European Delivery, April 2002

What is the deal with bathtubs in German hotels? They were all about 6 inches off the floor level in the bathroom. This causes you to exit after your shower and forget about the height difference and almost fall on your face when you step down on the slick floor. Very weird.

Germans smoke ALOT and EVERYWHERE. They smoke in the train stations, they smoke in cafes, they smoke in restaurants, lounges, almost everywhere like I said. Be prepared for it. And its annoying not just for the frequency of it, but also because their idea of a non-smoking section is one where you're in the same room with no divider, you just aren't sitting RIGHT next to the people doing the smoking. Our clothes smelled almost the whole trip from the cigarettes.

Fool American! You must go to a chicken restaurant for chicken! This was the look and response (although more polite, but definitely in a "don't you know this?" tone) when I asked the conceirge at the Munich Hilton if the German cuisine restaurants he was recommending served chicken. I don't eat red meat so I'm glad I asked because he said we had to go to a chicken restaurant for chicken. The chicken restaurant he recommend, true to form, had ALOT of chicken entrees. It was pretty amusing though.

We watched ALOT of CNN while we were over in Germany. The hotel TV, was understandably, mostly in German. You could watch MTV with American videos alot of times, but the VJ's and commercials were in German. One time out of boredom, and amusement, watched "Blackdog" the truck crashup movie with Patrick Swayze in German, until my wife made me change the channel. But CNN was definitely our channel of choice while we were in Germany.

You can depend on the trains as your primary means of transportation in Munich. They're so easy to use and find your way around, we never really had a problem with using them, even not speaking much German. They are clean, you won't find yourself sitting next to homeless people as may happen in the US, and they operate with perfect, on-time, efficiency. The only problems we had were with the automated machines for getting our tickets since the directions and ticket descriptions weren't printed in English. We figured it out eventually though. Even if they were to check your tickets (which they seem to never do) we could have I'm sure escaped getting in trouble by pleading the "dumb tourist" response (which we were getting quite good at).

Don't be like us and forget the handy, wallet sized map that comes with your European delivery packet. It would have helped us alot in figuring out how to get where we needed to go. Plus it has a very nice map of the train system that is better than the folding maps we would receive from the hotel staff everytime we asked a question.

It is extremely difficult to get tap water in Germany. And almost no restaurants have ice. The water you usually get will be from a bottle, i.e. Evian. And they charge you for it. We were surprised to be presented with a bill at a sushi restaurant with two charges of 1.80 euros for two glasses of water. However we were never presented with a bottle that the water came from (to verify it was bottled). We just ordered glasses of "stillwasser" and it came in a glass (of course with no ice).

Ordering an in-dash navigation system in your BMW and obtaining the Nav CD for Germany and Europe can negate a load of stress that would otherwise be an annoying part of your European delivery experience. I had tried to talk my wife out of selecting Nav on her car when we ordered it arguing that it was one more thing to break later. Well, the jury is still out on that one, but combined with the appropriate Nav CD for Germany, it was a wonderful thing to have. Just picture all the bickering between a husband and wife who are driving and lost, and multiply that by 10 if they're in a foreign country where they can't understand road signs and directions. Then you'll see my point about why it was so nice to have.

If you want to reserve a spot for an English speaking factory tour, call this number (1-866-868-7269) at BMW NA to schedule things and talk to Chuck Winik. Make sure you do it as soon as you can as the reservations have to be quite far in advance I'm told. I made ours 90 days in advance. Tours are only offered on Mondays and Fridays in English I think.

Driving on the Autobahn -- Don't plant yourself in the left lane! Germans will not pass on the right (except one jerk in a sweet, Alpina B10 E39 5-series). German drivers will however, affix themselves to your rear bumper until you get the hell out of the way. How fast would I say people go on the Autobahn? I noticed three distinct classes of speed.

Slowest - Trucks, cars with trailers, slower tiny cars that just can't make alot of speed.

Medium - About half of the cars are in this range. Between 80mph and 90mph was the average. This is where you will most likely be as your new BMW's engine is still very green. Don't misunderstand me, we took a few quick bursts tot the 110-120mph range. But in the interest of breaking in our new car properly, we tried to stay under 3500 revs. Its really tough though when you want to be in the third classification that I will get to next. And your new BMW will feel soooo right at these high speeds. It really feels in its element at high speed in the left lane.

Fast - These guys are HAULING. They will blow by you in a split second, doing at least 110mph, usually 120mph+. The cars are 99% German, mostly BMW"s, VW's and Audi's including the diesels, and big Benz's. It takes a bit of effort to swallow your pride as a Passat diesel wagon rockets past you, but you eventually get used to it. Beware of pulling out to pass without checking your mirrors thoroughly. That silver Mercedes sedan that is far back in the left lane now may be doing 130mph and be on top of you in 5 seconds.

Germans don't tend to volunteer alot when you ask a question. Some examples are when we asked the ticket agent at the Munich airport if there was a McDonalds or Burger King in the airport. She said there was a Burger King in the airport. We had some carry-on bags with us and weren't feeling up to walking far. We asked if it was far and she said no it was really close. It was FAR, in fact it wasn't even in the airport! It was just outside the very end of it, which was quite a haul. Strange. I guess they just have a different perspective on things. I can't think of another specific example, but there were several other occurrences where something we were told had something they consider common sense, but of course we didn't know about, omitted.

We wanted to go to a gas station on the road right at the end of the Neuschwanstein access road. It was only a few hundred feet to the left, but the Nav wanted us to turn right at the end of the access road. We went to the gas station to get some water for the trip to Austria, meanwhile the Nav got frustrated with us and figured we were dead set to go in that direction. So it recomputed a route which was a huge circle and would have put us in at 1AM in Austria. We stupidly followed these new directions down the road a few miles until the Nav got us lost when it couldn't decide which turnoff it wanted us to follow from a roundabout. It is funny to talk about now, but at the time I was really getting pissed. We finally ended up sitting in some neighborhood that wasn't even on the Nav's street map and it got mad at us and refused to give us any directions for a while. I'm not even joking either. We turned it on and off several times and for about 5 minutes it wouldn't talk to us. Then abruptly it recomputed the original route that it had wanted us to take from Neuschwanstein and we backtracked down the road. Luckily we only wasted about 20 minutes for this little Nav learning experience.

How did I like driving in Germany? I loved it. The highways are glacier smooth, people drive fast but are not maniacs, and there is quite a bit of road etiquette. A few times while doing our standard 85mph in the right lane and coming upon a truck, someone moving faster than us in the left lane would ease off, flash their lights, and allow me to slot in in front of them to pass the truck. Then I would return to the right lane and let them go by but this kept me from having to brake hard behind the truck to let the left lane car go by and then lose momentum.

We didn't really see any exotic cars on the Autobahn while we were there. The highlight of our Autobahn experience was probably the gorgeous, electron-blue M5 we saw in Munich rush hour traffic Tuesday. Traffic was a bit heavy and he was faithfully adhering to the 100kph speed zone along with everyone else in the herd. I got closer to check out his car and confirmed that it was indeed an M5 as it had the badge, wheels, and body kit. (I had been fooled before as many E39 5 series cars in Germany have some elements of the M5's body kit). His car was beautiful in that color, maybe it was a custom option in Germany. After a few kilometers, the traffic thinned, and then the no-speed limit sign came out. In the traffic shuffle, he had fallen behind me and gotten in the left lane. He must have been waiting for the speed limit to end, because I saw a few cars go by us quickly and change to my lane. Then as he blew past us in the left lane, I saw that his left turn signal was on, the Autobahn signal for "get the hell out of my way, I'm the big dog here." In seconds he was out of our sight, as a domino effect of left lane cars moved into the center lane to let him past. It was a beautiful sight.

What's the deal with this? Pay to use the bathroom? I thought it was weird, but I guess I'm just a spoiled American. It was about 50 cents in the Munich train stations, here it was about 20 cents. Its mostly just annoying, so make sure you have a little bit of cash on you at all times! Oh yeah, and its not called a bathroom, its called a water closet (wassercloset). They abbreviate it "WC".

These things suck. Don't buy one. They're dry, hard balls with a weird coating of some flavor, usually chocolate, that you order them in. Its like knawing on a billiards ball dipped in chocolate.

There are three items you will probably wish to remove from the car and keep for yourself when you drop it off. None of them will be present when the car arrives at your dealer. The first is the license plate. You are only allowed to take the FRONT plate (unless you drop the car off in Italy as the car is driven back to Munich by a person). I removed our front plate with the screwdriver in the car's toolkit. The other two items are the hazard triangle and the first aid kit. Both are required to drive on German roads, and this is why they are supplied. I felt they were neat things to have as momentos of our experience meeting our car where it was born, in Germany. And I can reunite the car with them when it arrives in the U.S. The hazard triangle came in a blue, plastic sheath that was on the left side of the trunk. The first aid kit was under the passenger seat of our 3-series coupe.

Munich, probably due to it being home to BMW, is a who's who of BMW cars. And other cars in general too, particularly German. Compared to the US, most cars in Munich are BMW's it seems and one can get tired from all the neck-snapping to look at them all.

First of all, better than 80 percent of the BMW's in Munich are badgeless. This, combined with the amount of customized cars from the factory with the M-car bits like front airdams, etc, makes it difficult to positively ID the different models. Secondly, Germans are serious about modifying their cars. Better than half of the BMW's sported some kind of mods, or custom configuration from BMW. I spotted several cars with Alpina wheels (Alpina crest center caps were proof enough) as well as some Schnitzer and Hartge wheels. Body kits are also popular, as are exhausts. A very plain looking E34 Touring, sans badge, but a manual trans of course (gnash your teeth US E34 Touring owners) had a nice, shiny pair of Supersprint exhaust tips poking out from the rear of it.

Nearly every BMW I saw as a manual trans and it quickly became commonplace to see manual trans E34 and E39 Tourings on the streets.

Seeing BMW's that we didn't get in the US took some getting used to. After seeing 4 E30 Tourings during our first day, I gradually calmed down when I saw them. Likewise, E36 Tourings can be seen fairly often. Cloth interiors are the norm too.

The Germans are crazy about their wagons. As I mentioned, E34 Tourings were everywhere and so were E39's. A beautiful, red, E46 wagon with 19" M3 wheels and full body kit eluded my camera lense but demonstrated the German propensity to deck out their wagons (it also gave a good indication of what an E46 M3 Touring would look like, if BMW would only build it). I particularly admire the clean lines of BMW Tourings so I was delighted to have such a feast for my eyes.

Other cars of note were Porsche's (I saw 3 911 Turbos in our first day in Munich, on the streets being driven, and one parked), Mercedes (large and small, AMG and barebones), Audi's, and VW's. A stately Audi A8 W12 (it had W12 badges that's how I knew it was what it was) sat parallel parked between a 911 Carrera and a 5 series on Munich's expensive shopping district main street. Kind of like their version of Rodeo drive. Minis, both old and new, the old usually with at least some mild customization including formidable rows of shiny, driving lights affixed to their front bumpers, are running around in small force in Munich. A silver Maserati, new, screamed down a street past us in Munich the day we picked up our car. A black Z8, about a dozen E46 M3's, the odd Alfa Romeo, Mercedes/Swatch SMRT cars, and countless Audi and VW TDI (diesels) were part of the smorgasbord of cars to see in Munich. OH, and I can't forget the fleeting glimpse I had on our way to our BMW factory tour of a black, E30 M3 Evo III and an E34 M5 Touring (with monstrous rear wheels and tires), parked next to each other in the BMW employee parking lot. Gotta love those Germans, they are serious about their cars!

The Sheraton in Munich is fantastic, although there are two of them, and they're right across the street from each other which was confusing to us when we first arrived. Of course we went to the wrong one first. But once we got to the right one and checked in, we discovered we were on the 20th floor. Each room has a balcony which provided a great view from 20 stories up. There are also a few restaurants close by and a nice bar in the hotel. It was the nicest hotel we stayed in by far, even nicer than the quaint Hotel Eisenhut in Rothenburg.

There is so much tax on liquor in the US. Its ridiculous. We bought a liter bottle of Cointreau at the Munich airport duty free shop for 15 euros, roughly $14 US. In the US, our local liquor store has a .75 liter bottle for $30! So for twice the price, actually more than twice because you still have sales tax on that, you get LESS than the bottle we bought. Is that sick or what?