Sunday, August 17, 2014

German Autobahns

Ok, I know, this isn't the German Autobahn, it's 3 scooters from Sweden coming off the ferry in Denmark going to the Autobahn. We didn't take any photos on the actual Autobahn, why would you?
Mike had his first encounter with the infamous German Autobahns today… let's just say it was an eye opener! We had prepared him for what he was about to experience and more importantly, how to be prepared. Until you have been here, it's hard to comprehend just how fast the Germans are driving. It's kind of ironic that the country which is well known in Europe for its active approach towards green energy, recycling, conservation and reducing diesel engines in the city centres; is at the same time also well known for its pollution of the rivers and their driving can hardly be described as environment friendly either. 

US build cars have 'objects in mirror are closer than they appear' printed on their mirrors. Here that should read 'objects will close-in sooner than you expect'. We told Mike to be aware of this and double check before overtaking as cars that might be far behind him could be with him a matter of seconds. Obviously he was scanning his mirrors for fast moving cars and expected to find Porsches, Audis etc. What non of us had expected to find was Volkswagen and Mercedes vans going just as fast as the sports cars…! It has been over 10 years since I was here last but I had no idea van-speed had made such a leap. I'm not sure why vans have to do 170 km/hr but they do it here. We found them pushing behind fast cars and overtaking too. A supposedly environmental Toyota Prius same flying past too… I can't really see the point in buying a hybrid and then drive it as fast as it goes…

While cars (and vans) were going considerably faster than in the UK, trucks not only drive a bit slower; they all drive exactly the same speed too. Like they are being controlled by some central German controller. The other thing we noticed is that most of the trucks are now running on plates from Poland, Hungary, Romania etc. while clearly being used by German and Dutch companies. Obviously they can pay drivers from former eastern European countries lower wages…

The landscape in The Netherlands or northern Germany can hardly be described as exciting. We rode past a couple of well known Frisian lakes like Tjeukermeer and while not bad by itself they can't really impress me anymore having just been to the Lake District in the UK for instance or northern Canada or Alaska. There are a couple of funny things worth mentioning, like finding concrete Elephants by the side of the road in Flevoland, or people slowing down while passing and giving us the thumbs up(!) There are also a lot of windmill generators by the side of the road and some petrol stations now also have charging points for electric cars (something we had noticed in the UK at several parking areas too).

The GPS had issues today as its internal memory isn't big enough for all our European maps. We had added a memory card to it from an old mobile phone. It seemed to work fine at first but then the GPS became somewhat erratic in its behaviour. It took a while to find out what was going on, by which time I had re-formatted the card and tried several other options, only to find out that naming it anything but 'Untitled' causes all kinds of frustrations for the GPS… Now we have the whole of Europe in there and all works fine (hopefully).

We camped somewhere between Bremen and Hamburg on a campground that had so many complex systems introduced with keys and entry passes that it took 25 minutes to register… in the end we didn't need the entry passes as motorcycles can ride past the boom gate and the toilet building key didn't work on the laundry. Still it wasn't a bad place. A nice enough little lake and a good place to pitch the tent too.

The day after was one of roadworks… endless roadworks… Why is it that roadworks are always done in the busiest time of the year? Tomorrow is what is known in Germany as 'Black Saturday' so named as traditionally every year serious accidents happen around this time of year (ie the holiday period) and what better way to ensure that the 'targets' are met by making sure there are plenty of roadworks to complicate things? Am I being sarcastic? Probably, but I can't help but wondering who ok'd this.

We took two ferries today, Germany to Denmark and Denmark to Sweden. Loading and unloading was a breeze, well organised and executed. While we were waiting for the next ferry an Italian couple on a Honda was filming us…! I was also somewhat surprised about the sheer number of people that wanted to know about our trip. I wasn't much in the mood for conversation today as a couple of bacteria inside a tooth of mine did there absolute best to make my life hell today. The tooth had been playing up for a while but nothing serious, today it was ready to explode. Still I made an effort to answer the questions and tell all about the trip.

When the ferry docked and spewed out hundreds of white boxy motorhomes, filled with boring faces that showed the 'holidays are over and now we have to go through Germany on Black Saturday..' look. I was pleasantly surprised about a group of Vespas pottering out of the ferry too :-) I just can't help but smile when I see a Vespa, don't ask me why they just do that to me. One of them had lots more luggage than we have, just placed between his feet. Virtually all of them has 'go faster' exhaust fitted as well; the 2-stroke expansion chamber exhaust. Looking at them made me realise the expansion chamber is a Walter Kaaden design. Walter worked for MZ in former Eastern Germany, in a little shed attached to the factory. He single handedly revolutionised the 2-stroke engine and more than doubled its power output. His theory and expansion chamber design came past today 50-60 odd years later attached to a Vespa, ready to burn the Autobahn… :-) There is a book written about Walter, the conditions he had to work under, the problems he faced and the amazing things he designed and how, which is a must read for any technical minded motorcyclist.

A Triumph Bonneville rider turned up as well. Mike spotted him first and was enthusiastic… enthusiasm that died as he came within hearing range…! Ear-shattering probably described it best. Impressions didn't improve when he removed his helmet… I never knew a dead marihuana plant was now considered a hair-style. Of course he parked right behind us… and started his engine every time he had to move it. Later-on he shot past on the motorway in Denmark, making more noise than a Harley and trying to keep up with sports bikes. 

Denmark is much better to ride through than Germany but as soon as we entered Sweden I got that same feeling I used to get all those years ago: the holiday has started! More on Sweden in the next post.