Germany, (officially: the Federal Republic of Germany),  (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is the largest 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 federation of 16 states, each with its own distinct and unique culture. Germany is one of the most influential nations in Western culture. Known around the world for its precision engineering, high-tech products, and modern economy it is equally admired by visitors for its old-world charm and "Gemuetlichkeit", or guest-friendly-ness! If you have perceptions of Germany as simply homogeneous, it will surprise you with its many historical regions and much local diversity for its relatively small size.
From the Holy Roman Empire to Imperial Germany
The roots of German history and culture date back to the Germanic tribes and after that to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Since the early middle ages Germany started to split into hundreds of small states. It was the Napoleonic wars that started the process of unification, which ended in 1871, when a large number of previously independent German kingdoms united under Prussian leadership to form the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich). This incarnation of Germany reached eastward all the way to modern day Klaipeda (Memel) in Lithuania and also encompassed today´s regions of Alsace-Lorraine (France), a small portion of eastern Belgium (Eupen-Malmédy), a small border region in southern Denmark and over 40% of contemporary Poland. The empire ended in 1918 when Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate the throne at the time of Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1918) and was followed by the short-lived ill fated Weimar Republic, which tried in vain to completely establish a liberal, democratic regime. Because the young republic was plagued with massive economic problems (such as hyperinflation) and disgrace for a humiliating defeat in the First World War, strong anti-democratic forces took advantage of the inherent organizational problems of the Weimar Constitution and the Nazis were able to seize power.
Hitler and Nazi Germany
The year 1933 witnessed the rise to power of the nationalistic and racist National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party and its Führer, Adolf Hitler. Under the Nazi dictatorship, democratic institutions were dismantled and a police state was installed. Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, handicapped people, socialists, communists, unionists and other groups not fitting into the Nazi's vision of a Greater Germany faced persecution, and ultimately murder in concentration camps. Europe's Jews and Gypsies were marked for total extermination. 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 smaller third front to the south of the alps in Italy.
It was "Stunde Null" or zero hour. Germany had destroyed itself and much of Europe and only had itself to blame. By April of 1945 Germany was in ruins with most major cities bombed to the ground. The reputation of Germany as an intellectual land of freedom and high culture (Land der Dichter und Denker) had been decimated and tarnished for decades to come. At the end of the war, by losing 25% of its territory, east of the newly Allied imposed Oder-Neisse frontier with Poland the occupied country was faced with a major refugee crisis with well over 10 million Germans flooding westward into what remained of Germany. Following the end of the war at the Potsdam conference the Allies decided the future of Germany's borders and taking a Soviet lead stripped her of the traditional eastern Prussian lands. Therefore, German provinces east of the rivers Oder and Neisse like Silesia and Pomerania were entirely cleared of its original population by the Soviets and Polish - most of it an area where there had not been any sizable Polish or even Russian minorities at all. Even more refugees came with the massive numbers of ethnic Germans expelled from their ancient eastern European homelands in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia.
Post-World War II
After the devastating defeat in World War II (1939-1945), Germany was divided into four sectors, controlled by the French, British, US and Soviet forces. United Kingdom and the US decided to merge their sectors, followed by the French. Silesia, Pomerania and the southern part of East Prussia came under Polish administration according to the international agreement of the allies. With the beginning of the Cold War, the remaining central and western parts of the country were divided into an eastern part under Soviet control, and a western part which was controlled directly by the Western Allies. The western part was transformed into the Federal Republic of Germany, a democratic nation with Bonn as the capital, while the Soviet-controlled zone became the communist/authoritarian Soviet style German Democratic Republic (GDR). Berlin had a special status as it was divided among the Soviets and the West, with the eastern part featuring as the capital of the GDR. The western sectors of Berlin, (West Berlin) was de facto an exclave of the Federal Republic, but formally governed by the Western Allies. On August 13, 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected as part of a heavily guarded frontier system of border fortifications. As a result hundreds of Germans trying to escape from the communist dictatorship were killed here in the years to come.
In the late 1960's a sincere and strong 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 or fascist/authoritarian ideas. Willy Brandt became chancellor in 1969. He made an important contribution towards reconciliation between Germany and the communist states including peace gestures toward Poland.
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 October 1990, 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. The German parliament, the Bundestag, after controversial debate, finally agreed to comply with the eastern border of the former GDR, the so-called "Oder-Neisse-Line" thus shaping Germany the way it can be found on united post-1989 Europe's map today.
Germany is an economic powerhouse with the largest economy of Europe, and is the second largest exporting country of the world.
The financial center of Germany and continental Europe is Frankfurt am Main, and it can also be considered one of the most important transportation hubs in Europe. It features a modern skyline with many high-rise buildings, quite unusual for Central Europe and has led to the city being nicknamed "Mainhattan". It is also the home of the European Central Bank (ECB), making it the center of the Euro, the supra-national currency used throughout the European Union. Frankfurt International Airport is the largest airport of the country, while the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (FSE) is the most important stock exchange in Germany.
Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 states or federal-states,('Bundesländer'). The federal parliament ('Bundestag') is elected every four years in a fairly complicated system, involving both 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 Federal Chancellor ('Bundeskanzler', currently Angela Merkel) in its first session, who serves as the head of the government. There is no restriction regarding re-election. 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 situations where Council and Parliament are blocking each other if they are dominated by different parties. On the other hand, if both are dominated by the same party with strong party discipline (which usually is the case with CDU-CSU-FDP coalitions), its leader has the opportunity to rule rather heavy handedly, the only federal power being allowed to intervene being the Federal Constitutional Court ('Bundesverfassungsgericht').
The formal head of state is the President ('Bundespräsident', currently Horst Köhler), who is not involved into day-to-day politics and has mainly ceremonial and representative duties. He can also suspend the parliament, but all executive power lies with the chancellor. The President of Germany is elected every 5 years by a specially convened national assembly, and is restricted to serving a maximum of two five year terms.
The two largest 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. Medium-sized 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 ('Die Linke', most important party in the East), the result of a merger between the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) (legal successor of GDR's state party, SED (Socialist Unity Party)) and the Alternative for Work and Social Justice (WASG) (founded by SPD's ex-leader, Oskar Lafontaine, to accommodate SPD's former left wing creating an alternative to Gerhard Schröder's "Agenda 2010" policy). 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 decentralised country, which does justice to the cultural differences between the regions. Most travelers will think of beer, Lederhosen and Oktoberfest when Germany comes to mind, but Germany's famous beer culture is mostly centered around Bavaria and Munich, where beer is traditionally served in 1 liter mugs (but not in Kneipen (pubs) and Restaurants). The annual Oktoberfest is Europe's most visited festival and the world's largest fair. Germany's south-western regions, however, are actually known for their wine growing areas (e.g. Rheinhessen and Palatinate) and Bad Duerkheim on the 'German wine route' organises the biggest wine festival worldwide with over 600,000 visitors annually.
The fall of the wall in 1989 and the subsequent German Reunification are the main events of recent German history. Today most Germans as well as their neighbours support the idea of a reunified Germany and while the eastern regions still suffer from higher unemployment and a brain-drain the reunification overall is seen as a success. October 3rd is celebrated as the day of "German National Unity" or "Reunification Day".
Cars are a symbol of national pride, and manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen (VW) are world famous for their quality, safety and style. This quality is matched by Germany's excellent network of roadways including the world famous Autobahn network, which has many sections without speed limits and attracting speed hungry drivers. Amazingly for its size Germany is home to the third largest freeway/motorway network in the world. Germany also features an extensive network of high speed trains - the InterCityExpress (ICE).
Most cities have a vibrant gay and lesbian scene, especially Berlin and Cologne. The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. In fact, some politicians (e.g. the Mayors of Berlin and Hamburg, and the foreign minister) and stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.
Germany was the host of the FIFA World Cup 2006.
Germany is a federal republic consisting of 16 states (called "Bundesländer" or, shortened to, "Länder" in German). Three of the Bundesländer are actually city-states: Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg. The states can be roughly grouped by geography as listed below.
Germany has numerous cities of interest to tourists; these are nine of the most famous travel destinations.
Germany is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Another notable exception regards authorized members of the U.S. military, who need to possess only a copy of their duty orders and their ID card to be authorized entry. The passport requirement, though, applies to spouses and dependents of military personnel, and they must obtain a stamp in their passports to show that they are sponsored by a person in Germany under the Status of Forces Agreement.
There are no land border controls, making travel between Germany and other Schengen states easier with the accession of Switzerland to the Schengen area in 2008.
Some persons eligible for visa-free entry, namely those from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United States of America are also eligible to obtain a residence permit, or Aufenthaltstitel (authorizing a stay of more than 90 days and work permission), upon arrival in Germany, but before the end of the initial 90-day period. Honduran, Monegasque, and Sanmarinese nationals can also obtain such a permit, but only if they will not work on the residence permit.
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 Schönefeld Airport (IATA: SXF) and Tegel Airport (IATA: TXL), Cologne (IATA: CGN) and Hamburg (IATA: HAM) serve some international flights 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  which is a member of the Star Alliance. Germany's second largest airline is Air Berlin .
Some German airports are connected to the InterCityExpress and other rail lines, as are most international airports (except Berlin-Tegel Airport). 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. Lufthansa's 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. If doing so, be sure to book the train journey like a Lufthansa connecting flight (i.e. in advance together with the flight), otherwise you are regarded responsible for a missed connection.
Budget Air Travel and minor airlines
There are budget flights to almost every city in Europe from Germany. If you are seeking a budget flight, you 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 and WizzAir offer budget flights from many assorted airports across Germany and Europe. Condor , a major charter airline, may also offer budget flights to/from main tourist destinations throughout the world. Germania , Intersky  and OLT  have a limited number of international destinations. Ryanair  flies from London to Berlin Schoenefeld, Altenburg (Leipzig), Lübeck (near to Hamburg), Weeze (near Duesseldorf) and from some other European destinations to Hahn (usually advertised as "Frankfurt-Hahn" despite being about 120km from Frankfurt without a passenger rail connection!). Flying can be the cheapest way to get to Germany, especially if the flights are booked well in advance. A sample airfare on AirBerlin from Münster/Osnabrück to Vienna, Austria is €29 one-way including all taxes, only if booked far in advance.
Before booking a budget flight, compare carefully as their destinations are often a bit off the track and after adding all the fees, taxes, aditional bus tickets to get to their airports, you might end up at even higher prices than you would pay for a discounted Lufthansa ticket.
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, but there's a number of special fares and discounts available - see the "Get Around" section for more information. In particular, the Bahncard reduction applies for the whole journey as long as it starts or ends in Germany.
International ferry services exist, notably to Scandinavia. Some of the most popular connections are listed below:
German transportation runs with German efficiency, and getting around the country is a snap — although you'll need to pay top price for top speed. The most popular options by far are to either rent a car, or to take the train.
The German flag carrier Deutsche Lufthansa  connects all major cities in Germany to each other and foreign destinations.
Domestic flights are mainly used for business, with the train being a simpler and often cheaper alternative for other travel. However, the boom of budget airlines and competition has made some plane flights price competitive with trains to some major cities. Make sure though, that you get where you want go 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 actually in Hahn, over two hours away by bus from Frankfurt city).
The following carriers offer domestic flights within Germany:
Germany has an excellent, reliable, and affordable railway system, which reaches almost every part of the country. Unless you travel by car, rail will be your major mode of transportation. Crossing Germany from Munich in the south to Hamburg in the north will take at most 6 hours, while driving by car will take around 8 hours.
Almost all long-distance and many regional trains are operated by Deutsche Bahn ("German Rail") , the national railway company. DB's website , also available in many other languages, is an excellent resource for working out transportation options not only in Germany but also pretty much anywhere in Europe. The website itself is extremely informative and even suggests local buses, subways, etc. for getting you door to door. An interesting nice feature is the carbon dioxide emission comparisons for different train journeys.
All major cities are linked by DB's ICE (InterCity Express) and regular InterCity trains. ICE is a system of high speed trains that can reach top speeds of 330km/h (although they rarely go that fast). Although being significantly faster than by road, they are also expensive, with a one-hour jaunt (eg. Frankfurt to Cologne, around 150 km) costing around €60. However when you book the ticket online in online, you can get a considerable discount (see Discounts). Reservations are not mandatory but are recommended, especially when you travel on weekends or holidays. This means, that with Interrail or Eurail pass you can use domestic ICE trains without supplement (but this doesn't apply for international ICE trains!)
The next tier are the regular InterCity (IC) and EuroCity (EC) trains. The latter connect the larger European cities and are virtually identical to the regular ICs. These trains are also fairly comfortable, even if they lack the "high-tech" feeling of the ICE.
On the major lines, an ICE or IC train will run each hour or so during the day. Before you shell out the money for the ICE ticket, you may want to check if it actually makes a significant time difference. ICE trains travel faster than other IC trains only on specially equipped "high speed" routes. There are also long distance trains operated by other companies than Deutsche Bahn, usually running over secondary routes. These are usually comfortable enough (although not as comfortable as ICE) and sometimes cheaper, but most of them stop at almost every station en-route.
Regional and local trains in Germany come in several flavors:
Urban transportation systems are usually ran by local companies that are publicly held; these may include subways, city buses, light rail and even regional trains. In larger urban areas the local companies will often form a Verkehrsverbund or VB (integrated public transport system). This means that you will be able to travel in and between all participating cities using the same tickets and fares. These urban transport networks are often (but not always) integrated with the DB network and Verkehrsverbund tickets are valid in local trains.
There are a few locations you can book your tickets:
Now, if you're traveling on local trains, things can get hideously confusing very fast. The basic unit of confusion is the Verkehrsverbund (VB), or "tariff union", which is basically a region around a large city that has a single tariff system. Examples include VBB  around Berlin and RMV  around Frankfurt. Any travel within a single Verkehrsverbund is "local", and usually quite cheap; but any travel between Verkehrsverbunds requires either a special (within North Rhine-Westphalia) or the full DB fare, and will usually be considerably more expensive. The catch is that DB trains often merrily cross between Verkehrsverbunds with no warning at all, and your "local" ticket stops being valid the instant you cross the invisible line.
With many local machines and old DB machines, you'll need to figure out the four-digit code for your destination, found on a panel of densely packed print nearby. Poke the flag button to switch to English, punch in the code for your destination station on the keypad, then hit the appropriate button in the left ("adult") row below to pick your ticket — the first button is always one-way single (Einzelfahrausweis). A price will be displayed: feed in your money (quickly, since the timeout is quite fast!), and the machine will spit out your tickets and change. For new blue DB machines, select the local tariff union in the top menu, and the rest is easy.
If you buy a local VB ticket, you will usually have to validate it by timestamping it at the bright yellow punch machines located on platforms. If you have no valid ticket, or an unpunched ticket, you will be fined as a fare dodger. Ticket validity varies randomly from one VB to another: usually there is either a zone system (the further you travel, the more you pay), a time system (the longer you travel, the more you pay), or most commonly a combination of these two. Unlimited transfers between trains, buses etc are usually allowed as long as your ticket remains valid. Discounts may be given for return trips, and one-day tickets (Tageskarte) are usually cheaper and much less hassle that single tickets, although zone limits apply to them as well. You can often pick up brochures attempting to explain all this, usually with helpful maps and occasionally even in English, at a local Reisezentrum.
Regional train tickets are point-to-point, with the destinations written on the ticket. They are only valid on trains, although for long-distance tickets, you may have the option to add on a local transport ticket at your destination for a few euro extra.
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. If you search a connection with online timetable, it offers you automatically a most favorable discount for desired journey.
The German network tickets are valid for one day in all DB local trains (S, RB, RE and IRE), local private trains and public city transport. They are often a cheaper alternative to single or return tickets, because on many shorter relations local trains are not much slower as long-distance trains (IC, EC, ICE). Check the travel time at the online timetable and select the button "Only local transport". You can buy these tickets at the ticket machines.
In many Verkerhrverbunds you can carry a bike on a train with normal ticket without supplement at off-peak hours. For short journeys outside Verkehrverbund you can buy a bike supplement ticket for €4.50, valid on all local trains for one day. On long-distance trains you have to buy a reservation for the bike, it costs €9 for domestic journey, €10 for international journey and €15 for CityNightLine to France and Belgium.
On local trains you can carry bike usually in the open area near doors. Long-distance trains have special section with bike holders. Follow up the bike symbols near the car door. Bikes are not allowed on high-speed trains (ICE, Thalys, TGV).
Information for railway fans
There are several railways of special interest in Germany.
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 is a very useful long distance bus line, the "Neun-Euro Bus". If booked in advance, you can end up paying just nine euro for any trip on the bus line connecting Hamburg (+airport), Hanover (+airport), Kassel, Frankfurt (+airport), Mannheim and Heidelberg. The bus runs during the night. 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.
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. As of July 2009 prices float around €1.30 per litre for petrol (91 and 95 octane), and around €1.10 per litre for diesel. Oddly, normal petrol and "super" is the same price in Germany. At petrol stations you'll have the choice between Diesel, Benzin (91 octane), Super (95 octane) and SuperPlus (98 octane) or Ultimate (100 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). Some stations will not release the fuel to pump unless you pay first or at least hand over a credit card in advance.
Car Rental and Carpools
All German airports offer car hire services and most of the main hire firms operate at desk locations
Car hire and pool cars are also available in most cities, and one-way rentals (within Germany) are generally permitted with the larger chains 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. Mind that in Germany you´re not allowed to drive a manual transmission car if you got your license on an automatic gearbox car.
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. Another very good site is  which compares different means of transportation.
Most foreign licenses are accepted for up to a year if you are at least 18 years old. After a year, you must obtain a German license. This rule does not apply to driving licences issued in EU member states.
In many areas traffic lights are not hung over the intersection, but instead placed at the corners. Do not creep into the intersection or else you won't be able to see the lights change. Some intersections (especially in bigger cities) use "self regulating" traffic lights. The inductive sensor device used to determine if there's a car waiting is under the thick white stripe in front of the traffic light. Be sure to stop right in front of (or very slightly on) that stripe or the sensor might not recognise you, the light will still turn green but you might have to wait quite a while longer.
Yellow lights are short in duration and are also used prior to the light turning green. If the yellow light is flashing this means the traffic light either is defective or switched off (for example late at night or during weekends), and you MUST STOP at the intersection as though you were at a stop sign (observe "right before left" or stop signs). Driving through the lights at red carries a fine (up to €200).
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 held their license for less than two years. If your license was recently renewed, it might be a good idea, if possible, to have a copy of your previous license.
All accidents, no matter how small, must be reported to the police at the time. You will usually be asked to show your driving licence, some other form of ID and the car papers (Zulassungsbescheinigung - a long green card covered with numbers which is found in all rental cars). The police will fill out an accident report (which is usually needed by most car rental companies for insurance claims), stating where and when the accident took place and the vehicles involved in the accient. There is also usually a fine to pay (approximately €25 if the accident was caused in "stationary" traffic i.e. parking and can be up to €40 if the accident was caused in "moving" traffic) which must be paid either on the spot or at the nearest police station. The fine can be higher if there was an obstruction or hazard to other road users. Hitting-and-running, if caught, is punished with a heavy fine (the German police possess surprising efficiency when it comes to tracking down foreign cars caught breaking the traffic laws).
Speed cameras are common in Germany (the country has one of the highest speed camera concentrations in Europe) and are found mostly in towns and cities. There are usually no speed cameras on the motorway, even when there is a speed limit in force, however do not abuse this fact. Temporary road works on the motorway are usually a favourite for the police, so obey the speed limit, which is clearly marked. Also be aware that all forms of radar jammers and radar detectors (including satellite navigation systems with a speed camera overlay) are illegal.
The following table gives an overview of the fines for speeding (the speeds below indicate the difference between the speed limit and the actual speed travelled after the 3 km/h allowance has been deducted)
Inside built-up areas
Outside built-up areas (e.g. motorway, country roads; also in road works)
NB: There are extra fees of €23.50 for any fine over €40.
You have the right to appeal against any traffic violation, however this process is long, complicated and can cost a lot of money.
Vehicles with a maximum speed of less than 60 km/h are not allowed on the "Autobahn" or "Kraftfahrstraßen".
Using the Autobahn
In case of a breakdown you may also call the ADAC, 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, and you don't have to become a member, either. 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.
By recreational vehicle and campervans
German campgrounds (like most in Western Europe) usually offer a full range of amenities. You'll always have your own electricity hookup, and 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.
It is possible to hitchhike in Germany and most Germans speak basic 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 of stopping the right vehicle.
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 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, as both parties do not have to pay the commission to traditional agencies. You need to contribute only 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.
Another form of hitchhiking available in Germany is on the trains. People purchase a Wochenende-ticket (weekend ticket) which allows them to take up to four other people with them on the regional transports for the entire weekend. To hitch a ride with these travelers, first figure out which regional transportation you will need to take in order to reach your destination. You may figure that out online at the German train website , making sure to check "regional transportation only", or train stations in major cities have computer terminals in which you can do the same. Then just hop on the train that is going your way. Always, within one car you will find someone willing to let you tag along. "Haben Sie ein Wochenendeticket?" Do you have a weekend ticket? "Darf ich bei Ihnen mitfahren?" May I travel with you?. Just make sure it is the right train and the weekend.
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 almost all Germans. However, every region has its historical dialect, which might pose a challenge sometimes to those who speak even good German - and even to native speakers as well. This is usually only noticeable in the south and rural areas of the north and east. Thus when traveling in Bavaria, Saxony and Baden you are stepping foot in places where dialect remains a strong part of the local identity. The general rule of thumb is, south of the Main River divides north Germany from the south in both language dialects and local culture.
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. 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.
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 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. It is still better to double-check what is really meant.
See also: German phrasebook.
Germany offers virtually every activity you can imagine. Most Germans are members of a sports club and visit cultural events less often. Due to the federal structure every region has its own specific activities.
Due to its size and location in central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes, offering many activities related to nature, from hiking in the forests to exploring the picturesque islands off the northern coasts!
Germany is crazy about football (soccer to North Americans) and the German Football Association DFB  is the biggest FA association in the world with 6.35 million members (8% of the German population) in more than 25,000 clubs. Every village has a club and the games are the main social event on weekends. Participation is strongly encouraged.
Almost every middle-size German city has a spa (often called "Therme") with swimming pools, water slides, hot tubs, saunas, steam baths, sun roofs etc. The sauna areas are coed and people are nude there.
Germany has world class opera houses (especially Berlin and Munich) and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra  is known as one of the Top3 orchestras in the world. Several theatres in bigger cities play outstanding classical and contemporary plays. Germanys prides itself in the wide varierty of cultural events and every city works out a cultural agenda.
Musicals are popular in Germany. Although there are some touring productions from time to time, most shows stay in a specific city for a few years. Most shows belong to the company called "Stage Entertainment". The main 'musical cities' are Hamburg, Berlin, Oberhausen, Essen, Stuttgart, Bochum and Cologne.
Germany is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; as such it replaced German marks with the euro (symbol: €) in 2002. If you have marks remaining from previous trips, they can still be exchanged at certain banks: inquire first before you attempt to convert your marks.
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. Swiss Franc can sometimes be accepted near the Swiss border.
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. Pay close attention that they support "Maestro card", because it's very common in German super markets to only accept "electronic-cash cards" (Every German "Maestro card" is a "electronic-cash card" too, but most of the foreign "Maestro card" aren't). 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 (less than 40 Euro) with a 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. slow, snippy or indifferent service) you may not tip at all.
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 Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if eg. a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "€13.50", just state "15" and he will include a tip of €1.50.
Tipping in other situations (unless otherwise indicated):
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 not always used and may be placed both in front or after the price. A dot is used to "group" numbers, so "1.000" would be one thousand.
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 and national holidays (including some obscure ones) is normally closed for shops everywhere in Germany, including pharmacies. However single pharmacies remain open for emergencies. Information can be obtained here . Shops are allowed to open on Sundays on special occasions called "Verkaufsoffener Sonntag", information on open Sundays may be found here .
As a rule of thumb:
Small shops are often closed from 1 to 3PM 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 Arab or Turkish 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 usually sticks to its roots and a typical dish will consist of meat with some form of potatoes and gravy, accompanied by vegetables or salad. The modern German cuisine has been influenced by other European countries such as Italy and France to become 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 few sandwich shops and takeaways and 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, 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 high.
Here you will get the obvious drink. In traditional beergardens in Bavaria it is possible to bring your own food if you buy drinks. Most places will cater simple meals. A very good place for beer and bavarian food is the Biergarten of "Kloster Andechs" close to the Ammersee (round 40km south of Munich).
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/pubs in the UK. 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/MSG) 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 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 common only in cities with a notable Jewish population like Berlin), although most restaurants will prepare special meals or variants for you if they are neither relying on convenience foods only nor too fancy. Most restaurants have at least some vegetarian meals. For muslims it is recommended to stick to Turkish/Arabic 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 ("Reserviert"). In expensive restaurants in larger cities you will be expected to make reservations and will be seated by the staff (who will not allow you to choose your table).
Restaurants in commercial areas often offer weekday lunch specials. These are cheap (starting at €5, 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 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, “grobe 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 famous not only 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 seafood at low prices all over Germany is "Nordsee", though you will rarely find authentic specialties there.
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 Ukraine, but probably the most common dish in the GDR), a sour soup containing vegetables and usually some kind of meat or sausages.
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. If the menu does not contain vegetarian dishes, do not hesitate to ask for. Vegetarian restaurant guides can be found at  (german) or  (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 seitan. The diversity and quality of the products is great and you will find shop assistants that can answer special nutritional questions profoundly.
Allergy & Celiac Sufferers
When shopping for foods, the package labeling in Germany is generally reliable. All food products must be properly labeled including additives and preservatives. Be on the look out for "Weizen" (wheat), "Mehl" (flour) or "Malz" (malt) and "Stärke" (starch). Be extra cautious for foods with "Geschmacksverstärker" (i.e. flavour enhancers) that may have gluten as ingredients.
The German federal states started banning smoking in public places in early 2007, however the laws vary from state to state. Smoking is however generally banned in restaraunts and cafes. Some places may provide separate smoking areas but it is best to enquire when booking. A loophole in these laws allows clubs and bars to advertise as a "Raucherclub" or "smoker's club", and therefore allow patrons to smoke, though sometimes charging an entrance fee. These establishments are often smoke-filled and extremely unpleasant. Savvy travelers ought to avoid them. Otherwise be prepared to step outside if you want to light up. Smoking is banned in all forms of public transport and on railway platforms (except in designated smoking areas, which are clearly marked with the word "Raucherbereich" [smoking area]).
Legal drinking age is 18 for spirits (drinks containing distilled alcohol) and 16 for everything else (e.g. beer and wine).
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 be made only 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.
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, and there are over 1200 breweries with most of them serving only local markets. Usually bars and restaurants serve the local varieties that differ from town to town. When sitting in a German Kneipe, a local beer is always a option, and often the only option.
Specialities include Weizenbier (or Weissbier in Bavaria), a refreshing top-fermented beer which is popular in the south, Alt, a kind of dark ale that is especially popular in and around Dusseldorf, 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 made only 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 liter is normal ("Maß" pronounced "Mahss"). Except for in Irish pubs, pints or pitchers are uncommon. For Germans, a lot of foam is both a sign of freshness and quality; thus, beer is always served with a lot of head. (All glasses have volume marks for the critical souls.) Additionally, Germans are not afraid to mix beer with other drinks (though the older generation may disagree). Beer is commonly mixed with carbonated lemonade (usually at 1:1 ratio) and called a "Radler" (or cyclist so named because it is commonly associated with a refreshing drink a cyclist might enjoy in spring or summer during a cycling excursion) (or "Alsterwasser"/"Alster" (after the river in Hamburg) in the north); "Cocktails" of Pilsener/Altbier and soft drinks like Fanta, a "Colaweizen" cola and dark wheat beer is another combination that can be found.
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. There are even special bars ("Apfelweinkneipe") that will serve only "Apfelwein" and some gastronomic specialities. Cider 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. During winter it is also quite common to drink hot cider (along with some cloves and sugar). It is considered an efficent measure against an upcoming cold.
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 sparse) 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. The region of East Frisia in particular has a long tea tradition, and is probably the only place in Germany where tea is more popular than coffee. The East Frisian tea ceremony consists of black tea served in a flat porcelain cup with special rock sugar (Kluntje) that is put in the cup before pouring the tea. Cream is added afterwards, but is not stirred into the tea.
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, Besenwirtschaft or Heckenwirtschaft. 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 open only 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:
Ahr Ahr is the paradise of German red wines. Half of the production is dedicated to red wines and it is densely populated with “Gaststätten” and “Strausswirten”. A saying goes: Who visited the Ahr and remembers that he was there, hasn’t actually been there.
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.
Rheinhessen too is especially famous for its Riesling.
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; though those hotels are not necessarily better and they lack the individuality hostels are renowned for.
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. A sign saying "zimmer frei" indicates a B&B with a room available.
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. There are more than 600 hostels spread all over Germany in big and small cities as well as in the country side. Not only individual travellers are guests but also 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 . Generally, this entails simply filling out a card and payng a few extra Euro per night. In general, the advantage of these places is that they tend to serve a buffet style breakfast for no additional charge, though this is not an absolute rule. However, the quality is often below that of private hostels, and many do not provide a good opportunity for socializing.
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. Many are known for their vibrant, party atmosphere and can be an excellent way to meet other travelers. 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 . Of course, international room booking agencies such as Hostelworld and Hostelbookers are also good resources, and give travelers the ability to leave reviews.
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 world. Since the vast majority of the universities are state-owned, studying in Germany is usually very cheap (50-500 Euros/semester), but keep in mind that the costs to make your living are quite high. Access to universities is easy for EU nationals, non-EU foreigners may face some bureaucratic hurdles and may be asked to provide proof that they can cover their own expenses. There are very few scholarships available, work-study jobs rarely exist, and student-loans are rare. In addition, Germany universities rarely provide the discounted and high quality amenities that other universities do. Some German universities do not have a coherent campus and opening hours can be short so check carefully
German universities are now changing their traditional course system to Master/Bachelor programmes. In general the courses become more structured and school-like with a higher workload. Nevertheless more self-initiative is expected at German Universities than in many other places. Help with problems is not "automatic" and newcomers may feel a little left alone in the beginning. The same applies to "Fachhochschulen" (describing themselves as "Universities of Applied Sciences"), the only difference being their cooperation with large corporations.
While the official unemployment rate in Germany is at around 8% (realistic figures might be much higher since only registered unemployment is counted and many German part-time workers are desperately wishing to work full-time), 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 distinctly German bureaucracy especially for non-EU citizens, it is likely not a good method to help your travelling budget.
Non-EU students are permitted to work on their residence permits, but there is a limitation of 90 full (more than four hours worked) days per year or 180 half days (under 4 hours worked) without special authorization. Working through one's university, though, does not require a special permit.
Illicit work is rather common in Germany (about 4.1% of the German GDP) and virtually the only way to avoid the German bureaucracy. Being caught, however, can mean time in jail, and you are liable to your employer to almost the same extent as if you worked legally.
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. English speakers who are certified teachers in their home countries might be able to secure work at American or British international schools. English teaching without these qualifications is not lucrative in Germany.
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.
Applying for a job in Germany is different from many other countries. As in nearly every country there are some peculiarities that every applicant should know. Resources for information on how to apply in Germany are jobsearch.about.com (in English)  or personal-wissen.de (in German) .
Germany is a very safe country and the law is strictly enforced. There are no ghettos but certain areas, like the areas surrounding main train stations, have a higher crime risk.
Pickpockets can be a problem in large cities or at events with large crowds. Bigger cities also have their share of beggars and punks usually watched closely by police. If you consider giving them money, keep the following in mind: Anyone complying with the rules of the German social system receives enough money to sustain a humble life. There is a low risk that a beggar belongs to a criminal gang not allowing him to keep any of the money for himself.
Symbols of Nazism (e.g. saying "Heil Hitler" or "Sieg Heil" or raising your hand for the Roman Salute), including Mein Kampf itself and any material questioning the extent of National Socialist crimes or praising its actions, are forbidden in Germany. The penalty for any kind of neo-Nazism is a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine (the maximum is €21,600). Foreigners are not exempted from this law and it will be very strictly enforced.
The nationwide emergency number is 112. It is used for any type of emergencies (medical, fire, police). These numbers can be dialled toll-free from any phone, including phone booths and mobile phones (SIM-card required!). 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 ever hang up, the operator will terminate the call if all his questions about the emergency are answered.
There are emergency telephones interspersed along the main motorways. You can find the closest SOS-phone by the arrows on the reflection posts.
Ambulances can be summoned via the national toll-free emergency number 112 and will help you regardless of insurance issues. 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 not life-threatening.
Most foreign visitors will never deal with issues of open racial discrimination or racism. Large cities in Germany are cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic with large communities from all continents and religions. Germans are also aware of the historical burden of the Nazi era and are usually tolerant or at least appear to be so in contacts with foreigners. Public displays of overt antisemitism are forbidden by strict laws that are enforced. Non-white visitors may get an occasional wary look (often caused by uneasiness or insecurity) but very rarely any verbal insults.
The situation is different in parts of Eastern Germany (including the outskirts of East Berlin). The feeling of being left alone with widespread under- and unemployment and the desperation caused thereby can lead some people to xenophobia ("They're stealing our jobs") and therefore racism, making them easily influenced by right-wing groups. As a result there are more incidences of racist behavior than in the West with occasional incidents of violence. Most of these happen at night when groups of drunken "Neo-Nazis" look for trouble (and solitary victims) downtown or near public transport stations. It is unlikely (but not impossible) that white tourists get into trouble with these aggressive youth as their sole purpose is to show their might.
Large cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne have a significant Turkish, Russian and Arab population. Similar to the Neo-Nazis these groups tend to look for trouble at especially weekend nights and some of the (mostly poor and unemployed) youths gather at underground and railway stations in certain districts. Use your common sense to avoid them at night and do not travel alone (especially women) as these youths can easily be provoked and sometimes will attack you without any reason at all.
The German Police (Polizei)  is professional and helpful but tends to be rather strict. When dealing with officers it's usually best to remain calm, courteous and avoid getting into confrontations. Many officers were trained to deal with tourists in preparation for the 2006 World Cup, so they should speak basic English or have colleagues who do so.
Police are employed by the states except in airports, train stations, border crossings etc. which are controlled by the federal police. In mid-sized towns and big cities local police are called Stadtpolizei, kommunale Polizeibehörde or Ordnungsamt (in some states the Ordnungsamt does have law enforcement rights) and are in general responsible for traffic issues and small crimes. Labour issues are controlled by the customs services.
Police uniforms are green or blue. Green was the standard colour but some states have started a transition to blue uniforms (and cars) to comply with the EU standard. The federal police has already changed to blue uniforms and customs will keep their green uniforms.
The police and custom officers work together to control illegal immigration and the black labour market, mainly at construction sites and small businesses. By law you must have social security papers/working permit with you when you work at construction sites. The police are generally very helpful but they have heard all the stories about "I forgot my papers" before and will likely be sceptical about any explanation. Legally no person needs to carry photo ID/passport with you but if you don't have it the Police can take you to the police station and check your background. Therefore it is always recommended to have copies of your papers as you are avoiding lengthing discussion with law enforcement officals...
If you get arrested you have the right to have an attorney. Foreign nationals also have the right to contact their respective embassy for assistance. You are never obliged to make any statement that would incriminate yourself. If you are in trouble the best idea is to not make any statements before you've talked to your lawyer. If you don't have an lawyer call your embassy (or someone else who can find one for you) otherwise the local justice official will appoint a lawyer for you.
Prostitution is a legal business in Germany.
All larger cities have a red light district with licensed bars, go-gos, escort services and separees. Tabloids are full of 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 their red-light activities are Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Due to Germany's proximity to Eastern Europe several cases of human trafficking and illegal immigrations have taken place. Police regularly raid brothels to keep this business within its legal boundaries. In general the police is not interested in the clients but you must have a photo ID with you. Otherwise you might be taken to the police station to check your identity.
Alcohol may be purchased by people 16 years and older. However distilled beverages and mixed drinks with those (including the popular 'Alcopops') are available only from 18 years on. It's not technically illegal for younger people to drink, but it's illegal to allow them to drink on premises. If the police notices, they may pick the person up, confiscate the drinks and send the person home in the presence of an officer.
Smoking is allowed from 18 years on. Vending machines for cigarettes will now require a valid "proof of age" to use them, which in practice means that you'll need a German bank card or a (European) driving license to use them.
The situation on marijuana is a bit confusing. The Constitutional Court ruled that possession for "personal use", though still illegal, should not be prosecuted. Germany is a federal state therefore the interpretation of this ruling is up to the state authorities. In fact charges are sometimes pressed even for tiny amounts, which will cause you a lot of trouble regardless of the outcome. As a general rule the northern states tend to be more liberal while in the south (especially Bavaria) even negligible amounts are considered illegal. The customs officials are also aware of the fact that you can legally buy marijuana in the Netherlands and therefore set-up regular border controls as the import is strictly prohibited.
Even if you get off the charges the authorities may cause different problems, like revoking your drivers licences etc. and if you have more than a few grams you will be prosecuted in any case. Also the drugs will be confiscated in all cases.
All other recreational drugs (e.g. ecstasy) will definitely lead to prosecution and earn you at least a police record.
Some types of knives are illegal in Germany, this concerns mostly some types of spring knives, "butterfly" knives, knuckle knives and the like. These knives are illegal and owning them is an offence. Knives that are intended as weapons are restricted to persons over 18 years.
Since recently it is illegal to carry any type of "dangerous knife" on your person in public -unless you have a valid reason to do so. For example, if you're going fishing you're still entitled to carry your fishing knife on you. "Dangerous" knives are generally those with a blade of more than 12cm and "one-handed" folding knives. They are still legal to transport but can carried on a person only with a valid reason.
Firearms are strictly controlled. It is practically impossible to legally carry one in public unless you're a law enforcement professional. "Fake" firearms may also not be carried in public if they resemble real guns. CO2 and air guns are relatively easy to acquire.
Avoid bringing any fireworks into Germany, especially from outside the EU. Even bringing those can be an offence. Fireworks are traditionally used on New Year's Eve. Most "proper" fireworks (marked as "Klasse II") will be available at only the end of the year; they may be used by persons only over 18 on December 31 and January 1. Really small items (marked as "Klasse I") may be used around the year by anyone.
Fishing laws differ a lot from state to state. Obtaining a fishing license for Germans has become a highly bureaucratic thing due to over-concerned politicians who tightend animal protection laws. As a foreigner, it will be too, but depends on the state where you are.
Gay and lesbian travellers
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. In small towns and in the countryside display of homosexuality is almost unknown while it may be everywhere in some areas of Berlin and other big cities.
The attitude towards gays and lesbians is rather tolerant - at least on the surface. While many Germans inwardly still don't approve homo- or bisexuals they usually suppress open utterances of homophobia. 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.
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". See the section Medical Emergencies above if you are in an emergency
If you have an non-urgent medical problem, you may choose from any local doctor. The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you usually will be able to find every discipline from Dentistry to Neurology on duty within reasonable reach. In remote regions finding a doctor might require a ride to the next town but the German infrastructure allows fast connections. GPs/family doctors will usually describe themselves as "Allgemeinmediziner" - meaning "general medician".
Pharmacies are called "Apotheke" and are marked by a big, red "A" symbol . At least one pharmacy in the area will be open at all times (usually a different one every day), and all pharmacies will post the name and address of the pharmacy-on-duty in the window. Some medication that is sometimes 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 have specially trained personnel, as it is mandatory to have a university degree in pharmaceutics to run an Apotheke in Germany. A German pharmacist is able to offer advice on medications. In Germany pharmaceuticals tend to be expensive, so it might be wise to ask the pharmacist for "Generika" (generic drugs): A "Generikum" is virtually the same produce, often even produced by the same pharmaceutical trust, just lacking the well-known brand name and being considerably cheaper.
EU citizens that are members of any public health insurance can get a European Health Insurance Card . The card is issued by your insurance provider and lets you use the public health care system in any EU country, including Germany.
If you're from outside the EU, or if you have a private health insurance, check if your insurance is valid in Germany. If not, get a travel health insurance for the trip - German health care is expensive.
Foreign insurance, even if it covers travel abroad, may not be accepted by local hospitals.
Tap water has a good quality, is very strict controlled and can be freely used for consumption. Exceptions have to be labeled ("Kein Trinkwasser", no drinking water), usually found on fountains.
Many lakes and rivers, as well as both the North Sea and Baltic Sea are generally safe for swimming. 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 (power plants might cause streams you don't see from the surface) 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. Take particular care of children.
If you intend to swim in 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.
You should be aware of rabies (Tollwut) which has been a problem in some areas in the past, even if forestry officials combat it very seriously. 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 because the main transmitting animal is the fox.
The biggest risks hikers and camper face 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 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 the English-speaking countries, Germany and the Germans have earned themselves a reputation for being stiff and strict with rules but also hard working and efficient. The German language is not as smooth as English, so even a friendly word can sound harsh to the English-speaker. More important, 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. Many times, unfortunately, this applies to your interactions with them, and not their interactions with you. Once tempers are lost, they are very hard to reign in again. Consequently, business meetings tend to lack the introductory chit-chat. There is also a strong desire to achieve mutual agreement and compromise. 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 productivity on earth. A late-running train is considered a sign of the degradation of society.
Be on Time! Punctuality is seen not as a courtesy but as precondition for future relations. Most Germans arrive 5-10 minutes early and take this for granted from everyone. Arriving more than two minutes late to a meeting is seen as rude and will be tolerated only with unknowing strangers, unless you can give good reason in your defense. It is seen as a courtesy to call the other participants if you seem to run late. Regular delays are seen as a disrespect for the other participants.
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 is not forbidden and is even a common sight in the far west (Cologne and the Rhine-Ruhr Area). In some larger cities (such as Cologne) there are local laws that in theory make drinking alcohol in public a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of tens of euros; these laws are rarely enforced against tourists, except in cases when drinking leads to rowdy behavior. Behaving aggressively or disturbing the peace will earn you a conversation with German police officers 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 in general 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.
Know the locals
The general rule of thumb is that wealth rises towards the south: Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are the two richest states, competing with Switzerland and Austria for quality of life. A more liberal atmosphere is dominant as the traveler goes northward: 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. Northern Germany is in the same cultural sphere as the Netherlands and Scandinavia with even the food and architecture more pragmatic, simple and unrefined then in the traditionally Catholic south. Hamburg however is the richest city in Germany even outpacing trendy Munich.
The Nazi era
In the late 19th Century, Germany was arguably the most enlightened society in the world. As a mental exercise, try to think of five famous physicists, philosophers, composers or poets without mentioning a German name. This dignity and prestige faced a severe setback during the period of National Socialist rule under Hitler. Since then, the Third Reich has been a permanent scar on the German national identity, and is considered a blot on Germany's national honor and will remain so for a very long time. Every German pupil has to deal with it at about 5 different times during his or her schooling and most classes visit a concentration camp (most of these sites have been transformed into memorials). Not a single day passes without educational programmes on television and radio dealing with this period of time. Growing up in Germany, whether in the GDR or West Germany, meant and still means growing up with this bitter heritage, and every German has developed her or his own way of dealing with the public guilt. For the traveler, this can mean confusion. You might come across people (especially young ones) eager to talk to you about Germany's troubled history, feeling the urge to convince you Germany has come a long way since then. Choose adequate places to talk about the issue and be polite about it. 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, even made innocently, is absolutely the wrong way of approaching the matter and is insulting. Even worse, what might sound funny abroad may earn you jail time (up to 3 years) and a hefty fine in Germany. All Nazi-era slogans, symbols, and gestures are forbidden (except for educational purposes, and even these are strongly regulated), and displaying them in public is illegal. Foreigners are not exempted from these laws. Do not even think about jokingly giving a stiff arm Nazi (roman) salute!
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.
However, this is not the case when you ask them about the division of Germany into East and West. Communist symbols, GDR songs and other East-German related regalia are circulated freely and many are some what nostalgic about the country, hence the artistic and commercial movement "Ostalgie" (nostalgia for the East). Just avoid bringing up the topic of the Berlin Wall impulsively, as it is still a very divisive issue.
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.
Mobile phone coverage on the four networks (T-Mobile, Vodafone, E-Plus and o2) is excellent across the whole country. UMTS (3G data) is also available but still somewhat limited to cities and urban areas. All mobile providers use GSM technology on 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. If you have a GSM mobile telephone from the USA, make sure to call your provider in the USA prior to your trip and have them "unlock" your telephone handset so that you can use it with a German SIM card.
The vast majority of Germans own mobile phones (called "Handys" in German, pronounced "hendy"); 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 €0,40 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 (0,09-0,19 €/minute), but expensive for international calls (around 1-2 €/min), but incoming calls are always free and SMS cost around 0,09-0,19 €. 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.
While international calls using the German SIM card can be expensive, there are some prepaid offers with good rates. 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.
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.
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. Confirm with your hotel for access and rates.
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. A standard postcard costs €0.45 to send within Germany and €0.60 to Europe. A standard letter not weighing more than 20 grams costs €0.55 to send within Germany and €0.70 to Europe. Letters within Germany are mostly delivered within 2 days, allow a bit longer for Europe.
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.
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), uninsured packet. Otherwise it will have to be sent under the price system of a DHL Paket.
It is possible to drop letters and parcels at FedEx and UPS stations. Expect to queue.