Ok, so after a full year here and many stops and starts, we are back on the road (ehem) to becoming fully licensed German Drivers! YAY! Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember that we have taken several steps on our journey to ruling the autobahn. We jumped through paperwork hoops, got eye exams, paid money, and most notably took a truly shock-and-awe inspiring CPR and First Aid class put on by the German Red Cross. It involved more images of dead and mutilated people than I should ever like to see again. Seriously, it was nasty and my brain is still scarred. Definitely one I want to only see in the rear-view mirror. BUT, after not hearing anything from The Powers That Be for quite some time, David and I got a summons to come pay the county more money and/or get off the Learning Train. They wanted us to have a fahrschule (driving school) sign off on our forms and they wanted us to pay for an extension. Otherwise we would have to start again from scratch. And since scratch involves a return trip to the First Aid Class, I don’t want to go there.
Oh, and did I mention the letter noted that we had less than a month to get everything right. GO!
California is seriously lame and will not grant Germans who move there a CA license without their taking both the written and driving tests. So, tit-for-tat in international politics, Germany reciprocates and makes incoming Californians take both the written and driving test. That is where we got stuck last time. We were supposed to be studying for the written exam, first. BUT, no one had a manual written in English. And, while they did have practice tests in English, there was no way to learn the answers without missing the question in the online exam, then looking up the correct answers and taking the practice tests again. It was incredibly time consuming. And we still couldn’t figure out some of the weird little rules that such exams tend to thrill in demanding– even though you will likely *NEVER* need the knowledge in your life. (Honest, guys, I am not ever going to need to know how long in hours I can park a Big Rig off the country road. I am just not.). Plus, our instructor had weak English skills at best, so he wasn’t easily able to facilitate. After a few months of struggle, we largely gave up.
We have made several attempts to find a better English Speaking fahrschule, but it has been a complete exercise in frustration. We have asked around, asked the Company for help, asked friends, and David has made phone calls. But, nothing. Once we knew we were on a deadline, David kicked it into high gear. He actually went down to the county offices and asked the ladies there if they had any leads. Then he blast-emailed every fahrschule in town, hoping one would stick. Nothing for a week. Then, one piece of email in English arrived. It apologized for the delay and explained that they had been out on vacation. But, could David come in on Thursday evening when they would be in their Offenburg offices.
Now, the only problem with Thursday evenings is that it is a late night for the kids at school, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to drive him over to the other side of town. David would have to hoof it over to the meeting after work. No problem on a normal day. But, on this particular Thursday we happened to be having a freezing rain storm! David walked through town with a heavy pelting rain hitting him on the face and racing down his German practical coat. But, the rain that hit him wasn’t really the problem. It was the rain that hit the ground that was dangerous. It was creating a thin-but-slippery layer of treachery on the sidewalks of Germany. Ice everywhere. David walked and slid. Other travelers were less lucky and he reports that he saw at least one person hit the pavement.
But, he made it, wet and determined. When he arrived at the school he was able to ascertain that they have 2 driving trainers fluent in English. And, the money they quoted was less than we had heard before. So, all David’s effort was rewarded. We ponied up and got signed up with a more-English proficient driving school, and we are back on our way! We now officially have an extension and are once again actively working on our licensing.
They still can’t find an English Language manual, though I am pretty sure I have read of other Ex-pats getting their hands on one. Now, however, we do have a fluently English-speaking instructor, English study guides, and a German manual (that we are better at translating these days).
David took his first “lesson” tonight. It is a little odd to be back in Drivers Training as a 40-something-year-old. I was just talking about drivers training in High School with some of the other RUHS alums I know. One apparently got to do donuts with Mr. Mays, the ancient old driving instructor in the parking lot. Ah. Those were the days!! There was a little hitch in the giddy-up when the German instructor showed up in a Manual Transmission. That is fine for David, but won’t work for me- unless we want to pay to have them teach me manual…. Maybe. Will think on it. Not leaning that direction now. But, if I decide to go automatic, they will just borrow a car to use for my lessons.
Amusingly, the stick proved to be David’s sticking point, as well. He is actually an excellent manual driver, having been taught by his Dad who used to race many of those Italian race cars he collected and restored over the years. But, in Germany, they want you to shift for fuel efficiency instead of control! (Of course they do. Not sure why we didn’t just assume.) David described being urged to put the car in 5th gear on a straightaway between towns, but the engine was clearly straining. The instructor insisted he keep it there and that the modern engines could “take it”. David acquiesced gracefully, though I am certain that his eyebrows must have risen through the top of my head. He does vow, however, never to do that to a vehicle we actually own! Fair enough. My understanding is that once we have our licenses we are set for life (knock wood)– unless, of course, we do something stupid that involves us getting points and police involvement and the running and the screaming and so on. It wouldn’t be pretty and when to shift would be the least of our worries. And, since we do currently have an automatic, it won’t matter in the near future anyways. One cool thing: all this discussion of the proper time to shift led the instructor to impress David with his ability to quickly come up with phrases like “friction point”, which is certainly not one I would have immediate mental access to in German! So, Hooray for our Driving Instructor! And Hooray for Progress!
More on our drivers training adventures as we go.