Germany is known for three things: good beer, fast cars, and a mythical place that's dark as night, straight as an arrow, where speed records and personal bests are meant to be broken -- or zee Autobahn, the country's system of seemingly speed-limit-free federal highways. Here are 16 things you should know about it.
1. There ARE speed limits
While 60 percent of Germany’s autobahn has no speed limit, the rest does -- between 60 to 75mph. That said, a consistent speed of 81mph is advised by the government and an autobahn speed limit proposal last year failed epically.
2. It’s illegal to overtake on the right
Which literally makes the left lane the fast lane. No really, the left lane is for driving fast.
3. The Autobahn speed record was set on January 8th, 1938, and has never been broken
Rudolf Caracciola, a Grand Prix vet and Formula One racer, set the Autobahn’s current speed record of 268.9mph in a Mercedes-Benz W125 with a V-12 engine. His rival, Bernd Rosemeyer, was killed competing for the record on the same day.
4. The biggest autobahn pile-up to date involved 259 cars
There were 73 collisions, 82 injured motorists, and it resulted in more than $2 million in damages. Not only that, it took three helicopters, 40 ambulances, and 350 firemen to sort the mess out. Miraculously, no one died.
5. The Autobahn was Hitler’s pet project
While the idea behind the Autobahn emerged in the 1920s, proper construction didn’t get into full swing until Hitler came to power in 1933. He wholeheartedly embraced the project and, by 1936, had 130,000 people building one of the world's first high-speed roads. The inaugural section opened in 1935 from Frankfurt am Main to Darmstadt.
6. They were originally named “Reichsautobahn” (Autobahn of the Reich)
Because, you know, Hitler.
7. They were paved to withstand the weight of an airplane
During WWII autobahns were sometimes used as landing strips.
8. Bicycles were once (albeit briefly) a common sight on the Autobahn
Also during WWII (in the fall of 1943, to be specific), there was so little car traffic that bicycles were allowed on it.
9. Running out of gas is verboten
Germans plan ahead, so running out of fuel is considered avoidable. Especially since German law requires there be a gas station about every 30mi.
10. Original Reichsautobahn still exists
A 2.5mi stretch of the A 11 northeast of Berlin built in 1936 is the only remaining section of the original Reichsautobahn. It's scheduled for replacement in 2015, "unless Unesco declares it a world heritage site”, the local head of highway maintenance joked.
11. If you’re too slow, you’ll know
You can totally flash your headlights (or even honk) at a driver whom you consider too slow, especially if they are misguidedly in the left lane, where speeds can average 150mph. However, don’t get too close; there are penalties of up to $500 (plus a suspended license) for tailgating.
12. Seriously, no slow pokes allowed
German and Austrian autobahns only allow vehicles that can go at least 37mph.
13. Which reminds us, there're more than one, and it's not just a German thing
Autobahns exist in Austria and Switzerland and, while France calls theirs the Autoroute, Italy prefers the Autostrada. Generally speaking, though, when someone uses the term the autobahn, they're usually referring to the Fatherland.
14. Germany’s most expensive accident happened on the Autobahn
In 2004, an allegedly drugged driver collided with a trunk hauling 8,500 gallons of fuel on the Wiehltal Bridge. The guard rails were unable to stop the truck, which plummeted 100 feet and exploded on the autobahn. The bridge was destroyed and cost over $55 million to repair. No State Farm agent magically appeared.
15. There's an international hit from 1975 about the Autobahn
Aptly called "Autobahn", the song by '70s German electro band Kraftwerk is meant to capture the high-speed feeling of cruising down the autobahn, specifically the A 555 from Köln to Bonn. But you already knew that. What you may not have known, though, is that Total Ghost (quite possibly the greatest fake German band in Denver history) released a song that you're going to be singing to yourself all day, "Too Fast for the Autobahn".
16. It's not just a popular tourist destination: gamers love the 'bahn too
Need for Speed: ProStreet, Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Dominator are all video games that use the Autobahn as a backdrop.