Germany, oddly enough, traveling

The Need For Speed.

speed.gifThe German Embassy to the United States publishes a newsletter called TWIG (as in “This Week in Germany”), mainly aimed at the American public, that more often than not features little known gems, news that’s news only in the eyes of true connaisseurs – like you my gentle reades.

Last Friday, TWIG published a story about Germany becoming an important destination for nascent Chinese mass tourism – as Germany is the first Chinese-government-tourism-approved European country. A fact in itself somewhat contradicting the Financial Times’ Berlin correspondent who, according to another government sponsored article, can see Germany becoming

“‘the new France,’ a country where joie de vivre has not yet been unraveled by atrocious prices and the danger of airline strikes.

Claims like this always make me cite Elle Woods, the only person who can counter such statements on the appropriate level – “Whoever said that Orange is the new Pink was seriously disturbed”.

Now, Chinese masses tucking into Sauerkraut may not in itself be a sufficiently interesting subject for a mainly American audience. So no wonder, the article’s hook is something as famous in the US as it apparently is in China: the Geman Autobahn. I once had a vivid discussion with an American friend about the mythology of German motorways, while driving on an American one that is just as famous over here: Highway 66.

In the end, I wasn’t able to convince my friend that German highways are – for the most part – speed regulated. That most German cars aren’t Porsches, and that, while Michael Schuhmacher may be distorting the average, most Germans haven’t driven a car at 200+ km/h.

But then again, so much has been demystified about Germany that it might not be a bad thing to keep some legends alive… (whole story in the extended section).

Tourists flock to German autobahns

Thousands of Chinese tourists are flocking to Germany to satisfy their need for speed on the famed autobahn, the Times of London has reported.

Wealthy Chinese driving enthusiasts are paying nearly $4,000 to spend a week navigating German freeways, where speed limits are often merely recommended, as fast as a high-performance BMW, Mercedes or Audi can carry them.

“At weekends back home we go for drives,” one tourist told the Times. “But we all wanted to be able to say we had driven at high speeds on the German motorway system. They are very famous, mythical even.”

The driving vacations, offered by leading tour operator TUI and others, are part of a concerted effort to attract Chinese tour groups to Germany, which in 2003 became the first European country put on the Chinese government’s list of approved tourist destinations.

Since then, Chinese travellers have headed west to Germany in record numbers and now represent the third largest tourist nationality from abroad, with more than 120,000 visitors expected this year.

Many of those visitors are coming with full pockets and plans to hit the stores. The Chinese are estimated to spend more per capita while in Germany than travelers from any other country except for Russia.

Still, not everyone is pleased with the prospect of a Chinese invasion on Germany’s autobahns.

Safety advocates say that Chinese drivers are often ignorant of Germany’s rules of the road. They note that Chinese drivers have been spotted running red lights, tailgating and even committing the cardinal sin of traffic violations in Germany – passing on the right.

Tour operators admit that the finer points of driving etiquette are sometimes lost in translation, but deny that Chinese tourists constitute a traffic menace.

“Sometimes there are teething problems, like the Chinese not understanding that they are not permitted to stop at a roundabout or pulling off onto the shoulder to make tea and let the children run around,” a spokesperson for TUI told the Times. “But nothing serious.”