Have you ever had one of those instances where you find yourself wishing you were German, if only for a minute… I seem to find myself having more of these than I care to admit of late. Now, I never have a feeling wishing I might happen to be a Frenchman, but this fleeting yearning to be Teutonic is certainly disconcerting. No, this is not to have a car in which I fit, but rather an attitude towards life and in particular the German outlook on transport.
When you drive in Germany, it’s as if one has gone to petrolhead heaven; I kid you not. The roads are perfectly smooth, traffic laws are sensible, and the Autobahns, when not clogged by Eastern European HGVs, are like something out of a teenager’s wet dream. No speed restrictions, cars built to go fast, courteous drivers, and scenery out of a fairy tale (unless you’re in the Ruhr, then you tend to think the Dambusters were onto something in trying to wipe that region off the map). What also sets the Bundesrepublik Deutschland apart from the rest of the planet is their balanced approach to transportation… Best roads in the world, check; extensive public transport system, check; high-speed trains complete with draught beer, check; airports with more than two runways, they’re working on it. What this does is give one a choice in transport to nearly any spot in the country, which allows drivers to be able to leave the car at home from time to time. That is a luxury not many nations can claim, and none of the others have the mythical Autobahn in the mix.
Does all this mean I want to actually be German? Of course not, I’m not that daft. However, I would like us to learn a thing or two from our European cousins. You see, these sauerkraut eating, beer drinking, fans of the letter z happen to take a balanced approach to the issue of transport. Is there an Autobahn entrance within a few minutes of most German’s homes? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got you covered when you’ve had a few litres of their delicious beer to go with the potatoes and pork. The Germans have public transport system just as good as their roads, which something us in the English speaking world have never been able to do. We have cities with good public transport or lots of roads, but both would be out of the question. In (seemingly) eco-obsessed Deutschland a respect for personal freedom allows for the people to have a choice: drive or not. We don’t have that, yet claim to be the harbingers of individual freedom?
Now, it should be mentioned that Jerry has to take driving rather seriously. Obviously, there are regulations, but the result is awfully impressive. Rather than seeking out revenue from motorist ‘speeding’ yet travelling a rate of speed far below the capabilities of the drive, car, and tarmac, the German police enforce laws meant to keep one safe at speed. Lane discipline, signaling when turning, keeping a proper distance, and having one’s car properly equipped for conditions (What they require winter tyres in the winter?) means the system works. Does this cost more for motorist? Well, a bit, yet those priced off the roads have a highly reliable alternative. See, the Germans are not only better at being elitist (look at their excellent yet segregated publicly funded education system), but they’re more free. Also, they have guys selling grilled sausages on the streets wearing a costume with an integrated barbecue. Why the hell don’t we have that? The Germans may do some rather daft things (burning dirty brown coal instead of clean nuclear power, cough), but for some fleeting moment in your life you know it’s true: there was an instance of wishing you were German. It’s okay, we’re all been there.