Today my cousin Kevin took me to the Nurburgring
, and so this seems as fine a day as any to talk about one of my favorite subjects: driving
. Taxes and high population density make driving something that is much discouraged in Europe
, but they do offer an excellent public transportation system, which makes it possible for people to get by without a car. Kevin thinks every family needs one car, but even well-off families have only one. You really can get around in Europe without a car, though they remain very handy for errands. Most cars use diesel
engines, as the diesel is slightly cheaper then gasoline, and offers superior gas mileage. The cars are much smaller as well. Taxes makes fuel more expensive then in the United States, though the gap is less dramatic then it used to be. European cars are much smaller then those we use in the states. My Ford Focus
would be a pretty large car for most families, with the smaller Fiesta and XA being popular. The Volkswagen Polo (a smaller Golf) is popular as is the Fiat 500 submini. Both are coming to America in part in response to the comparatively high fuel prices experienced during 2007-8 (which I believe helped trigger the recession) and may do well here. But they are sized more like Mini Cooper then anything else on American shores.
Euroeans also drive hatchbacks. I don't know what it is about Americans, but we don't think it's a car unless it has a proper trunk. Europeans don't generally have more then one car or a mini-van in the garage appreciate the flexibility of hatchbacks, which can swallow an absurd amount of stuff with the rear seat folded down. The design is supremely flexible, capable of switching the vehicle from people hauler to cargo carrier in minutes. But not in America. We want a trunk we can lock down and so protect our stuff from the criminal classes. Besides, we usually have at least one friend with a pickup.
I have yet to see a single pickup truck in Europe. Not one. Working people here use vans. Semi-tractors are shorter, cab over designs without a sleeper. European cities are simply much tighter and the roads much narrower then in the US. You simply could not get around in some of the vehicles we drive. Often you have to stop for someone coming the other way, even when no one is parked at your side. Parking spaces are hard to find. Semis don't go down residential streets, in fact in Luxembourg they are banned on Sundays when families are out. No trucks over 7.5 tons, which means repair vehicles can move but that's it.
Another oddity is a French law, followed in Luxembourg that if two streets are of similar size anyone entering from the right has the right of way. Lights take precedence, and if one is a major thoroughfare yield signs will be posted. But you really don't know what to expect, and frankly the rule defines dumb.
But they don't require you to yield to people entering from the right in Germany and that's where the Nurburgring is. The N-ring is one of the most famous, and oldest, road racing circuits in the world. It was first constructed in 1925 in part as a government project to get poor Weimar republic citizens working, and has proven a boon as it's a going concern today and brings people from all over the world to southern Germany to play. The Nurburgring has two circuits. The south course is the current Grand Prix course, four miles in length and with all applicable safety barriers and a huge paddock with a mountain of garages. I love my home track, Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, but the Nurburgring is in a different league. It's facilities are impeccable, modern and immense with multiple shops and restaurants, immense grand stands and a built in museum. Of course it does not help that Audi, Mercedes Benz and BMW all in some way sponsor the course, and use it for testing and promoting their brand's performance image. Mid Oh has no such sponsors. Nissan and Aston Martin maintain permanent stores there where you can buy their expensive SWAG. Of course they put some pretty cool race cars on display itself.
And then there's the Nordschliefe, the North course 23 kilometers in the rolling hills of Germany, the Green Hell, that when combined with the old south course left you with a Formula 1 track 23 miles long that no driver could possibly learn. It was dangerous as hell too, but until Nikki Lauda suffered a horrendous accident it was the site of the German Grand Prix. Nobody liked it but the fans, but if you wanted a circuit that would test your car, the Nordschliefe was it.
The problem for me was, they weren't running a race that weekend. Parking was free, but you really couldn't go very much anywhere. My cousin and I went to the museum, which is good if expensive. They had a number of F1 cars there, included an exploded (in the engineering sense) Williams BMW which really made a great display of all the bits that go into a contemporary racing machine. They also had a theater showing a 3D film about their 24 hour race, complete with sprinklers to remind viewers that racing in the rain is rather wet. It was quite cool really, with truck and simulators and good (sponsored) exhibits on hybrid and transmission technology.
But if you want history, you want the Nordschliefe and anyone with a reasonably safe car can take a lap for Euros. They even let Jeremy Clarkson have a go! And I would have had I brought my SVT rather then an Audi SUV. I saw a Viper, a Nissan Skyline GTR and two Porsche 911 GT3s lined up to play, complete with roll cages and drivers in full suits. I do not want to go out there with an SUV in that crowd. Even if it was a turbodiesel Audi. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to watch much of that course, though maybe the locals would have done better. We drove up to the top of the hill and the castle and I took a number of great photos, but right now I regret not spending the money and taking our chances, because that seems like the only chance I will ever have of seeing the entire Nordschliffe.
Instead I drove up to the castle. The Nurburgring draws its name from a town built just below Schloss Nurburg, built on a peak inside the great circuit. it is a great castle, and if in ruins it remains in far better shape then many others today. You can make out the outline of the barbican, much of the gatehouse survives and the keep (donjon) remains in great shape. It has masonry walls about eight feet thick and around forty feet high, and stands at the very top of the castle. They have ladders and intermediate floors with make it possible to stand at the very top of the keep. I couldn't see much of the course itself, but I saw a lot of the beautiful German countryside, took some fabulous photos.
So passed another day of my European Vacation. I didn't blog yesterday because I really went back into the Grund, only this time with pictures I could actually upload. Tomorrow I think I shall take the train to Bastogne, and perhaps study one of the many important battles which were part of the Battle of the Bulge. Later I think I'll rent a car and visit the battlefield at Verdun.