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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): The Ubiquitous German Stau and what to do about it!

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ubiquitous German Stau and what to do about it!

After this past weekend, I realized I am spoiled.  I am spoiled because I live in a semi-rural area in Belgium where the biggest gridlock I see is trying to get into the front gate of the base....or perhaps on the dumb occasion I decide to drive to Brussels on the ringroad during rush hour.  Imagine my dismay when I saw the brake lights this past week on a German autobahn going South.  Oh crap, how could I totally forget the life of a German autobahn driver?   Ooops, I used to be so on top of this stuff when I lived here...out of sight out of mind I guess!  I read in this month's ADAC magazine (ADAC runs something similar to the American AAA motorists' program) that in 2010 there were 185,000 staus with a total length of 400,000 kilometer.  To put that in perspective, this length would get you to the moon at least!  And why all this stau stuff and what can you do to help yourself?

First of all, like many places in the world, we are building more cars than we have the capacity to handle.  Go to any Chinese city these days and see hosts of shiny blue BMWs and sleek Mercedes not moving instead of the ubiquotous bicycles that fanned across the nation just a few years ago.  The same is going on in Europe, in particular Germany that sits in the middle of everything.  There just isn't enough autobahn capacity to handle all the car traffic, period.  I also read that the German authorities are looking at widening the autobahn lanes, not by building yet another lane, but by using what's already there...the break down lanes.  Believe it or not, there are cameras all up and down the autobahns, and those folks watching these cameras can immediately see if there is a breakdown or other hinderance in that lane, and if it's clear for a certain stretch, lights would flash, letting drivers know that this is now an open lane.  Yes, that's the plan, and yes, they'd have to install that light system.  I have no idea when and if it will be implemented, so don't ask me.  I am just parroting what I just read the plan seems to be.  Of course they gave it a good solid German name too these "new lanes", "Temporaraere Seitenstreifenfreigabe" or just TSF for short.

So here we are back to the problem.  What can you do about these staus?  Honestly, there are a few things you can do before you ever hit the road. 

-Check Schulferien before you travel!  This site lists the various school holidays of German schoolkids by region.  The German states try to stagger their vacation time, so that not all German kids are streaming South or wherever they are going, all at the same time.  Nifty, huh?  Now instead of millions, you may only have thousands...but still, it's too many.  Please don't even think of traveling on a German autobahn at the front or back end of these holidays...just don't torture yourself like that or even your family.

-Try not to leave on a Friday or come back on a Sunday or vice versa.  Try to stagger your own holiday if you can and leave during the week, the closer you can to Wednesday is best.  I realize some vacation rentals are not set up for that, so find another one that is.

-Consider leaving in the middle of the night.  Believe it or not, there really is less traffic at those times.

-Check Staumeldungen with up-to-the minute traffic updates.  Keep your German radio on.  You will hear some God awful airhorn noise through the radio every hour on the hour, which actually will interrupt a CD or even cassette tape you are playing (at least in a German car) and give you the latest stau information via a person quickly running through all the German staus of note (for that radio station's region).  Many times, this person will talk incredibly fast for English speakers, but listen to key cities and also the autobahn designations, such as A8, A81 or the like...they won't say North or South like I blogged about before, but they will tell you which direction by signifying a city direction.  So they'll say "A8 Richtung Stuttgart" which means on the A8 Autobahn going North if you haven't hit Stuttgart yet, as the A8 comes from the direction of Munich....they'll even tell you how long the stau is and sometimes you'll hear the word "zwischen" which means between or "Kreuzung" which means a crossing of one autobahn over another...listen to what cities or towns they mention...those are the exits.  It may take some practice, but you'll get the hang of it.  

-If you have a smartphone, then download the Stau Mobil App, which is free.  You'll see what's going on without having to wait for anyone to tell you.  

-AFN radio also tries to mention the major ones when they hear about them, plus I think they encourage their listeners to call in.  Of course if you have a GPS that handles gridlock for you, by all means use it and its bypass recommendations.  ADAC Magazine also mentions that the majority of the time, you are better of staying on the autobahn rather than leaving it...unless it's a really bad one, such as after an accident that closes down all lanes...sometimes in both directions!

If you are an ADAC member, you can look for ADAC yellow marked vehicles....the autobahn angels I call them.  I've seen them pull all kinds of spare parts out of their hatches!  Did you know they also have fun stuff for kids, food and water too for ADAC members?  If you are really stuck, don't hesitate to call them if you have ADAC roadside asssistance, even if it is to request any of these routine-sounding items.  You are paying for the service.

Do you have any tips you'd like to share about avoiding staus and also how to deal with one when you're in it?  Honestly, I have great memories of a pick-up frisbee game on a stau to Austria many years ago...I think we were at a standstill for about four hours, but I got to know my fellow stau companions and had a great time while we dealt with the delay.  If that would happen today, with all the hurry up and wait we do these days, I don't know if I could handle that.  It ended up being a rockslide, and thankfully no one was hurt.  Let's hear your stories!

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Anonymous Sam said...

I wish I'd had your blog (or something like it) back when I lived in Germany. It would have been helpful!
I really enjoy your posts because they remind me of living in Europe...Thanks!

July 27, 2011 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Alana said...

I just bookmarked a few of these sites! Thanks for the great tips. We just PCS'd to Germany, so we're trying to get our hands on all the info we can. We both speak the language, but driving here is both very new to us both. We've got our licenses and are just waiting for our car to arrive.

Seriously, I appreciate the help. And I think for most longer trips, we'd rather take the train (and sip on beers in the Bistro)!

July 27, 2011 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Bette said...

This should be obvious, but now I make sure I have way more gas in the tank than I think I'll need. Being close to E and hitting a stau is an experience I prefer not to repeat.

Also, if I'm driving alone, I keep my knitting in the front passenger seat. If things really grind to a halt, at least I have something to do.

July 28, 2011 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger WhisperingWriter said...

I wish I knew about this blog when I was in Belgium. But that was back in 1998...I graduated high school in 2000.

I actually miss it though. I met my now husband there.

August 3, 2011 at 6:15 AM  
Anonymous Aamer Waqas Chaudhary said...

Interesting writings! Keep up the good job

August 4, 2011 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger MooAtU2 said...

I really like the local radio station's website for traffic info (

Also, one good tip my driver's ed teacher taught me that's come in handy on when in a Stau. If your car is on the verge of overheating, crank the heater up.

August 10, 2011 at 12:31 AM  

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