City Driving and Parking
page last updated November 18, 2023
like most major European and world cities, are old and congested.
Driving in these cities is generally more of a hassle than a necessity,
especially with the excellent public transportation available. Still,
there may be times when you want or need a car in town, or just
got lost leaving the airport and ended-up in downtown Berlin, so here's
some things to know and keep in mind regarding driving and parking in
On this page:
of most German towns and cities feature a lovely system of narrow,
disjointed, and often one-way streets. You may find yourself feeling
like a rat trapped in a
maze. A recent study determined that the average German spends 65
hours a year stuck in traffic or waiting at traffic lights. That
said, overall, congestion
German cities is probably no better or worse than other European and
cities. Driving in town, even "downtown", usually isn't too bad if you
have experience driving in large urban areas. And after the war, many
German cities rebuilt their downtown districts and designed them to
make automobile navigation a little easier. Basically, driving in
cities in Germany involves the same skill, patience, and sense of humor
as driving in cities in the US and elsewhere. Use common sense and pay
attention and you should do fine.
Rush hours are generally 7:00-9:00 and 16:00-18:00 on
weekdays. In some of the trendy nightlife districts, you may find
yourself staring at brake lights until well after 23:00. Popular
shopping areas will usually be congested and parking particularly hard
to come by on Saturdays.
first thing you may notice is that streets in Germany (and Europe in
general) are appreciably narrower than those in the US. Having a
compact car will make adapting to this substantially easier. Sight lines
in towns also are more restricted than typically seen in the US due to buildings being close to the street; convex
mirrors are often placed atop poles at intersections or tight turns to
assist drivers in seeing around obstructions.
Typical town road
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
Make sure you know
where you're going before you head out. Directional and guide
signs may be hard to spot in the urban clutter, so be sure to keep an
eye peeled for them (having a passenger on the look out can be
Several large cities make extensive use of tunnels and multi-level
intersections that allow traffic to quickly bypass congested areas.
These can sneak-up on unsuspecting drivers and seemingly take them
through a wormhole to an alternate universe. It's a good idea to study
a map of your route before you start out so you're aware of these.
Avoid it altogether
You can completely avoid the stress of driving in a city by parking your car somewhere in the outskirts and
using public transportation to reach your destination in the
city. This will likely save you a considerable amount of time, money, and cursing. You'll
find many German cities have outlying park and ride (P+R
Anlage) locations marked with "park + ride"
of a Schilderwald
Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
There are an estimated 20 million traffic signs in Germany, or about one every 28 meters! Many Germans describe
their streetscape as a "sign forest" (Schilderwald)
due to the
abundance of traffic signs, so you'll need to pay extra special
attention in areas with many signs so that you don't miss an important
one. Be especially on lookout for for "do not
and "one way" signs --
miss one of
these and you might become the new hood ornament on a bus or delivery
one-way maze, use larger two-way avenues and boulevards to get as close
to your destination as possible, then use the one-ways as needed to
finish the job. If you get lost in the one-way rat trap, be
warned that a couple of right turns could put you in France
instead of back where you started.
signals are usually easy to see, but sometimes
right-of-way signs may be difficult to spot. Also, look closely
for parking or no parking signs before you park on the street to make
sure that you may legally park there (more about this in the next
section.) Especially watch for the many obscure driveways
with "Ausfahrt freihalten" ("do not block
signs or you may return to find that the police have performed their
magic and made your car disappear. Some money will have to
disappear from your wallet to make the car reappear.
block driveway sign
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
watch for is the "bus lane" sign --
marks a lane reserved for buses. You'll find these along some
in the larger cities. You may use this lane only if you're
turning right, and you must not enter the lane until just before you
make your turn. Other vehicles, including taxis and sometimes bicycles,
are allowed to use this lane as well
when marked with a corresponding supplemental sign.
a sharp eye
out for unmarked intersections, especially in residential areas, and
yield the right-of-way to traffic approaching from the right.
the watch for pedestrians. They always have the right-of-way in
zebra-marked crosswalks, but oftentimes they'll dart-out between cars
and other locations. In residential areas, be on the lookout for
children playing near streets-- you're required by law to pass by them
at the slowest speed possible. The same holds true if a
handicapped or elderly person is in or near the street.
are rather "trigger-happy" when it comes to green lights. Many
drivers are already entering the intersection when the signal turns
green, so be prepared to go or expect some cranky honking from the guy
behind you just mere microseconds after the green comes on.
that the Germans, with their collective obsessive/compulsive disorder,
would have something as simple as house numbering organized to a
fault. Instead, you often have to consume a couple of liters of beer
before it makes any sense. Generally-speaking, house numbers are not
organized by blocks like they are in the US. And while many places have
a more logical
odd/even scheme on each side of the street, many places do not, in
which case buildings were often numbered up one
side of the street then back down the other (the so-called "horseshoe
numbering".) When more buildings
were built along the same street, they repeated the process with the
new addition, sometimes using the same street name, sometimes a
different street name.
aware that multiple storefronts and/or residences can
share the same house number if they're all in the same physical
building-- in this case, they may have lettered suffixes to
differentiate them (but not always.) If buildings were combined at some
point, the address may be given as a range, such as "10-14".
most online maps nowadays show the house numbers for individual
buildings, so finding a specific address is much easier than it used to
numbering in disarray, it's no surprise that street names are as
well. A street can change names anywhere it wants to (sometimes even in
middle of a block). Attached to each name are the typical
suffixes. For instance, Strasse or Straße is
"street" and Weg is
"lane" or "way". However, Allee is not "alley", but
rather "boulevard" or "avenue"; gasse is "alley."
are others, but those are the biggies.
Since 2008, local governments have been permitted
to establish so-called
"environmental zones" (Umweltzone)
in order to reduce air pollution in cities and to help Germany reach
its carbon-reduction goals. As of 2022, there are 69 such zones in
Germany covering nearly every large city and many smaller cities.
access to these zones, marked
"low emissions restriction zone" signs like the one at the left, is
restricted to vehicles with the colored emissions sticker(s) (Feinstaubplakette or Umweltplakette)
shown on the bottom sign. When the zones were initially established,
access was allowed for vehicles displaying either a
red, yellow, or green sticker, the color of which indicates the level
of pollution the vehicle produces (red being the worst.) Today, restrictions have tightened and nearly
all zones are now restricted to vehicles with a green sticker.
If your vehicle
does not have the green sticker, which is displayed on
the windshield typically on the passenger side, you will have to obtain
one before you can drive in a low emissions zone. They can be purchased
from vehicle inspection stations, some city governments, and online.
You will have to present your vehicle registration certificate, which
should have the vehicle's emission standard listed. If you're renting a
car, it likely will already have the sticker, but if not, ask
for a vehicle that does.
The fine for entering a low emissions zone without the required sticker is €100.
the green emissions sticker designates the cleanest gasoline engines,
it is also issued to some older and more polluting diesel engines. In
the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal in 2015, and with many German
cities struggling to bring air pollution levels within EU limits, some
states and cities asked the German government to establish a new blue emissions
sticker that would exclude those dirtier diesels. However, the federal
government demurred, so an
environmental group won a lawsuit in 2018 that would allow cities to enact bans on diesel
vehicles, and several cities have
now also done so, most notably Hamburg, Berlin, Stuttgart, and Darmstadt.
commonly called a "diesel ban", the restrictions in fact only apply to
older diesel vehicles that
don't meet recent EU standards (typically the "Euro 5" or "Euro 6"
standards.) In Stuttgart, the restriction applies to the entire low
emissions zone (Umweltzone);
in the other cities, those vehicles are prohibited only on a few
specific streets marked with signs like the one to the right. Generally-speaking, residents, visitors, and/or
deliveries are exempted.
that even diesel vehicles with a green emission sticker are covered by
this ban if they do not meet the indicated Euro standard. Because there
is no sticker available to designate these vehicles, enforcement is via
random police stops.
bans are highly controversial in Germany. Additional cities have
planned bans that are currently being negotiated or are
in litigation. Some cities
have compromised and dropped planned diesel bans and instead
restrictions and programs to reduce pollution such as reduced speed
limits, increased parking fees and enforcement, and priority transit
and bicycle lanes.
problem may not be navigating cities, but finding someplace to
(legally) stash your vehicle reasonably close to your
destination. In most German cities, you'll have a good selection
of parking facilities. There is the ubiquitous on-street parking
as well as off-street parking lots (Parkplatz),
garages (Parkhaus), and underground garages (Tiefgarage).
Most large cities have extensive parking facilities, and parking maps
are usually available from the tourist information offices.
Unfortunately, there are often not enough spaces to go around, and you
may have to drive around a little while before you find a place, all
the while feeling like the losing participant in a round of musical
chairs. Still, except on the busiest days and during the peak
times, you should be able to find a place within a reasonable amount of
Like the roads, parking lots and spaces in Germany tend to be smaller than in the US.
Parking on the street is the most common means of parking in
Germany. Unless specifically prohibited by a sign or general
regulation, on-street parking is usually permitted everywhere (see the
parking section of the road
for laws regarding on-street parking.) The "parking area" sign along
the street specifically indicates
where such parking is permitted, although when used it is usually
accompanied by additional signs indicating when parking is permitted,
who is permitted to park, or requiring the use of a parking permit,
voucher, or disc. Here are some examples:
purchase of a parking voucher (Parkschein)
a parking disc
You may only park for the length of time indicated (e.g. 2 hours)
Parking only for
residents with indicated permit number
"parking management area" sign
the entrance to a
neighborhood where parking
allowed on all streets in the area (unless otherwise posted)
use of a parking disc or
voucher as indicated by a supplemental sign. This means that this
requirement won't be posted on signs on each block-- it's up to you to
remember what the rules were on the sign when you entered the
neighborhood. The "end of parking
management area" sign
marks the exit from such an area.
more signs related to parking on the German
traffic signs page (page 2) as well as additional vocabulary
on-street parking may require you to use a parking voucher, parking
parking meter. Here are directions on the use of each:
vouchers (Parkschein) ("pay & display"): The
supplemental sign "mit
Parkschein" requires you to purchase a parking voucher before
leaving your vehicle. These are obtained from a nearby machine (Parkscheinautomat)--
look for tall signs marking the location of these, usually mid-block or
sometimes on corners (see
photos below). While these systems have become widespread
in the US over the past decade or so, Germany has been using them since
The operation of these machines
varies but is similar to those found in the US, and
instructions (sometimes in English or with pictures) are typically
clearly posted on
the front or side. On some, you first locate the parking rates (Parkgebühr)
front of the machine. Determine how much time you'll need, then
deposit the corresponding amount. The display will indicate how
many minutes or what expiration time the amount you've inserted will
buy. When you're happy with the time shown, press the
designated "finish" button (often
green) and the machine will dispense a small ticket (voucher).
machines, you start by pressing designated buttons to add time (often a
"+" button) until you get to the time you want, then insert your
payment. Once you've entered the amount due, the voucher will
Note that most machines do not make change, and many
machines now accept credit card payments and some now will
even allow you to pay using your mobile phone either via an app or SMS
In some cases, you can park for a short time for free (typically 15 or
30 minutes), but you'll still need to get a voucher. There may be a
special button for this labeled "Brötchentaste" (literally
roll button", in reference to parking for a few minutes to
at the bakery) or "Kurzparken kostenlos".
Once you have your voucher, return to your vehicle and
place it on
the dashboard where it may be easily read from the outside. You
must then return to your vehicle before the expiration time shown on
If the nearest voucher machine is out of order, you
should try to find another one close by; you will usually find another
one across the street, at the other end of the block, or around the
corner. If you cannot locate another machine, use a parking disc
instead (see below); you can then stay up to the maximum length of time
shown on the machine or signs.
Many areas only require you to use
a parking vouchers during certain times; check the signs or schedule on
the machine. Oftentimes, the machines will shut off when parking
vouchers are not required.
varieties of parking voucher machines
(Photos by Brian Purcell)
discs (Parkscheibe): A parking disc is a
blue cardboard or
plastic card with an adjustable time dial. You can obtain these
for free or nominal cost from many gas stations, newsstands, tobacco
shops, and police stations. Rental cars should already have them
(check the glovebox; if there isn't one, ask the rental agent for one.)
Signs indicating that
you must use a parking disc will also
indicate the length of time you can park (see example above).
Turn the dial so that
the arrow points to the time of your arrival,
rounded-up to the
next half hour. For example, if you arrive at 10:40, set the disc
for 11:00. Then place the disc on your dashboard. You must
return to your vehicle within the indicated time period. So, for
instance, if you arrived at 10:40 and the signs said that you could
park for 2 hours with a parking disc, you would set your disc for 11:00
and you would have to return to your vehicle by 13:00 (1:00pm). As with
many things in Germany, this mostly works on the honor system,
but spot checks are conducted.
Many areas only require you to use
a parking disc during certain times; be sure to check the signs.
Outside of those times, you can usually park as long as you
double-check for other signs showing some other restriction.
disc set for 4:30
meters (Parkuhr): Individual-space
parking meters are pretty much extinct in
Germany having been replaced by the
parking voucher system. If you do stumble
upon one, you'll see that they work just like their US
deposit your money, turn the knob (if there is one), look and see how
much time the meter shows, add more money if desired, and
return to your vehicle before the time expires. In the event of a
defective meter, you must use a parking disc. You may then park
up to the maximum time normally permitted at that location (i.e. the
maximum time shown on the meter.)
Parking for electric vehicle charging
stations for electric vehicles are now found in many parking lots as
well as on public streets. Signage will indicate the spaces reserved
for charging and any time restrictions. Generally-speaking, parking in
those spaces is restricted to electric vehicles while charging,
and may require the use of a parking disc during certain times.
that signs with the "car-with-plug" symbol (like in the photo to the
right below) specifically denote electric vehicles with an "E" license
plate (i.e. a license plate ending with an "E".) Signs with the words
"Electkrofahrzeuge" apply to any electric vehicle.
electric vehicle charging station in Munich (left) and signs (right)
indicating parking reserved for charging at all times but limiting
parking to up to four hours with the use of a parking disc while
charging between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm
(Photos by Brian Purcell)
Parking fines generally range from €10-110, and if you are
obstructing traffic or a driveway, your vehicle will almost surely be
towed, and quite quickly. In such an event, call the police to settle
Besides indicating where parking is permitted on the street,
the "parking" sign also
gives directions to off-street
parking facilities. Directions to garages are usually indicated
by "parking garage" signs . In many larger
and towns, there are electronic signs indicating which lots and garages
are available (Frei) or full (Besetzt),
or showing the
number of available spaces. Parking facilities are
often numbered to assist you in finding them (e.g.
lot P1, garage P2,
etc.), especially in downtown areas, large shopping centers, and
airports; these are typically marked with the "indexed parking
facility" sign .
(Photo by Brian Purcell)
few lots and garages
in commercial areas allow you to park for free. The ones that do often
to use a parking disc (see above). The rest require
payment, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a lot or garage with an
attendant. While some lots use parking vouchers (see above),
many use an automated centralized self-pay system, which operate like similar systems now found in
many places in the US. (These systems have been in use in Germany since the 1980s.)
First, when entering
the parking lot/garage, you obtain a time-stamped ticket from the entry
gate. Park your vehicle and take this ticket with you.
you are ready to leave, but before you return to your vehicle,
find a parking payment machine (Kassenautomat).
usually located near the pedestrian entrances to the garage,
or centrally in open lots. Insert the ticket you
received from the entry gate into the designated slot on the machine
and the amount due will be displayed. Pay the amount shown and
the machine will return your ticket or dispense a new one. If you
also want a receipt, push the button marked "Quittung"
Finally, return to your vehicle and exit the
lot/garage. At the exit gate, insert the ticket into the machine
there and the barrier will open. You generally have 15 minutes or
so to reach the exit gate from the time you pay. If for some
reason you don't make it within this time period, go back to the
payment machine and start the process again using the ticket that you
received from the previous payment.
garages are open 24 hours; however, some are not open overnight. If
you're going to be out late, make sure that the lot or garage you
use will still be open when you return!
(Photo by Brian Purcell)