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Trip to Germany Part 1
"Was ist los In Germany"

by Ron Kitson

Not my typical title but this is not my typical story. Rather, this is an account of our recent trip to Europe.

Not only about what we saw, but also about many of the customs, laws and other aspects of Europe in general and Germany in particular that are somewhat different than here in North America.

In case you're wondering, "Was ist los" translates to "what is loose" but can mean "what's happening," "what's wrong" or "what's your problem" and is a very common expression in Germany. It works good in German but I can't imagine walking up to someone here and saying "Hey man, what's loose."

One of the more obvious differences between Germany and America is that many villages, towns and cities were already hundreds of years old when Columbus arrived here over 500 years ago. They were producing fine wines and beers perhaps a thousand of years ahead of your first Milwaukee, California, Kentucky or Nova Scotia thirst quenchers.

Back in the 1950s you could spot an American a city block away because of the clothing, but not any more. Most Europeans are now wearing faded bluejeans, T-shirts and sneakers.

There is so much to tell you that it cannot be covered in one short article and since I don't like to bore anyone with lengthy reports, I'll break it up a bit. A bit? Good idea, "ein Bit bitte." That's how one would order a glass of Bitburger, a popular thirst quencher in Germany.

Not only are the communities very old, they are very good at preserving them and while they appear to be unchanged, what you see from the street is not necessarily indicative of what's inside. Often only the facade is original while the rest of a building has been totally razed and replaced with state of the art structures as was the case with our hotel in Munich.

As I have been led to understand, the cities preserve the old sections and forbid changes to structures that would alter their appearances which is what attracts tourists by the millions. Not everyone travels to Germany just to drink German beer you know, although it is certainly not a deterrent.

The schools in Germany operate much differently than do ours with a second language compulsory beginning the fifth year (normally English) and a third language starting the seventh year for some. After four years, your next four to five years will include classes based on how well you did during your first four years and will determine your choices of future employment or advanced education.

There is quite a bit to relate to you on their school systems including classes, choices, apprenticeships and transportation so I'll get back to you on that in a separate article.

The Blue Danube is not blue at all but rather we found it to be an earthy tan color and didn't look like anything I'd want to drink from or swim in. We cruised from Lintz Austria near the German border town of Passau, all the way down to Budapest Hungary and back again and what an incredible trip.

What we slept through on the way down, we got to see on the way back. We visited and toured a number of medieval cities including Melk, Vienna, Dürnstein, Bratislava and Budapest mirrored along the edges of what the Germans and Austrians call the Donau (Pronounced Doe-now) as we sailed through Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Mountainous it is until you reach the flatlands near Budapest. If you've never been there, you wouldn't believe my descriptions so it is important that I include some of our pictures, but another time in a future article. Or, as they say on the news, "when we come back."

Public transportation including busses, trains, street cars and subways are heavily used and are reasonable. Munich has a massive surface and subway system and you can go almost anywhere in Germany by train but we will delve deeper into that later also.

The Autobahns will take you into, or close to, just about any large town or city in Germany. They look a lot like our interstates and there are no tolls for cars. Only the big rigs pay to use them.

Many were built before WW II and are amazingly smooth and so obviously well engineered with at least two layers of crushed stone underneath for good drainage which prevents damage from frost. I was able to see this first hand where they were adding a new lane.

In addition to lanes being added in a couple of places, we saw repairs being made to a bridge. However, over the thousands of miles///oops, kilometers we traveled, I don't recall seeing any of the old highway surface being torn up.

There is no posted speed limit on the autobahn other than at busy interchanges or construction sites but as the number of cars and trucks on the road increases, so do the speed zones. And, you don't see cops along the side of the road with, or in search of customers. They would be a traffic hazard what with the rubber-neckers et al.

However, there are cameras and speed measuring devices on overpasses and if you drive too fast for conditions, pass improperly or follow too close to another vehicle, you just might receive a greeting in the mail along with a hefty fine and a souvenir photo of your license plate. I would often glance over at the speedometer and noticed that where traffic conditions permitted, Günter cruised along at about 160km per hour which is the equivalent of 100mph.

It seemed about the same as doing 70mph on I-71 except cars coming from the other direction sure didn't hang around long. 160km was likely about the average speed as we passed some and some flew past us.

His gasoline consumption at 100mph registered around 7 Ltr. per 100km which translates to about 30 mpg U.S. I believe. He drove a 5-passenger Toyota station wagon and I don't recall the model but it had a 5 speed stick shift. Automatics really didn't catch on there and I was told by a local dealer that only about 3% of their new car sales are automatics, at least in the Zweibrüken-Pfalz area where we stayed.

Their cars are built for these speeds and the drivers are well trained, courteous and very obedient. If they take (and pass) their drivers test in an automatic only, they are not licensed to drive a stickshift. I didn't see any of what I would call a full-sized mini van but a lot of smaller versions and station wagons. The only pick-up truck I saw was near Frankfurt and had a US Air Force license plate.

We saw a few small motor homes and a few camping trailers and I'm pretty sure they were all from Holland. And oh yes, one couldn't help but notice how very clean the vehicles are. All, including the big trucks, appear to have just been thoroughly washed.

Unlike the 1950s, it now seems that most adults have a car with a lot of multi-car families and just about everyone still has a bicycle.

No rust. Vehicles are inspected annually and any damaged areas must be repaired and repainted if you plan to drive it. If there is too much structural damage, the vehicle has to be scrapped.

There are absolutely no junkers on the road in Germany and the only dirty ones we spotted were from outside the country. It was really noticeable, especially on noir.

About Trucks

Where there are just two lanes in one direction, the big trucks they call LKWs are not usually allowed to pass and where there are three lanes, they are not permitted in the left lane and may only remain in the middle lane for the time it takes them to pass another vehicle then must return to the rightmost lane and they do.

The big rigs (over 7.5 metric tons) are not permitted on the highways on all national holidays and Sundays from 0.00hrs (a nanosecond after midnight) until 22.00hrs (10:00pm) and, during the vacation months of July and August, the highways are also off limits to the big trucks on Saturdays. Exempt are those delivering food or other necessities.

They have a radio alert system in Germany that will turn your car radio on to alert you of an accident ahead or other conditions such as traffic jams, heavy rain, snow or fog, etc. along with directions to avoid backed up traffic. Also, if your radio is already on, it will overtake your listening pleasure long enough to bring you the report, a good system that's been in place for several years.

Missing was that great German music we used to enjoy. Almost all the songs we heard were pop/rock and in English. Many of the trucks had English slogans on them such as "Always on time" or "On the road again."

Most of the concrete roads have been black topped but in the towns and cities, the cobblestones prevail although they are often black topped on steep hills for better traction. Their blacktop has a very high concentration of small stone and reminded me of what my father used to call macadam roads so named after Scottish engineer John L. Macadam.

If the cobblestone roads become uneven, they dig them up, level up the bed and put the same cobblestones back down. They lay them into interwoven patterns which help prevent them from shifting (see photo).

Cobblestones in Germany
Old cobblestones in Zweibrücken


Some are hundreds of years old. Cobblestones come in different sizes but are often 3 or 4 inches square and go down 6 to 8 inches. New ones are man-made and look like brick.

Continuation of Part 1 with more photos




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