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Climbing Road Trip? – 5 Things You Need to Know about Driving in Germany

Climbing Road Trip? – 5 Things You Need to Know about Driving in Germany

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Whether you’re visiting Germany or live here, driving can different than at home. Germans are on the whole, far better drivers than those in other countries. Indeed, they require extensive (and expensive) training to get a driver’s license, and only at age 18. Despite the reputation for unlimited speeds that Germany has, its drivers use far more caution and have more rules to follow. So if you’re heading out to hit a new crag or hit the Alps in Allgau, don’t forget these quick tips for foreigners driving in Germany.

#1 – Using public transport for climbing trips

While Germany, and Europe in general is well-known for its excellent public transportation network, climbers will find that it just doesn’t cut it for getting to many crags. Generally speaking, you’ll need wheels to get to at least half of the crags in any given guidebook. Those that are reachable, tend to be technically possible with public transport but awfully inconvenient to the point of barely being worth it.

Solution: Car sharing like Car2Go, StattMobile etc.

#2 The Truth about Speed Limits

Contrary to popular misconceptions, there ARE speed limits. In contrast to the US, many of Germany’s speed limit signs are digital and controlled remotely. This means that speed limits changed based on conditions (weather, heavy or light traffic, construction, traffic jams further down the road). The standard speed is 120 km/h, and occasionally 130 km/h. But be warned: If you drive over the recommended speed you can and often will be held accountable for a crash, even if it was not your fault.

Similar to the US when the highway goes near bigger towns, the speed limit will drop and then go back up later. On less traveled stretches, early in the morning or late at night or during light traffic, the speed limit disappears and you can fly. The fastest I’ve gone so far is about 200 km/h (124 mph) however that was just testing the new car. On average, I’ll usually do 90 – 100 mph because that’s usually just going with the flow and not intentionally speeding.

The sign below is the “now there is no speed limit” sign in Germany.

no speed limit sign autobahn sign

#3 Cameras or You Can’t Argue with Robocop

You’ll almost never see a policeman on the highway. If you do, they’re driving by in a car. They don’t hide and use radar guns to get speeders. Occasionally they’ll setup mobile cameras to keep people on their toes, but even that isn’t too frequent in my experience.

While it may be nice to not worry about hidden cop cars, speed cameras are the primary means of enforcement and you can’t argue with them. All you’ll see is a bright flash and then it’s just waiting for an automated letter to be sent to you with the fine to pay. While it’s more pleasant than dealing with police, there’s no common sense either so you can’t ever argue your way out of it, for example in the case of an honest mistake.

How to cope: Use Waze! They have all the fixed cameras on them and warn you 500 meters in advance. Don’t drive anywhere new without it!

#4 Do’s and Don’ts of Passing

  1. Do pass on the left ONLY.
  2. NEVER EVER pass on the right. It’s illegal and extremely rare. Driver’s aren’t watching for it.
  3. You can’t drive faster than the cars to your left! If you are in the middle lane (and staying in it), you cannot drive faster than the cars in the left lane – it’s illegal. You must switch lanes to the left.

#5 The Left Lane is for Flying

The far left lane is ONLY for passing. Unlike the US, it’s not for those who’re going a few mph faster and just hang in the left lane forever. You switch lanes, pass as many cars as necessary, and move back right. You do NOT just stay in it to drive unless you’re going so fast that you’re passing everyone. Get in and back out as soon as you can. That’s the law

Belay differences in Germany – The Banshee Belay

Belay differences in Germany – The Banshee Belay

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Belaying has a few universal principles that transcend culture. However, as fellow expats and travelers know, there are still some belay differences in Germany compared to the US.  In short, “semi automatic” tube devices are preferred, the munter hitch is often used outdoors and the banshee belay is frequently used on multipitch.

Belay Differences between Germany and the US: Death to Tubers! Long Live the Smart!

You may notice that German gyms have a conspicuous lack of tube style ATCs (aka “tubers” in German). This is not to say they don’t exist, but at least half of all belay devices will be assisted braking devices like the Edelrid Megajul or Mammut Smart or Austrialpin Fish. A German Alpine Club (DAV) study which is widely read and cited here in Germany strongly warns against using standard tube devices. This is also why you cannot rent them at a gym normally.

HMS forever! Or The Halbmastwurf

English speaking climbers all know the term HMS, usually from HMS carabiner. What they don’t know is that it stands for Halbmastwurf in German, or munter hitch it’s known to us. The reason the carabiner is called such is because it was the style used (and most suited) for belaying with a munter or HMS. While many Americans cringe at the idea of belaying without a device, it’s something you still often see outdoors in Germany. Moreover, it is still taught and encouraged as well, and not just as a backup. Be prepared to see it used, especially outdoors for both leader and follower.

The Banshee Belay / Reihenschaltung

Reihenschaltung sicherung, which means approximately series connection/switching belay, is the German name for banshee belay. This is something that many American climbers may never have seen before. It seemingly violates the basic teachings drilled into us when starting out. Nevertheless, it’s safe, fast and very practical when used in the right context. As soon as you head outdoors in Germany, do not be alarmed =) Expect to see the locals using it liberally. So what is it? From multipitchclimbing.com:

Connecting high quality bolts in series is fast. This can be done with the rope or with a sling. Many will see this as a controversial approach as it doesn’t try to equalise, or minimise extension under partial failure. It is however common in much of Europe were new big fat bolts have been placed by trained individuals into solid rock.

Reihenschaultung sicherung is meant for use on high quality bolts only and looks like this:

Reihenschaltung Sicherung / Banshee Belay
Reihenschaltung Sicherung / Banshee Belay of leader

With solid modern bolts, building a redundant anchor with force distribution is overkill. It may take a little getting used to, but the many crags with beautiful titanium glue-ins will soon win you over. You can find some German language resources on it here and here.

Summary: American and German Belay Differences

Germans and Americans both prefer different styles of belay devices, however, the Grigri is widely loved and used in both places. With less trad climbing and far better maintained crags nationally, Germany also has the luxury of using the Banschee belay (Reihenschaltung) on bolts in good condition. This is just not possible in many places in the US, UK or Australia due to geography, culture and climbing style. Americans should refresh their knowledge of the munter hitch before coming over and not be shocked when they see people using it as a primary method outside, not a backup after having dropped your belay device on multipitch!

Schloss Lichtenstein and Triafelberg Crag

Schloss Lichtenstein and Triafelberg Crag

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This past Thursday was a holiday, one of the many Christian holidays that are also federal holidays in Germany (and would be illegal in the US). While I didn’t get to climb, I took the kids to the Swabian Alb to vistit Schloss Lichtenstein and Nebelhoehle, a castle and cave respectively. Lichtenstein is also located just across from Traifelberg, a long series of crags overlooking the village of Lichtenstein with plenty of moderate to hard routes.

Schloss Lichtenstein (castle)

Schloss Lichtenstein is not famous outside of Germany, in fact not realy outside of Baden-Wuerttemberg, but here it’s known as the “Fairy Tale Castle.” My  daughter changed that into “Fairy Castle”.| Luckily, she didn’t notice when we didn’t actually find fairies there. Despite being a castle and looking the part, it’s not actually that old, build in the gothic revival style in the mid 1800s. It is still privately owned, but open to tourists near daily. While possibly disappointing to some, for families the fact that it is actually rather small is fantastic. You can view the castle grounds for 1 EUR per child and 2 EUR for adults. The tour is a few euros more but only 30 minutes.

Compared to the Disney like lines and hordes of Neuschwanstein, Lichtenstein is fairly quiet. Located southest of Reutlingen, it’s also right across from Traifelberg, a crag full of moderate to hard climbs. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough patience left after the castle visit to convince the rugrats to hike up and check it out. We settled for pictures from across the valley.

Nebelhoehle (Fog Cave)

Just 5 km from Lichtenstein in the Swabian Jura (Schwaebische Alb) is a famous cave, featured in many local fairy tales including those associated with the castle Lichstenstein. Important to know, they take cash only and the nearest bank is nearby in a tiny village. So bring cash (I learned the hard way). In addition to the cave, they have a pleasant little restaurant, great playground and some nice hiking in the area. If you’re in the area, it’s worth spending an afternoon in the area and finishing off at the cave followed up by watching the kids play while drinking a beer or radler. Good times were had by all.

 

Schloss Lichtenstein + Traifelberg Pictures