A Zoom Through Germany
Whoah !!! Did you feel that?
The whole motorhome rocked to one side as we were sucked in by the wind vortex of the racy red Porche that zoomed by. What was he going? 200km/hr? More? It sure sounded fast, and it whipped our little boxy motorhome around like a small dinghy on the ocean.
Wrooom! One more raced by.
A Mercedes this time? I don’t even think I saw him coming!
We had entered our third country on our Scandinavian mini-trip, the birth country of our motorhome and despite the crazy fast drivers all around us, LMB seemed to roll with an extra smoothness under her wheels. Perhaps it was her exuberant mood or the nice German tarmac, but she was making miles like she owned it and for the moment that’s exactly what we needed.
We were on a mission to cross Germany in two days, zooming through in our haste to make it north, and despite the little we tasted of the country there were so many impressions that left their mark. I only have one post for all of Germany, which is utterly ridiculous of course, but such is travel life. Sometimes you get a chance to stop and smell the roses, and other times you just get a glance of their beauty as you rush on by. This visit was definitely on the faster side.
No Border Controls, Yet Again
Our route through Germany took us on a diagonal line through the Northwest corner of the country.
In our usual slo-mo style we planned 753km (~468 miles) of travel, with one central stop to break up the monotony of it all, leaving us with an easy ~4 hour drive each day. We left from Luxembourg early AM and crossed into Germany with zero fuss and no border controls. Yet again it was our phones that alerted us that we’d actually entered a new country “Die Bundesregierung: Willkommen/Welcome!”, with a text directing us to COVID and quarantine requirements for Germany (of which there are thankfully currently none for us). We got a French text too, assuring us we could use our 150GB French data plan and phone service in Germany the same way we we do in France.
As a traveler, I really do love the seamless cohesiveness of the EU (and their generous data plans :))
On And Off The Autobahn
It’s hilly and pretty in this southern part of Germany, so we enjoy a view of rolling forests and fields of windmills, the first of many more that we’ll see on our travels north.
We pass from Autobahn to Federal roads as we meander 3 hours north, paying close attention to the speed limits that seem to be eye-wateringly complicated. On the Federal Roads they jump from 100km/hr to 70km/hr and 50km/hr as we pass through towns and even around turns, tunnels and bridges. Despite our best efforts to stay on top of it all, our Copilot App often beeps to alert that we’re going too fast. Oooops….
Then of course there’s the Autobahn, where some sections have no speed limit at all!
It seems crazy and absurdly dangerous, but that’s how it works and it’s a real point of German pride. The “recommended limit” (richtgeschwindigkeit) is 130 km/hr (~80 mph), but on many stretches (not all mind you!) you can literally go as fast you want. It’s the only country in the world where you can legally do this, and it’s a superb rush for those with engine power and a need to get somewhere with speed.
Paradoxically there are fewer accidents on German Autobahns than American Highways, so perhaps it’s the Germans who got it right and not us?
We’re slow by nature so it doesn’t really change our driving much except for when we need to overtake. At very high speeds cars that look like they’re miles away can be on your butt faster than you can say gesundheit. So we stick to the slower right lane and just plan well ahead any time we need to pass.
Bonus Road Info:
- Germany has no general road tolls. The only exceptions are very heavy motorhomes weighing over 7.5 tonnes (in which case you’ll need to look at this site: toll-collect.de), and two specific tunnels in the northern part of the country (Herren and Warnow) which do charge individual tolls.
- Heavy motorhomes (anything over 3.5 tonnes) have reduced speed limits, both on regular roads (limited to 80km/hr) and the Autobahn (limited to 100km/hr).
- If your trip takes you into any of the big city “green” zones you’ll need an environmental sticker (Umweltplakette:: https://www.umwelt-plakette.de/en/) if you want to avoid a fine.
The Motorhome Landscape Is Changing
Highway driving is always a little boring in any country, so we make a game of spotting foreign registrations as we go along.
We see tons of German, Dutch and Belgian travelers, but seem to be the only Frenchie around (clearly our compatriots have all headed the other direction to beaches in the south). We also start noticing more caravans on the road particularly with Dutch license plates. And perhaps the most surprising thing of all, is that we spot a few really large motorhomes.
The latter is a very specifically German thing that I’ve noticed before.
Germany not only makes some of of the highest-end brands in Europe (reputed for their superb quality), but they also makes some of the biggest “beasts” you’ll find this side of the ocean. We’ve seen a few of them on our travels through Spain and France, and have always wondered how they manage. Personally I’d hate to have a big motorhome here (it would really, really limit you), but I can’t deny they’re amazing to look at and probably even more amazing inside.
We Stop Overnight In Super-Cute Ladbergen
Paul picks an overnight stop around halfway through the country that he found on Park4Night.
It’s a free motorhome parking area and it turns out to be a super cute spot. There’s a beautiful old church, cobblestone streets, an ice cream parlor, a lovely greenway park (fully dog friendly), a quaint old water mill and a slew of charming black and white half-timbered houses. The picture-perfect little German town.
The place even ends up teaching us a little history too.
Apparently Ladbergen was a key stop for messenger riders who commuted between the two cities of Münster and Osnabrück during the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia. The peace negotiations took 5 years (!) and ended both the devastating Thirty Years War and Eighty Years War in 1648. There is now a 163 km bike/hike trail that follows the same path, a fascinating walk through time.
We spend the afternoon by the church treating ourselves to an ice cream and enjoying the shade from some large trees before we move over to the official Stellplatz (motorhome parking area) just down the way for the evening. Garbage, privacy and quiet for zero cost. How could you ask for more?
Then Zoom To Flensburg (What A Gem!)
The following morning we pack up and drive our last big stretch through Germany.
It’s a bit more of a stressful drive than the day before and far less interesting (visually speaking) with long, flat stretches of road and thick traffic with seemingly endless roadworks around the big city of Hamburg.
Our planned destination is the northernmost edge of Germany, the border city of Flensburg. I know almost nothing about the place except that it was once part of Denmark (over 150 years ago) and is now a shopping mecca for Danes who cross over regularly for cheap beer and wine. So, I expect to see lots of big malls, but not much else.
Just about everything about the place ends up surprising me.
Our stop is a little campground (Campingplatz Jarplund) ~7km from downtown. The first thing I notice are the Danish flags flying alongside the German ones just outside the place, the second thing is when the camp host speaks near-perfect Danish to me (I guess those pre-1864 roots are still strong here?) We also encounter the first COVID controls that we’ve come across this entire trip. A vaccination certificate or negative COVID test is required to stay here, and it’s the first thing I’m asked for as I check in. We pay our fee and choose a spot in a huge and empty field to relax from our long day. The place is simple, but nice.
That evening I flounder about whether to make the effort to bike into town, but decide in a mini-spurt of energy to do it. It’s a decent albeit somewhat boring greenway to bike in, but when I get there I’m completely taken aback.
The place feels like a mini-Copenhagen. There are gorgeous old brick buildings everywhere, towering churches and touches of copper roofs that have worn green with time. The center of town is pedestrian, full of shops and packed with cute restaurants and outdoor terraces teeming with life. The atmosphere is electric, vibrant and diverse, and with an energy that I haven’t seen in months.
There’s the sound of seagulls, the classic cry of every harbor city and as I walk around I see people everywhere; families eating out, young folks enjoying an evening beer, people walking the harbor greenway, old couples relaxing by the water, and lots of Danish flags & Danes (yet again). Everyone is enjoying the city and summer by the sea.
I hadn’t expected such an interesting and picturesque place. What a little gem!
Tomorrow Is Denmark Day!
Our Germany crossing was fast, yet left us with unexpected lasting impressions.
Short stops turned out to be destinations, easy drives turned out to be exciting (at least part of the time), and it brought us to this point. Tomorrow is the day we would finally enter my home country, and it’s hard to explain the deep rumblings of emotion that brought up in me. I’m a person from many places, a chameleon that adapts and thrives in every country I visit, but at the core of me there will always be deep Danish roots. It’s where I spent so many childhood summers, and where I have some of my best memories. No amount of travel will ever take that away.
So I awaited the day with trepidation, excitement and hope. Would Denmark be anything like I remembered? Or would it be totally different? Would I love it? Or would my sweet childhood memories be crushed like the sands of time? Personally I had a feeling things were about to get really, really good.