SOMETIMES, LIFE DOESN’T JUST KICK YOU IN THE GROIN, IT GOES IN FOR THE OLD DON’T-ARGUE EYE-GOUGE. I KNOW YOU FEEL MY PAIN, SO PLEASE GET YOUR TINY VIOLINS READY AS I SPIN MY TALE OF WOE.
Remarkably, after too many decades to mention doing this job, I have never driven the Nurburgring, nor even seen it, so when the invitation came to attend the launch of the new Aston Martin DB11 AMR at the fabled German track, I was on the plane faster than one of Trump’s lawyers being offered asylum in South America.
Imagine my delight, then, when I checked into a hotel right on the track, the main straight just metres from my balcony. But then I read the itinerary and realised that the key word was ‘at’ the Nurburgring, not on it. Like many other car companies, Aston has a development centre at the Nerd-schleife and it was here that it would show us the car, before sending us on a road drive.
After flying into a foul rage, I decided to try to pretend I wasn’t at the track at all. Then, midmope, I looked down and realised the circuit layout had been sewn into the carpet – in my room, in the halls, every bloody where. Even the U-bend in my toilet looked like a hairpin.
Dying a slow death Yes, Italians also drive quickly, but there’s always a sense that they’re about to do something dangerous. It comes as no surprise, then, that their road deaths per 100,000 head of population are even higher than ours, at 6.1 to Australia’s 5.4. And the Germans? A staggeringly low 4.3. Speed kills, Ja?
Then I tried to get on with some work, twitching my curtains shut like a furious fishwife, only to be dragged immediately back to the balcony by the sound of some mug punter hilariously spinning his BMW M3 right outside my window. I felt a bit like that poor bloke in Game of Thrones who had his penis hacked off, frankly.
Fortunately, life likes to deliver its share of small mercies and unexpected surprises as well, and I was happy to discover the next day that Aston can now make decent cars. The DB11 AMR was big, shouty fun, and made more so by the joy of driving in Germany, something I’d not done for many years.
It’s annoying to admit, but the Germans are brilliant at some things, and driving is one of them. It’s not just the speeds – although they are highly practical, concentration-focusing and fun – it’s the fact that you virtually never see bad German drivers.
This is not an accident, nor a genetic quirk, it is simply down to the most intelligent regulatory system in the world, as a young German I drove with explained, after I’d shocked him into goggle-eyed disbelief by telling him that we let parents teach our children how to drive.
In Germany, Nikolas told me, getting your licence will cost you between 1500 and 2000 euros, and can take months. It involves a minimum of 20, 45-minute on-road lessons, and 20 theory lessons. These sessions are so intense that most people take 10 or 20 private sessions beforehand, just to be ready for them.
The driving test is then broken into theory and practical and the on-road part features Autobahn driving at high speed (imagine, Learners doing more than 80km/h!), night driving, and emergency brake and swerve manoeuvres. It is designed to be very, very hard, as you’d expect.
When I told Nikolas how the system works in our country he became visibly upset, locked eyes with me and said “you have to fix this, seriously”. If only I wasn’t so busy feeing sorry for myself.