Difference between revisions of "Germany"
Revision as of 20:20, 3 September 2006
Germany  (German: Deutschland) is a country in Central Europe and a founding member of the European Union. It is bordered to the north by Denmark, to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland, and to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Germany is a federal republic consisting of 16 states (so-called "Bundesländer" or short "Länder"). Grouped roughly by geography, these are:
Germany has numerous cities of interest to tourists; these are the top five travel destinations.
Other popular tourist destinations in Germany from north to south:
While relatively small by world standards, Germany's attractions tend to be bigger than in the surrounding European neighbour countries, which is no surprise as Germany is the biggest country in Central Europe, runs Europe’s biggest economy, and has the largest population on the continent (excluding Russia).
The country's financial capital (Frankfurt) features an unusual skyline for Europe with its many high-rise buildings, including the continent's tallest office tower.
The world's most famous beer culture is centered around Southern Germany's leading city (Munich), where beer is traditionally served in 1 liter mugs (not in Kneipen (pubs) and Restaurants); Munich is also the site of the annual Oktoberfest, Europe's most visited festival and the world's largest fair.
German cars such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen (VW) are famous internationally for their quality. This quality is matched by Germany's excellent network of roadways including the famous Autobahn network, which has many sections without speed limits and lots of speed hungry drivers on it. Germany also features an extensive network of high speed trains - the InterCityExpress (ICE).
Germany was the host of the FIFA World Cup 2006
The roots of German history and culture date back to the Germanic tribes and posterior to the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, Germany as a single state has existed only since 1871, when a large number of previously independent German kingdoms united under Prussian leadership to form the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich). The empire ended in 1918 when Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate after Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1918). The Empire was followed by the short-lived Weimar republic, which tried to establish a liberal, democratic regime. However, the young republic was plagued with massive economic problems, strong antidemocratic forces and inherent organizational problems of the Weimar constitution.
1933 witnessed the final rise to power of the nationalistic and racist National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party and its charismatic leader (Führer), Adolf Hitler, to power. Under the Nazi dictatorship, democratic institutions were dismantled and a police state installed. Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped people, socialists, communists and other groups not fitting into the Nazi ideology faced persecution, and ultimately murder in concentration camps. Hitler's militaristic ambitions to create a new German Empire in central and eastern Europe led to war, successively, with Poland, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States - despite initial dazzling successes, Germany was unable to withstand the attacks of the Allies and Soviets on two fronts.
After devastating defeat in World War II (1939-1945), Berlin was divided into four sectors, controlled by the French, British, US and Soviet forces. With the beginning of the Cold War, the entire country was divided into an eastern part under Soviet control, and a western part which was controlled by the Western Allies. The western part was transformed into the Federal Republic of Germany, with Bonn as the capital. The Soviet-controlled zone became the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). Berlin had a special status, with the eastern part featuring as the capital of the GDR. The western sectors of Berlin were de facto an enclave of the Federal Republic. On August 13, 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected, and hundreds of Germans trying to escape from the communist regime were killed here in the following years.
In the late 1960s a desire to confront the Nazi past came into being. Mass protests beginning in 1968 successfully clamoured for a new Germany. Democracy, human rights and anti-fascism became fundamental values of The Federal Republic of Germany. Post-war education had helped put Germany among countries in Europe with the least number of people subscribing to Nazi ideas. Willy Brandt became chancellor in 1969. He made an important contribution towards reconciliation between Germany and the communist states.
Germany was reunited in 1990, a year after the fall of the GDR's communist regime. The reestablished eastern states joined the Federal Republic on the 3rd of October, a day which is since celebrated as the German National Holiday (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). Together with the reunification, the last post-war limitations to Germany's sovereignty were removed.
Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 states ('Bundesländer'). The federal parliament ('Bundestag') is elected every four years in a fairly complicated system, involving direct and proportional representation. A party will be represented in Parliament if it can gather at least 5% of all votes or at least 3 directly won seats. The parliament elects the Chancellor ('Bundeskanzler', currently Angela Merkel) on its first session, who will serve as the head of government.
The formal head of state is the President ('Bundespräsident', currently Horst Köhler), who has only ceremonial and representative duties. Nevertheless every decision made by the parliament has to be signed by the president. He can also suspend the parliament ('Bundestag'), but all executive power lies with the chancellor.
The 'Bundesländer' are represented at the federal level through the Federal Council ('Bundesrat'). Many federal laws have to be approved by the council. This can lead to a situation where Council and Parliament are blocking each other if they are dominated by different parties or to political arbitrariness if they are dominated by the same ones (current situation).
The two most powerful parties are the Christian Democratic Party ('Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU)') and the Social Democratic Party ('Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD)'). Due to the proportional voting system, smaller parties can also be represented in parliament. "Smaller" parties of relative importance are the Christian Social Party ('Christlich Soziale Union' (CSU)', most important party within Bavaria, a kind of CDU subsidiary), Liberals ('Freiheitlich-Demokratische Partei (FDP)', de facto neoliberalists), the Green party ('Bündnis 90/Die Grünen') and since summer 2005, the new Left Party (Linkspartei.PDS), founded from the "PDS" and the Alternative for Work and Social justice (WASG) (as important as CDU or SPD in Eastern Germany). There have been some attempts by extreme right-wing parties (NPD - National Democratic Party / REP - Republicans) to get into parliament, but they have failed the 5% requirement (except in Saxony).
Germany is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in Germany too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or Germany have special treaties. Inquire at your travel agent, call the local consulate or embassy of Germany or see the Entry Requirements of Germany's Federal Foreign Office.
As of May 2004 only the citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into Germany. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work in Germany: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela
There are a number of ways to get into Germany. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
The most important airports are Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC) and Düsseldorf (DUS). Berlin (TXL) and Hamburg (HAM) have some relevance to international travellers as well. Frankfurt is Germany's main hub and one of Europe's four major hubs, and the destination of most intercontinental flights. Munich is a secondary hub. Travellers can easily fly in from most places of the world and then connect with Germany's biggest and most respected airline Lufthansa .
Some German airports are connected to the InterCityExpress and other rail lines. The others all feature some sort of connection to the nearest rail station as well as public transport to the central station of the respective cities. Passengers travelling from Frankfurt Airport have the option to check in their luggage in Cologne or Stuttgart train stations and connect to the airport by ICE.
Germany is one of Europe's budget airline capitals. There are budget flights to almost every city in Europe from Germany. Thus, a person seeking a budget flight, should first check with the nearest airport. Examples of budget airline hubs are Berlin Schönefeld and Dortmund for easyJet. GermanWings and Hapag-Lloyd-Express (HLX), AirBerlin, DBA and WizzAir offer budget flights from many assorted airports across Germany and Europe Ryanair flights from London to Berlin Schoenefeld, Altenburg (Leipzig), Luebeck, Weeze (in the near of Duesseldorf) and from some other European destinations to Frankfurt/Hahn. Flying can be the cheapest way to get to Germany, especially if the flights are book well in advance. A sample airfare on AirBerlin from Münster/Osnabrück to Vienna, Austria is €29 one-way including an onboard meal and all taxes, but not in summer and only on some dates in a year.
Regular train services connect Germany with all neighbouring countries. Almost all neighbouring countries (especially Switzerland, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Austria) and even some non-neighbouring countries (e. g. Italy) are quite well connected with "EuroCity" trains. They are a little bit slower than the European high speed trains but reach nevertheless up to 200 km/h. They are a worthwhile way to travel - not only for budget travellers (although budget airlines might be cheaper) or landscape viewers (especially the Rhine valley lines).
There are also several European high speed trains to cross into or get out of Germany:
Standard rail fares are quite high and Deutsche Bahn introduced in 2005 discount return tickets. You must buy them three or seven days in advance (e. g. online and print your ticket at home). Further reductions are available for groups of two (!) or more persons. These tickets are only valid on specific trains and times. From time to time there are further discount offers for single rides. The Bahncard (see Train Fares) is a discount card for the standard fare. If your travel start or ends in Germany you still be able to a reduction on the whole journey!
Some international ferry services exist, notably to Scandinavia. An incomplete list of connections follows:
Germany has a world-famous network of excellent roads and Autobahn (motorway), but gasoline prices are kept high by taxation. In April 2006 prices float around 1,30 € per litre. At petrol stations you'll have the choice between Diesel, "Benzin" (unleaded gasoline), Super and SuperPlus (high octane). Here and there you might find "Erdgas", too; this is compressed natural gas not gasoline. In Germany, you may first fill up your tank and pay afterwards.
Car rentals are available in most cities, and one-way rentals (within Germany) are generally permitted without an additional fee. When renting a car, be aware that most cars in Germany have manual gearbox (stick-shift), so you might want to ask for a car with an automatic gearbox if that's what you're used to.
Especially in Eastern Germany you will note small, green, permanent arrows at traffic lights, pointing to the right. When the lights are red, you are still ordered to halt, but if there are no cars approaching, you are allowed to careful turn right, despite the red traffic light. (The whole system does not apply if there are no green arrows).
Watch out for cyclists on sidewalk lanes.
The police will show blinking signs reading "Polizei Halt" (police, stop) if they want to stop you. Stay calm and friendly, hand over the driving license and car papers (if you rent a car, you will have a copy of the rental contract) when you are asked to. In most cases that is all what happens.
Speed limits (for cars) are the following in Germany (unless otherwise shown):
Vehicles with a maximum speed of less than 60 km/h are not allowed on "Autobahnen" or "Kraftfahrstraßen".
Using the Autobahn
German drivers tend to drive faster and more aggressively than you might be used to, especially on the parts of the highway system without speed limit, which is taken literally.
Always have a look over your shoulder when changing lanes. Especially motorbikes may seem to appear out of nowhere within a second.
Use the right lane if it's free, even if everybody seems to prefer the left and middle lanes (where they exist). Overtaking cars on the Autobahn is only allowed on the left side. Overtaking / Passing cars on the right is prohibited and you will be be fined. Exceptions are in traffic jams or at low speed within city limits.
Never ever reverse on a highway when you missed an exit. Go to next exit and make a U-turn.
Autobahns have an emergency lane where you're allowed to stop only in case of a breakdown. For everything else, always use the frequent service areas, as it is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn. Note that it is dangerous to stay in the car on the emergency lane! Arrows on the small posts along the Autobahn guide you to the next orange emergency phone. These will automatically connect you free of charge with an emergency call center which will help you get the police, an ambulance or just a mechanic. These phones should be the preferred choice over using your mobile since they transmit your exact location.
In some areas emergency tracks are used as extra lanes in times of heavy traffic. But this is always announced by electronic light signs.
In case of a breakdown you may also call the ADAC, by members the world's largest automobile club. The number is +49 180 2222222 from fixed lines and 22 22 22 from mobile phones regardless of network. On the Autobahn, the ADAC must come to you free of charge. In other situations, there may be costs involved if you're not a member. If you're a member of a foreign AA or automobile club, you may want to check if the ADAC honours your membership.
Germany has a dense railway system, which reaches almost every part of the country. Unless you travel by car, the train will be your major mode of transportation. Crossing Germany from Munich in the south to Hamburg in the north will take only 6 hours at best. Driving by car would take around 8 hours.
The majority of the trains are operated by Deutsche Bahn ("German Rail") , the formerly state-owned railway company privatized a few years ago. The trains are usually reliable (delays of more than 10 minutes are rather uncommon), and a comfortable and safe way of travel. If not otherwise indicated, the information in this section is about DB-run trains.
There are some independent railway companies which run regional trains or aim at specific target markets, like business travellers.
All major cities are linked by ICE (InterCity Express) and regular InterCity trains. The ICE are high speed trains, reaching top speeds of 330km/h; and even though they rarely cruise at such high speeds travel is faster than by car and quite comfortable. Be sure to get a reservation - it's not mandatory, but you may end up standing or sitting on the floor without one. Reservations are a MUST on Fridays and even Sundays because this is the main travel time for commuters returning home or to work for the weekend. Even first class will be very full on these days.
ICE trains have high standards of comfort. Before booking a first class ticket, bear in mind that the quality of second class on ICE trains is equivalent or even superior to first class in many other countries' intercity trains, which is also reflected in the price. The main difference between the two classes is the seat width (3 abreast in first and 4 abreast in second class).
The high speed ICE is the most expensive option, of course. On the major lines, an ICE or IC train will run each hour or so during the day. There are also EuroCity (EC) trains, which connect the larger European cities. For inner-Germany travel, these are virtually identical to the regular ICs.
There are also long distance trains operated by other companies than Deutsche Bahn, usually running over secondary routes. These are usually quite comfortable (although not as comfortable as ICE) and sometimes cheaper, but most of them stop at almost every station en-route. The "SchönesWochenende"-Ticket ("HappyWeekend") allows to travel on most of them (and on almost all means of short distance public transport) on Saturday or Sunday, the most notable exception being the "InterConnex" lines. Beware that travelling e.g. from Hamburg to Munich via short distance public transport, which is mandatory for "SchönesWochenende", would require around 10 transfers and take around 13 hours!
German Rail Passes provide unlimited transportation on all Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) trains and are easy to use for foreign visitors. In the off season reservations even on ICE trains are usually not necessary, particularly in first class. This allows travelers to simply show up at the train station and take the next train. Mainly all conductors (at least every main conductor, called the "Zugchef" (Train Boss)) speak good English.
Apart from the long-distance trains, there is a vast network of regional trains ("Regionalbahn"). The service will take you almost everywhere the intercity trains won't go or stop. Trains include 40 year old cars as well as brand-new carriages. Many are used by commuters - if you wish to have a relaxed travel, avoid the early mornings or later afternoons. Don't hesitate to inquire at the ticket counter at what times the trains are usually packed. On most trains, the cars may be marked with numbers one or two. This refers to the class of the rail car, "one" is first class, "two" is second class, etc. Do not board a first-class car if you do not have a first-class ticket. If you are unsure what type of ticket you have, it's probably second class.
Online information and bookings
All information and an online timetable for the Deutsche Bahn (as well as for almost any other public transport providers in Germany and many trains throughout Europe) are available from the Deutsche Bahn homepage at http://www.bahn.de/international/englisch/ (English). The address for timetable inquiries and online ticket sales is http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en (English).
Most important is to first distinguish between long distance and local trains. The problem is: if you ride between stations inside a Verkerhrsverbund, it is a local connection, if at least one is outside, it is a long distance connection, even if it is exactly the same train! Especially in local transport systems choosing the correct ticket and finding the procedure to trick the machine into selling it to you might appear to be a bit difficult. Feel free to ask some other traveller to help you. Luckily, if you finally have your ticket, you won't need another regardless of the method of transport thanks to the (German: "Verkehrsverbund").
Ticket machines come in three types. Local transport ticket machines are usually yellow or orange, regional (up to 100 km) and long distance tickets are available from blue machines.
Tickets for Verkehrsverbund
Most big cities form a Verkehrsverbund (unified fare system). You have to pay first, then take your ride. Depending on the ticket you have to punch it to make it valid. If you have no valid ticket you will be fined as a fare dodger.
There can be return tickets and day tickets and some kind of 4, 5 or 10 rides tickets at a reduced price are common. Some tickets allow you to travel for a certain time, with being allowed to make a break. Some tickets are valid for a certain distance, either a number of stations or a number of regions. Many unified fare systems are structured into regions or zones, the price depends on the number of zones (aka the distance).
Unfortunately it is not easy to find out where to buy the tickets. If you see a machine at the station, buy it there. If you don't see one, enter the bus or tram at the front and ask the driver. In trains and subways tickets are not sold on board, in many cities it's even forbidden to be present on a platform without a ticket. In some areas there are ticket machines on the trains.
A very comfortable and cheap thing is the connection of long distance and local transport. If you travel long distance, there is a good chance that the ticket will include a day ticket of the Verkehrsverbund at least at the destination, probably also at the place of departure.
The machines for local tickets in most cases only accept cash. While some accept German bank account cards, electronic cash cards, or special debit cards, credit cards definitely won't work. To buy a single ticket you'll have to find out the distance code from a large table on the machine and enter that on a dial pad. Day passes or the like (which are usually the better choice for a tourist) have extra keys.
There are ticket counters in most middle sized and of course all bigger stations. Opening hours vary, though, and there's a good chance you'll have to queue up for 5 minutes. In some cities tickets are sold at newspaper kiosks too.
Tickets to Long Distance Trains
Long distance tickets are tickets for the trains of the Deutsche Bahn. As the Bahn participates at the unified fare system, they often do not sell tickets for rides inside the area of the Verkehrsverbund. According to the Deutsche Bahn there are seven ways to buy a ticket:
If there is a sign on the train doors or nearby that shows "Einstieg nur mit gültigem Fahrausweis" or anything similar, you have to buy the ticket in advance. Otherwise you may be fined. If you are fined and not willing (or unable) to pay, you will in most cases end up being questioned (or even arrested) by the "Bundespolizei" (federal police).
The internet is probably not very useful for tourists, but as there are an increasing number of internet cafes: just go to the website http://www.bahn.de (or directly to http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/), find your connection, pay by credit card, print your ticket (necessary). The conductor will check your ticket number and your credit card number. It is possible to buy tickets immediately before the ride, and it's fast if you are used to it.
The blue DB ticket machines were redesigned some years ago. Use the touchscreen to enter departure and destination, time and date. You will get a list of different connections, with prices depending on the train. Select one, pay by credit card or maestro, ticket will be printed. No cash. Sells tickets immediately before the ride.
The Reisezentrum is the best for travellers. They are friendly and helpful. Drawbacks are, they are open only at certain times, they exist only at big stations, there is almost always the need to wait. Depending on the time and day you should have at least half an hour spare time.
By telefone means reserve by phone, get the ticket at the machine or by snail mail. Mail obviously takes three days and requires a valid address in Germany.
On board tickets are available from the conductor. They do not sell most of the reduced price tickets, and you will have to pay a small additional fee. They accept cash and credit card, for amounts above EUR 50 they require an id.
If there is only a short distance ticket machine at your origin station not selling tickets to your destination, you have to type "9999". The machine will sell you "Fahrkarte Anfangsstrecke" (preliminary ticket). In this case you have to buy your final ticket on board.
There are some special promotions and prices the rail company offers at various times. Your best course of action is to check their website, or to ask at a train station or their telephone hotline for current details. However, some general points to keep in mind are:
The German Rail Pass and the Eurail Pass allow for unlimited travel throughout Germany and Europe on a selectable number of days. These tickets are only available from travel agencies outside Germany. See Special offers for travelers from outside Europe for more information.
Information for railway fans
There are several railways of special interests in Germany. These include among others:
Cog railways are in Stuttgart, up Drachenfels, up the Zugspitze Mountain and up the Wendelstein Mountain.
For an almost complete list, see de:Sehenswerte Eisenbahnen in Deutschland.
other railway corporations
A few long distance bus lines exist within Germany, most of them orientated to/from Berlin. Apart from these, there is a very dense network of regional and local bus lines. In rural areas though, many lines run only once per day. Regional and local express bus line designators usually contain the letter(s) CE (local), E (regional around Hamburg; in other areas, E is used for special runnings), S (regional), SB (regional and local) or X (local within Berlin), city bus line designators may contain the letter(s) BB ("Bürgerbus", not integrated within tariff unions), C or O. Always check the departure boards carefully: sometimes - especially at night or in rural areas - you have to order your bus by phone.
The German flagcarrier Deutsche Lufthansa connects all major cities in Germany to each other and foreign destinations. Due to the comparatively short distances and relatively high hassle of air travel - especially when you travel with luggage - domestic air travel is used mostly for business purposes. Due to the boom of budget airlines very low price offers are seen in the internet and high competition in the industry will keep them low. Please compare prices for plane tickets to those of the railway tickets if you want to go to some major cities. Make sure though, that you get where you want to! Low-cost airlines are known for naming small airports in the middle of nowhere by cities 200 km away (e.g. Frankfurt-Hahn is not Germany's major international airport Frankfurt/Main).
The following carriers offer domestic flights within Germany:
By recreational vehicle and campervans
Recreational Vehicle (RV) is a broad term used to describe a large enclosed piece of equipment with wheels designed to be moved from place to place for people to temporarily live in and be protected from the elements while away from their permanent domicile. Campervans are vans that have been fitted out for use as accommodation. They are considered as an alternative to the purpose-built recreational vehicle or motorhome because they are smaller and handle like most vans.
German campgrounds (like most in Western Europe) usually offer a full range of amenities. You'll always have your own electricity hookup, water and sewer hookups for each are common, too. Every campground has restrooms and showers as well as kitchens, washing-machines and a spin dryer.
The yellow pages of camping, or, if you like, the German camping bible, is the ADAC Campingführer, a campground guide by Germany's largest automobile club ADAC. It lists almost all campgrounds along with prices, type of location, size, opening hours, amenities, you-name-it. Since the guide uses lots of symbols which are explained in a number of languages, it's suitable for travellers from abroad, too. The ISBN number for the 2006 edition covering Germany and Northern Europe is 3899052765, price is 16.90 €. If you don't get it at home you can buy at any bookstore in Germany. If they don't have it on hand they'll order it for pickup the next day.
The official language of Germany is German. The standard form of German is called "Hochdeutsch" (High German). This is accent-free or better dialect-free German, the "official" form of the language. It is understood by all and spoken by many Germans. However, every region has its accent, and most regions have also their own dialects, which might pose sometimes a challenge to those who speak even good German - and sometimes to native speakers as well.
Most Germans learn English at school, so you should be able to get by with English in most places. Many people - especially in the tourism industry and higher educated persons - also speak French or Spanish, but if you can't speak German, English remains your best bet. Even if one member of the staff doesn't speak English, you are likely to find someone who does and is more than willing to help you.
If you address a German with English, always ask "Do you speak English?". It is considered a sign of politeness.
Germans less fluent in the English language often answer questions very briefly (one or two words) because they feel uncertain how to create a complete English sentence. This might sometimes appear impolite but it is not at all meant this way. Germans less fluent in the English also often say "become" instead of "get" because the German word "bekommen" ("get") is phonetically so close to "become". Since it's polite to reply "Bitte" if someone thanks you, Germans may literally translate this with "please" instead of "here you are" or "you're welcome". Another source of confusion is that Germans call mobile (cell) phones "Handy" and regard this as an English word.
While Germany uses the 24 hour format for times, people very often use 12 hour times in conversations. There is no real suffix like "AM/PM", though you can add "vormittags" (before noon) and "nachmittags" (after noon) when it's not clear from the context. In addition, Germans say two-digit numbers "backwards": instead of "twenty-two" they say "two and twenty". Numbers below 20 are said the same way as in English. This becomes especially important when you inquire for prices, although most who speak English with you should use the correct form. Better double check what he/she really meant.
See also: German phrasebook.
Germany is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; as such it replaced German marks with the euro (symbol: €) in the year 2002.
Do not expect anybody to accept foreign currencies or to be willing to exchange currency. An exception are shops and restaurants at airports and also - more rarely - fast-food restaurants at major train stations. These will generally accept at least US dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate. If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank, where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, international airports and train stations are an exception to this rule.
Do not accept German marks from anybody. While you can still exchange them for euros at central bank offices in bigger cities, this will mean a lot of hassle for you. However, as of 2006, the chances of someone trying to give you Marks are practically non-existent.
German banks have agreed on a standard debit card called "Maestro card" (Formerly called "EC card") this is far more accepted as plastic payment methods than credit cards from American Express, VISA and others. Nevertheless, credit cards are often accepted, but to a lower extent than in other European countries or the United States. Hotels, bigger retailer, gas stations and nationwide companies accept credit cards. If you want to pay smaller amounts (<40 Euro) with credit card, it is best to check in advance if credit cards will be accepted. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.
It's common in Germany to round up the bill in restaurants or pubs. Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service.
Unlike in some other countries, service staff is always paid by the hour (albeit not always that well). A tip is a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciated the service (e.g. bad, rude or ignoring service), reduce the tip accordingly or don't tip at all. Germany is a developing country in means of service so if you enjoyed a service or not, please let them know.
Retail prices are reasonable and slightly lower than in most northern European countries but this is going to change due to the planned raise of V.A.T.. Some German brands of high end goods such as kitchen utensils, stationery, and hiking gear are considerably cheaper than abroad.
Germany has many supermarket chains. The competition between them results in wide variety of stock and cheap food prices. The cheapest "supermarkets" (food discounters) are Aldi, Lidl, Plus and Penny-Markt, but the selection offered is limited and may be of poor quality, especially the wines.
If you are looking for regional products, your best bet is to visit a "Naturkostladen" (organic food shop). There are also many farmers selling their products directly ("Hofladen"), most of them organized in the "Bioland" cooperative. They offer reasonable food at reasonable prices.
Most winemakers sell their products either directly or in "Winzergenossenschaften" (winemaker cooperatives). These wines are almost always superior to the ones produced by German wine brands. Quality signs are "VdP" ("Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter", symbolized by an eagle) and "Ecovin" (German organic winemaker cooperative). Wines made of the most typical German vine varieties are usually marked with "Classic".
German honey is also a good souvenir. But only "Echter Deutscher Honig" is a guarantee for reasonable quality.
Along the German coasts, smoked eel is a quite common delicacy and a typical souvenir.
Small shops are often closed from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday all shops are usually closed. Exception: in Schleswig-Holstein supermarkets are open from 8 to 11 a.m. If necessary in many big cities you will find a few (expensive) supermarkets with longer opening hours (often near the main station). Also the most petrol stations have a small shopping area.
In some parts of Germany (like Berlin, Cologne, Duessseldorf and the Ruhr-Area) there are cornershops called "Kiosk" or "Trinkhalle" (drinking hall) that offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic food supplies.
German food sticks pretty much to its roots and a typical dish will consist of meat with some form of potatoes and gravy, accompanied by vegetables or salad. However, the modern German cuisine has been influenced by other European countries such as Italy and France and gets a bit lighter. Dishes show a great local diversity and it might be interesting to discover those. Since most bigger employers have a canteen for their employees, you will find fewer sandwich shops and takeaways than in the Anglo American world and therefore the eating out culture in Germany is dominated by the Gasthaus/Gasthof and Restaurants to have proper food. Putting places to eat in 6 categories gives you a hint about the budget/taste. Starting from the lower end, these are:
'Schnellimbiss' means quick snack, and is what you will see on the sign of German stalls and small shops that sell primarily sausage (Wurst) and fries (Pommes Frites). Sausages will include Bratwurst, which is fried and usually a boiled pork sausage. A very German variant is Currywurst: sausage chopped up and covered in spiced ketchup, dusted with curry powder. Beer and often harder liquor are available in most. 'Döner Kebab' is Turkish lamb or chicken stuffed into bread, similar to Greek Gyros and Arab Schawarma. Even though considered Turkish, it's actually a speciality which originated in Germany.
American fast food giants like McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut are in most towns. Nordsee is a German seafood chain, they offer 'Rollmops' - pickled herrings - and many other fish and seafood snacks. However, many independent seafood snack-bars (most common along the German shores) offer slightly better and slightly cheaper seafood.
Bakeries and butchers
Germans have no tradition for sandwich shops, but you will find that bakeries / butchers sell quite nice take away food and are serious competition for the fast food chains. Even the smallest bakeries will sell many sorts of bread or rolls, most of them darker (for example, using wholemeal or more rye flour) than the white bread popular around the world and definitely worth a try. Even if they don't already have it prepared, almost all butchers will prepare a sandwich for you if you ask. Some butchers even prepare meals for you.
Here you will get the obvious drink and in Bavaria you can bring your own food. Most places will cater simple meals.
Microbreweries sell their products straight to the customer and sometimes you will find some nice food there as well.
Probably 50% of all eating out places fall into this group. They are mainly family-run businesses that have been owned for generations, comparable to taverns. You can go there simply for a drink, or to try German food (often with a local flavor). Food quality differs significantly from place to place but the staff will usually give you an indication of the standard.
Germany has a wide range of flavors (e.g. German, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish) and almost all styles of the world are represented.
Note that most Chinese and many Thai restaurants rather offer quite a "special" kind of cuisine certainly inferior to the one you might be used to from the U.K. or from the U.S. (in fact, many Chinese / Thai people aren't used to it either), you can easily recognize them titled "China-Spezialitäten-Restaurant" or similar (this might not necessarily be true for every restaurant titled this way). Only in cities with a major Asian population like Dusseldorf, a few restaurants are offering real Chinese cuisine, real Thai cuisine is more common, but only in major cities either.
Turkish cuisine in Germany ranges from simple "Döner" shops (not really Turkish as "Döner" was invented in Berlin) to mostly family-run restaurants offering a wide variation of usually very cheap (in relation to German price levels) Turkish home cooking.
You will rarely find restaurants catering for special needs within Germany (e.g. kosher restaurants are only common in cities with a notable Jewish population like Berlin, organic restaurants only in rural areas), although the most expensive restaurants might prepare special meals for you (mostly at an extraordinary price, of course).
In most restaurants in Germany you can choose your own table. You can make reservations (recommended for larger groups and haute cuisine on Saturday nights) and these are marked by reservation cards. Only in few restaurants, usually the expensive and outstanding restaurants in larger cities will you be expected to make reservations and will be seated by the staff.
Rinderroulade mit Rotkraut und Knödeln: this dish is quite unique to Germany. Very thin sliced beef rolled around a "pickled gherkin" until it looks like a mini barrel (5cm diameter) flavoured with tiny pieces of onion, German mustard, ground black pepper and salt. The meat is quick-fried and is then left to cook slowly for an hour, meanwhile red cabbage and potato dumplings are prepared and then the meat is removed from the frying pan and gravy is prepared in the frying pan. Knödel, Rotkraut and Rouladen are served together with the gravy in one dish.
Schnitzel mit Pommes frites: there are probably as many different variations of Schnitzel as there are restaurants in Germany. They have in common a thin slice of pork often covered in egg and bread crumbs that is fried for a short period of time and it is often served with fries (that's the Pommes frites part). Variations of this are usually served with different types of gravy: such as Zigeunerschnitzel, Zwiebelschnitzel, Holzfäller Schnitzel and Wiener Schnitzel (as the name suggests, an Austrian dish). In the south you can often get Spätzle (pasta that Swabia is famous for) instead of fries with it. Spätzle are egg noodles typical of south Germany – most restaurants make them fresh. It is very common to find Schnitzel on the menu of a German restaurant, it might even be the most common dish in German restaurants.
Rehrücken mit Spätzle: Germany has maintained huge forests such as the famous Black Forest, Bayrischer Wald and Odenwald. In and around these areas you can enjoy the best game in Germany. Rehrücken means venison tenderloin and it is often served with freshly made noodles such as Spätzle and a very nice gravy based on a dry red wine.
Bratwurst “fried sausage”: there is no country in the world with a greater variety of sausages than Germany and it would take a while to mention them all. Here is the shortlist version: “Rote” beef sausage, “Frankfurter Bratwurst” pork sausage made in the Frankfurt style, “Pfälzer Bratwurst” sausage made in palatinum style , “Nürnberger Bratwurst” Nuremberg sausage – the smallest of all of them, but a serious contender for the best tasting German sausage, ”große Bratwurst”, Feldjäger, Thüringer Bratwurst, Currywurst, Weißwurst…….. this could go on till tomorrow. If you spot a sausage on a menu this is often a good (and sometimes the only) choice. Often served with mashed potato, fries or potato salad.
Starting from the north of Germany going south you will find a tremendous variety of food and each region sticks to it origins. The coastal regions are fond of seafood and famous dishes include “Finkenwerder Scholle”, going south to the region of Cologne you will find Sauerbraten (a roast marinated in vinegar). Labskaus is a dish from the north and the opinions about this dish are divided, some love it, others hate it. It is a mash of potato, beetroot juice and cured meat decorated with rollmops and/or young herring and/or a fried egg and/or sour cucumber and/or beetroot slices on top. The north is also famous for its lamb dishes, the best type of lamb probably being "Rudenlamm" (lamb from Ruden, a small island in the Baltic Sea; only a few restaurants in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania serve this), the second best type being "Salzwiesenlamm" (salt meadow lamb). Be aware that a lot of restaurants import their lamb from New Zealand though because it is cheaper. Crabs and mussels are also quite common along the German coasts, especially in North Frisia.
A specialty of Hamburg is "Aalsuppe" which - despite the name (in this case "Aal" means "everything", not "eel") - originally contained almost everything - except eel (today many restaurants include eel within this soup, because the name led tourists into confusion).
Pfälzer Saumagen: known for a long time in Palatinate, but difficult to find outside of this area. The dish became well known to the general public in Germany as then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s favorite dish, especially when this was enjoyed by him and the Russian president Mikhail Gorbatchev on a State visit in Germany in Deidesheim. Pictures of the feast are shown in the restaurant “ Deidesheimer Hof” in Deidesheim. Literally this is pig stomach filled with a mash of potato and meat, cooked for 2-3 hours and then cut in thick slices often served with sauerkraut.
Swabia is famous for Spätzle (a kind of noodle), "Maultaschen" (noodles stuffed with spinach and mince meat, but lots of variations, even veggie ones, exist) and at the coast there's a variety of fish dishes.
In Bavaria this may be Schweinshaxe mit Knödeln (pork's leg with knödel, a form of potato dumplings), "Fleischkäse mit Kartoffelsalat" (kind of meat pie and potato salad), "Nürnberger Bratwurst" (probably smallest sausage in Germany), Weißwurst (white sausages) and "Obatzda" (a spicy mix of several milk products).
The south is also famous for its nice tarts such as the "Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte" (tart with lots of cream and spirit made from cherries).
A delicacy in Saxony is Eierschecke, a slices with a covering of eggs and cream.
A specialty of the East is "Soljanka" (originating from Ukraina, but probably the most common dish in the GDR), a sour soup containing vegetables and most times some kind of meat (products).
White “Spargel” (asparagus) floods the restaurants in April/June all over Germany and it is delicious especially in and around Baden-Baden and the small town of Schwetzingen ("The Spargel Capital"), near Heidelberg, as well as in the area southwest of Berlin, especially in the town Beelitz. Many vegetables can be found all around the year and the are often imported from far away. Whereas asparagus can be found only for 2 months from mid April to mid June and is best enjoyed freshly after harvest it stays nice for a couple of hours or till next day. The asparagus is treated very carefully and it is harvested before it ever is exposed to daylight and only then it remains white. When exposed to daylight it changes its color to a green and it might taste bitter. Therefore, white asparagus is considered to be better by most Germans.
The standard Spargel meal is the spargel stalks, hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes, and some form of meat. The most common meat is ham, smoked preferred; however you will find it teamed with schnitzel (fried breaded pork), turkey, beef, or whatever is available in the kitchen.
White asparagus soup: one of the hundreds of different recipes that can be found with white asparagus is soup. Often it is made with cream and has some of the thinner asparagus pieces.
Lebkuchen: Germany has many nice Christmas biscuits and gingerbread. The best known are produced in and around Nuremberg.
Stollen is a kind of plaited bun during the Advent season and yuletide. Original Stollen is produced only in Dresden, Saxony, however you can buy Stollen everywhere in Germany (although Dresdner Stollen is reputed to be the best (and - due to the low salaries in Eastern Germany - comparatively cheap)).
Around St. Martin's day, roasted ducks and geese ("Martinsgans") are quite common in German restaurants, usually served with "Rotkraut" (red cabbage) and "Knödeln" (potato dumplings).
Germans are very fond of their bread, which they make in many variations. This is the food that Germans tend to miss most when away from home. Most people like their bread relatively dark and dense and scorn the soft loaves sold in other countries. Bakeries will rarely provide less than twenty different sorts of bread and it's worth trying a few of them. In fact, many Germans buy their lunch or small snacks in bakeries instead of takeaways or the like. Prices for a loaf of bread will range from 0.50 € to 4 €, depending on the size (real specialities might cost more).
Most restaurants have one or two vegetarian dishes, but there aren't many places which are particularly aimed at vegetarian or vegan customers. Vegetarian restaurant guides can be found at http://www.vegan.de/guide/restaurants/ (german) or http://www.fleischlos-geniessen.de (VEBU restaurant list, the restaurants are not necessarily vegetarian in general)
However, there are usually organic food shops ("Bioladen", "Naturkostladen" or "Reformhaus") in every city, providing veg(etari)an bread, breadspreads, cheese, icecream, vegan cream topping, tofu and saitan. The diversity and quality of the products is great and you will find shop assistants that can answer special nutritional questions profoundly.
Legal drinking age is 16 for beer and wine (14 if in company with a parent) and 18 for anything stronger. Non-alcoholic drinks are acceptable for all ages.
Germans consider their beer to be the best in the world. And although other nations may disagree, the brew is usually very good and far superior to the bland stuff from the "international" brands. For centuries, beer-making was governed by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), which states that German beer may only be made from hops, malt and water. The Reinheitsgebot has come down with the European integration, but traditional breweries continue to stick with it. Specialities include Weizenbier (or Weissbier in Bavaria), a refreshing wheat beer which is popular in the south, Alt, a kind of dark ale and Kölsch, another kind of beer from the city of Cologne. There are also seasonal beers, which are only made at different times of the year (such as Bockbier in winter and Maibock in May, both containing a greater quantity of alcohol, sometimes double that of a normal Vollbier). Beer is usually served in 200 or 300ml glasses (in the northern part) or 500ml in the South. In Bavaria, 500ml is a small beer and a litre is normal. Except for Irish pubs, Pints or pitcher are unusual. For Germans, lots of foam is both a sign of freshness and quality, thus, beer is always served with a lot of head. Additionally, Germans are not afraid anymore to mix their pure beer with other drinks. Beer is commonly mixed with Sprite (usually 2:1) and called Radler(or Alster in the northern part); "Cocktails" of pils/Altbier and soft drinks like Fanta, Coke and so on are also very common but seem to have a different name in every town.
Pubs are open in Germany until 2 in the morning or later. Food is generally available until midnight. Germans typically go out after 8pm.
Undisputed capital of "Apfelwein" cider in Germany is Frankfurt. Locals love their cider and it is very popular around here. It is often served in a special jug called "Bembel". The taste is slightly different from Ciders in other countries and it tends to be quiet refreshing. In autumn when apples are turned into cider you might find "Frischer Most" or "Süßer" signposted at some places. That means this is first product in the chain of "Apfelwein" production and one glass of it is nice. Two or three glasses and you will have a problem. In Trier "Apfelwein" is called "Viez" and very sour.
Germans drink coffee. Lots of it and usually black. Coffee is always freshly made from ground coffee or beans - no instant. However, persons coming from countries with a great coffee tradition (like Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Greece or Austria) might find the coffee that is served in normal restaurants a bit boring. A German specialty, originating from North Frisia but nowadays also common in East Frisia, is "Pharisäer", a mixture of coffee and a spirit, usually rum, with a thick cream top. A variation of this is "Tote Tante" ("dead aunt", with coffee replaced by hot chocolate).
Visiting Germany in December? Then go and see one of the famous Christmas markets (the most famous taking place in Nuremberg, Dresden, Leipzig and Aachen) and this is the place where you find Glühwein (English: Mulled Wine), a spiced wine served very hot. Just to comfort you in the cold winter.
“Kirschwasser” literally means cherry water, it certainly tastes of cherry but on the other hand it is not regular drinking water. There is a long lasting tradition in making spirits in Baden and “Kirschwasser” is probably the flagship product and it might encourage you to taste other specialities such as Himbeergeist, Schlehenfeuer, Williamchrist and Apfelkorn.
“Enzian” Bavarians like their beer as well their Enzian. A spirit high in alcohol that is best as a digestive after a hefty meal .
"Korn", a spirit made of grain, is probably the most common one in Germany.
In North Frisia, "Köm" (caraway spirit), either pure or mixed with tea ("Teepunsch"), is very popular.
Tea is also very popular, and a large choice is readily available. Especially the region of East Frisia has a long tea tradition.
Germans are just as passionate about their wines as they are about their beer. The similarities don't stop here, both products are often produced by small companies and the best wines are consumed locally and only the remaining ones are exported. The production of wine has a 2000 year old history in Germany as learned from the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, but of course this was a roman settlement at this time. Sunshine is the limiting factor for the production of wines in Germany and therefore the wine production is limited to the south. White wine plays a main role in the wine production, but some areas produce red wines (Ahr, Baden Württemberg). White wines are produced from Riesling, Kerner and Müller-Thurgau grapes (there are a lot more, but to name them all would be too much), and produce generally fresh and fruity wines. German wines can be rich in acid and are quit refreshing. It is generally accepted that Riesling grapes produce the best German wines, but they demand a lot of sunshine and they grow best in very exposed areas such the Mosel, Rheingau, Bergstrasse, Kaiserstuhl and Pfalz.
The best way to learn about wines is go to the place where they are grown and taste them on the spot. This is called "Weinprobe" and is generally free of charge though in touristic areas you have to pay a small fee. Good wines usually go together with good food and therefore it is well worth it to visit some of those places.
Wine producing areas are:
Baden With approx. 15,500 hectare of wine yards and a production of 1 mn hectolitre Baden is Germany’s third biggest wine growing area. It's the most southern German wine growing area and is Germany’s only member of the European Wine Category B together with the famous French areas Alsace, Champagne and Loire. Baden is more than 400 km long and is split into nine regional groups: Tauberfranken, Badische Bergstraße, Kraichgau, Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Tuniberg, Markgräflerland and Bodensee. The Kaiserstuhl and the Markgräflerland are the most famous areas for wine from Baden. One of the largest wine cooperatives is the Badischer Winzerkeller in Breisach (English site).
Franken: Franconia is in the northern part of Bavaria and you can find there very nice wines. Some wines produced in Franconia are sold in a special bottle called "Bocksbeutel".
Hessische Bergstrasse: located on the slopes of the Rhine valley it is a quiet small wine producing area and wines are usually consumed within the area in and around Heppenheim.
Rheinpfalz: biggest wine producing area in Germany. Has some excellent wines to taste and a lot of nice villages embedded in vineyards. Tasting wine in Deidesheim is a good idea and several prime producer of German wine are all located on the main road. Want to see the biggest wine barrel in the world then go to Bad Dürkheim.
Württemberg As it was mentioned before, here the rule, that the wine production is consumed by the locals, strictly applies. The wine consumption is twice as high as in the rest of Germany, regardless of whether it's red or the white wine. The specialty of the region is the red wine called Trollinger and it can be quite nice by German standards.
Saale-Unstrut: located in the state Saxonia-Anhalt at the banks of the rivers Saale and Unstrut it is most northern wine area in Europe.
Germany provides almost all options for accommodation, including hotels, B&B's, hostels, and camping. You might also consider staying with members of a hospitality exchange network.
Most international hotel chains have franchises in the major German cities, and a large variety of local hotels exist. All hotels in Germany are ranked by stars (1 to 5 stars). The rankings are made independently and are therefore reliable. The rate always includes VAT, is usually per room and includes in most places breakfast. Prices vary significantly by city (Munich and Frankfurt are most expensive). The best provider for hotels is HRS which is the benchmark for all online hotel reservation systems and sites in the German speaking countries.
B&Bs ("Pensionen" or "Fremdenzimmer") (usually) provide less comfort than hotels for cheaper prices. The advantage is that you are likely to meet Germans and get a touch of the German way of living.
Hostels provide simple, budget accommodation primarily in shared rooms. They are good places to get to know other travellers. In Germany, as in many countries, two flavors exist: international youth hostels and independent hostels.
International Youth Hostels ("Jugendherbergen") are owned and run by the association "Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk" (DJH), which is part of the Hostelling International (HI) network. Their more than 600 hostels are spread all over Germany in big and small cities as well as in the country side. Not only individual travellers are guests, but also by school classes and other youth groups. To sleep there, you have to be or become a member in a youth hostel organisation belonging the HI network. Detailed information about this and each of their hostels can be found on the DJH's Website.
Privately run independent hostels are starting to be an attractive alternative for a similar price. More than 60 already exist in Germany, getting more and more every year. They are located in bigger cities, especially in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, and Hamburg. Only few are in the country side. Sometimes run by former travellers, hostels refrain from having strict rules. Especially small ones are frequently places where you can feel at home. There is no need to be a member in some organisation to sleep there. About half of the hostels have organized themselves in a "Backpacker Network", which provides a list of their members hostels. A more complete list is Marcus's hostel list. If you are interested in other traveller's opinions about hostels try www.hotelz.comor www.backpackersberlin.com. If you looking for a Free Fast and Easy way to find a hostel check www.hostelineurope.com.
There are countless campsites in Germany. They vary significantly in the infrastructure and standard. The ADAC, the German automobile club, offers an excellent guide for most German camping groups. If you are member of your national motorclub assistance and guides are free or at substantial reduced prices.
Some travellers just put up their tents somewhere in the country side. In Germany this is illegal, unless you have the landowner's permission.
German universities can compete with the best universities in the whole world. Since the vast majority of the universities are state-owned, studying in Germany is usually very cheap (50-500 Euros/semester). The National Library in Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, and Berlin is not free and costs EUR 5 per day (monthly and yearly cards also available). Also, no one under 18 years old is allowed in and you must show your passport (or acceptable EU identification).
While unemployment in Germany is at a rate of more than 10 % at the moment, there are jobs for those with the right qualifications or connections. Non-EU foreigners wishing to work in Germany should make sure they secure the proper permits. Since this can mean extended acts of bureaucracy for non-EU citizens, it is likely not a good method to help your travelling budget.
If you want to stay in Germany for an extended period of time, but do not speak German, your best bets are large multinational companies in the banking, tourism or high tech industries. Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and of course Hamburg and Berlin are likely the best places to start looking. A good knowledge of German is usually expected, but not always a prerequisite.
Germany is a safe country and the law is strictly enforced. There are no ghettos but certain city areas (mostly close to main train stations) should be visited with care or avoided by women traveling alone. In rural areas, many people still don't lock doors or cars, and crime is almost unknown. Recent statistics show a significant drop in major crimes like murder or robbery. Pickpockets can be a problem in large cities or at events with large crowds. Big cities also have their share of beggars and punks, but these are not dangerous. Germany has one of the world's best social systems, so those asking for money may be "professional beggars" who beg for a second income.
The nationwide emergency number is 112 for medical emergencies and fires, while the police emergency number is 110. Even if you call the "wrong" number, your call will be forwarded to the right emergency services. These numbers can by dialed toll-free from any phone, including phone booths and mobile phones, even those without a valid SIM card. If you're reporting an emergency, the usual guidelines apply: Stay calm and state your exact location, the type of emergency and the number of persons involved. Don't hang up immediately, the operator may have further questions.
The German Polizei  is not corrupt and generally competent. They received special training to deal with tourists in preparation for the 2006 World Cup. Many officers speak basic English, or have colleagues who do.
The hospitals (Krankenhäuser) have emergency rooms which are open around the clock. They will deal with all kinds of medical problems, although you may have to wait if your problem is minor. Call an ambulance via 112 or 19222, the emergency number that connects you with the local ambulance service. (Please use 112, except if you are in some parts of Bavaria. Here you can use 19222 in order to call the "Bavarian red cross", which has a better emergency service available.) Ambulance services, while partly privatised, are required by law to respond to every call, regardless of insurance issues.
Pharmacies are called "Apotheke" and are marked by a big, red "A" symbol. At least one pharmacy per city or suburb will be open at all times, and pharmacies with limited hours will post the name and address of this pharmacy in the window.
There will also be a dentist on stand-by in each town. The number is usually available from the yellow pages.
Germany has a reputation for racism, and there is some truth to it (especially in the East, where an extreme-right party is represented in the Saxony state parliament), but it's not as bad as many foreign people think, having in mind the Nazi era. Actually, you will not encounter more racism than in any other Western European country. Most large cities in Germany are extremely cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic with large communities of foreigners including non-whites and religious minorities. People in Germany are aware of the issue and will usually be tolerant or at least politically correct; public displays of overt anti-semitism are forbidden by strict laws. Most foreign visitors never deal with issues of open discrimination or racism. The most common forms of racism against non-white visitors include wary looks (often caused by uneasiness or insecurity), some snubbing, and at worst (very rarely) verbal insults.
In parts of the former East Germany (including the outskirts of East Berlin), the situation is different. Higher unemployment rates are a fertile ground for racist ideas, and due to the area's former isolation, its residents lack a history of peaceful and tolerant co-existence with foreigners. Consequently, there are more incidences of racist behaviour than in the West with somewhat more frequent outbursts of physical violence, although such events remain rare and out of the ordinary even there. Most incidents happen in the evening/night when groups of drunken "Nazis" looking for trouble (i.e. solitary victims) downtown or near public transport stations.
In cities the police and custom officers are working to control illegal immigration, mainly at construction sites and small businesses. It's a good idea to have your passport and visa papers with you, especially when you are obviously not German. If you don't, you could at best face a considerable delay as your story gets checked, and at worst more serious consequences. Again, remember that German police are generally very helpful, but they have heard all the stories about "I forgot my papers" before and will likely be skeptical of your explanation. If you leave your papers at the hotel, at least take a photocopy with you.
Prostitution is a legal business in Germany, but pimping and taking advantage of the sex workers (official term) are illegal. All larger cities have a red light district with licenced bars, go-gos, escort services and separees. Due to the proximity to Eastern Europe several cases of human trafficking and illegal immigrations have taken place, and the police are doing regular raids to keep this business in its legal boundaries.
Possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana for personal use won't be prosecuted though being illegal, but police will confiscate it. All other recreational drugs (e.g. ecstasy) will definitely lead to prosecution and earn you at least a police record. Bringing marijuana into the country – even for personal use – will be prosecuted as drug trafficking.
But be aware that Germany is a federal state. Laws may vary from state to state. In Bavaria the laws on drugs are very strict. You will get prosecuted for carrying any amount of drugs, even less than 5 grams marijuana.
Gay and lesbian travellers
The attitude towards gays and lesbians is very tolerant particularly in the cities, most of which have vibrant scenes (especially Berlin and Cologne). The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. Only in small towns and in the countryside kissing and holding hands may provoke stares and in the worst case comments, especially from older people. In general, younger people are more tolerant. Many politicians (e.g. the Mayors of Berlin and Hamburg) and famous stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.
A law that allows gays or lesbians to marry and adopt children has been recently passed.
Sanitary and medical facilities in Germany are very good. The phone book lists telephone numbers for various medical services, many hotlines and services exist that are open during "off hours". Emergency services (fire brigade and ambulances) can be reached via the telephone number 112. This number works from any phone without charges, even otherwise locked cell phones. On the Autobahn, you should prefer the frequent orange emergency posts because they'll automatically transmit your exact location.
As always, check with your insurance company about coverage before traveling abroad.
Tap water is safe for consumption, in some areas it is even of very high quality, you may wish to employ caution with public sources of water (restrooms et cetera) but even these should not be harmful. Exceptions will be labeled ("Kein Trinkwasser", no drinking water).
Many lakes and rivers, as well as both the North Sea and Baltic Sea are generally safe for swimming. This depends on the locale, however. A 2006 survey by the German automobile club ADAC showed that the water at the beaches of the North and Baltic sea is in a good to very good condition with the exception of two sites near Kiel and Luebeck. Nevertheless, while there may be no life-threatening pollutants in most bodies of water, you would do very well to inform yourself about local regulations. Finally, if you intend to visit the North Sea, you should inform yourselves about the tide schedules. Getting caught in a tide can be fatal. There are no tides in the Baltic Sea.
Finally, while there is really no dangerous wildlife in Germany, you should be aware of rabies (Tollwut) which has been a problem in some areas in the past. If you want to go to Germany for hiking or camping, you should inform yourself about the situation at your destination and take appropriate precautions. Normally, you won't have to worry about it however. You usually need a permit to camp or make a campfire and German authorities can be quite strict about this.
The most serious risk are two diseases transmitted by ticks. In some parts of Germany there is a (low) risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis. The risk of Lyme disease is much higher, again depending on the area. Inoculation can be advisable. However, it is a good idea to wear long trousers when hiking through forests.
There are no real taboos in Germany that don't apply in other Western countries. Drinking in public (outside of Biergarten and other joints of course) is frowned upon, for those so inclined, but no punishment will ensue (if you become aggressive, that's another matter of course).
On German beaches, it's usually okay for women to bath topless, however full nudity is uncommon. Nudist areas on beaches, however are very common and are labeled "FKK" (Freikörperkultur, literally free body culture). It is allowed and no one will take offence tanning or swimming nude in remote or nudist areas. At the east German Baltic coastline nudity is more usual and a lot of places are designed for FKK. It's also possible to spot nudists in Berlin's public parks and in Munich's "English Garden". In most saunas nudity is compulsory and mixed sessions are common practise. One day of the week is usually only for women.
By the way: Germany is not Bavaria. There are some habits in (and clichés about) Bavaria - especially in the south out of Munich - which not exist in the rest of Germany (e.g. traditional clothes, food and architecture). And not everybody in Germany is a fan of the Bavarian “way of life”. If you confuse Bavaria with Germany, nobody will be seriously angry but some people will be a little bit offended. And if you wear “typical” Bavarian clothes like leather trousers in Berlin or in the Ruhr area or somewhere else outside of Bavaria, you will look ridiculous, like an old-fashioned cowboy at the Wall Street.
Feeding pigeons is prohibited in many cities. It is hard to imagine that you will get fined even if confronted about it by a policeman, but it is entirely possible. You don't feed rats in the street and likewise, you shouldn't feed pigeons either.
It is important to bear in mind that Germans at first glance seem to be, generally, somewhat less polite than people in English speaking countries - but it is only the nature of the language: don't be offended by curt remarks, that's simply how you talk in German.
Do not be afraid to approach Germans. They are very direct and honest people: if they can or want to help you, they will, if not, they will tell you so.
Note that technically it is against the law to insult others, so swearing at someone or "giving him the finger" in public is rare and could lead to unforeseen complications. Especially insulting Jews might have severe consequences.
When visiting the churches men should always take off their hats. Don't walk into a church like you go to the beach, clothing from your feet to your shoulders is expected. These are signs of respect. As any other church in the world these are not tourist attractions, they are places of worship.
Be tactful with regards to the subject of the Second World War. The legacy of the war is well understood by Germans and jokes about it are looked upon improper. What might appear from an outsider's perspective to be "an innocent joke" might actually go down in a much more awkward way. Do not - under any circumstances - show any swastikas or make other references to Nazis, such as shouting "Heil Hitler" or anything like that in public, even if it's clearly meant as a joke - it can get you in serious trouble and possibly even get you arrested. Using any Nazi signs or gestures are criminal offences (up to 5 years prison) according to German law and it will be prosecuted. Denial of the Holocaust is also a major crime in Germany. However do note that symbols similar to Nazi symbols are used by rightwing groups, often in coded form. Stay away from them if you want to avoid trouble.
Occasionally, foreign tourists and residents complain that Germans themselves bring up topics such as WWII or recent events (eg. the Iraq war). Other complaints revolve around Germans pushing and shoving in public and staring at strangers - which is extremely rare but can happen.
When making or answering a phone call, first introduce yourself by saying your name (most people use last name, but you can also use first name). It is consider impolite if you don't say your name even when you use other polite greetings such as "hello" or "good morning".
If there is a security check, never make any jokes about terrorism. They certainly will neither kill nor torture you, but you might be arrested.
In Germany it is illegal to film or photograph a person without consent. The exception are of course crowds, politicians, celebrities or people just happen to stand in front of something else you take a photo of. When in doubt, ask for permission.
Please be aware that taking picture without permission in special situations, like bathrooms, locker rooms or swimming areas are probably forbidden. There are some new laws in progress that will forbid taking pictures of people in intimate situations. Publishing those kind of pictures without permission establishes a claim to punitive damages, at least due to actual German law.
The international calling code for Germany is 49, and the prefix for international calls is 00; the area code prefix is 0. Some number blocks are reserved for special use: Number starting with 010xx let you choose a different phone provider (see below), 0800 and 00800 are toll-free numbers, 0180 are service numbers (which may or may not be more expensive than a local call). Avoid 0900 prefix numbers. These are for commercial services and usually incredibly expensive (although some of them are used by different phone providers since the range of 010xx numbers isn't sufficient).
Germany has a highly advanced communications network; coverage for mobile phone is very good unless you go into really outlying areas between small villages. All mobile providers use GSM technology at the 900 and 1800 GHz frequency ranges. This is different to the GSM 1900 standard used in the United States, but modern "multi-band" handsets will usually work in all GSM networks. Non-GSM phones cannot be used in Germany. Germany is one of the few countries in the world that feature the UMTS technology in metropolitan areas.
The vast majority of Germans own mobile phones; the disadvantage of this is that the once-common phone booths have started to disappear except at "strategical" locations such as train stations. If you stay for a longer period of time, consider buying a prepaid phone card from one of the mobile phone companies; you won't have trouble finding a T-Mobile (in a "T-Punkt"), Vodafone, E-Plus or O2 store in any major shopping area. Mobile telephony is still comparatively expensive in Germany, depending on your contract you may be charged about €0.10 to €0.50 per minute (and more for international calls).
In most supermarket chains, there are prepaid SIM cards from their own virtual providers available. These are normally quite cheap to buy (10-20 € with 5-15 € airtime) and for national calls (0,15-0,20 $euro;/min), but expensive for international calls (around 1-2 $euro;/min), but incoming calls are always free and SMS cost around 0,15-0,30€. They are available at: Aldi, Penny, Plus, Tchibo, Schlecker, Rewe, Minimal, toom. A registration via Internet or (expensive) phone call is necessary after buying to activate the SIM card.
Since the liberalization of Germany's phone market, there is a multitude of phone providers on the market. If you're calling from a private fixed line, you can usually choose from the different providers (and thus from different pricing schemes) by using special prefix numbers (starting with 010xx) with prices of 0,01 € or 0,02 €, sometimes below 0,01 € even for international calls. There's a calculator on the net where you can compare the prices for different destinations. Hotels usually have contracts with a particular phone provider and won't let you use a different one as they can't afford to pay the bill.
Alternatively, you can also buy prepaid phone cards you can use by calling a toll free number; this is especially a good deal if you intend to make international calls. Cards' quality and prices vary wildly, however, so a good recommendation cannot be made.
Consider to make your calls from German public payphones. While the original rates are often quite high (e.g. call to Australia 2.60 Euro per minute) you may save a lot using "Open Call Through" (call to Australia 0.20 Euro per minute). See The Foxy Phone Page for details.
Recently, phone shops have sprung up in the major cities, where you can make international calls at cheap rates.
Internet cafes are common, but usually small, local businesses. You probably won't have a problem finding at least one in even smaller towns or large villages. See Online-Cafes (in German) for details. Phone shops will often offer internet access, too.
Most hotels offer internet access. Inquire your hotel about access possibilities and rates before booking.
From every phone - regardless whether private phone, hotel phone or mobile phone - you can get free dialup internet access immediately without sign-up. Just the normal land-line phone rate applies when you use one of the numbers listed at The Foxy Phone Page. These numbers can be used even for internet access from abroad.
In several cities, projects exist to provide free "community" hotspots for wireless networking. See Public Spots (page in German) for details.
Passenger lounges at some airports and central railway stations also provide internet access to their customers.
Public libraries often offer Internet access, however usually not free of charge. The libraries are open to the public for free, taking a book home might require you to get a customer card at a low fee, though. Note the National Library in Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, and Berlin is not free.
Deutsche Post (the German postal service) runs several international companies including DHL and others. The service quality of these companies is generally comparable to that in the US, however, the prices are higher. Deutsche Post / DHL announced significant price cuts due to increasing competition.
The German postal service is reliable. The service has been reduced in the privatization process. Due to a surge in the theft rate [especially by outsourced letter carriers and contractors] any international shipments, especially incoming, should be insured if they are valuable or important. Speed is normally at a very good level.
Inquire for the rates to your destination country at the local post office. Air mail (Luftpost) can be as cheap as the alterative, Landweg. If you want to send packages, there are three options (cheapest to most expensive)-Maxibrief an oversized letter up to 2kg and L+W+H=900mm. Päckchen is a small(up to 2kg for international), unisured packet. Otherwise it will have to be sent under the price system of a DHL Paket.WikiPedia:Germany Dmoz:Europe/Germany/