The currency used in Germany is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, 0.50C, 0.20C, 0.10C, 0.05C, 0.02C and 0.01C.
The language spoken is German but a large number of people in the former West Germany speak English.
In northern Germany, winters are very cold and wet but summers are very pleasant. In the south and the Alpine region, the winter too is very cold and the summer is quite hot. You can be unlucky, however, and have a wet and cold day even in the middle of summer. Spring and autumn are pleasant in both regions. The most popular time to visit the country is from May to October, but winter holidays are increasing in popularity thanks to the ski season in the Bavarian Alps.
Germany is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Shops are usually open between 9.00 or 10.00am and 6.00 and 6.30pm from Monday to Friday. Most of the bigger centres open late on Thursday and on Saturday they are generally open from 9.00am to 1.00 or 2.00pm. On the first Saturday of the month, they are open until 4.00pm.
Banks are open from 8.30am and 1.00pm and again from 2.30 until 4.00pm in the afternoon. They too open late on Thursdays until 5.30pm.
Electricity in Germany is 220 Volts AC.
The price of most goods and services in Germany includes a fifteen percent value added tax or Mehrewertsteuer. This includes restaurant and hotel bills as well as items which you purchase in stores. You should note that stores displaying a ‘Tax Free’ sticker will give you a Tax Free Shopping Check when you are paying for your purchases. When leaving Germany you need to get this check stamped by the Customs officials as proof of legal export. Once you complete and return this check, you wil get your cash refund. Some of the major airports, trains stations or ferry terminals will process this for you. Otherwise you need to send it to Tax-Free Shopping Service, Mengstrasse 19, 23552 Lübeck, Germany.
All that residents of EU member states require to enter Germany is an up to date passport. The same requirement applies to citizens of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand but they will also require a visa if staying for longer than three months. South African citizens do need a visa to travel to Germany and nationals of all other countries should contact the German Embassy in their home country before travelling.
All the major cities as well as most of the bigger towns have a tourist office which is usually located near the main bus or train station, or in the central market square. They provide all the information you could possibly require while staying in a region as well as booking rooms in some cases. You will find them where you see the ‘i’ sign.
Traveller's cheques are probably the best way to take cash on holiday. Several agencies sell them and refund you if the cheques are lost or stolen so remember to hold on to your receipts.
ATM cards which are part of the Cirrus or Plus network can be used in machines which contain the relevant sign. This service is particularly useful not only because it means you do not have to carry large sums of cash around, but the ATMs often offer exchange rates up to 5% better than the exchange rate of banks and other financial institutions. You will, however, pay a minimum charge each time you withdraw cash.
Finally, if you have a credit card, all the major cards including Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted and can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs if you have the pin number. It may be helpful to know, however, that the Eurocard which is an affiliation of MasterCard, is preferred and is more widely accepted than Visa.
The international calling code for Germany is 49 so to dial from abroad you dial 00, followed by 49, the local area code and the local number. If you wish to call abroad from Germany, again you dial 00, followed by the international calling code for your particular country, the local area code and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code for both types of call.
Public telephones (Telefonzellen) can be found in all post offices as well as train and bus stations. You will also find one on almost every street corner. In other words, they are not hard to find, you just need to keep your eye out for them. Most are cardphones and you can buy a card (Telefonkarten) at post offices, newsstands or the major train stations.
If the service charge is not included on the bill, you should leave a tip of between ten and fifteen percent. If it has already been added on, you will see the word Bedienung at the end of the bill. For taxi fares, you should round up the total to the nearest mark and with regard to luggage you should tip 2DM per item.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Germany they take place on January 1st, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Thursday, May 1st, the first Monday in June, October 3rd and December 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.