A passion of mine for the pat few years has been cars. I have become somewhat of a “gear head”. It follows that a summer in Germany, the leader in European cars, has excited the car lover inside of me. Everywhere I look there is a model of car I have never seen, or in the case of Berlin, a multi hundred-thousand dollar super-car. Before arriving in Germany I had a few expectations about the car culture, most of which appear to be true. The makes of cars are German, the models reflect city life (in Berlin), the aesthetics are refined but lackluster, and modifications are few are far between. There have been a few unexpected things, but as a whole the stereotypical idea of German car culture is quite accurate to the reality.
The presence of German cars is overwhelming. Everywhere you look there are BMWs, Audis, Mercedes-Benzes, Volks Wagons, Porsches, and Opels. As an American, the Opel brand is unfamiliar to me, they seem to specialize in average commuter vehicles, a similar brand to Nissans in the States. If you take a gander at the wealthier street blocks, such as the ones that house stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, it is reasonable to find a Ferrari or Lamborghini per block. American vehicles are rare, an econo-box here or a Mustang there. The real surprise to me was the presence of Smart, the company that makes ridiculously sized clown-cars. I had no idea that Smart was a company backed by German Mercedes-Benz. Another thing I noticed was the lack of Japanese cars, specifically Subaru. I can only assume that imports of any kind to the country are unpopular, possibly due to tariffs or public perception.
In Berlin, the majority of cars are compact and sub-compact sizes. Anything that resembles a VW Golf or a Fiat 500 in street presence are very common compared to American cities. Overall I would have to say that the majority of vehicles sold are sedans, but not by much. Everywhere outside of the city is dominated largely by sedans and wagons. When it comes to sportier cars there are many. The BMW 3 series (in Berlin a Porsche 911) tends to be the standard, with Mini-Coopers and MX-5s (Miatas) also making an impression. Though, owning a Miata has left me with an eye for one. In between the Lamborghini Aventadors and Farrari 488s/LaFerraris, there is a prominent vintage car scene. I am proud to say that, among the classic cars of Europe there are many old Mustangs.
The amount of late 1960s Mustangs is awesome, there are entire garages full of antique Mustangs. I even saw someone picking up groceries on a weekday in a 1960s baby blue Mustang convertible with a white leather interior.
But by far the most striking models of car in Berlin is not American muscle or Italian elegance, it is the copious amounts of Smart cars (picture to the left has five Smart cars in it). Smart’s ForTwos riddle every street block on my daily commute. Berlin is a large city so small cars make sense, but Smart cars seem too small. They appear too small for regular errands like grocery runs or the transportation of anything larger than a brief case. Their performance (both fuel economy and highway travel),cost, and safety are also questionable. They appear to fill a gap between mopeds and sub-compact cars, a gap I cannot justify filling.
Visually the cars in Berlin are rather bland. Most cars are have a monochromatic grey, ranging from white to black. I am a little disappointed the main color for Mini Coopers is not red. The lack of color reflects the homogeneous and utilitarian style the culture has here. Though, I will admit that the style does impose a feeling of uniformness and refinement. I have seen a few vinyl wrapped cars, mainly matte black or white, a snake skin and a colorful collage has been the most unique wrap I have seen.
Overall wraps seem to be the furthest people in Berlin will go to modify their car’s appearance. I have not seen any cars with widebodies, race/drift, underglow, or even a GT style spoiler. Out of my multiple weeks in Berlin the most drastic visual modification I have seen has to have been a bagged (air suspension) Audi coupe with a digitally faded two tone wrap. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of this Audi, all I have is the matte blue Porsche to the top left.
Finally, my favorite part about car culture, car modifications. There are rarely any aftermarket parts on vehicles here. I can only assume the norm and possibly the law have kept people from modifying their cars. It is understandable if a government wants to regulate exhausts and power gains for safety and ecological purposes, not to mention ear piercingly loud pipes early in the morning. Unfortunately for Germany, I am an engineer, and I love to build and tinker with things. So this suppression of customization, be it cultural or judicial, is disappointing. It may be the case that all the modifications done to cars here are hidden, a sort of sleeper style. To be fair, I have not looked under many hoods to test this theory.
Overall, Germans love their cars, especially their own makes of cars. The stereotypical German street full of BMWs (and possibly Audis) is true. The size of cars is smaller than American vehicles (we have an obsession for trucks), the visual appearance of the cars is uniform, and the modification scene is scarce. In the future, exploring into the more rural areas would be an interesting comparison to city life in Germany. Observing die Autos in Germany has been an exhilarating adventure.
PS. The bicycle, moped, motorcycle and ATV presence here in Berlin is also very interesting and deserves a future post or addition to this article.