Tales from an Autobahn Stauby Tourguide on Wed 15 Jun 2011, 09 PM CEST, Views: 2003
Greetings from the Autobahn, or from the side of the Autobahn, rather.
I am stuck in what is called a Stau, or traffic jam. To say I’m stuck in a traffic jam is a bit of understatement, however. You’ll notice I said *side* of the road. Yes, I am outside of my car, along with a few thousand other people, waiting for, something, ..anything to happen.
Been here for two hours.
I’ve written blogs in lots of different areas, from all points of the world, while on planes, trains and while *inside* automobiles. But I must say this is the first time I’ve ever actually blogged while *on* my car.
Yes, it’s never a good sign when you’re in traffic and your looking at your car …from the outside.
And it doesn’t look I’m going anywhere anytime soon. The GPS estimates I won’t be home for 7 hours, and I’m only 40 miles away from the house. It also says the road I’m stopped on is closed due to an accident. Here is a screen you never want to see on your GPS Screen, ugh. So cars for as far as the eye can see, all with their doors open. Such is my life for the long term immediate future.
I must admit though, its not *that* bad. Chilling out on the hood of your car on a gorgeous day, sure beats the hell out of the gas/break drill for 50 miles at 2 inches an hour. At least we’ve *committed* to waiting.
People are milling around in all directions, sharing cigarettes, pieces of information, and, in general, …commiserating.
Some trucker up ahead of me is giving a tour of his truck cab to a bunch of folks. Looks pretty cool, I wonder if there will be an English version of the tour within the hour, ha ha.
Germans are amazingly resourceful. People have broken out blankets to sit on, there seems to be full water bottles everywhere, and there is even a soccer ball being kicked about. Looking in my car I’ve got a few sticks of gum and a tire pressure gauge to entertain myself with (Rachel’s dad would be proud). But at least I’ve got my laptop here to pass the time. Sadly I think this stau will outlast the battery.
Ya, so you’d think we’d all be trying to make u-turns on the interstate and get out of here, or we’d all be caravanning to the next exit, but that’s just not an option here in Germany.
You see, one of the reasons you can go so fast on the Autobahn is because you don’t have to worry about merging traffic very often, as there are only on-ramps every 10 miles or so. This keeps truckers happily cruising along in the right most lane, and opens up the left lane for those of us going, well, faster.
The downside to not having on-ramps every few feet though, is that there aren’t *off-ramps* either. But truth be told, there is no where to take them too.
In Germany they have a very well developed interstate system, but very few arteries feeding it. Leaving the Autobahn, you often transition from a 100 mph super highway to little more than a country road in a few hundred feet. Stateside there are a thousand different intervals between I-95 and a residential road, not so here. Or, at least, not so outside the few large cities Germany has. Looking on a Google map of the area you’d think you were just looking a map of the major roads. Not so, those are *all* the roads. They are smooth, fast moving and effective when they are accident free. But a single accident and you and the rest of the city could find yourself like me, stuck in a 20 mile log jam being forced to listen to Journey courtesy of the truck next to you.
So, basically, there is no where to go if even I managed to get off the interstate. You could *try* navigating village to village, but that is like driving through a school zone, with just as many obstacles, for 50 miles. I’ll take my chances here in traffic. Though to be precise, I can’t call it traffic as we’re not actually going anywhere, and the cars aren’t even turned out. This is, quite simply, a parking lot.
Clearly, the Autobahn does have its pros and cons. Doing 120 mph past rolling fields as far as the eye can see is a pro, what I’m experiencing now is clearly the con. Design, and infrastructure aside, the real limiting factor and difference between the US and German interstate system is just the population of cars. I would estimate that most roads Stateside deal with 5X as many cars in any given day. I would suggest that if you removed 60% of cars from the US interstate system it would be much easier to fly through that as well.
After all, the US interstate system was literally based on the Germany Autobahn. Dwight Eisenhower brought the idea back with him after the war. And who do the Germans have to thank for their Autobahn? ….Adolf Hitler.
Yes, genocidal dictator he was, he did do a lot for setting up the German infrastructure, and one of those advances was to create a Intra-German transit system for trucking. Here is actually a picture of Adolf Hitler breaking ground on the world’s first interstate in 1933. Crazy, eh? So, next time you are stuck in traffic on I-95 on a Friday, you guessed it …blame Hilter.
After Germany and the US, most other countries developed their own versions of an interstate system as well. The funny thing is that no one has really developed an intra-country system. Driving from Holland into Germany we actually had to go through a series of small towns to connect from one country’s interstate system to another. Same thing going into Paris.
Well, 3 hours have come and gone now, and here I sit. I’ve seen some towing and emergency vehicles squeak past (no shoulders here), but I have little more info to go on. Well, there is a ton of info on the radio, I just have no idea what it is staying. I hear the words Heidelberg and Stau, and I know they are talking about me, but not much more than that. Ugh, I hope they just didn’t say I should seek lodging. Yikes, what’s the German word for Hotel again?
Well, its a good thing that we are all stopped with our cars turned off, else you’d actually have several dozen more cars blocking up the roads as they all begin to run out of gas one by one. I was stuck in some snow traffic in DC one winter that was just as apocalyptic. That took 6 hours to get through. Seriously, once people start abandoning their vehicles you know you’ve really turned a corner in severity. Gas tanks go dry, restrooms breaks become mandatory, babies need changing, and for some, medications become an issue. For me, my only concern now is that I have the only house key and Rachel will be getting back from work in a few hours.
Based on this kind of stoppage, I’m left to assume that it was another instance of a TMP: Truck meets Porsche. Only that kind of wreckage can shut down an interstate.
Yes, that’s the other side of Autobahn accidents. While they are exponentially fewer than in the States, the rate of fatalities, however, is much higher. High speed sports cars and trucks don’t mix well, and today’s accident is probably another example of this. Driving on the autobahn can be exciting, and can be quite dangerous. Having large stretches of road with no speed limits takes a while getting used to. And there are some rules you must be aware of.
For one, you *never* pass on the right, and two, you rarely leave the center lane. If you do decide to go into the far left lane to pass someone you better be doing two things: 1) At least 85 mph and 2) keeping one eye fixated on your rear view mirror.
Cars will come up on you doing 120+ mph, and you better have an exit strategy should you see someone in the distance flashing their lights at you. They’ll be on your bumper in less than 3 seconds if you don’t get back to the center lane.
In general though, unlike the States, the left lane is not for you. The lane assignments of European roads are basically:
• Right hand lane for trucks (40-60mph),
• Center lanes for avg cars (60-85mph) and
• Left hand lane for the exotics and recently arrived Americans (85mph+).
Typically, everything works well accept in two situations:
1) There is an on-ramp and cars are merging in, or
2) A truck from the far right lane tries to pass a truck by way of the center lane.
This second instance, otherwise known as an ‘Elephant Race’ is the most common issue. This create a domino effect wherein cars from the center lane then need to move to the left lane to pass the truck, who is slowly lumbering past the ‘lorry’ in the right hand lane. This leaves the exotics in the left lane nowhere to go but hard on the breaks or, even worse, trying to pass people on the right somehow to squeeze through.
This is how accidents happen. This is how bad accidents happen, and how roads like the one I’m on get shut down for 3 hours. Cars going 120mph actually have over 4 times the impact of vehicles doing 60 mph. Though you think it would only be double (only double the speed right?), however, coefficients of force, and Newton gets involved, and well… it never works out for the car. Don’t even ask about motorcyclists. Those clean ups are most often just done simply with giant hoses and sand trucks.
Yikes, the GPS just said that the accident is now undergoing “rescue and recovery efforts.” Wow, that is no good at all. So, barring an air lift out of here, here I am for the time being. Actually I think I’m going to set down the laptop and take a walk around and test our my German some. There are a few hundred people meandering the roadway outside here and there.
We all left our respective destinations 3 hours ago planning to be anywhere but here. I wonder if any of us every imagined in a million years we’d all meet like this?
“Hallo, Sprechen sie Englisch?…”
Well, I’m home. 4 hours 22 minutes and only 41 miles later. What a marathon
So yes, turns out it was a rough accident. Double fatality. I got a photo of the remains of one car as we all squeaked past on the pseudo-shoulder. Very sobering to see just how much devastation there was. Clearly it got cut in half by a truck. All that is left is the front axel.
All my complaining about how long it took to get home, and the reality is that there are two people now who never will.
Such is life on the world’s fastest interstate.