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Travel advisory: beware of anarchy on Austrian autobahns

Imagine if greenies blockaded Auckland’s southern motorway on one of the busiest summer days of the year to protest about pollution.

Imagine the chaos which would ensue as thousands of vehicles banked up on either side of the blockade.

Imagine the distress it would cause for those trapped in their cars, buses, trucks or whatever, especially the elderly and infants or those with medical conditions.

Imagine the cost to the economy through lost productivity as a result of people not getting to work or freight not getting delivered on time.

Imagine if this lasted for the best part of a day.

Imagine the air pollution and waste of fossil fuels this would cause.

Worst of all, imagine if the protesters blockade had been sanctioned by Auckland Council beforehand.

It could never happen, I can hear you say.

Well, maybe not in New Zealand, but it occurred on a major autobahn in Austria recently and this writer was stuck in the middle of it for nearly six hours.

What began as a most enjoyable day’s outing from Munich to Innsbruck turned into a nightmare when it came to driving back to the Bavarian city.

Ground to a halt

No sooner had we entered the A12 autobahn for the return journey to Munich than traffic ground to a halt.

My son, who was driving the car and lives in Germany, thought nothing of it at first – probably just an influx of Italians driving north to Munich for Oktoberfest, which was then in full swing.

But as we inched our way forward in the mid-afternoon sun it became apparent this was no ordinary snarl-up.

Police helicopters zoomed backwards and forwards, ambulances with their sirens shrieking tried to barge their way through the gridlock and police outriders on motorbikes escorted cars containing distressed-looking people.

My son Richard, who speaks German, tuned into a local radio station to see what it was all about.

“Probably a bunch of terrorists intent on causing mayhem at Oktoberfest,” I half-joked. “They’re likely in an armed stand-off with police further down the autobahn.”

It was not what my dear wife Lois wanted to hear as she huddled in the back seat of our Volkswagen.

“Sorry to disappoint you dad,” said Richard, “but the radio says it’s some sort of blockade about 10km down the road and we could be stuck here for quite a while.”

Two hours later, after we had moved just 2km along the autobahn, we spotted a policeman by the side of the road.

Before I knew it Lois was out of the car and bailing him up like a huntaway on a Hunterville farm.

The gleam in her eye as she confronted him had morphed into a resigned look by the time she returned to the car and announced that Officer Schneider, or whatever his name was, had told her we would be stuck in the traffic jam for at least another three hours.

By now the sun was starting to set and any hope of getting back to Munich before the dead of night seemed exceedingly remote.

We had also exhausted our meagre supply of refreshments, so it was a huge relief when some people bearing armfuls of bottled water appeared out of the darkness and handed them out to all and sundry.

Remarkably, the mood of the motorists all around us during this ordeal was surprisingly sanguine, with not the slightest sign of any road rage.

We eventually crawled into Munich at 10pm, never having sighted the blockade or those responsible for it.

Nothing on the radio or on TV

Trying to establish whether the entire experience was just a figment of our imagination proved almost impossible as none of the late night tv or radio news programmes made any mention of it.

It was only by trawling through the internet the following day that I came across a brief story in the Austrian Times warning motorists about a planned protest on the A12 autobahn, which might result in modest delays to traffic.

“Transitforum Austria-Tirol, which wants to see limits on the amount of heavy goods vehicle traffic heading through the province is planning a demonstration between 11am and 11pm between Schwaz and Vomp. It means that section will not be useable by traffic.”

The story then went on to say that “the demonstration had been registered beforehand and the head of the local council, Karl Mark, said he had no reason to object to it.

“Anybody thinking of travelling through the region is advised to stay away on Friday and to try and find an alternative route. Lorries will be asked to park on the hard shoulder or ordered into car parks to wait out the blockade.”

Pity that no one told us beforehand let alone the untold others who found themselves in the same predicament. 

Memo to self: remember to read the Austrian Times before next venturing onto an Austrian autobahn.

Further memo to self: avoid Austria at all costs. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

More by Rod Vaughan

Comments and questions

I understand you frustration but such is Europe in these times. I have been caught in 3 protests in Italy in the last month. I got so bored waiting I joined in. The locals were happy and bought the beer afterwards!

The protestors should have been fired upon with rubber bullets and water canon.

Well, being half Lunatic (read Austrian), and having lived there for many years, I'm sure if you'd tuned into the traffic news to check the road conditions earlier, or checked Asfinag's the motorway agency's, website, you would have heard about it.
Not only that, for a country which relies on its beauty and nature to entice tourists, having a strong green agenda is probably pretty sensible.
Do you think your failure to inform yourself justifies slagging off an entire country?

Oh dear upset local
a place reliant on tourists ?
But we put the notice on de internet and de radio dummkopf
Dont mention the war.

Yes, a place reliant on summer and winter tourists, the Austrian economy is very dependent on visitors.
Well done for that hilarious stereotyping. Did you type that with your velcro gloves on?

More importantly HerrNick why did the authorities allow thousands of vehicles to enter the autobahn when they knew it was closed down and why did they agree to let the protestors close it down in the first place?
I can't think of any other civilised country that would allow such things to happen.
My German friends were amazed at what occurred and said it would never happen in their country.

I have no idea Rod, and I'm sure I would have been pretty annoyed too. Why don't you try asking them? I'll gladly translate an email for Asfinag if you like.