I’m the kind of person who loves roadside attractions. If there is a sign saying “Biggest Ball of Yarn” or “Caves of Wonder”, I’m telling the driver to PULL OVER! So you can imagine my delight (and my family’s frustration) when I discovered the Brown Signs on the Autobahn pointing out German Tourist attractions! Everywhere are signs pointing out Sehenswürdigkeiten (things worthy of being looked at). Maybe a Historic Altstadt (Historic Old-Town)? A Skulpturensammlung (Sculpture Collection)? or even (my favorite!) a Freilicht Museum (Open Air museum)! The signs themselves aren’t very descriptive… just a name and a sketched image. But you just KNOW, at the end of the road, there will be something to see, and probably a cafe!
Brown Signs on the Autobahn
The big Brown Signs, the Touistische Hinweissschilder (Tourist recommendations) are just a name and a graphic. Sort of a teaser… about what you can find near the next Ausfahrt. You won’t find directions or milage on these signs.
The first Brown Sign on the Autobahn was for Burg Teck in Baden-Württemburg on the A-8 The original sign has been replaced, so that it’s more in keeping with the rest of the signs. (There is no point in stopping to get an Instagram photo of it). It was so successful, that the state set up 14 more Brown Signs!
Naturally, since this is Germany, people took notice. In 1988, the Federal Republic of Germany created “Guidelines for tourist information on roads”, specifically section 383.3 of the Road Traffic Regulations Code covered the Brown Sehenswurdigkeiten signs.
To clarify… All tourist signs on the Autobahn and public streets are brown. You might see a brown sign on a bridge as you pass over a river with the river’s name and a squiggly line (representing River)… this is amazingly helpful when you are in a car full of people and someone asks “Hey, what river is that?” (these fall under Road Traffic Regulations code 383.1) And there are directional signs on streets that may have an arrow pointing you in the direction to Burg Eltz. (Code 383.2) Now, go out and win a trivia contest!
More Sign information-
(You know you might be able to use this at the next family dinner, but anyone who isn’t an engineer may skip this bit)
–Signs on the Autobahn may be no closer than 10 KM apart (a change from the original 20km).
–Brown Tourist Signs Signs may not be placed near other highway signs.
–Signs MUST refer to something you will find at the next Ausfahrt (FYI…Ausfahrt is not the name of a city, but yes, it is a funny joke that never gets old).
–Signs must use the Sans serif Linear Antiqua font, and letters be between 245 and 280 mm tall.
–Signs must be approved by the Road Traffic Authority, but any city, company or cultural association can apply for them. (And yes, being TOO obscure is a reason to not get a sign… but mostly signs are rejected because there are already too many signs).
According to studies (remember, this is Germany, you KNOW someone did the math) the signs WORK. Every 6th person who sees a sign STOPS! (Of course, there might be some people like me who mess with the numbers).
Every sign points to something interesting. Cultural sites, like UNESCO cities or Cathdrals. Natural Monuments, nature areas, recreation areas and parks, perfect for picnics or breaks from driving. You’ll find cities and Museums (did you know that the world’s largest Computer Museum is in Paderborn?). From the large… there’s a sign for the Schwarzwald, the Lüneburger Heide, and for the 50 City are of the Ruhr… to the more obscure…like the Glockenguß in Gescher (a museum for a bell maker)…. (ps. that one is on my bucket list now) and the Thüringer Kloßwelt Heichelheim(DUMPLING WORLD) (on the A-4, and also on my Bucket List). Along the A-72 is the Glasstadt Lauscha (home to the original glass Christmas Ornaments), and on the A-24 is the Garten der Schmetterlinge Friedrichsruh-Sachsenwald. The variety is astonishing!
Currently there are over 3400 signs along the Autobahn (800 in Bavaria alone!). I’d never get anywhere if I was in charge of driving. I still don’t forgive Tech Guy for driving PAST the Museum in Halle containing the Nebra Sky Disk… (although, to be fair, we were headed to Allianz).
All of these wonderful signs are a reminder that Germany is much more than just the stuff you find on the cover of a Tourist magazine. Life is about the Journey, not the destination…. why not stretch it out a bit? There are so many places, out of the way and off the Autobahn… just WAITING to be discovered. (And chances are… there will be cake).
Finding the Tourist Attractions with Brown Signs
Sehenswürdigkeiten entlang der Autobahn
So how do you know where to go and what to see… Well, you can just exit when you see a sign. (There will be further directions at the bottom of the exit.)
Or you can do what I did… buy the book. Sehenswürdigkeiten entlang der Autobahn lists all of the brown signs in order of their appearance along the Autobahn (and even gives you the exit number). There is a short description, and generally a link to a website. YES, it’s in German, but the text is short, and you can run it through a translation app (or take this opportunity to brush up on your German Language Skills).