Don’t think that I’m going to start on a physics lesson. The themes of time, distance and speed are things you begin to think about when you are passed on the Autobahn like you are standing still.
140 Km/hr is very slow for some.
While not all the roads are unrestricted in speed, there are plenty of places on the highway and smaller roads which have either no speed limit, or a very high limit (100km/hr on a winding single track road in the mountains). It is not often that I drive our car as Anke uses it mostly to get to and from work, leaving me to negotiate trains and Straßenbahn. However, when I do get behind the wheel, our old car does well at around 120-130 km/hr and I settle into a groove being able to pass the large LKW (Trucks) and the occasional car towing a trailer, or camper.
The other night, as I made my way home after an evening meeting, I merged onto the autobahn and an Audi driving behind me was quick to get into the left lane in order to pass me as I sped along at 120 km/hr. The roar of a diesel engine beside me was followed by two things. First, a streak of black and chrome as the Audi driver passed me like I was standing still. The second thing to happen was the flash of headlights from far behind me, as another car approached and signalled to the Audi that he was going far too slow and should move over into the slower right-hand lane.
Less than two seconds lapsed and some polished car of some make (it was a station wagon!) zoomed by me and eventually the first car, the Audi, now far ahead of me in the right lane. My own old Volkswagen heaved to the side as the very fast car sucked us into its wake and the red rear lights of the speeding bullet of a car blurred like a vapour trail left by a jet on a cloudless sky.
All of this is a fairly normal occurrence, but one that makes me wonder how my own driving skills have changed, and what I will be like when we return to Canada for a holiday. Perhaps I should budget in some extra money to pay for speeding tickets.
Speed is of course distance over time. Two other aspects of life in Germany is the distortion of distance and time. In Canada we celebrate 100 year anniversaries, and designate buildings even 75 years old as ‘heritage sites’. Albeit, Canada is perceived as a young nation, so my sense of time fails to compare with the much longer notion of time in Germany and that of Europe in general. My wife use to tease and say that the house she grew up in is older than my country. Walking around any part of Germany I find buildings, houses, chapels, barns, fountains, and even cafés and breweries that were built in the 15th or 16th century. These are the ‘young’ places, as there are plenty of other sites that are far older.
Time is also generational, having family members living and dying in the same house, the same family working the same land, the same last names selling the same product….for generations. Large stone crosses that dot the landscape are maintained and preserved by family members of the landowners that many years ago decided to mark the edge of their field, or property. With this long sense of time, it is no wonder that the re-ordering of the village centre takes so long, even if it looks like a better plan and layout.
With the lengthening of time, comes the lengthening of distance. While a hundred years in Canada is considered heritage, a hundred kilometres is considered the other side of the planet. When we signed up for car insurance for having a car in Germany, the agent on the phone understood that we had just moved and so having no driving record in Germany wanted to get an understanding of our driving habits. Our answer to the question, “How many kilometres were on your previous car?” was met with shock thinking that our car must surely be 50 years old and had two new engines. The trembling voice of the insurance agent shook all the more when we said our car was only 5 years old. We had to explain living in Canada requires an awful lot of driving as the distances are much longer. Considering that the land area of Germany would fit about two times into the province of British Columbia we realize that the sense of distance is also very different. A lot of people say that France, or Switzerland are just too far away! Being that it took more time to travel to my parents house in Vancouver than it did to nip across to France for a baguette, or a meeting in Switzerland it takes time to assure people that perspectives are different.
I shake my head in astonishment at 100 years, while others shake their heads at 100 kilometres, but fortunately we are able to merge onto the same highway.