Planes, trains and automobiles

We are still in the process of getting our 2009 Toyota Prius certified by the German government. Here every vehicle has to go through the TÜV process which is like a vehicle inspection. It’s very extensive, and we were told that we would need to have our headlights changed to xenon ones, plus a few other modifications on the headlamp system to make it up to German standards. Xenon lights are expensive. Originally we thought the work would be done at the Toyota Dealership in Bad Tölz. The mechanic there said it would cost us around 4,000 Euro. That’s a lot of money! Fortunately, the mechanic said he would make some calls to see if he could get us an exemption.

He didn’t succeed in that, but the mechanic did manage to find a special TÜV office and mechanic, called US Cars 24 in the city of Wuppertal, who will do the required work for less than half of what we would have paid in Tölz, and in addition, not all of the modifications will be needed because this business has the necessary exemptions and exceptions needed.

Our car arrived in Germany in mid-February, but we haven’t been able to drive it apart from a few occasions. In order to receive our permanent license plates, we need to have the car certified, basically, and until we have the green light from the TÜV process, we are not able to get our license plates.

In order to have the work done, we needed to figure out how to transport our car to their business. It made the most sense for one of us to drive our Prius there. We decided that I would drive up to Wuppertal on Tuesday (yesterday), and originally I was going to take Rosebud with me. David was able to stay home yesterday and care for our daughter. This made things immensely easier for me.

Where is Wuppertal in relation to where we live? Wuppertal is 680 kilometers to the northwest us, or about 422 miles. That’s similar to me driving from Indianapolis, Indiana to Memphis, Tennessee. Wuppertal is in the German state of Nordrhein Westfalen, which has the largest population density in Germany. When you look at the map, you can see how many cities there are in that region, including Bonn, Köln (Cologne), Düsseldorf and Dortmund.

When I started my drive on Tuesday morning at 7:00 am, I actually didn’t have an address – when I had called the evening before to say I was driving there with my car, I think the office had already closed. All I knew is that I needed to drive to Wuppertal (my mechanic in Bad Tölz didn’t know the name of the company, just that they specialize in the TÜV process for American-imported vehicles). Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with the secretary during my first stop outside of Ulm. She gave me precise directions in how to get to their business, and indeed her directions were easy to follow.

It took me seven hours to arrive at my destination, in part because I stopped a few times and also because I don’t feel comfortable driving quite as fast as some German drivers do on the Autobahn. It’s true that in most places on the Autobahn, there isn’t a speed limit. But I would say most drivers seemed to go around 130 km per hour in unmarked zones. That’s equivalent to 80 miles per hour. I personally was more comfortable driving around 110-120 km per hour, around 68-74 mph. I didn’t want to go too slow, because it’s also good to keep up with traffic.

The Autobahn is like the US Interstate system, although to my knowledge there aren’t any toll portions. And like in the US, if you follow the signs, you’ll get where you need to go – with one caveat. In comparison to driving on a US Interstate highway, I feel that there is less time to change lanes if I needed to merge onto another Autobahn highway (like merging onto another Interstate highway). It wasn’t a problem, but I think that as an American driver, you just have to know that you need to react more quickly to information posted in comparison to driving in the US. One thing that is awesome about the Autobahn is how well maintained it is. As far as that goes, the roads are generally in much better condition that the US Interstate system.

I did run into a number of Baustellen – construction zones. Ah, yes – they’re ubiquitous. But because it was a Tuesday morning, the construction zones didn’t really delay me all that much. It was a little harrying on the A1 to Wuppertal, because the driving lanes were narrower than I like, but fortunately that was just a small part of my drive.

I was warmly greeted at UScars24 when I arrived. Also, I couldn’t help but notice the gorgeous vintage cars in the parking lot, including a blue 60’s era Chevy Malibu muscle car and what I think was a cream-colored 50’s era Buick of some sort. I am not a car person so I am sorry I can’t give more details for those of you who are into cars. And when I entered the main office, I was delighted by the lovingly decorated reception: 50’s Americana, à la Route 66. They also had a wall of US and Canadian license plates. I’m tempted to bring them our Indiana Environmental plate for their wall! Needless to say, with the warm reception and care I received, I felt no qualms whatsoever leaving my baby car with them.

Then one of the owners of the business drove me to the Wuppertal train station so I could catch the local express to the Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof (main train station), and then the express to the airport in Düsseldorf. On our way to the train station, the owner and I talked a little about the city of Wuppertal. It’s basically in a steep valley, with the buildings built up the sides of the valley. One of the neatest things you can visit in Wuppertal is the Schwebebahn, which is a suspended train that runs through the central valley of Wuppertal and is still used today for local transportation to get from one end of the city to the other. The suspended train is a beautiful structure and unique. I don’t know if there are any other trains like this in the world. The last time I visited Wuppertal was in 1994 when I was an exchange student, and we got to ride in the same historic train coach (or at least, a replica) that had been commissioned for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Schwebebahn is definitely worth visiting.

It was a piece of cake to take the trains to the Düsseldorf airport (which is a lovely airport, by the way). My wait in the airport and my flight back to München were the most relaxing part of my day, actually. I had several hours to myself and actually got to do some reading! This was very exciting for a parent of a toddler who usually reads books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and The Going to Bed Book.

I arrived in the Munich airport a little after 20:00 (8:00 pm), and caught the next S-Bahn to the station where I needed to change trains to head back home to Bad Tölz. When my S-Bahn arrived in the train station, my train to Bad Tölz was at the next platform… just ready to depart. I missed it by a minute! And unfortunately that meant I had to wait for another hour to catch the next train at 22:00 (10:00 pm), and it was cold and windy in the station which didn’t have a place to sit, other than on the platform. But I got on the train to Bad Tölz with no difficulties, and arrived in Bad Tölz at 23:00 (11:00 pm). It was raining by this point, so it wasn’t much fun waiting for my taxi. I was so relieved when it arrived at the train station. I finally got home by 23:30 or so.

Such a long day of automobile, trains, plane, trains and automobile once again! It was really good that I didn’t have to worry about caring for Rosebud, because that would have made the day feel even longer. I was pretty wiped out by such a long, involved day – but the main thing is, our car is now on its way to being finished and certified for us, which will give us a lot more independence.

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