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After 20 Years of Driving Experience, Getting my German Driver’s License Almost Broke Me. Here’s How.

The driving exam in Germany is no joke.

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I moved to my wife’s home country of Germany in 2011. Life is good here sans COVID-19, but my first year included an experience I’ll never forget:

Obtaining my German driver’s license.

For those of you who don’t know, the process for getting a driver’s license in Germany (Führerschein, pronounced “FEWR-er-shine”) is nothing like that in the U.S.

Here are a few requirements:

  • a mandatory eight-hour first aid course
  • a minimum of 37 hours of instruction (I had this waived due to already holding a New York State driver’s license)
  • passing two exams (theoretical and practical)
  • a cost of over $2,000

If you think all of this is a little overboard (as I certainly did), you have to remember that Germany is a country that’s religious about driving. It’s the home of some of the most recognizable automobile brands in the world, namely Daimler-Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen. And as you may have heard, much of the Autobahn (the German word for highway) has no official speed limit.

My first six months in Deutschland I was allowed to drive on my New York driver’s license, towards the end of which I began studying for the theoretical exam.

With only 30 questions, this test doesn’t seem so intimidating. But don’t be fooled; it’s nothing like its American counterpart. Yes, all of the questions are multiple choice. But while the American version only has one correct option for each problem, the correct answer for any given question on the German driving exam may be one, two, or all three of the options available.

And they try really hard to trick you.

For example:

What must you check on a car with a caravan trailer before setting out on a journey?

A. Whether the view through the rear-view mirrors is adequate
B. Whether the lights of the trailer are working
C. Whether passengers in the caravan trailer have put on their safety belts

The correct answers are A and B.

For those of you who (like me) thought that choice C should be included, it’s good to know that here, the lives of passengers in a caravan trailer don’t add up to much. My wife says this is because it’s illegal for you to drive with passengers in your trailer anyway (she thinks). But if you do, at least you don’t have to worry about their safety.

One more thing: You’re only allowed a total of three wrong answers in order to achieve a passing grade. In other words, if you don’t manage a score of 90% or better, tough luck.

Now, I was a great student and I’m a pretty good test-taker. But I failed the German theoretical exam the first time I took it.

And the next ten times.

Well, officially, I only failed it once. Thankfully, most of my embarrassment was contained within the privacy of my own home, where I failed a computer simulated test that used official questions. But I couldn’t escape the fact that despite almost 20 years of driving experience, I couldn’t seem to pass this test.

So, I spent the next few weeks studying like my life depended on it. There was no way I was going to let this exam defeat me. Those questions would be no match for my newly acquired knowledge of traffic law:

To which vehicles do the Sunday and public holiday driving ban apply?
To trucks with a permissible total mass exceeding 7.5 tons, of course!

Up to which permissible total mass may motor vehicles be parked on specially designated footpaths?
Is that all you’ve got? 2.8 tons, fool!

Where is parking prohibited?
Oh, let me think…could it possibly be before sunken kerbstones and at the edge of the roadway if this would prevent others from using designated parking areas, but not immediately behind pedestrian crossings?

Obviously.

After passing my second attempt at the test, I made quick work of the practical exam. This admittedly difficult chapter in my life was now suddenly, somewhat anticlimactically, closed.

So, what’s the moral of this story?

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Interestingly, that quote is attributed to a certain German philosopher, poet and composer by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Equally compelling is that just a few years later (also in Germany), a ground-breaking invention made its first appearance, changing the world and society as we know it. In the year 1885, when Nietzsche was in his 40’s, Karl Benz built the first gas-powered automobile.

Coincidence?

Decide for yourself.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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