Believe it or not, but filling up at a gas station in Germany is an entirely different experience than in the U.S
Let’s compare both countries and see which pumps suck.
I’ll start with something that bugs me whenever I’m in the United States: the complexity of paying. Most gas stations have computerized terminals right at the pump. You stick your credit card in, choose your engine’s favorite type of fuel and go for it. When you’re done, just put the nozzle back and head on
- if it works at all, that is.
I’ve spent many hours in distress trying to figure out why exactly this arrogant pumping SOB doesn’t like my credit card, even though it was perfectly fine at every other pump so far. This is where you start wondering what happens, if you run out of working cards. Is there enough time to get out of the country before you get prosecuted for unintentional gas-theft if you just left?
And another thing. There’s only one nozzle for all the types of gas available. What if I want to fill up my precious European thoroughbred with only the finest type of premium propellant, and some schmuck before me just filled up his beater with crappy regular hooch? Isn’t the hose still filled with regular gas, until the good stuff gets through?
Good thing that I’ll probably never fill up anything exotic...
What’s next? To be honest: There isn’t much to dislike about gas stations in the U.S. First of all: Gas is way cheaper than in Europe - especially since a gallon always contains more liquid than you would actually guess in liters.
Second and more importantly: The station’s proprietors actually wants you to be a happy customer!
There is loads of open space between the pumps and the actual building, so you don’t have to be on the run in order to clear the field for the next person. Then there’s always a bathroom that’s free to use. A luxury that you don’t always enjoy in Germany. I’ll pick this up later.
Look at this picture of a pump that offers different types of gasoline additives. How cool is that?! Not that it’s necessarily something worth while but nevertheless, that’s like having some Coffee Mate for your gas.
In the nicely sorted shopping areas, that thankfully look the same wherever you are in the country, you can buy snacks and drinks without breaking a sweat. Heck, you can even grab one or two urgent items from the groceries department without having to mortgage your home. German stores usually close around 8 PM, so if you forgot the butter for your cookie dough, that’ll be 4 Euros at a gas station.
Additionally, in North America, there’s almost always a selection of hot food to choose from. The only thing you can buy in a German station that’s fresher than a snickers bar is a roll with some cringeworthy looking Wurst that’s been behind glass for the past 9 hours, since the last starving wretch bought its predecessor.
Of course, the mesmerizingly cascading hot dogs that are meandering on their display right next to the heartily coughing clerk are neither the healthiest, nor the most sublime piece of cuisine art, but at least they are cheap and filled with enough antibiotics to treat their contagiousness right away. What matters even more: they’re served to you at least with feigned friendliness - a thing, German attendants never heard of.
Then there’s the unending choice of different types of soda (or pop, hat tip to the folks in the north) to choose from, all cheaper than two bucks.
A tiny bottle of Water in Germany? That’ll be 2,5 Euros. The same amount of sugary goodness? Make it 3. When I recently had the honor of Jalopnik’s Stef Schrader visiting me in my home town, we stopped for a six-pack of beer from the station. It was 9 (Nine!!!) Euros plus 1.20 Euros for bottle deposit. A regular crate of twenty bottles of the same brew in a normal store sets you back around 10 Euros.
Oh, and there’s this thing about using the bathroom...
I would say that 95% of all gas stations (apart from the ones on the Autobahn) do offer free restrooms. In order to use them, however, you have to kindly access the person at the counter and outline your intention. If you are accepted into the realm of approved seekers of rest, you gain a key, by which you will be granted passage through an untrustworthy looking door on the building’s back side where you shall be greeted by an even less trustworthy looking... uhm... piece de resistance. To remind you of the honor that comes with bearing the key, there’s a nice little pendant adjoined to the keychain. It is typically made of solid wood, is nearly a foot long and weighs at least 5 pounds.
Maybe this strict kind of defecation-segregation exists to protect the ancient state that the lavatory is in. Maybe to keep the medieval ornaments adorning its tiles. Maybe to preserve the antique carvings on the inside of the rickety door. The time you get to rest in awe(fulness) is limited though. With your business finished, you are obliged to bring the key back to its grail-keeper. It is now, that you start wondering about the sanitariness of the age-old wooden key charm.
You’ll leave this scene with mixed feelings.
Now don’t think that we Germans are hanging back in time in some way... no! It is on the Autobahn, where things get techy! You can imagine an Autobahn gas station just like any other one. There are only three differences: 1. You can and may not access or leave it, except by Autobahn, 2. all the stuff you can buy (that explicitly goes for the gas itself) is even more expensive than in normal stations, 3. things get funky in the bathroom.
No, I’m not talking about machines selling you curious looking adult items, I’m talking turnstiles. You have to pay 70 cents to be allowed in the cleanest looking and high-tech equipped restrooms you can imagine outside of Japan – I’m not kidding. And German generosity doesn’t stop here. Since you leave something there, the company that has the monopole on Autobahn sanitation gives you a 50 cent voucher to use in the station’s shop. How friendly and thoughtful is that? (the cheapest things you can buy there start at about 1.50 Euros though...)
Keep that in mind, next time you unaffectedly walk into the tiled section of your naturally hospitable gas-stations.