How the Autobahn Works

Where it All Began: Origin of the Autobahn

On August 6, 1932, the first German automobile road was opened between Cologne and Bonn. The road was strictly for the use of cars and motorcycles, it had no cross streets and slower vehicles like horse-drawn carts were banned from using it.

While not an "autobahn" per se, it was the seed of what would become the nation's highway system.


By the late 1930s the Nazi Party began taking over the country's political system. Adolph Hitler rose to power, and his aggressive military campaigns needed a viable and established road system to move men and war material. From these circumstances the autobahn was born.

National Socialism arose during a time of economic hardship for Germans. Hiltler saw the potential of the roads to produce jobs and spur national growth and began an aggressive road building campaign under the Reichsautobahnen supervision. The roads were the first high-speed limited-access roads in the world at the time. These first sections were even used for Grand Prix race car testing at times.

Gas shortages during WWII resulted in a neglect of the roads, which were found to be too steep and winding for much military traffic. Further, German citizens simply could not afford the gas to drive the roads during the war years. By the end of the war many of the roads were neglected to the point of impassability. A reconstructed Germany began a campaign to restore the roads and add more miles. By the 1990s, following German unification, the road system had caught the imagination of the world and "autobahn" was synonymous for the speed and drivability we see today. And while the future of the roadway's unrestricted speed may be in question, it's doubtful the autobahn will be a thing of the past anytime soon.

For more information about Germany's autobahn, follow the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Brian's Guide to Getting Around Germany. "The Autobahn." Jan. 29, 2010. (June 2, 2010)
  • Car and Driver. "Eight Rules for Driving on the German Autobahn." April 2009. (June 2, 2010)
  • Cremer, Andreas. "Merkel Rebuffs German Social Democrats' Call for Speed Limit." Oct. 29, 2007. (Jan. 30, 2009)
  • Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development - BMVBS. "Germany's commitment for improving road safety in Europe." (June 2, 2010),1872.1096185/Artikel/dokument.htm
  • Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development - BMVBS. "Planned changes to the schedule of fines and penalties - Higher fines for traffic offences." May 21, 2008. (June 2, 2010),1872.1057005/Artikel/dokument.htm
  • Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development - BMVBS. "Roads." (June 2, 2010),1900.963681/Roads.htm
  • Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development - BMVBS. "Runter vom Gas! (Kill your Speed!) - New billboard posters on motorways." Jan. 22, 2009. (June 2, 2010),1872.1063368/Pressemitteilung/dokument.htm
  • Runter Vom Gas. (June 2, 2010)
  • The German Way. "Driving in Germany & Europe." (June 2, 2010)
  • vom Scheidt, Gregor. German Translator. Personal Communication via e-mail. Conducted on Jan. 29 and Feb. 1, 2010.