18 Signs You Are In Germany

- November 21st, 2010

IMG_1434 Germany has more road signs per kilometre of highway than any other country in the world, I’m told.

I believe it. Driving along a German country road leaves you with a headache from having been nagged incessantly. It’s not your travelling companions doing the nagging; it’s the traffic signs.

Look here. Do this. Don’t do that. Pay attention. Stop. Go. Slow down. Be quiet. Watch out for small children. Watch out for large animals. Hold your breath (pig farm ahead). Beware the Ides of March.

Along with the usual international panoply of road signs, the Germans have come up with quite a few that are uniquely their own.

Some of them make sense (in an anal-compulsive sort of way) but others just leave me scratching my head.

Here’s an assortment of German road signs I’ve encountered in recent weeks and my personal interpretation of what I think they are supposed to mean (or at least what they SHOULD mean).

EXTRA! EXTRA! NEW SIGN JUST ADDED! See end of post.

ExclamatoryAl

1. German sign makers LOVE the exclamatory statement. Sometimes there are tiny words attached explaining what all the excitement is about (but the print is usually too small to read when you’re travelling at highway speed).

DoubleExclamation

2. Sometimes the signmaker is excited about multiple issues — in this case, rough pavement and the possibility of high water flooding the road.

FloodedRoad

3. The exclamation here is telling cyclists to get off and walk their bikes. Doncha think this might have been a better place to get excited about possible road flooding?

Screamer

4. And sometimes the signmaker doesn’t know why he’s excited — but he still wants everyone to know he’s excited.

BlankTriangle

5. This one draws an existential blank, but I think it means “I forgot what I was going to say.”

BlankBlank

6. These signs indicate: “I can’t remember what I was going to say. Did I just say that? Never mind.”

100Mblank

7. This one means “One hundred metres from now I still won’t remember what I was going to tell you.”

Bumps

8. This one stands for: “The farm woman up the road has very nice breasts, perhaps a little widely separated but firm and rounded.” Really. I’m pretty sure that’s what it means.

TankSign

9. Germany is the only place in the world I know (apart from the area around CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick) where they have speed limit signs for tanks. Actually these signs are holdovers from the Cold War era and were directed at American tanks which used to heavily populate the German border region. I think this sign indicates tanks can advance at 90 km/h but must reduce speed to 40 km/h if they retreat. I think.

Ausfahrt

10. Germans don’t understand why mature English-speaking adults (well, male adults) snicker every time they see an exit sign on the autobahn. (That’s what “Ausfahrt” means. “Exit.” The means by which gas-powered entities are rapidly expelled from the highway, usually accompanied by noise and wind.)

YellowFever

11. I never did figure out what this one was supposed to say (well, I finally cheated and asked someone but the real meaning is too boring to repeat). If it was a nautical flag, I think it would mean “Yellow fever aboard this ship.”

ThreeSigns

12. This series of signs apparently indicates “I can’t remember what I was going to say, but I think there is yellow fever ahead. By the way, the potholes in this road will not be repaired for the next 60 years.”

RedCar

13. This one says “Only red cars are allowed to pass here.”

RedCar30

14. And this one is even more specific: “Red cars can pass here, but ONLY if the driver is at least 30 years old.”

FenceOne

15. This one is rather self-evident: “A fence is here.”

FenceTwo

16. And this one is a variation: “There’s another fence over here.”

WalkONBlack

17. This one means: “If the pedestrian on the crosswalk ahead of you is not walking ONLY on the black lines, you are allowed to run him down. But only if he is wearing a hat.”

NothingAllowed

18. And this one means, as far as I can tell, “Absolutely nothing is allowed to happen here.”

And so we bid a fond adieu to Germany, Land of 1,000,001 Signs.

Sunsetsign

Th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

Oh, what the heck — here’s one more from the Hamburg department of redundancy department

Redundancy

EXTRA! EXTRA! NEW SIGN JUST ADDED!

There was one sign I wanted for this post but just never got around to photographing. Well, son of a gun, if the wonderful Bette Shifman didn’t just send me an e-mail with that very sign attached.

First I’ll tell you what my interpretation of the sign was and then I’ll share what Bette had to say.Then we’ll show you the sign and you figure out your own version.

My idea for the sign was “Hold your nose. Man shovelling manure ahead.”

But I think Bette (and her husband) have a much better interpretation. Here’s what Bette had to say:

As an American who lived in The Netherlands for 17 years, I am enjoying your blog reports from Germany. I am, however, quite disappointed that you overlooked my husband’s all time favorite sign:

“Man trying to put up umbrella”

And now here’s the sign. umbrellasign

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63 comments

  1. Iain says:

    Wonderful, I just love it :) I’ve been driving in Germany for almost 30 years now, and FINALLY I understand the deeper meaning of our signs! It is like seeing the world with a new pair of eyes :) THANK YOU SO MUCH INDEED^^

    @Dave: there is no sign indicating more signs ahead, for the obvious reason: there are ALWAYS more signs ahead :D

    @Jean-Pierre: I don’t understand Chinese, but from what’s to see there the meaning must be: “If you are reading this sign you just fell down this hill”

  2. keith says:

    Very funny and a good look at a different culture which overwhelm some people.

  3. Steph says:

    I thought this was good for a laugh; I just traveled the roads in NL, Germany and Belgium this summer. (We all laughed about ‘ausfahrt’, too. I’m sorry, but that’s funny.)

    Lighten up, folks! This isn’t so much about ‘mocking’ German road signs as just, ‘Hey, things are different in different places! It’s kind of fun!’ How does it make sense to get mad about this blog post, and then rant about how much you hate Canadian roads/ road signs?

    I was always delighted by a road sign in Embrun, ON, that I thought was showing a turtle squished flat by a car’s tire treads, until I looked more closely and realized it was a much more innocous ‘turtle crossing’ sign, and the tire treads were supposed to just be a design on the turtle’s back. Oh well.

  4. Jerry says:

    Buck,
    I did not try to ven out. I am as much canadian as you are after being here for all these years. I cannot go back to motherland since I am not a german. I just happened to leave there for over five years. This is a typical response of some Canadian stubborns: go back if you do not like it here. Canada is my country and I am not going to go anywhere. Canada is (or was) a great country, but it does not mean it is perfect. there are many things here that can be wastly improved and there is a lots to learn from some other countries in some areas. So open your mind and learn. Our country is recently not getting such a great reviews in international polls as it used to and many canadians are saying now a days that the country is not what it used to be. maybe it is thanks to people like you that think that since we were great once we will stay like that for ever without us needing to do anything.

    Once more: Canada is a great country but many things can still be improved. Traffic is one of them so maybe I can get to work in 20 minutes as it should take me as opposed 2 hours as it takes me now. And it is not because of too many cars but because of inefficient and outdated rules and design.

  5. Cheryl M&M says:

    Do you know that on my first trip to Germany my husband let me go for days before he told me what Ausfahrt meant…I kept seeing those signs…. and yes, he bought me the shirt! See Arnold…you do have one heck of a sister-in-law.

  6. Jim W says:

    Hello my wife had the same issue with the Ausfahrt sign, she thought it was a really big city. The sign with the army tank on it is not a speed sign..it indicates weight restrictions for bridges. Thanks for the memory refresh.

  7. Rory says:

    I don’t know if anyone mentioned this, but that explanation about the tank speed couldn’t be more wrong and obvious.

    It indicates to me that the 40km/h side of the sign tells drivers to proceed at the indicated speed when two opposing vehicles are passing each other.
    The single 90km/h line is just the max limit when there’s no other tanks driving in the opposite direction.

    No?

  8. Jennifer says:

    OK…the one with the tank…they had those around the base where we lived in Germany (Canadian)….it means if there are two tanks gover a bridge or on narrow road that have to pass each other or a car the speed limit is 40, but if it is a single vehicle or tank the speed is 90km/hr.

    The Ausfahrt sign…. (Exit) was interesting….I was with the military police overseas and one evening a man who was newly posted in, arrived at the main gate because he could not find his new residence on the economy (in town). He told us the address and we realized that he had the building number, but did not have the right street. It should have been 10 Bannwald Strasse, but he had 10 Ausfahrt, thinking that was the name of the street because he had seen the sign on the street when he was dropped off…we had to find his sponsor at 2am to get the correct address.

  9. alan.parker says:

    Hey Jennifer,
    You get big bonus points for a funny Ausfahrt story (how could any “Ausfahrt” story be anything but funny?) As for the tank signs, everyone who says they have something to do with speed is … wrong-o. They are strictly weight signs for bridges, culverts etc. Jeesh, I´m ashamed I stooped to the level of the pedantic literalists. The post was supposed to make you laugh (or at least smile), folks. News flash … none of the signs actually mean what I suggested they might. If you thought that, please — for all our sakes — don´t drive in Europe.
    Ciao. Alan

  10. Frank E says:

    Jim W is right. The sign with the tank is a Military Load Class sign. The bridge or culvert or whatever it’s posted on is limited to roughly 40 tonne vehicles in two-way traffic, and 90-tonne vehicles if only one-way. All military vehicles have the same marker on them.

    The yellow diamond sign is pretty important – it’s the one that lets them turn off the traffic signals at night!

  11. John says:

    Jennifer’s story reminds me of the first time I was in Germany and I was driving on the highway I kept thinking this”Ausfahrt” city must be huge every exit I’ve passed so far leads to it. I must have laughed at myself for 10 minutes once I finally realized what it meant.

  12. Steph says:

    Ummm…. I have seen the road workers sign with the shovel all around Ontario. I am sure those living in Toronto have seen it all over.

    Very funny about Ausfahrt.. I never realized the verb fahren conjugated in the 3rd person present tense sounded like… well ;). I always got hung up though on the Indikativ Präteritum Aktiv of ‘essen’ (to eat) = ‘ich aß’!

    However if you are going to be /driving/ in another country with a different language, have a dictionary handy for god’s sake!

  13. chris jerrett says:

    you’re an idiot

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