Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Autobahn to East Germany

We head north from Bamberg in a rental car. This is the contented smile that accompanies a beautiful drive through the countryside in our "own" vehicle.
An occasional motorcycle overtakes us.
The frequent hamlets exude a warm, inviting feel.
After several hours of this sort of navigation (aided by the car's GPS -- what a handy toy!), we switch from "most direct" routing to "fastest". And so, we arrive at our first autobahn experience.
The first vehicle to blow by us, a blue Nissan 300Z, seems to be going lightspeed! (Well, at least 200km/h.)
Expressions now change from from contentment to concentration...
as the race cars flash past...
and I gain the courage to try to match their speed!
The autobahn was fun to drive, but keeping up with Porsches wasn't going to happen in our diesel-powered Toyota. Just staying out of their way on this unfamiliar highway took some concentration. I found myself getting somewhat tired! After about 90 minutes, I was ready to let Case drive.

It's an experience, though! The speed limits vary frequently. Often, we passed through 80-100 km/h zones that had no apparent justification. Construction zones took us down to 60km/h. When you're doing 160-180 km/h, that's a sizable change. I can only imagine what it must be like for the Beamers and Porsches, who are decelerating from well north of 200 km/h.

Everyone is very organized in their driving. No one passes on the right and any car not actually engaged in overtaking another car clears out of the left lanes pretty quickly. (They could teach California drivers a thing or two!) Many trucks had a vehicle speed limit of 80-100 km/h posted on their rear panel. When the roadway narrowed to two lanes, one is left with a choice between their speed and that of the rocket cars in the left lane. I found I was most comfortable driving around 140 - 160 km/h. (That's 87-100 mph, so not trivial.)

Leaving the autobahn, another Porsche flies by!
We've now entered the territory of the former East Germany. We notice that the look of the towns and buildings changes here quite a bit. Suddenly, everything seems built more for function than grace.
The apartment houses are more block-ish, the towns more closed, the windows often devoid of decoration, the colors just a little drab. Change is evident, but the pall of the past still lingers.

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