Driving through our northern suburb in Sydney, I see regularly driving school vehicles passing by.
This is great to see, because for a long time it seemed to be more common to get your licence through the mum&dad driving school and the L-Licence system.
While mum and dad may be good instructors, I am sure they are neither fully familiar with the plethora of changes to the road rules, plus over the years they have picked up some bad driving habits, don’t we all, which they are involuntarily pass on to the ‘new’ drivers.
But this is not what this story is all about. It is about how driving school was back in Germany at the time I made my licence and that is old history.
History in so far, since the 1970’s are already regarded as historic times by some younger generations and even sometimes the media.
I got my driving licence in 1968 out of an urgent necessity. Why urgent? I had applied for a job as a ‘demonstrator/ sales’ for professional photographic equipment and was to be deployed to the southern part of Germany.
Now that on its own is a story, since moving from Hamburg to a place like Kempten at the southern end of the country is culturally about the same as moving from Germany to somewhere in Scotland or Greece.
While the language has vague similarities, the dialect, if the locals wanted it, made it impossible for us northern’s to understand. This apart from the fact that some words had entirely different meanings.
In fact I still marvel that the company was prepared to place a ruckee like me, still green behind the ears, into such a position and furnish him even with a company car, still not having a drivers licence.
But times were different.
So I had the job offer in December and was to start on April 1 at the Cologne headquarters for training before going to Kempten at the beginning of June. But no drivers licence.
It was at a cold, snowy January morning, when the instructor turned up with a Volkswagen with manual gearbox. Now, while I was a regular bike rider and therefore had some understanding about the road rules, I had never driven a car. But it seems that I took, as they say here, as a “duck to water”.
So after some instruction about gear changes and clutch and a ‘dry’ run on the gearbox we set off for a drive. The road was snow covered, yes in those times, winter still had snow, and slippery.
After one stall, I managed to get the car going and up a slight incline and onto the main road.
Now you need to know that In Germany driving school cars have to have dual brake, clutch and accelerator control.
My instructor had to remind me to slow down as I was exceeding the speed limit of 50 km/h. But at times, I noted that he used the brake to ‘assist’ his instructions.
Soon we had to get on the Bundestrasse, a main artery road with trucks and busses.
A scary experience, since the beetle is not a big car and it is a really frightening experience to see the huge front of a truck appearing to bolt down on you through the rear window.
But we made it. In fact my driving instructor never believed me that I had never driven a car before.
So after only 6 hours of driving lessons and some theoretical ones in between, my instructor through I was ready for a test.
Maybe he also felt that I got a bit expensive, since I managed to splatter a pedestrian with a full load of dirty melt-water due to driving to close to the curb. Resulting that the instructor had to pay for the dry cleaning and one or two speed traps we drove through. Not sure if we got caught, but with me driving always to fast, that was a good chance.
Now we had the end of February and the time for the driving test came, having passed the theoretical part. Road rules were much simpler, so I deemed the test to be very simple.
I remember the examiner getting into the rear of the Volkswagen. He was stern looking and silent, a somehow ‘scary’ eminence. He gave single sillably instructions where to go and what to do and sat there with his note pad. To say that I was nervous is an understatement.
Anyway everything went fine until almost the end. I had to make a left hand turn at a crossroad, remember Germany is ‘right-hand driving’ and a car from the opposite wanted to make a right had turn in front of me. Since he came from the right I was supposed to stop and let him pass.
He had already entered the intersection, but I, in my eagerness tried to get around the corner ahead of him.
The result an curt instruction to drive back to the department building. The examiner got out of the car without a word and I had failed.
Two more driving lessons required. Each lesson of about 45 minutes.
But the second time around not only another examiner was in the passenger seat also a second aspirant. I don’t much remember much of this test drive, but all must have gone well, apart from the occasional whisper of my instructor to slow down.
Now the Volkswagen Beetle is not the quietest car, so I am sure the whisper was not overheard by the examiner, or he simple was a kind type and decided no to hear.
So, after just 8 hours I got my driving licence, which I still have until today, since in Germany licences are for life.
Nowadays it is much harder and certainly more costly to get a driving licence with 40+ hours driving required.
But once I go my ‘paper’, at those times the licence was a large sheet of folded paper, I also could start my job. In the subsequent years I would drive about 40,000 km every year for the next 14 years, all over Germany and Europe.
Plus driving in Brasil, Ecuador and subsequently Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, Korea and more. Great experiences and scary encounters. All this with just 8 hours of instruction.