Germany day trips: the autobahn’s brown signs offer spontaneous diversions

Germany day trips: the autobahn’s brown signs offer spontaneous diversions

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

You’re barreling down the German autobahn when suddenly a large brown sign with white lettering catches your eye. Its appealing depiction of a handsome old town, towering cathedral or dreamy castle tempts you to exit the motorway, and off you go to explore this serendipitous find.

If this scenario has ever played out in your own vehicle, you’re not alone. According to ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, or German Auto Club), one out of six drivers has turned off the autobahn at least once and followed a brown sign to the point of interest.

According to the article "Tourism along the highway," more than 3,400 tourist information signs along the country’s motorways invite drivers to make a diversion to UNESCO World Heritage sites, towns of touristic interest, recreational facilities or natural beauty spots. Although each of Germany’s federal states takes responsibility for the installation of the signs within their borders, the design and dimensions must follow national guidelines. Only one point of interest can be advertised over a distance of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and a minimum of one kilometer must separate any two brown signs.

I’ve often puzzled over how long a trip would take, and just what there would be to see, if one was to heed every sign along a given stretch of highway. For example, diversions advertised along the A63 between Kaiserslautern and Mainz include the Japanese Gardens in Kaiserslautern, the Abbey Church in Ottersberg, the Vicus Eisenberg Roman settlement, the “Little Residence” architectural ensemble of Kirchheimbolanden, a Celtic settlement on the Donnersberg Mountain, the Gothic St. Remigius pilgrimage church in Armsheim, St. Catherine's church in Oppenheim and the Mainz Cathedral – surely more than enough diversion to fill an entire weekend!

Wondering how the German state you presently call home stacks up in terms of the brown signage? According to Wissenschafts-Turm’s "Tourist information boards on freeways in Germany," motorways within the Rhineland-Palatinate tempt with 215 signs, Baden-Württemberg’s highways have 345 of them, and Bavaria is home to a whopping 836 promises of potential diversion.

Should you adhere to the famous German saying “Der Weg ist das Ziel,” or the philosophy that the journey is its own reward, an unplanned detour from the autobahn might be just what you need on your next weekend outing.

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