Difference between revisions of "Germany"
Revision as of 17:11, 9 April 2008
Germany  (German: Deutschland) is a country in Central Europe. 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, shortened to, "Länder"). Grouped roughly by geography, these are:
Germany has numerous cities of interest to tourists; these are the top seven travel destinations.
Due to its size and location in central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes. In general, the country's climate is mild and humid, a large part of the rural areas is covered by forests.
Germany's north has coasts to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The landscape, especially along the North Sea shore is very flat, the climate is rough with strong winds, lots of rain and mild, chilly temperatures. Due to the south-easterly winds that press water into the German Bight, tidal variations are exceptionally high, creating the "Wattenmeer": Vast areas of the seabed are uncovered twice a day, allowing one to walk from one of the numerous islands to another. The North Sea islands just off the coast are very picturesque, although mostly visited by the Germans themselves. Out in the German Bight lies the country's only off-shore island, Helgoland. Thanks to the strong winds, Wind-Surfing is possible all year round. Do not expect Hawaiian temperatures, though.
Germans are fanatic about their forests. While they are much smaller now than they used to be in medieval times, they are still huge compared to forests in other, especially western and southern European countries and only thinly populated. Among others, the Black Forest and the Bayrische Wald have been declared national heritage and will, over the course of the next centuries, slowly return into a wild state. Although Germans love to go for long walks and hikes in these dark and humid woods, there's space enough for everyone to get lost. If you take one of the smaller paths you may not meet another person for the rest of the day (this in a country of 230 people per square kilometer). Especially the more remote areas are of an almost mythical beauty. It is no wonder the brothers Grimm could collect all those fairytales among the dark canopies, and a large part of the German poetry circles around trees, fog and those lonely mountain tops. Even Goethe sent his Faust to the Brocken for his most fantastic scene. Today, wild animals, although abound, are mostly very shy, so you might not get to see many. While a few wolves in Saxony and a bear in Bavaria have been sighted, their immigration from Eastern Europe caused quite a stir. In the course of events "Bruno" (the bear) was shot, and while the wolves are under heavy protection local hunters have been suspected of killing them illegally. The most dangerous animal in Germany's forests is by far the wild boar, especially sows leading young are nothing to joke about. Wild boar are used to humans, since they often plunder trash cans in villages and suburbs and their teeth can rip big wounds. If you see one, run.
The centre half of Germany is a patchwork of the so-called "Mittelgebirge": Hilly rural areas where fields and forests intermix with larger cities. Many of these hillranges are tourist destinations. Most noteably are the Bayrische Wald (Bavarian Forest), the Black Forest, the Harz, the Ore Mountains and Elbsandstone Mountains (Saxon Switzerland). In the very south, Germany contains a small portion of the Alps, Central Europe's highest elevation, rising as high as 4000m (12,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest summit in Germany being the Zugspitze, at 2962m (9717 ft). While only a small part of the Alps lie in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and the unique Bavarian culture. A lot of people go there or further south into neighboring Austria and Switzerland for skiing in the winter and hiking and climbing in the summer.
Lying along the country's south-western border with Switzerland and Austria, Lake Constance is Germany's largest fresh-water lake. The area around the Lake and up the lower Rhine valley has a very mild, amenable climate and fertile grounds, making it the country's most important area for wine and fruit growing.
Other popular tourist destinations
in Germany from north to south:
Die Romantische Straße (The Romantic Road)
The Romantic Road is the most famous scenic route in Germany. It starts in Würzburg and ends in Füssen. Most important points to visit on the Romantic Street are the cities: Würzburg, Harburg, Donauwörth, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Landsberg am Lech and Augsburg. Most notable wider areas are: Taubertal, Nördlinger Ries and Lechrain.
For cyclists there's a special route available called "Radwanderweg Romantische Straße".
See also: Romantic Road.
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.
Berlin, though, because of the country's decentralized structure, is not as dominant in Germany as London is in the United Kingdom or Paris in France. Nevertheless, it has been touted as one of the world's most fashionable big cities since the early 90s.
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.
Germany's biggest winegrowing areas are Rheinhessen and Pfalz (Palatinate). While Rheinhessen produces slightly more wine the Palatinate is the biggest coherent wine growing area in Germany. The biggest wine fest worldwide with over 600 000 visitors each year is held in Bad Duerkheim on the German Wine Route.
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 after that to the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, Germany as a single state has existed only till 1806 and then since 1871, when a large number of previously independent German kingdoms (created by Napoleon) 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 extensive 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. Under the Nazi dictatorship, democratic institutions were dismantled and a police state was 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 in addition to a third front to the south of Austria in Italy.
In 1945, Germany lay in ruins with most major cities bombed to the ground. Furthermore, losing 25% of its territory, east of the newly imposed Oder-Neisse frontier to Poland and the Soviet Union caused a major refugee crisis following the end of the war. Even more stateless people came with the massive numbers of ethnic Germans expelled from their eastern european homelands in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. Numbers totaled over 10 million.
After devastating defeat in World War II (1939-1945), Berlin was divided into four sectors, controlled by the French, British, US and Soviet forces. The eastern half of Germany was given to Poland and the Soviet Union. 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 exclave of the Federal Republic. On August 13, 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected as part of a heavily guarded frontier system, 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. Students' protests beginning in 1968 successfully clamoured for a new Germany. The society became much more liberal, and the totalitarian past was dealt with more unconcealed than ever before since the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. 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 re-established 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.
Throughout the world, especially in the English-speaking countries, Germany and the Germans have earned themselves a reputation for being stiff, brusque and strict with rules, but also hard working and efficient. As with all such clichés, these should be taken with a grain of salt. The German language is not as smooth as English, so even a friendly word can sound harsh to the English-speaker (not to mention the French, for that matter). More importantly, the German sense of "politeness" differs significantly from the Anglo-American concept of courteous remarks, small talk and political correctness. Germans highly value honesty, straight talking, being able to cope with criticism and generally not wasting other people's time. Consequently, business meetings (though not necessarily shorter than American ones) tend to lack the introductory chit-chat. On the other hand, there is also a strong desire to achieve mutual agreement and compromise which can easily drive an American manager mad. As for the infamous efficiency: Germans are the world's leading recreationists (at an average of 30 days of paid leave per year, not counting public holidays), while maintaining one of the highest productivities on earth. A late-running train is considered a sign of the degradation of society. Arriving more than 5 minutes late to a meeting is about as damaging as slapping your opponent in the face and will only be tolerated with unknowing strangers, unless you can cite a late-running train in your defense (which is a bit like using "the dying grandmother" as an excuse: It cannot be used too often before it becomes unbelievable). wht up
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 gets barely involved into day to day politics and has mainly ceremonial and representative duties. Nevertheless every law passed by the parliament has to be signed by the president. He can also suspend the parliament, 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.
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 ('Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP)'), 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). There have been some attempts by extreme right-wing parties (NPD - National Democratic Party / REP - Republicans) to get into parliament, but so far they have failed the 5% requirement (except in some State parliaments, currently Saxony and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania).
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 (IATA: FRA), Munich (IATA: MUC) and Düsseldorf (IATA: DUS). Berlin (IATA: TXL), Cologne (IATA: CGN) and Hamburg (IATA: 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 tuifly (formerly Hapag-Lloyd-Express and HapagFly), Air Berlin (icnluding DBA) and WizzAir offer budget flights from many assorted airports across Germany and Europe Ryanair flights from London to Berlin Schoenefeld, Altenburg (Leipzig), Lübeck (near to Hamburg), Weeze (near Duesseldorf) and from some other European destinations to Frankfurt/Hahn (Attention: Hahn is about 120km from Frankfurt!). 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, only if booked far in advance.
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 in 2005 Deutsche Bahn introduced discount return tickets. You must buy them three or seven days in advance (e. g. on-line 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 starts or ends in Germany you are still eligible for a reduction on the whole journey!
Another option for cheap rail travel are the so-called Ländertickets and the Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket. The most well-known of these Ländertickets is the Bayern-Ticket. Ländertickets and the Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket allow unlimited travel on regional trains for the day and region of validity. Most Ländertickets are available in two versions: Single or Normal. Normal tickets are designed for a group of up to 5 people. Single tickets are cheaper, but they allow only one person to travel. The Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket is valid for all of Germany, the Ländertickets are usually only valid in the Land that they are sold in. (Bayern-Ticket is only valid in Bavaria, but Sachsen-Ticket is valid in Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt.) Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket can only be used on Saturday or Sunday from midnight to 2 am the next day, Ländertickets are valid during the week from 9 am on and on Saturdays and Sundays from midnight on. With Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket it is possible to travel in a group of 5 people from Amsterdam to Berlin for less than 14 EUR one-way per person when the normal train fare is 100 EUR. If you arrive at a train station early on a Saturday or Sunday, you might be invited to join a group travelling on Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket or look for fellow travellers yourself.
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) with no toll or fees for cars (trucks have to pay), but gasoline prices are kept high by taxation. In March 2008 prices float around 1,45 € per litre. At petrol stations you'll have the choice between Diesel, "Benzin" (unleaded gasoline), Super and SuperPlus (high octane). Also LPG (Liquid petroleum gas) is available with not so much problems on Highways. 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 (only if the petrol station is staffed, of course).
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.
Another great way to get around without your own car is using one of the popular car pool services. You can arrange many connections over their respecive websites if you speak some German or have a friend that can help you out. Making contact is free of charge and getting a lift is often the cheapest way to get around. The two most popular hosts are Mitfahrgelegenheit and Mitfahrzentrale, for second one you have to pay an extra charge. If you have your own car, taking other people is also a great way of saving money and protecting the environment.
You may not turn right on red traffic lights except if there is a small green arrow sign affixed to the traffic light. In that case you may carefully turn right, however you must still stop and make sure that there is no traffic or pedestrians approaching.
In many areas traffic lights are not hung over the intersection, but instead placed at the corners. You shouldn't creep into the intersection or else you won't be able to see the lights change. Yellow lights are considerably shorter in duration than in those in the US and Canada, and are also used as a warning that the light is about to turn green.
Watch out for cyclists on sidewalk lanes, sometimes they are allowed to use the "wrong direction" lane. If a road crosses a bicycle lane (Radweg) it might have a red color where it interjects with the bicycle lane or other special markings, if that´s the case cyclists have right of way. If in doubt or there are no markings, its still a good idea to give right of way.
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 that happens and if you respect traffic signs and speed limits it is very unlikely that you get stopped at all.
The police may routine check vehicle drivers for alcohol; controls will be especially heavy at national holidays or close to mass events where people may consume alcohol. It's illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.05% (0.5‰ (permille)). Even below that limit you may face severe fines if you seem unfit to drive. The limit is zero for people under 21 and those who have their license for less than two years.
Speed limits are the following in Germany (unless otherwise shown):
Vehicles with a maximum speed of less than 60 km/h are not allowed on the "Autobahn" or "Kraftfahrstraßen".
Since may 2007 new rules about particulate matter (dust pollution) have been introduce. All cars driving into a "Umweltzone" (polution-free zone) need a special vignette (Feinstaubplakette) according to their pollution category. Signs at the start of polution-free zones will show wich vignette is needed to be allowed to enter (green, yellow, or red), and which cars are not allowed to enter. If a car does not have a vignette at all, its not allowed to enter a polution-free zone. If you rent a car make sure to ask if it has a "Feinstaubplakette".
For an overview of traffic signs and regulations in Germany, see this site.
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.
You must use the right lane if it's free, even if everybody seems to prefer the left and middle lanes (where they exist). You may stay on the left/middle lane if there are occasional slow vehicles on the right.
Overtaking the right lane is not allowed and can be dangerous as other drivers may not expect it. You must always pass vehicles on the left side, except in a traffic jam (note that passing on the right is allowed on other streets within city limits).
Never ever reverse on a highway when you missed an exit. Go to the next exit and make a U-turn.
Autobahns have an emergency lane where you're can stop only in case of a breakdown. For everything else, always use the frequent service areas, it is illegal and dangerous to stop there for other reasons. Running out of fuel on the Autobahn may also incur a small fine if the police happens to notice you. If you have to stop you must set up your warning triangle triangle. The emergency lane is a dangerous place - you should leave your vehicle and stay off the street until help arrives!
Arrows on the small posts along the Autobahn will 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 always 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 national railway company. Although privatisation occured a few years ago, all the shares are still held by the German government, though DB are planning to sell off the shares to private investors in the near future. 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.
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.
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 5 transfers and take around 12 hours!
If you are required to travel a long distance by train, one option is to buy a ticket on a sleeper train. You will miss seeing the beautiful German landscape and scenery, but this option allows you to sleep in a bed while traveling. Americans might want to try this, if only because it is an experience most Americans have never had.
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/view/en/ (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 tariff union, 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. Travelling within a tariff union, you usually need only one ticket for your whole journey (there may be exceptions, e.g. historic, touristic or long distance trains or certain local or express bus lines).
Ticket machines come in three types. Local transport ticket machines are usually yellow, white / grey or orange, regional (up to 100 km) and long distance tickets are available from red and 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:
While on national train lines tickets can be bought on board, this does not always apply to regional trains. 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).
It might be useful to plan ahead and look at the Bahn website to find out if you can save any money. If you are planning a roundtrip, you can usually save 25% by booking at least three days in advance; an early booking is also the only way to profit from various other saving schemes (national/international) which are described on the website. If you can use the internet during or before your trip just go to the www.bahn.de (note it down), find your connection, register, pay by credit card, print your ticket (necessary, unless you want the ticket mailed to a valid German address). 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 (and red) DB ticket machines in the stations have touchscreens and language options. 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 easiest solution for travellers. The staff is friendly and helpful. Drawbacks are, they they close at night, 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 (no surcharge). 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 an old 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, but with having the preliminary ticket you do not have pay the additional fee.
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:
But there is another great offer, if you are a student in Germany and under the age of 26, you can get the BahnCard50 with half-cut-off price, which is 103€. Also another important tip if you don't want to buy the BahnCard, book the train ticket one week in advance, you also can get half price ticket, the restriction is you have to arrange your itinerary carefully, the destination of your return is the departure of you start, which means this kind of offer only works if you will return back to where you leave, and the duration should cover the weekends, finally, in which train you can take is fixed in advance(the train code will be given to you).
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. Besides, there are two very useful long distance bus lines, the "Neun-Euro Bus". If booked in advance, you can end up paying just nine euros for any trip on the bus line connecting Hamburg (+airport), Hanover (+airport), Kassel, Frankfurt (+airport), Mannheim and Heidelberg. The other line runs Mannheim - Heidelberg - Heilbronn - Rothenburg ob der Tauber - Nuremberg. For more information, check 
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.
It is possible to hitchhike in Germany and most Germans speak (at least broken) English, so you will be understood if you speak slowly. Drivers rarely expect you to give them any money for the ride. The first letters of the German number plate (before the hyphen) indicate the city in which the car is registered. If you know the code for your destination  it will increase your chances.
It is illegal to stop on the Autobahn itself, but hitchhiking from service areas or petrol stations is a good way of getting long rides (100-200 km). The hard part is getting onto the Autobahn, so it pays off to sleep near the gas stations if you are going far. At the gas stations you can get a free booklet called Tanken und Rasten with a map of the Autobahn and its gas stations. When getting a lift, agree with the driver where to get off, and make sure there is a gas station. Try to avoid the Auto Hofs.
It is also quite common to arrange a ride in a private vehicle in advance through on offline agency or the Internet. Offline agencies like Citynetz or ADM do have offices in major cities, mostly near the city center or the main railway station. These offline agencies do charge a commission additionally to the cost for fuel you need to pay for the driver.
In the recent years online services to arrange rides in private vehicles became very popular. The main reason is that you do not have to pay the commission traditional agencies do charge. You only need to contribute towards fuel costs. (example fare: Frankfurt to Berlin €25). You can contact the driver directly by email, phone or sms. As the drivers need to be registered, it is safer than hitchhiking. Hitchhikers is a comparable service, multilingual and free. Mitfahrgelegenheit and Mitfahrzentrale are other well known players with plenty of rides in their databases. Mitfahrzentrale even operates all over Europe. Raumobil is a new player in the market but a more private-run affair. Mitflugzentrale arranges rides in private planes.
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 dialect, which might pose sometimes a challenge to those who speak even good German - and sometimes to native speakers as well.
All 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, Russian 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. Russian is also very useful in the area popularly known as East Germany, as virtually everyone was taught that language at school, albeit not as extensively as in its Slavic neighbours. In the southeastern part of that area, a small Slavic community of 50,000 also speak the Sorbian language, the least spoken modern Slavic language today, but widely protected from near-extinction since 1945. Sorbian is divided into two dialects just like German: Upper and Low Sorbian, with the former being the most commonly used.
If you address a German with English, always ask "Do you speak English?" or its German translation "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" 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 a "Handy" and many of them 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. Another difference is that when saying the time is 7:30 the english would say "half past seven" where as the germans say the time half to eight, or "halb acht". 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 is 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.
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 or your foreign debit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.
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 appreciate the service (e.g. bad, rude or ignoring service), reduce the tip accordingly or don't tip at all. It is customary to give a larger tip around Christmas time.
It's common in Germany to round up the bill in restaurants or pubs. Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip (Trinkgeld, lit. "drink money") of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Nonetheless, service charge is already included in an item's unit price so what you see is what you pay.
Tipping in other situations:
In common with most other Western European languages (but unlike English), in German a comma is used to indicate a decimal. For example, 2,99€ is two euros and 99 cents. The "€" symbol is usually placed after the price. A dot is used to indicate thousands, one-thousand is written as 1.000!
Retail prices are reasonable and slightly lower than in most northern European countries but the value added tax, V.A.T. or "Mehrwertsteuer" has been increased to 19% from 2007 onwards and therefore prices will slightly rise; sparkling wine, spirits and tobacco are subject to even higher taxes. Some German brands of high end goods such as kitchen utensils, stationery, and hiking gear are considerably cheaper than abroad. V.A.T. is always included in an item's pricetag.
Many Germans are very price-conscious when shopping for food. The competition between food discounters is exceptionally fierce (WalMart had to retract from the German market because it could not compete on price) and results in very low food prices compared to other European countries. The chains "Aldi" and "Lidl" are a special type of supermarket: Their range of products is limited to the absolute necessities of daily life (like vegetables, pasta, milk, eggs, toiletries etc.), sold in rather simple packaging for tightly calculated prices. While quality is generally surprisingly high (at least in comparison to price), do not expect delicatessen or local specialties when you go to shop there. Many Germans buy their daily needs there and go to the more "standard" supermarket (like the chains Rewe or Edeka) to get more special treats. Don't blame the personnel for being somewhat harsh: Although they are paid slightly better than usual, they have to cope with a significantly higher workload than colleagues in standard supermarkets.
If you are looking for organic 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.
You can find local products (not necessarily organic) in most places at the farmer's market ("Wochenmarkt" or simply "Markt"), usually once or twice a week. While you should be aware that your chances on finding english-speaking sellers there may be somewhat reduced, it's nevertheless quite fun to shop there and mostly you will get fresh and good quality food for 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 quite a common delicacy and a typical souvenir.
Be prepared to bag your own groceries and goods as well as provide your own shopping bags for doing so. While most stores provide plastic as well as canvas shopping bags at the checkout, you are charged for them. The Germans think it is more environmentally-friendly to re-use bags rather than get a new one each time. It's a good reminder to also keep a euro coin handy for the buggys/shopping carts. They all require a euro to use the cart but you get it back once your shopping is done.
Due to a federal reform, opening hours are set by the states, therefore opening hours vary from state to state. Some states like Berlin, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein have no more strict opening hours from Monday to Saturday (however, you will rarely find 24 hours shops other than at petrol stations). Sunday is closed for shops everywhere in Germany. As a rule of thumb:
Small shops are often closed from 1 to 3 p.m. If necessary in many big cities you will find a few (sometimes more expensive) supermarkets with longer opening hours (often near the main station). Bakeries usually offer service on sunday mornings (business hours vary) as well. Also most petrol stations have a small shopping area.
In some parts of Germany (like Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area) there are cornershops called "Kiosk", "Trinkhalle" (drinking hall) or "Büdchen" (little hut) that offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic food supplies. These shops are often run by Arabian immigrants and are, depending on the area, open till late night.
Basic supplies can usually be bought around the clock at gas stations. Gas station owners work around opening hour restrictions by running 7-Eleven style mini marts on their gas station property. Be aware that prices are usually quite high. Another exception to this law are supermarkets located in touristy areas. Towns designated as a Kurort (health resort) are allowed to have their stores open all week during tourist season. Just ask a local for those well-kept secret stores.
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. According to its legend, it was invented by Turkish immigrants in West-Berlin during the 1970s. In fact, the 'Döner' is Germany's most beloved fast food. The sales numbers of 'Döner' exceed those of McDonald's and Burger King products by far.
Nevertheless, 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' - soussed 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. This butcher 'imbiss' is mainly popular in southern Germany, and the quality and freshness of food is usually beyond all question.
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; regulations require restaurant owners to indicate certain possibly harmful ingredients (e.g. glutamates) by footnotes - a menu containing lots of such footnotes usually indicates low quality; if a cheap "Gasthaus" / restaurant is overcrowded with Germans or Asians, this indicates at least sufficient quality (unless the crowd is caused by an organized coach excursion).
Germany has a wide range of flavors (e.g. German, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Polish, Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish) and almost all styles of the world are represented.
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), although some restaurants might prepare special meals for you. Vegetarians are best served in Indian restaurants, for muslims it is recommended to stick to Turkish restaurants. At some Turkish or Arab food stalls vegetarians might find falafel and baba ganoush to suit their tastes. For not-so-strict Jews the halal Turkish food stalls are also the best option for meat dishes.
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.
Restaurants in commercial areas often offer weekday lunch specials. These are cheap (starting at 5 Euro, sometimes including a beverage) options and a good way to sample local food. Specials tend to rotate on a daily or weekly basis, especially when fresh ingredients like fish are involved.
At a casual get-together and in average to good restaurants, your German host will expect the same behaviour from you as about everywhere in Continental Europe: Fork, Knife and Spoon are the tools of choice, use of your bare fingers should be kept to an absolute minimum, bodily sounds avoided at all costs. At very formal events and in high-end restaurants, a few deviations of German customs from western standards should be noted:
Rinderroulade mit Rotkraut und Knödeln: this dish is quite unique to Germany. Very thin sliced beef rolled around a piece of bacon and pickled cucumber 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 – the genuine article must be veal instead of pork, which is why most restaurants offer a Schnitzel Wiener Art, or Viennese-style schnitzel which is allowed to be pork). 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.
Wurst “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. “Bratwurst“ is fried, other varieties such as the Bavarian “Weißwurst“ are boiled. Here is the shortlist version: “Rote” beef sausage, “Frankfurter Wurst” boiled pork sausage made in the Frankfurt style, “Pfälzer Bratwurst” sausage made in Palatine style , “Nürnberger Bratwurst” Nuremberg sausage – the smallest of all of them, but a serious contender for the best tasting German sausage, “große Bratwurst”, Landjäger, 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.
Koenigsberger Klopse: Literally "meatballs from Koenigsberg", this is a typical dish in and around Berlin. The meatballs are made out of minced pork and are cooked and served in a white sauce with capers and rice or potatoes.
Matjesbrötchen: Soussed herring  or "roll mops" in a bread roll, typical street snack.
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), if made really traditionally it's from horse meat.
Labskaus (although strictly speaking not a German invention) 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). The Lueneburger Heide (Lueneburg Heath) is not only famous for its heath, but also for its Heidschnucken, a special breed of sheep. 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). At the coast there's a variety of fish dishes. Beware: if a restaurant offers "Edelfischplatte", the fish may be not fresh and even (this is quite ironical) of poor quality. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that, for eating fish, you visit specialised (or quality) restaurants only. A fast-food style restaurant chain serving quality fish and other seefood at low prices all over Germany is "Nordsee".
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).
In Bavaria this may be Schweinshaxe mit Knödeln (pork's leg with knödel, a form of potato dumplings), "Leberkäs/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 cake made of eggs and cream similar to cheese cake.
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 usually some kind of meat.
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, in an area north and north-east of Hannover (Lower Saxon Asparagus Route"), as well as in the area southwest of Berlin, especially in the town Beelitz and along the Lower Rhine, especially "Walbecker Spargel" (Walbeck is a suburb of Geldern). 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 specialties 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, except some places in big cities like Berlin. 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). Be aware when ordering to ask whether the dish is suitable for vegetarians, as chicken stock and bacon cubes are a commonly "undeclared" ingredient on German menues.
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 (even without being accompanied by a parent) and 18 for spirits.
For centuries, beer-making in Bavaria has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) that was made national policy with the unification of Germany in 1871, which states that German beer may only be made from hops, malt, yeast and water. The Reinheitsgebot has come down with the European integration, but German breweries still have to stick to it since for them, national law applies.
Most notably is the fact that, compared to other countries, the domestic beer market is not dominated by one or a only a few big breweries. Even though there are some big players, the regional diversity is enormous, as there exist over 1200 breweries, and most of them are rather small and serve only local markets . Usually bars and restaurants therefore serve the local variants of beer, that often differ from town to town. When sitting in a German Kneipe, the local beer is always a (if not the only) choice to consider.
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, a special beer brewed in Cologne. "Pils", the german name for pilsner is a light-gold colored beer that is extremely popular in Germany. 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 Biergartens in Bavaria, 500ml is a small beer ("Halbe") and a litre is normal ("Maß"). Except for Irish pubs, pints or pitchers are unusual. For Germans, a lot 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 (elderly Germans still may disagree to this). Beer is commonly mixed with Lemonade (usually 2:1) and called "Radler" (cyclist) (or "Alsterwasser"/"Alster" (after the river in Hamburg) in the north); "Cocktails" of Pilsener/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 (popular places already fill up at 6pm).
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 tends to be quite refreshing. In autumn when apples are turned into cider you might find "Frischer Most" or "Süßer" signposted at some places. That is the first product in the chain of "Apfelwein" production; one glass of it is nice, but after two or three glasses you will have a problem unless you enjoy spending lots of time on the toilet. In the Saarland and surrounding regions "Apfelwein" is called "Viez". It varies here from "Suesser Viez" (sweet), to "Viez Fein-Herb" (medium sweet) to "Alter Saerkower" (sour). The Viez capital of that region is Merzig.
Germans drink lots of coffee. Currently, the port of Hamburg is the world's busiest place for coffee trading. 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).
Over the past few years, American coffee house chain Starbucks has expanded into Germany, but mostly you will encounter "Cafés" which usually offer a large selection of cakes to go along with the coffee.
Visiting Germany in December? Then go and see one of the famous Christmas markets (the most famous taking place in Nuremberg, Dresden, Leipzig, Münster and Aachen) and this is the place where you find Glühwein (mulled wine), a spiced wine served very hot to comfort you in the cold of 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 (from raspberry), Schlehenfeuer (flavored with sloe berries), Williamchrist (pear) and Apfelkorn (apple).
“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", made of grain, is probably the most common spirit in Germany. Its main production centre (Berentzen) lies in Haselünne, where tours and tastings can be arranged in the distilleries. The town is located near the river Ems in northwest Germany; for rail service to Haselünne (very limited) see Eisenbahnfreunde Hasetal.
In North Frisia, "Köm" (caraway spirit), either pure or mixed with tea ("Teepunsch", tea punch), is very popular.
"Eiergrog" is a hot mixture of egg liquor and rum.
Tea is also very popular, and a large choice is readily available. Especially the region of East Frisia has a long tea tradition, and is probably the only place in Germany where tea is more popular than coffee. According to the East Frisian tea ceremony, it is black tea served in a flat porcelaine cup, with special rock sugar (Kluntje) put in the cup before pouring in the tea, and cream to be added afterwards, but not to be stirred.
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 quite 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.
Another nice opportunity to get a taste of local wine is the so-called Straußenwirtschaft or Besenwirtschaft. These are little "pubs" or gardens where a wine-producer sells his own wine, normally with little meals such as sandwiches or cheese and ham. Normally, they are only open in summer and autumn, and not longer than 4 months a year (due to legal regulations). As they are sometimes located in the vineyards or in some backstreets, they are not always easy to find, so you best ask a local for the next (or best) Straußenwirtschaft he knows.
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.
Pfalz: 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). A cheap and convenient way to stay are Ibis Hotels, usually located near major railway stations. For people who travel by car, Etap hotels located at the outskirts of cities near autobahns offer rates that can compete with hostel prices.
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 website which lists almost every independent hostel in Germany is Gomio.
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. Practically however nobody cares as long as you are discreet, stay for one night only and take your trash with you. Be aware of hunting ranges and military practise grounds or you could be in significant danger of being shot.
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 around 7% 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.
During the asparagus season (April to June) farmers are usually looking for temporary workers, but this means really hard work and miserable pay. The main advantage of these jobs is that knowledge of German shall not be required.
Germany is a very safe country and the law is strictly enforced. There are no ghettos but certain city areas should be visited with care. 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 they are not dangerous. Germany has one of the world's best social systems, at least keeping its inhabitants alive, so those asking for money may be "professional beggars" who want to improve their standard of living. It is not illegal to give money to them, but keep in mind that they do not really need it. Except for the very few outside of the welfare system for various, individual reasons.
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 be 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 (they do not have to prosecute every misdemeanor, so talking to them in a friendly and careful way might help ...) 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.
There are emergency telephones interspersed along the main motorways.
All except for the smallest private hospitals (Krankenhäuser) have 24 hour emergency rooms able to cope with all kinds of medical problems, although you may have to wait if your problem is minor (in this case, the word "minor" is used in a very extensive sense). The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you will be able to find every discipline from Dentistry to Neurology on duty within reasonable reach from even the most remote villages.
Ambulances can be summoned via the national toll-free emergency number 112 and will help you regardless of insurance issues. The ambulance service, in contrast to the Anglo-American system, does not follow a "load and run" philosophy but uses the "Notarzt"-System: A specialised emergency physician (typically an anesthesiologist or emergency room surgeon), together with a small team of paramedics works in a full-fledged mobile intensive-care unit, trying to stabilise critically ill or wounded patients at the scene before transporting them to the emergency room. Hence, if you should be unfortunate enough to get to see them in action, do not be distressed by a delayed transport from the scene.
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. Be warned that a lot of medication that is freely available in other countries (e.g. Antibiotics and the "morning-after pill") needs a prescription in Germany, so you may want to check before your journey. The staff of an Apotheke always consists of specially trained personnel, as it is mandatory to have a university degree in pharmaceutics to run an Apotheke in Germany. So, a German pharmacist is able to assist your medical needs in a highly professionalised way like in other countries only a doctor could do.
Racism is not as bad as many foreign people think, having in mind the Nazi era. Actually, you will encounter less racism than in most other western countries. 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 antisemitism 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 and the desperation caused thereby are fertile grounds for racist ideas; consequently, there are more incidences of racist behavior 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 "Neo-Nazis" look for trouble (i.e. solitary victims) downtown or near public transport stations. It is however unlikely that 'white' tourists to get in trouble with this bunch of people. In the Ruhr area, also suffering from unemployment, a similar development has been observed recently.
In cities the police and custom officers are working to control illegal immigration, mainly at construction sites and small businesses. It is a good idea to have a passport and/or 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. Pimping and taking advantage of the sex workers (official term) is illegal.
All larger cities have a red light district with licenced bars, go-gos, escort services and separees. Tabloids are full with ads and the internet is taking over as the main contact base. Be aware of the huge amounts of fakes. Brothels are not necessarily easily spotted from the streets. Best known for it's red-light activities are Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne.
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. In general the police are not interested in the clients but better have some ID with you.
Be aware that--Germany being a federal state--laws may vary from state to state, getting more lenient the further north you go. 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. This traveller emerged from an overnight train to Munich to be confronted by Bavarian customs officials of some description asking for "purpose of visit, you take drugs? e.t.c"
In most Länder (states), possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana (in northern Schleswig-Holstein the limit is 30 grams) for personal use is illegal, but it won't be prosecuted: The police will confiscate it and a formal complaint will be filed, to be dismissed for want of sufficient ground. 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 only--will be prosecuted as drug trafficking.
Protection of minors (Jugendschutz)
Germany has a strict Jugendschutzgesetz (= protection of minors), regulating what people under a certain age can and can't do.
Buying computer games and movies, watching a movie at the cinema
Computergames and movies have age classifications on little logos somewhere on product saying: "USK" (for computer games) or "FSK" (for DVD, VHS movies and at the cinema) The most common age classifications are:
You might be asked for photo identification proving your age (e.g. a passport) when buying age-restricted products, or at the cinema.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Most of the cities 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.
The attitude towards gays and lesbians is rather tolerant - at least on the surface. While many germans inwardly still don't approve of homo- or bisexuals they usually suppress open utterances of homophobia as homophobia is considered politically incorrect. Therefore in most cases display of homosexuality (holding hands or kissing) will at most provoke stares or sometimes comments by children or elderly people, but will not result in physical danger. However, be aware that in some areas of Berlin and eastern Germany 'gay-bashing' is popular with Neonazis or other gangs, so use common sense and be geared to the behavior of the locals around you- if they display homosexuality it it safe for you, too, if not better avoid it (the locals know which areas are unsafe.) In small towns and in the countryside display of homosexuality is rare while it may be omnipresent in some areas of Berlin or other big cities.
In 2001 a law that allows registered partnerships for same-sex couples was passed. A registered partnership grants some of the rights enjoyed by married, opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples.
Sanitary and medical facilities in Germany are excellent. 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 Lübeck. 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. If you intend to swim in a large river, at best do so only on official bathing locations. Keep away from structures in the river or reaching from the shore into the river, also keep out of the path of ships. Both structures and ships, even if they look harmless or far away, may create major sucks underwater. Watch your (and others') children.
If you intend to visit the North Sea, you should inform yourselves about the tide schedules and weather conditions - getting caught in a tide can be fatal, getting lost in the mist, too. Hiking in the Wattenmeer without a local guide is extremely dangerous, so keep out if you do not really know your way around. 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; an inoculation is advised if you plan out-door activities in high-risk areas. The risk of Lyme disease is much higher, and inoculation is not available. Therefore, you should try to prevent tick-bites by wearing long trousers and appropriate shoes. Chemical repellents can also be effective. You should also check for ticks afterwards, since the risk of transmission is lower if the tick is removed early. If in any doubt consult a doctor, especially in high-risk areas.
Behaving in public
Germany, especially urban Germany, is a rather tolerant society, and your common sense should be sufficient to keep yourself out of trouble.
Drinking in public, contrary to many places in the U.S., is not forbidden and even a common sight in the far west (Cologne and the Rhine-Ruhr Area), you need to note, though, that especially elderly people will certainly not be amused about it. In some larger cities (such as, peculiarly, Cologne) there are local laws that in theory make drinking alcohol in public a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of several 10s of euros; these laws are rarely enforced against tourists, except in cases when drinking leads to rowdy behavior. Behaving aggressively or 'disturbing the peace' ("inciting public anger", such the official term) will earn you a conversation with the notoriously friendly German police officer and possibly a fine. Behave respectfully in places of worship and places that carry the dignity of the state (like the numerous war and holocaust memorials, parliaments and other historical sites).
On German beaches, it's usually okay for women to bathe topless. Full nudity is tolerated everywhere though not a frequent sight outside of the numerous nudist areas (labeled "FKK" -- "Freikörperkultur", literally free body culture). These are especially common at the east German Baltic coastline, due to the high popularity of nudism in the former GDR. 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 practice. One day of the week is usually only for women.
Although you're probably just trying to be helpful, don't tell a German something he or she already knows or should know. It's best to state the bare minimum at first, and give them a chance to figure it out.
Know the Locals
While Germany is often equated with Bavaria in the American Media, not all of the country consists of stocky boys in Lederhosen, just like not every American is a Texan Cowboy. The general rule of thumb is that wealth rises towards the south (Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are the two richest states, competing at eye-level with Switzerland for quality of life) while coolness rises northbound (Hamburg and Berlin have homosexual mayors, bars and clubs are open all night and the density of young artists in Berlin Friedrichshain easily surpasses that of London, Paris or Manhattan).
1933 - 1945
In the late 19th century, Germany was arguably the most enlightened society in the world (try to think of five famous physicists, philosophers, composers or poets without mentioning a German name). This dignity was lost in its entirety, catastrophically, during the national socialist rule. Since then, the Third Reich is *the* central issue of the German national identity and will remain so for a very long time. Every German pupil has to deal with it at about 5 different times during his schooling and most classes visit a former concentration camp (most of these sites have been transformed into memorials). Not a single day passes without educational programmes on the public media. Growing up in Germany, whether it was the GDR or West Germany, meant and still means growing up with this heritage, and every German hence has developed her or his own way of dealing with the public guilt. For the traveller, this means confusion all the way. You might come across people (especially young ones) eager to talk to you about Germany's history, feeling the urge to convince you Germany have gone a long way since then. On the other hand, bringing up the issue at the dinner table might lead to an awkward silence. If you are visiting friends in Berlin, you might find it hard to keep them from constantly dragging you into one of the abundant memorials. Humour is definitely the wrong way of approaching the matter. Worse, what might sound funny abroad may earn you jailtime in Germany:
Probably the best way of dealing with the issue is being relaxed about it. If your company likes to talk about German history, use the opportunity for a sincere, maybe even very personal conversation. If you want to steer clear of awkward moments, don't bring up the matter. In short, unless somebody else asks for your opinions, don't mention the war.
However, this is not the case when you ask them about the division of Germany in East and West. Communist symbols, GDR songs and other East-German-related regalia are circulated freely and many are nostalgic about the country, hence the artistic movement "Ostalgie". Just do not bring up the topic of the Berlin Wall impulsively, as it is a still a very divisive issue.
In Germany it is, in principle, illegal to film or photograph a person in public without consent. However, someone suing you for happening to film or photographing him in front of a tourist site would certainly be a first.
Please be aware that taking pictures without permission in special situations, like bathrooms, locker rooms or swimming areas is normally forbidden. It's forbidden to take pictures of people in intimate situations.
You should not take photos of military areas either. They are enclosed and marked with "Militärischer Sicherheitsbereich"-signs (military security area). It is not explicitly forbidden but you will soon talk to some policemen, asking why you do this.
The power mains are 230V 50Hz. Americans and Canadians will need a step-down transformer. Most outlets use the "Schuko" plug, which has thicker pins that some other European countries. Appliances with the thinner pins will still fit into the socket, but are so loose, they must be held in by hand. At best, it's extremely inconvenient; at worst, a shock and fire hazard. "Schuko" plug adapters are widely available in electronics stores worldwide.
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 MHz 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 €/minute), but expensive for international calls (around 1-2 €/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 making your calls from German public payphones. While the original rates are often quite high (e.g. call to Australia 3.00 Euro per minute) you may save a lot using "Open Call Through" (call to Australia 0.30 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. These call shops are mostly located in city areas with a high number of immigrants and are your best option to call internationally. Apart from offering calls abroad themselves they sell international calling cards for use from any phone in Germany. You can usually spot these shops by the many flags decorating their windows.
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 - standard letters and small parcels (Päckchen) are usually delivered within Germany the next day, which should also be the time for outbound mail to leave the country (the time until it reaches the destination depends on the postal service of the destination country of course).
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.