Back in September 2013, my German fiancé gave me my first stick shift driving lesson. We went from driving circles in the parking lot to driving around a traffic-filled roundabout in about 15 minutes, which was too much too fast. I was terrified the entire time, and I never got back into the driver’s seat of a manual transmission car for the next 2.5 years.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

Over Easter this year, Marco and I drove 800 km (500 mi) south to spend the week at his childhood home in Ravensburg. As usual, Marco drove the entire way, as I fed and watered him from the passenger seat (I’m a great passenger).
A couple days after arriving, however, Marco started suggesting that I try driving stick shift again. Just the parking lot, he kept saying. We don’t have to leave the parking lot.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

Well, that boy convinced me to drive circles around the parking lot that afternoon, and it went pretty well. It was especially entertaining for the nearby construction workers, who I think the workers had a fun time watching me sporadically stall the car. 
Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

The parking lot experience went so well, in fact, I asked Marco to take me to some country roads where I can drive faster without encountering many other drivers. And that’s exactly what we did. And it went pretty darn well.

A couple days later, Marco and I were invited to his cousin’s house for a grilling party. Over dinner, Marco tuns to me and says, “That should probably be your last beer, because you are driving home.”

Since he didn’t ask me previously, I felt quite anxious at first, but I agreed to the arrangement. And when the party finally died down around 3 AM, I actually ended up driving home Marco, his brother, and his cousin – a car full of drunk German men.

The drive home from Marco’s cousin’s house was only about 15 minutes, and I don’t think I ever saw another car (it was 3 AM on Easter Sunday). And although I did drive well under the speed limit, it went pretty darn well.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

On Easter Sunday, Marco was anxious for me to practice driving again, so he suggested we go to McDonald’s to grab a coffee (yes, we went to McDonald’s on Easter Sunday). I quickly agreed, thinking that I could handle anything after the drove home the night before.

Unfortunately, there was one thing I didn’t take into consideration when I agreed to drive into town: stop lights. There were five stop lights on the way to McDonald’s, and every single one turned red just as I pulled up. The first three were fine, as there was nobody behind me, so I felt comfortable going really slowly. On the fourth, there was a car behind me, and in my attempt to take off quicker, I stalled the car. Luckily, I got it on the second try, and the person behind me didn’t seem too perturbed.

When trying to turn left into McDonald’s side street, I got caught by my fifth and final red light. And, of course, there were three cars behind me. The light turned green, and I stalled the car. I turned the key again, let my foot off the clutch, and it stalled again. Third times a charm? Nope, it’s dead.

Then the light was red again, and as I sat there waiting for the green, I tried my hardest not to look in the rear-view mirror.

I didn’t drive home from McDonald’s that day.

After that slightly traumatic experience (“Scheiß Anfahren!” – as Marco’s father said to me), we headed back to the parking lot, where I practiced stopping and starting again over and over and over.

Learning to drive stick shift in Germany

On the day after Easter, Marco and I were planning to drive the 800 km back north. After strategically building up my driving confidence over the past week, Marco asked if I would like to drive “just the first half hour” of the trip. “Sure,” I said, “as long as there aren’t too many stop lights.”

Well, that half hour quickly turned into four hours. That’s right, I drove half of the way home! And I did it with only one minor freak-out when traffic on the Autobahn slowed to a near stand-still for a couple kilometers. Otherwise, Autobahn driving is pretty easy, considering you can just stay in 5th gear and forget that you are driving a car with a manual transmission.

Unfortunately, I am still nervous about driving through city traffic and have not yet taken to the wheel in our city. Hopefully with a little more practice, however, I can reach that level.

Can you drive stick shift? How did you learn?