Germany guide, Europe 2017-08-27T16:31:15+00:00

Germany Guide, Europe

Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany.

Why visit Germany

Berlin Gendarmarkt, 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.

Downsides

– 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.

Main attractions

East:

***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, Germany

Lubeck medieval town, Germany.

West:

***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 Valley.

***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’.

Munich, Germany

Munich, Bavaria.

***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 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.

Intercity Transport

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).

Local Transport

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.

Visas

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.

Safety

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.

Language

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.

Money

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%.

Accommodation

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.

Food

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.

Germany Activities

Paragliding, Bavarian Alps, Germany

Kehlstein, the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Germany

Cochem, town in the Mosel valley topped by a castle built in 1051.

The Great Outdoors

***The Rhine Valley is Germany’s Top of the Hops, the best outdoor experience in the country. Hills, river, castles, vineyards combine to overpowering effect. And in May there’s the epitome of river fever, The Rhine in Flames festival.

Cruises through the spectacular Rhine Gorge are a favourite tourist experience.
**Hartz Mountains. Another excellent destination for all season outdoor sports freaks, and closer to most tourist destinations than the overblown Alps.

Hiking: Germany’s favourite outdoor pastime so trails are well developed and supported.
The best locations are the Alps, the Hartz Mountains, the Rhine Valley and the Black Forest.

Bavaria hiking, Germany

Hiking around Konigsee, Bavarian Alps.

Biking

German efficiency and eco-attitude combine to produce a mass of excellent city and rural cycle paths, well-posted, little used yet in awesome surroundings.
During the April- September season many rail stations rent bikes which can be returned to other stations in the ‘Fahrrad am Banhof’ scheme.

Hartz mountains biking, Germany

Brocken, Harz (aka Broken, Legs)

Canoeing and windsurfing

There is no shortage of rivers and lakes for strong-arm holiday-makers. Lake Constance down south in Bavaria is especially popular.

Skiing: As with hiking and biking, there’re plenty of places for gorgeous downhill and cross-country skiing, well-organised too, as you would expect.

Festivals

Cologne fireworks, Germany

Cologne festival fireworks.

early December – late January, Lübeck Ice Sculpture Festival. Glittering ice art in a gorgeous town.

end of January, International Dog-Sled Racing in Todtmoos, two days. Thousands of dogs and many more spectators enjoy this event, particularly the torchlit night races.

Feb/March Heidelberg Fasching – this elegant town’s answer to Mardi Gras, with local festivities and parades.

Feb/March Carnivals in many cities but the three best are in Dusseldorf, Cologne and Mainz. massive, colourful and vigorous.

Easter week, Berlin Opera Festival.

end of March, Munich Ballet Week. Top performances from international stars.

early April, International Dance Theatre Days in Weimar. Wild dance in east Germany.

early May, The Rhine in Flames (1st Saturday of May). Towns south of Bonn, on the river Rhine, explode with celebrations and massive firework displays.

end of June, Christopher Street day, Berlin. A monster Gay Pride parade and street party.

most of August, Wagner Festival at Bayreuth – very expensive and elitist, held in the unusual theatre that Wagner built.

most of August, Berlin International Dance – a wide range of innovative, international dances.

late September for 2 weeks, Oktoberfest, Munich, mainly about downing vast quantities of beer and bratwurst then behaving badly with your neighbours.

All December, Christmas Markets and Fairs in many cities and towns, especially Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg, Lübek and Munster.

Christmas Market, Germany

A typical and charming German Christmas Market. Munich, Berlin, Heidelberg and Lübek host some of the best.

Weather

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.

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