Anyone who, as a child, travelled through Germany probably spent plenty of time comparing number plates and trying to guess where they were from.
In Germany, as well as in Austria and Switzerland number plates are “personal”. They are assigned to the owner of the vehicle and his or her residence. In other countries, as covered in this article series, things are done a little differently… and probably simpler too.
In theory, the German system really shouldn’t be that bad. The first three letters of a number plate, one, two or three, depending on size, designate which city the vehicle is registered in. Cities such as B-Berlin, H-Hannover, M-Munich and S-Stuttgart all have one letter. Smaller cities, or cities like HH-Hamburg also officially known as Hansestadt Hamburg have two letters. This way everyone knows where a car is from. So anyone driving slowly and insecurely may albeit not be automatically excused for bad driving, but at least other drivers are aware of why.
What isn’t as nice though is what happens when you move. First you have to unregister the vehicle and then reregister at your new place of residence. This costs money and time in which case you might not be all too happy with the system.
You also have the possibility of having personalized plates made. The first three letters are mandatory however, so people frequently make them a part of their personal number plate. So if you live in Darmstadt-Dieburg, Hessen yours could say DA DDY. A well known case in Starnberg, Bavaria a man chose to get plates for his Ferrari with the text STA TT 6, which, when read out loud, translates to “instead of sex”. A young car owner from Pinneberg, Schleswig-Holstein decided that his plate should read PI MP.
In case you are driving through Germany, and can’t guess where a car is from then here is a website where you can check. http://www.autokennzeichen.info
Best of luck number plate hunting on the Autobahn.
flickr user: schoschie & woodysworld1778