Author Topic: Driving in Deutschland  (Read 2101 times)

Offline fasteddy

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Driving in Deutschland
« on: January 15, 2008, 09:01:47 AM »
By Paul French - CAA
The taxis are Mercedes-Benzes. The police drive BMWs and Porsches. Volkswagens and Audis line the streets.
Germany's love affair with its homegrown car culture is flaunted everywhere you go. And no wonder: the automobile is a German invention. So it's no surprise that there's no better place to get to know the history, legends and thrill of driving than in the birthplace of the car. And with dazzling museums opening around the country that celebrate all things automotive, there's never been a better time to visit.

The Alps glisten on Munich's doorstep, reminding visitors that other cultures and influences are nearby. Italy is only a couple of hours away from the Bavarian capital, which explains how this gracious city came under that country's spell and today is lined with Italianate architecture. The blue and white colours of the Bavarian flag may represent the region's clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds, but another blue and white symbol is more famous today: BMW's stylized propeller. The company got its start in Munich in 1913 making motors for airplanes. Its headquarters, built in the shape of a four-cylinder engine, is a city landmark. The futuristic BMW World tells the story of Bavarian Motor Works. It's made of glass spirals set below a sweeping roof, with an expanded museum next door.

Regensburg is a perfectly preserved medieval city on the Danube River. It boasts a 330-metre-long stone bridge, a Gothic cathedral resplendent in stained glass, a gate from the days of the Roman Empire and the oldest sausage tavern in the world. The Wurstkuchl first served bratwurst and sauerkraut to stonemasons who built the bridge in the 12th century. You can also zoom ahead nine centuries and visit BMW's Regensburg factory, where a ballet corps of robots gives shape to the popular 3-series. The tour takes you onto the floor where men and machines assemble 1,000 cars a day.

On the Autobahn
While it's true the toll-free network of German highways does include zones without a speed limit, much of the system is posted at 130 km/hour. Drivers are generally mindful of this and obey the rules of the road: never honk or flash your lights to get others to move out of the fast lane and never pass on the right. Either could result in steep fines. So it's best to stay in the right lane until the moment overcomes you -- a clear stretch of highway appears, a slow car ahead, you signal left and become Michael Schumacher for one magical moment.

To visit Stuttgart is to make a pilgrimage to the origin of the automobile, where in 1886 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach fashioned their internal combustion engine onto a horse carriage. The greenhouse where the inventors secretly toiled is now a museum. At the same time, Karl Benz created a three-wheeled automobile in nearby Mannheim. These pioneers were unaware of each other's work, though their companies would later merge, taking the name Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes was actually the daughter of an early car dealer who placed a large order for vehicles, with the provision that they be named after his beloved child. In 2006, the Mercedes-Benz Museum opened. It's a showcase for the compelling history of automobiles and society, housed in an architecturally innovative building that echoes the double helix of DNA. With its sense of humour intact, the museum also gives credit to quirky items, among them a Canadian invention -- the Magic Tree air freshener.

N?rburgring is home to the infamous 20.8-kilometre-long Nordschleife racetrack, known as the Green Hell. It was built in the 1920s and it surrounds the medieval N?rburg castle in Rhineland. For a small cost, drivers in any roadworthy vehicle can test their skills on the harrowing course with 73 bends and 300 metres of altitude change. Rental-car drivers not wanting to risk their vehicles can opt to be driven by a pro -- for a considerably larger fee -- and experience the thrill of racing in someone else's car. It's an unforgettable sensation to be skidding through tight corners and accelerating over blind crests. Fortunately, the track's museum has a realistic simulator where racing-driver-wannabes can relive the thrill.

The Autostadt
Volkswagen opened this theme park in Wolfsburg in 2000, and there's nothing else like it. Among the attractions are brand pavilions, exhibits on car design and engineering, kids' driving programs, an obstacle course where you can drive a Touareg SUV, and bus tours through a VW factory the size of Gibraltar. Germans come here to pick up their new vehicles and make a family weekend out of it (some staying at the Ritz-Carlton hotel located on the property).


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