On the road in Germany
Do you have a driving licence and would like to drive a car during your stay in Germany? The following will tell you more about what conditions you have to meet before you can get behind the wheel in the country of the Autobahn.
When the introduction of a national speed limit for Germany's Autobahns (motorways and highways) was discussed in the 1980s, automobile associations of all kinds demanded the "Freedom of the roads for free citizens" – with at least some success back then. And even today, Germany still does not have a general speed limit. Although a maximum speed of 130 km/h is recommended, where no road sign expressly indicates this speed limit, drivers can decide for themselves how fast they would like to travel.
If you should pick up a few angry comments about "Points in Flensburg" during a conversation, you can be sure that those involved are talking about the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Transport Authority). Some 7.1 million car drivers are currently listed there. All of them ignored the signs and were caught driving too fast. The quicker they were travelling, the higher the fine and the number of points they collected.
Travelling in your own car
Germany is seen as a country of car enthusiasts. No wonder then that this is where the first motor vehicle was invented. Today, the automotive industry is one of the country's largest employers. There is practically no other item that Germans would spend as much money on as a car. For students, having their own car is generally a luxury. The prices for petrol and diesel are higher than in other European countries and the required third-party insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) also costs a lot of money. And still, many afford themselves the luxury of a car of their own.
Possible for all up to 185 days
If you come from a European Union country, your driving licence is also valid on German roads. For students who come from other countries, this depends on how long they wish to reside in Germany. If you are staying in Germany for up to 185 days, your foreign driving licence is sufficient. If you are staying longer than this, you have to take your driving licence to the Vehicle Registration and Licensing Authority (Straßenverkehrsamt) in your region to have it transcribed. The driving licence is initially valid for six months, but can – if you don't want to spend more than a year living here – be extended by a further six months.
After a year at the latest, you will need a German driving licence. Depending on which country you come from, you may have to take a theory test, and possibly even a practical driving test.
Tip: Even though driving lessons are not an absolute must before the driving test, a bit of practice won't do you any harm.
You can find out which rules apply for your home country on the homepage of the automobile association "ADAC = Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club e.V.". The Yellow Angels "Gelben Engel", as they are often called, are the people to contact for all kinds of questions about mobility.
CarSharing a cost effective alternative
For those who can't buy a car of their own, but who would still like to drive every now and then, "CarSharing" is a good option. German Railways (Deutsche Bahn – DB) already offer hire cars as from 1.90 euros per hour at rail stations and airports in more than 100 cities. An even more comfortable option is available in Stuttgart and Cologne only. DB has parked so-called "Flinkster" all over the city that can be booked spontaneously by registered users at a cost of just 2.50 euros per hour. These are very useful, especially for shorter distances in the city or for a family-sized shopping trip to the supermarket.
Sharing a ride through Germany
All those who don't want to sit behind the steering wheel, but would prefer to take a ride should try out car sharing, ride sharing or a car sharing agency service. The idea is as simple as it is cheap. The driver knows which route he or she is going to take and checks the internet to find someone to share the ride along a previously agreed route. These car sharing and ride sharing opportunities are really popular in Germany and can take you to many towns and cities for little money.
Video: On the Autobahn
The Deutsche Welle has produced an entertaining video about the German Autobahn.