Why visit Germany
One of the few remaining old squares in Berlin, the Gendarmarkt, Germany, Europe.
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.
– 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.
Trains are excellent in Germany, particularly ICE (Intercity Express).
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.
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) down.
Tipping is not necessary in restaurants, but taxi drivers expect about 10%.
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.
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.
Length of stay:
Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: Berlin for a wild weekend.
Recommended: 2 weeks to have a reasonable look at this huge country.