Friday, June 24, 2016

Autobahn Anxiety

After the book restitution ceremony in Rostock, we planned to rent a car and drive 5-6 hours southward to the area where Audrey’s mother’s family had lived for more than 125 years. The town was known as Konigshofen in Audrey’s mother‘s time, and is now known as Bad Konigshofen to highlight the thermal baths located nearby.

Audrey didn’t sleep much the night before we were to set out on our journey to her family’s past. Was she keyed up following the Rostock event and her “15 minutes of fame” on Rostock television and radio? Was she sleepless because she was excited about finally visiting her mother’s birthplace? No, what was keeping her awake was worry about driving on the Autobahn. Some of her fears were rational and concerned how far we planned to drive in a foreign country and how fast we might be going. After all, the Autobahn has a reputation for being a speedway.

Other worries were less rational, such as would there be gas stations along the route, would we be pumping the gas ourselves, and would we be able to use our American credit cards to pay for German gas? And what about bathrooms? People of our “advanced years” are rightly concerned about going anywhere for 5-6 hours without taking a bathroom break.

To allay her fears, Audrey had taken our host in Rostock, Dr. Strahl, aside during the reception following our book restitution ceremony to get advice for driving on the Autobahn. She passed that advice on to me, the main point of which was that I was to STAY OUT OF THE LEFT LANE. (Yes, Audrey delivered that advice in all caps.) Dr. Strahl had stressed that the left lane was the true speedway portion of the road. And I was to watch out for trucks, which would be in abundance along our route. Dr. Strahl also assured Audrey that there would be gas stations clearly marked on the road (we wouldn’t have to venture off the highway and into nearby towns), and that they would feature clean bathrooms and would readily accept our credit cards. You would think we were venturing into a foreign land! And, of course, we were.  
This person is driving in the left lane, so you know it isn't me
I just hoped that the rental car we had ordered would indeed have automatic transmission—we are Americans after all—and that the GPS we had requested would indeed feature an English-speaking guide who would be both accurate and patient as she directed us southward through the German countryside. Luckily, we knew that Amanda would be with us on the trip to serve both as backup navigator using her smart phone and as referee between her parents, who are known to get into spats while driving and riding together in a car.

We picked up our Volkswagen at the Europcar dealership located in a working class area of Rostock and luckily found the employee who spoke the best English to get us set up for the trip. We took on one extra expense, signing Audrey on as a second driver for 10 euros per day. As it turned out, we could have saved our money because I handled all of the driving on the way to Bad Konigshofen. When we arrived, however, Audrey said she was exhausted from serving as driving monitor for six hours. She couldn’t rest at all as cars whizzed by us (in the left lane) at far above the posted 130 kilometers per hour (78 mph) limit and as I stubbornly insisted on slipping into the left lane to pass all of those trucks. Did we get into a spat? Not really. Did we argue a little bit about my driving? Of course.
BTW, in case anyone is wondering, we had no trouble finding a gas station, which was surprisingly connected to a Burger King, though this one featured pastries, fresh fruit, a salad bar, and a wide variety of chips in addition to hamburgers and fries. It also had clean bathrooms that we had to pay to enter. The price was 70 cents (who can figure out the small coins that go along with paper euros?), but you got a 50-cent coupon back to use in the restaurant. We spent far more than that to get that most difficult of beverages to afford in Europe, the Coke Light.

Paying and passing through a turnstile
to get to the bathroom
Perhaps the most amusing part of the drive was our GPS. It worked great, and our guide spoke perfect English, though she did have a bit of a tone as she urged us to “prepare to turn right” and then “turn right now!”

The six hours went by quickly on a smooth, well maintained roadway that skirted most cities and towns and took us by wooded areas and fields filled with grain and flowers. What was surprising was the terrain that we encountered in the last few miles before we arrived in Bad Konigshofen. We traveled along narrow, winding roads and passed through several small rural towns. Having spent our first days in Germany in Berlin and Rostock, we were a little surprised to be “in the country.” We could have been traveling through parts of Vermont. Audrey commented that while she knew her grandparents had owned a grain distribution business, she hadn’t fully understood that they lived in a farming area.
Big type on this map but a small town
We made a final turn and entered Bad Konigshofen, the big city of the area with its population of nearly 6,000. We drove to the market square, which probably looked the same as it had 400 years before. Amanda had been there 12 years earlier and pointed out a few landmarks she remembered, including where the family business had been near the square.

Bad Konigshofen's Market Square
While in Rostock, we had made a little history. In Bad Konigshofen, we found ourselves transported back in time.  

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