To most non-Europeans, the word “Autobahn” conjures up images of long stretches of European roadway with no speed limits, a place where sports cars and supercars can legally tear past ordinary vehicles at any desired speed. However, to the average German, the image is less exotic.
The Autobahn, or Bundesautobahn as it’s known in Germany, is basically a federal highway system and most German drivers consider it just another network of roads similar to the interstate or highway system in your own country. There is so much misconception about what it truly is, so let’s get to know it better:
Why It Was Made
The first German road specifically developed for automobiles opened in August 6, 1932, and was a 21 mile (34 km) stretch that connected the cities of Bonn and Cologne. It had no cross streets and was strictly intended for use by cars, trucks and motorcycles, with slower vehicles like horse-drawn carts being prohibited.
When the Nazi Party took over Germany’s political system in the late 1930s, Adolph Hitler’s military campaigns needed a highly developed road system to move war materials. He accelerated an aggressive, pre-existing road building program across the country that resulted in the world’s first high-speed network of roads, the Autobahn!
The Autobahn Today
Contrary to popular beliefs, only some sections of the Autobahn have no speed limits. Similar to most highways around the world, the Autobahn does have a posted minimum speed of 37 mph (60 km/h), effectively prohibiting the use of mopeds, bicycles, underpowered cars and any other slow form of transportation like horse-drawn vehicles.
Road networks inspired by Germany’s autobahns have been established in neighboring Austria and Switzerland, as well as Portugal and Spain. And like Germany’s, their primary purpose is to serve as an efficient transportation network to spur commercial development and allow military transport in times of national emergency.
Unsparingly, the autobahn is regulated and laws are enforced by a specialty branch of Germany’s federal police, the Autobahnpolizei! The German autobahn police rely heavily on advanced technology, including video surveillance, radar and — of course — fast cars and, from what we hear from the motorheads at Arrigo Fiat of West Palm Beach, are not to be messed with.
As with all things seemingly too good to be real, there are discussions over imposing an 80 mph (129 km/h) speed limit on the Autobahn, and interestingly it has less to do with road safety than it does with concerns over vehicle emissions. However, in 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said she would not support any moves to limit speeds on the nation’s highway system.
Possibly as a sign of changes ahead, while Merkel’s opposition illustrates Germany’s love affair with cars and refusal to relinquish its right to speed, the autobahns in Austria and Switzerland have implemented speed limits in sections previously without restrictions. But if Germans continue to fight the good fight, Germany might in time become the last developed country without speed restrictions on its national highway system, and that would be something of great pride.
Is there a place in world for city roads with no city limits?