Ich bin Frankfurter

From Porsche Stand1

Not many shows do this, but this is Germany, so don’t panic: you go along to a stand, see a car you like, so you take it out for a drive.

It’s an idea that should strike terror into the hearts of Porsche PRs worldwide, yet this autumn’s Frankfurt show will allow visitors – yes, you Mr Punter – to sample certain models out there on the streets of downtown Frankfurt.

One can’t imagine such opportunities in the likes of Beijing or Mexico City, but such is the regulated nature of life beside the river Main that this initiative should help Germany’s car market to yet more success.

Before you turn the key though, it might be an idea to swot up on some of the niceties and nuances of Frankfurt life, just to ensure your visit to the city reveals you’re an honorary Frankfurter. And not a half-baked wiener.

Reichsautobahn mit zwei KdF-Wagen1. First, the rules of the road, which must be obeyed at all times.

Red lights mean stop, right? True, but so do flashing yellow ones (a piece of legislation that makes our laws appear not so crazy after all).

Then there’s the issue of right of way. You’re driving on the main road, on the right (as if you didn’t know), and someone rolls up at a junction to your right. They have to stop, right? You have 50 yards to answer this.

As a clue, was there a yellow diamond sign? Can you see one (you now have 25 yards and closing)? Nope? You have to stop and give way.

This charmingly Gallic law of priority mostly applies to rural roads, but never assume you’re uber alles.

2. Lighting is also a big issue.

Chances are, whatever you test will be equipped with day-running lights, a la Citroën DS Christmas Tree, or Blackpool illuminations Jaguar XF.

Rather anomalously though, sidelights are a no-no whenever there’s drizzle, rain, snow or fading light. In these conditions, full lights on dipped are compulsory.

Should an officer pull you over, it’s also worth remembering that all those free samples of lager and wine were well worth avoiding: the German drink-drive limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.

And if you’ve been driving for less than two years or are under 21, the limit is zero.

Be a Frankfurter, not a wiener
Be a Frankfurter, not a wiener

3. So what about the open road?

The great myth about Germany’s autobahns is that they’re a playground for maxing out your metal.

Only 50 per cent are unrestricted, but 130km/h is still the recommended limit (i.e. 80.77mph).

Elsewhere, the limits vary from 49.7mph up. And unlike our system, these are more vigorously enforced, forcing offending drivers to pay up on the spot. What’s that, you haven’t enough cash?

The police will happily take valuables to the same amount (presumably leaving you with sufficient underwear to make the dash to the nearest gentleman’s outfitters not too embarrassing).

Also remember speed limits often kick in after 10pm until 6am.

4. All this risk beyond city limits should be enough to confine you to urban areas, but that too can bear risks.

Be aware, for example that it’s not a good idea to stop on the kerbside (or drive slowly along it) in the environs of such roads as Kaiserstraße, Taunusstraße, Mosel, Konstablerwache or Elbe…

If your satellite navigation has led you this way, you’re in the red light district (and we’re not talking dashboard warning systems).

So lowering the window and asking a passing lady if she can help you out could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings, some of which have led a few hapless tourists to take to the web with complaints of their attempts to appreciate the lovely architecture being marred by the insistence of pimps to kick them all the way back to Calais.

Kaiserstraße, in more salubrious days
Kaiserstraße, in more salubrious days

5. Our only other advice for those wishing to blend in is to take on board some of the local customs.

These include always greeting everyone when you get into a lift, shaking hands with friends and associates (all that soppy French mwah-mwah malarkey won’t cut it), knocking instead of clapping (the latter being only for theatres and concerts) and looking your drinking partner in the eye when clinking glasses.

Failure to do this triggers seven years of “bad sex”.


Simon Hacker



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