You wouldn’t believe it. Or perhaps you may, but I am still finding it hard to believe. I have been driving.
Why do I find this so hard to believe? Because I have been a bit of a wuss / gutless wonder / excuse maker since moving here. When living in Sydney, I would’ve driven almost every day. I knew back-street routes, the one-way streets in the city and even the free parking spots that surrounded popular spots. I enjoyed driving and, after mastering manual after a few mandatory tantrums as a learner, I was a confident driver.
This all changed when I moved to Germany.
After a slight administrative ordeal, I have been lucky enough to have received my German drivers licence. A licence, which I may add, I am not required to renew. (How cool is that!!) However, since receiving the licence in January 2013, I have driven in Germany a maximum of 10 times, 4 of those times being in the last 2 weeks, and during one of those times I reached my current top speed of 170km/h on the Autobahn. As you can see, despite having the licence (which is heavily sought-after), I have been taking this privilege for granted. But as I said – something changed.
First it was the adjustment – driving in the right lane is not the easiest transition. This requires a readjustment of road positioning in line with having an awareness of the car’s width.
Next it was the car rules – right has precedence over left at crossroads/junctions, and drivers should signal within the roundabout, not before entering the roundabout.
Then it was the roundabouts themselves – how odd does it look when traffic flows anti-clockwise?
And finally – most residential roads in Munich aren’t wide enough for two cars. Dodgem cars are for carnivals people!
I have made excuses for long enough but basically, I have just lost a little confidence in myself.
That being said, getting around in Munich without a car is quite easy and during 2013 I joined the bike riders of Munich and bought myself a city bike (including a basket on the back). However, this only meant that I could continue to make excuses for not needing to drive. While I honestly don’t need to drive on a daily basis, the thought of carting groceries around in my basket during heavy rain, or having to always rely on long-distance trains to travel that bit further out of the city (the trains are pretty good though) should be reason enough to motivate me out of this transport-dependant hole.
It was in November last year when I found myself taking the next step.
It was driven by a sudden spike of confidence and a rush of adrenaline – knowing that there was:
(a) a set of keys in the draw for the car parked in the garage,
(b) a relatively unused German drivers licence happily tucked away in my purse and
(c) no food in the fridge for Sunday’s brunch.
It only took a solid 4 minutes to drive out of the garage – slowed by the fact that the car was parked 5cm away from the wall to the right of the car. I must admit I have never been the most confident at reversing (I’m all about moving forward) and driving from the left drivers seat is still a little strange.
Once out, I faced my second mini-challenge: the narrow residential streets. As the street width only allows for one parked car and one lane of traffic, I was forced to weave through the obstacle course of traffic. Still filled with adrenaline from the successful garage exit, I may have forgotten about the width of the car for a few seconds – corrected only after mounting the footpath.
What I’ve noticed here in Munich (something I hadn’t seen so often elsewhere) is the endless street game played between drivers. When there isn’t enough room to drive comfortably over two lanes, there is a need for one to pull over to the curbside – depending on the space available to the side of the car. In most cases drivers are courteous, waiting patiently by the curb for the on-coming driver to pass. The aggressive population however choose to fight to the end – either pushing their way through, forcing the on-coming driver to awkwardly manoeuvre on to the footpath or giving in with a grumbly ‘Maaaannn ehhhh’. (A common, and often slightly aggressive expression of frustration used by Germans, even in the most non-frustrating of situations).
Once on the main road, it was smooth sailing. Oddly enough, one of my favourite feelings is having control over a vehicle; it didn’t take a mere second before I was back to my old self.
Gear changing and lane-positioning easily managed, it was time for the third challenge: the supermarket carpark. This can be daunting to those with years of driving experience, but parking someone else’s car, of wider-than-normal- proportions, whilst also managing shopping trolleys, small children…brought a little bead of sweat to my forehead. After circling the carpark twice (it is relatively small), I settled for my beginner-drivers tactic; choose a spot that is furthest away from the entrance. This gave me confidence that I could avoid any unnecessary door-scratching or accidental misjudgements.
The journey home only brought a police detour and an awkward curb-side park (I’m really displaying as a good driver here) – nothing I couldn’t handle.
Years ago such an event would never have normally made such an impact on me. These ‘years ago’ however, where characterised by familiarity, routine and too many comforts. Since having moved overseas, a small sense of helplessness has overcome me in carrying out some everyday tasks – tasks that wouldn’t have normally deserved second thought. So perhaps my recent urge to stop making excuses is my mind’s way of telling me that I’m ready; bring back the confidence and sense of normality – just do it already. Admittedly – driving through the Australian outback might also have had something to do with this urge.