Berlin by Car
Created | Updated Aug 2, 2011
For most tourists, Berlin is an exciting city. So much to see, so much to do, so many places to go where you can see other tourists and, sometimes, even Berlin natives. However, there are more things to do than the average tourist guide may tell you. Probably the most adventurous activity for tourists is to take part in the everyday traffic of the city. To get from one place to another, you can either walk (which you should try to avoid if you do not regularly run the marathon distance) or use public transportation (which is nice, politically correct and expensive, due to an inconceivably complicated system of fare fees, that mean you will most likely end up not having the right ticket when Kontrolleure1 come along and ask you to produce yours). You can also go by car and that will be an experience you will never truly forget - presuming you actually do recover from it.
Get yourself a car. If you have your own car with you, find somewhere safe to park it and get yourself another one. There are, of course, all the usual places to rent a car from, like Sixt and Europcar, but their cars are far too obvious and your cover will automatically be blown. Besides, who would want to see the Berlin traffic through the windows of a BMW or Mercedes? It would seem advisable to suggest that you get your car from Robben & Wientjes, who specialise in renting vans and small trucks. That way, you will blend in nicely and will be able to park anywhere because people will think that you are moving into a different apartment and are presently stuffing all your furniture into the truck. If people still don't want you to park your car there, honk your horn violently at them.
When in Berlin, do like the Romans. Whatever reputation Rome's traffic has in your culture, in Germany people tend to think that it is about as chaotic as traffic can be. For Berlin, it is much the same. So when you are about to start your trip through town, keep in mind that all the other drivers are bad drivers and that your only chance of survival is to outrace them. A word to the British; don't forget that in Germany you have to drive on the right-hand side of the road. Anytime you want to make a right-hand turn, pray for any bicyclists that might have the misfortune of being in your blind spot. Remember, however, that according to German law, they have the right of way. Bicyclists are habitually angry at car drivers because car drivers habitually forget about the bicyclists in their blind spots. Don't let that confuse you, because car drivers are also habitually angry at bicyclists for not giving a wet handshake for red traffic lights and for being angry at car drivers. From this it follows that you have two possible lines of action when you see somebody with a bicycle. You can either insult the cyclist right away or you can wait for him or, more often, her to insult you first and then insult them. Honk your horn violently, no matter what line of action you choose.
The speed limit in German cities is 50 kilometres per hour (about 30mph). However, it is most uncommon to meet anybody who even claims to obey that rule. To calculate the speed you feel comfortable at, you should take the following factors into account: How much time do I have to get from A to B? How late am I already? How late can I afford to be? How fast is everybody else going? Can I accept the fact that in the lane next to mine a Fiat Punto just passed me by? And how much am I prepared to pay if I get caught speeding? When you've found an answer you can live with, go about 10kmph faster and you will do nicely. The only time you should not drive faster than allowed, but in fact slower, is when road constructions have reduced a three lane express way to a one lane express way. There is your chance to show everybody what you think of our modern day dogma of speed. Do it nice and slow. Driving a car is a political statement. Fight the Schumachers and Hakkinens in their polished high-speed cars! Regain the street for the children! Honk your horn violently at anybody who drives up too close to your rear bumper. If that doesn't help, use proper timing and slam on your brakes when the car behind you comes too close. It's the one who drives into you who is found guilty. If you happen to be the one who wants to go fast but can't because some ecologically correct green party goer in front of you decides to make driving a political statement by driving slow, try flashing your lights in addition to honking your horn.
In order to appear like a native Berliner, you must never forget to turn up your radio. There are good stations to listen to like 89.9 Rock FM if you are into real rock music, or Berliner Rundfunk 91.4 if you prefer smoother music. There are culture-related stations and charts-only stations as well. But to really sound like a native, you should hook up a CD player and programme it to play the first few seconds of 'The Bad Touch' by the Bloodhound Gang over and over again. It should sound like:
Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom Ts Boom T Boom Ts Boom Ts...
This is the real sound of cars in Berlin. While getting your brains smashed out by the endless, loud repetition of the bass drum you might also want to try to make a phone call with your mobile phone. It isn't really important if the phone is turned on as long as you can make the other drivers believe that you are making a phone call. Glance occasionally around if people are watching you. If they don't, you might as well stop for what good is a mobile phone in a car when nobody sees you use it? It is illegal in Germany to use your mobile phone while driving a car. Somebody might therefore actually try to make you aware of the fact that you are a criminal when you make a call in the car. To show them you understood their message, honk your horn violently at them.
After having spent a day driving around Berlin, insulting people, damaging your ears, stopping at an intersection although you had the right of way, racing across an intersection although you did not have the right of way, getting mad at people who nearly crashed into you, avoiding crashing into other cars only by inches, flashing your lights and honking your horn at everybody for all kinds of reasons, you will face the final adventure; where do I find a place to park the car? In short, you don't. Just forget it. It is said that one third of the day's traffic is spent trying to find a parking lot. If you have to find somewhere to park your car, decide roughly on an area where to park it. Use a map of the city. Make a plan. It may sound like an old lady knitting up something: two left, two right, back again. Go around in circles. If you see something that might go for a parking lot until one comes along, go for it. If somebody else has the same idea, be faster. If you find nothing, park your car on the sidewalk. If people object... you know what to do.