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Some American car makers like to describe their newest model as “Autobahn tested.”
This somewhat inept classification is supposed to convey that the automobile in question runs well under stress caused by excessive speed. Because that is what “Autobahn” stands for in the public perception: Speed.
But what is the Autobahn?
Let's start with the syntax. The word “Auto” means car, the word “Bahn” road or course. The term was made up by someone in Germany during the 1930s, when the first motorways were built, supposedly to accommodate car travel throughout the nation. In fact the makers of that road system were thinking more along the lines of tanks and troop transporters for the upcoming world war.
After the war, the Autobahn was eventually used for cars and regular trucks only. Since then it has been growing in size and length at a steady pace. Today, much of the Autobahn is 3 lanes wide in each direction and bordered by guard rails on both sides. The road is built in a way that supports and often encourages high speed driving. The major thoroughfares have no speed limit and that is exactly how people interpret the situation. Someone accustomed to driving at a leisurely 70 miles an hour may very well be overtaken by a vehicle traveling at more than twice that speed.
If you don't like driving this fast, you may want to stay in the right lane. And if you have to pass, make sure you check your rearview mirror first. That Porsche behind you looks far away now, but in five seconds it will be only inches away from your bumper, flashing its lights and honking its horn. Germans are very impatient when it comes to slow pokes on the road.
But don't panic, they won't ram into you. They love their cars way too much, and by law, whoever drives into someone else from behind pays the bill.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|