a white collar, family man, driving a family-sized car with a lot of horse power, and not having enough time (or at least he thinks he does not have enough time). He hates his job and he hates the old ball and chain, but he has to be somewhere somehow sometime – and fast at that. He wonders why all those idiots are in the left lane – after all, it is HIS lane! To him, everybody in front of his car who is not fast enough to his liking is an idiot who cannot drive. That there is a speed limit, that there are trucks blocking the right lane, and that it is possible to just start one’s journey earlier never cross his mind. Rather, he will risk his life and that of other people, nötigen (bullying) those unworthy of the Autobahn.
Eventually, the row of semis has been passed and you can change back to the right lane. Your pursuer will overtake you and, just as he passes you, give you an angry face. Or shake his fist at you. Or wave his hand before his head, signalling you that you are an idiot. After all, his car has eingebaute Vorfahrt (built-in right of way) …
If more German police were checking for these Raser, the federal government could make a lot of money. Unfortunately, speeding tickets are rather cheap in comparison with other European countries. If you can afford to drive a full-blown BMW or a Porsche, a speeding ticket is nothing more than Taschengeld (pocket money) … Although you might be collecting points in Flensburg, i.e. if your transgression is too severe, you receive a certain amount of points which, if totalling more than 14, will cost you your driver’s license for a certain amount of time and you have to take the „Idiotentest,“ i.e. learn once more how to behave on the streets. So, who’s an idiot now?
And if you have lived through the Raser experience (which, most likely, will not be the only one that day), all you have to live and bear through are kilometer-long traffic jams (the Staus) and Elefantenrennen – one semi overtaking another one, preferably on an up-hill slope. And illegal on a two-lane Autobahn. But who cares about rules and regulations on German streets if you have eingebaute Vorfahrt …