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Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners

Though many road signs are universal, some slight differences in Germany may catch you out.

Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners
Traffic signs - including a sign for a one-way and priority road - are seen at an intersection in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa | Uwe Anspach

With its speed-limit-free Autobahns and beautiful countryside, Germany is well known as a driver-friendly destination.

When it comes to road signs, most of those you’ll find in Germany are the same or very similar to those you’ll find elsewhere in the world.

However, there are a few which are markedly different, or which have important rules attached to them that aren’t always immediately obvious.

Here are eight of the most important such traffic signs and their meanings. A comprehensive list of all of the German road signs in English can be found here.

READ ALSO: Germany ‘doesn’t have enough signs’ for Autobahn speed limit, says minister

1. Give Way

A give way sign is located in front of the corporate headquarters of Walter Bau AG in Augsburg, Germany. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Stefan Puchner

A similar upside-down triangle can be found on British and American roads, with either the words “Yield” or “Give Way” written in the centre.

In Germany however, the plain triangle on its own means Vorfahrt gewähren (give way) and that you should brake in good time before an intersection with this traffic sign. If the intersection is clearly visible, it is not mandatory to stop and, if the intersecting right-of-way is clear, you can drive through or turn at a moderate speed.

2. Right of way

A bus drives past right of way sign in Adlershof, Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Tim Brakemeier

If you see this yellow diamond on the right side of the road you are driving on, it means that you have Vorfahrt (right of way). If you are driving on a priority road, other road users must wait until you have passed.

The right of way ends when you leave the priority road, or when you see a yellow diamond with two black lines through it.

3. Town/city limit sign

The town entrance sign of Lützen in Burgenlandkreis. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas
The Ortseingangsschild – or town entry sign – is a yellow board with the name of a town of village on it. But watch out – this sign is not just there to inform you of the name of the village you’re entering. It also signifies that a speed limit of 50km/h now applies.

4. Green arrow at the traffic lights

A green arrow allows turning despite a red light at an intersection in Leipzig, Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

If you don’t recognise this traffic sign, you may find yourself getting some angry beeps from behind. That’s because the small tin sign with a green arrow on a black background allows right turns at intersections in many places despite a red light.

This traffic sign is a relic of the GDR, and made its way into the German Road Traffic Act and the rest of Germany in 1994. It is, however, still more commonly found in the east of the country.

5. 30 km/h zone

A traffic sign with the inscription 30 Zone, indicates a speed 30 zone in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

This is another one with a hidden meaning. When entering a 30km/h zone, it’s not enough to just kill your speed: you also have to be aware, that within this zone, you must give way to traffic coming from the right, including cyclists.

This particular rule is not always easily recognised, as there are often no other markings to indicate it. This is due to the fact that priority road signs are usually reserved for roads with faster speed limits.

It’s very important to know that the “right before left” rule applies here.

6. One Way Street

The Cardinalstraße street sign near the cathedral in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg
 
The traffic sign which reads Einbahnstraße indicates a one way street and the direction of travel is indicated by the arrow on the sign.

7. Exit sign

An exit sign indicates the end of the A44 Kassel – Eisenach. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa | Uwe Zucchi
The sign which reads Ausfahrt indicates the exit on the motorway. The exit sign can also be used outside freeways, though these then have black lettering on a yellow or white background.

8. St. Andrew’s Cross

A St. Andrew’s cross of the park railroad in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

In front of level crossings, the white and red Andreaskreuz (St. Andrew’s cross) means: “Rail vehicles have priority”.

According to the German Road Traffic Regulations (StVO), motor vehicles should keep a distance of at least five meters from the sign inside built-up areas, so that the sign is not obscured by the vehicle.

Member comments

  1. The only one that confuses us still is the parking/stopping ones. In the USA, you can almost always turn right on a red if it’s safe, unless there is a sign that says you can’t, which is rare. I’ve turned right on red here many times before realizing my blunder. It makes no sense to me that you have slam on your brakes and let someone coming from the right in, but you can’t turn right on a red if it’s clear. Pure silliness.

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