Why visit Germany
Apart from any interest in the huge historical
and industrial impact of Germany on the world and especially on
Europe, the country offers tourists many attractions: lovely rustic
towns with well-preserved traditions; sophisticated cities sporting
avant-garde art; spectacular castles; vast forests and mountains (one third of the country is wooded),
and plenty of classic art and culture to fill in the cracks.
With native sons such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel and Wagner,
music is big in Germany, and not all of it classical. Berlin in
particular is a breeding ground for youth-led musical outrage.
Other artistic and intellectual spheres also embrace outstanding
names. e.g. Goethe, Brecht, Einstein, Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Kant,
Beuys, Ernst... the list goes on and on.
This is a country with a huge past, an enormous present and an interesting future as the powerhouse of a crumbling EU.
One of the few remaining old squares in Berlin, the Gendarmarkt, Germany, Europe.
- It surprises many tourists how many Germans speak no English.
- Outside sophisticated towns eating often means plain meat and two veg,
filling but not thrilling.
Best tourist season: May-September, with average lows of 12C and highs of 20C-25C in July/August. It can rain anytime, there's no special rainy month.
Worst: November-March, though winter sports are terrific and well organised. Short daylight hours, cold and grey, but snow helps
the ambience and Christmas markets in December are colourful and lively,
especially those in Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg, Lübek and Munster.
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: Berlin for a wild
Recommended: 2 weeks to have a reasonable look at this huge country.
***Berlin, a wild and exciting capital
city, if not particularly sympathetic or staggeringly beautiful.
***Leipzig. This laid back, pretty
old town, is a musical pot of gold, the home of Wagner, Mendelssohn
and Bach. All sorts of fine music is available in relaxed environments,
from club to classical.
**Weimar is a minor city but a major
tourist attraction for Germans, the place that launched a thousand
quips - Nietzsche, Goethe, Klee, Kandinsky, Liszt and Bach (Bach
again? How many homes did he have?!) all considered this
home. More sobering, Buchenwald concentration camp is also here.
Lubeck medieval town, Germany.
***Lübeck, a charming and well-preserved medieval
town and UNESCO World Heritage site, it's in the north of Germany,
not far from less attractive but very lively Hamburg. Marzipan is claimed to originate from here when the town was under seige and short of food.
**Cologne, beside the Rhine, is notable
for its sights, including the massive Gothic cathedral, its colourful Christmas
market and its outrageous Carnival. Then there's the equally outrageous but more accessible Chocolate Museum...
*Frankfurt. A transport nexus and business
centre, Frankfurt is cosmopolitan and offers the culture vulture
a trove of superb galleries and museums.
It's convenient for Heidelberg and the Rhine Valley.
***Heidelberg. A small, relaxed, charming
university city, with river, castle and old town. Near the Rhine
***Munich - capital of Bavaria - is
Berlin's main rival, deservedly so as it's relaxed yet sophisticated,
spacious yet compact, with grand old buildings galore and the Alps
only an hour away. The city park is home to a gorgeous 'Englischer Garten'.
***Füssen (or nearby Schwangau)
in Bavaria is for lovers of fantasy castles, with mad King Ludwig's
three spectacular offerings clustered around here, including Neuschwanstein - Europe's best?
But the town is also attractive, as are the Alps nearby.
Neuschwanstein castle, Germany,
Neuschwanstein is the most famous castle in the world and Disney's inspiration. Begun in 1869 it was the mountain retreat of King Ludwig II and sports an interior just as wild as the exterior, with rooms painted in frescoes from the operas of Wagner. Nearby are more castles from the same fantasy schloss stable, now marketed as ' the Romantic Road' that runs from Wurzberg to Fussen.
Trains are excellent in Germany, particularly ICE (Intercity
Buses, though cheaper are a lot less comfortable and slower.
Self drive is a great way to cover distances apart from the occasional
jam and some intimidating driving on the autobahn (motorways).
Generally trains are the way to go, if they are
available - which they are in urban areas. Buses are less ubiquitous
while taxis are expensive.
The S-Bahn is overground rail, the U-Bahn undergound. i.e. the metro.
European citizens are free to travel wherever, whenever in Germany, while
nationals of USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan do not
need a visa for up to 3 months, though you should carry your passport.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin or 2 flat pin plugs.
Germany is safe - though less so the east half - and locals are
unlikely to dip their hands in your pockets, but new East Europeans
are not so restrained, so take the usual precautions.
When you meet Germans abroad they always seem to speak excellent
English - albeit with a harsh accent. Not so at home! It's worth
learning a few key phrases to lubricate your visit, particularly food
words as menus are rarely translated into English and guessing doesn't
work well in German.
The Euro is used in Germany. Costs are a little high though consuming
fast food is one way to keep expenses (along with your lifespan)
Tipping is not necessary in restaurants, but taxi drivers expect
Hotels are plentiful and not necessarily pricey. Guesthouses
and pension are also common and even better value. The only problem
- apart from festival time when you should book way ahead - is in
the east where you might have to take a room in a private house.
Campsites are always well set-up but popular in the summer so plan
to check in early in the afternoon.
This is not a good destination for dieters. Traditional German food
is heavy, fatty and sweet - or both - and tasty too if you have
a simple palate.
Meat, as you would expect, is a key ingredient, with sausages heading
the menu, while potatoes, dumplings and chunky bread are the carbohydrate
support act. This style is especially prevalent in east Germany.
In the more sophisticated towns less disastrous foodstuffs are available,
even vegetarian, and ethnic restaurants pop up everywhere, particularly
Italian, Turkish and Chinese.
A wonderful selection of beers and sweetish wines are also no help
to modern tastes and waists.
Few menus outside tourist-targeted restaurants show English translations,
and German is not an easy language to guess so consider bringing
a phrase book along or learn food vocabulary in advance.
Map | Germany Activities Guide