A country that has had to rebuild itself following World War II, Germany is a fascinating location which will leave you with a vast array of memories.
It’s difficult to know where to begin when describing a location with so much history. Germany is a country that has had a great deal to contend with throughout the decades. Many of the country’s most precious treasures were destroyed in World War ll and they have had to spend the years since attempting to restore and rebuild both the treasures and the nation itself. They also have to cope with the fact that every time the country’s name is mentioned, people immediately think of Adolph Hitler and the atrocities that he was responsible for. Finally, the residents of this troubled country are still coming to terms with the reunification. It’s little over ten years since the Berlin Wall came down and every single person has had to redefine themselves and the country as a whole since this momentous event occurred.
Despite all of this, the birthplace of the world’s greatest music composers has so much to offer its visitors. While so many building and structures were destroyed, there was so much more that no war could possibly damage – the natural attractions. The Black Forest, the Bavarian Alps and the lands in the basins of both the Danube and the Rhine still remain as perfect as they were thousands of years ago and entice millions of tourists every year.
Since the reunification of east and west just over ten years ago, Germany has continued to flourish both financially and politically. Because of this growth, a large number of people who return recommend a visit as soon as possible. They feel that if you leave it for too long, the country will lose the charm which it now has in its possession. It is developing so quickly and has become so industrialised that it may not be as appealing in another decade. The only consolation is that the forests, mountains and lakes will still be there.
Germany’s cuisine is an adventure in itself. As well as having specific dishes that are unique to the country – the aforementioned Schnitzel and Spätzle for example – each region also has its own particular food and drink that are a large part of its defining culture. These differences have come about as a result of both the agriculture of the region and the tastes of new Germans who have settled in the country since its reunification. With all this choice, however, it’s difficult to know what to sample so here’s a quick guide to the favourites among tourists and the locals.
Visitors to Berlin should try the local brew, Berliner Weiße mit Schuß. A mixture of wheat beer and syrup, it provides the perfect accompaniment to the Turkish food which is in abundance throughout the city. If you are in Cologne you cannot leave without trying the highly recommended Rievekoochen, potato cakes which come with Apfelmus (applesauce) on the side and are usually washed down with the local beer, Kölsch. Frankfurters offer you something which sounds a lot less appetising; Handkäse mit Musik which is a cheese curd with raw onions; Grûne Sosse, a green sauce with various herbs and served with boiled eggs and potatoes; and you wash all of this down with Ebbelwei, a sweet apple wine – definitely the most appetising part of the meal. Finally, if you are spending some time in the Bavarian region of the country you should try Brez’n, which is a type of pretzel, with Leberwurst spread on top. And of course you couldn’t leave Munich without sampling at least one of the local beers. Weißbier, a cloudy blond beer and Radler which is a mixture of beer and lemon soda are among the most popular.
Don’t worry, if you really don’t feel brave enough to sample the local delicacies, you will not go hungry. Many young chefs who have trained in France, Spain and Italy are now returning to their home country and opening up award winning restaurants which serve dishes other than pea soup and snail chowder. We just like to give you all the options.
The majority of continental and international flight to Germany arrive in either Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich but Hamburg also has an international airport. Lufthansa, the country’s national airline, operate most flights in and out of the country, but American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, KLM, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines, British Airways, British Midland and Aer Lingus also have direct flights into Germany. If you are flying from Australia, Qantas flies from both Melbourne and Sydney to Frankfurt. Lufthansa no longer flies to these destinations but they do offer cheap fares in conjunction with Qantas.
The other alternative when entering Germany is to take the train. This is common among backpackers holding the Eurailpass which allows them to travel to the country from various cities throughout Europe. For example, British Rail runs four trains a day from London and several trains depart Paris daily. Other countries with train connections with Germany include Austria, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
The final and slowest option is by bus with Eurolines from all major European cities. While the buses are equipped with toilets and reclining seats and do stop for regular breaks, the distances they cover are vast and can take days to complete. The service is reasonable, however, and you do get to see lots of countryside but it is a long haul.
The train service in Germany, GermanRail (DER Rail) is renowned for its comfort and punctuality and is easily the best way to get around the country. Twenty thousand intercity trains offer express services every hour between most of the bigger and medium sized cities and they are among the fastest trains on the continent reaching speeds of up to one hundred and sixty five miles per hour.
The other option for travel within the country is by bus. This too is an extensive and efficient service and is operated by Bahnbus who also own the railway. Therefore many of the services are there to complement the rail service so when you have a slow period of rail service, the bus is there to take you to your destination. Both services offer numerous fares and ticket passes so ask about these at the station before purchasing your ticket.
The Museums of Berlin
Berlin is talked about all over the world with regard to the wonderful selection of museums which are located in the city. If you aren’t going to be there for very long, here are a few that you should definitely try to get to. The Pergamonmsueum – one of the world’s best ancient history museums housing extensive collections of Greek, Islamic and Far Eastern Art as well as artefacts from both the Greek and Roman Empires; the Gemäldegalerie, one of Europe’s leading art museums where you will see the works of European masters including Botticelli, Raphael, Titian and Vermeer and the Topographie des Terrors where there are exhibitions detailing the rise to power of the Nazis as well as some of the atrocities of the war. You should wander around, however, as there are some weird and wonderful ones that will pleasantly surprise you. Never knew history could be this much fun.
Dachau Concentration Camp KZ-Gedenkstaette Dachau
Dachau is suituated approximately thirty minutes from Munich and is the site where the first concentration camp of the Nazi era was built. This camp was unlike its Polish counterparts of Auschwitz and Trblihnka in that it was originally used to hold political opponents and intellectuals as opposed to Jews. About thirty five thousand people died within its walls although the gas chambers were reportedly never used. The walls, chambers and crematoriums have all been restored in a chilling memorial to all that were interred and died there from 1933 to 1945. While it is a most educational attraction, it is also a very eerie one and is not to everyone’s taste.
The Black Forest (Schwarzwald)
If you do get the chance, and this will probably only come about if you are staying in or around Stuttgart or Freilburg, you should try to spend at least one day in this area. How you spend your day when you get there is entirely up to you but try to bring some energy with you. There’s a lot more to the forest than just pine trees or quiet relaxation. The inspiration for the Story of Hansel and Gretel, Schwarzwald now offers some of the most breathtaking locations for skiing and hiking in particular, but also mountain biking, swimming and surfing. Of course, you get to relax too – by the lakes in summer or a big fire in winter. All you have to do is choose which one you would prefer.
For any of you who have ever been to Disneyland in California, you will probably feel a certain sense of recognition when you arrive at Neuschwanstein Castle. The reason, this is where the creators came when they needed inspiration for a fairy tale castle. It is the most impressive and impractical castle in Germany and was created for ‘Mad King Ludwig’ who lived in Bavaria in the 1800s. Incidentally, he was responsible for the building of several other castles in the Bavarian region making it an extremely interesting and picturesque area to spend a holiday. The nearby town of Fuessen should also be visited. A quaint little town nestled between two lakes and surrounded by the mountains, Fuessen, like the castle, is like something from a fairytale. So, while poor old Ludwig may well have been mad, the German tourism industry owe him a great deal of gratitude.
Cologne, in the northwest of the country on the banks of the Rhine, is home to one of the most impressive cathedrals on the continent. The building of this Gothic structure began in 1248 and didn’t finish until 1880. Obviously people were a lot more patient with architects and builders back in the thirteen hundreds. Including the magnificent dome, the Cathedral stands at one hundred and fifty seven metres tall and the towers can be seen from anywhere in the city meaning you will never lose your way. While its sheer size alone is impressive, it doesn’t even begin to compare to its interior with its wonderful stained glass windows and religious artefacts, the most famous of which is the Shrine of the Three Magi.
The internationally renowned Oktoberfest takes place annually from the second last week in September until the first Sunday in October. The first festival took place in 1810 at the wedding of Prince Ludwig 1 and his wife Therese. Little did they know that it was to become the biggest public festival in the world. Each year it is attended by about six million visitors who manage to consume over five million litres of beer and four hundred thousand pork sausages. As well as the famous ‘beer tents’, there are also a large number of attractions including live music and dance where traditional brass bands treat you to their talent. Of course, if brass isn’t your thing, there is a variety of more appealing music. The highlight of the festival is the Grand Entry of the Oktoberfest Landlords and Breweries.
Love Parade, Berlin
This unique festival takes place in early July each year since its inception in 1989 and attracts almost two million people. It originally began as a celebration of the love that came about between East and West when the wall came down – interesting. Basically it’s just one big music festival taking place in the streets of Berlin. You can hear anything from house to rave while wandering around and the atmosphere, to use a well-worn cliché, is truly electric.
International Film Festival, Berlin
Usually taking place from around February 9th to 20th, this is your chance to spy on the rich and famous. In various theatres directors, stars, those who think they’re stars and those who want to be stars flock ply their ware. The whole city is consumed by the glitz and gala of the festival and is a really fun environment to be a part of. International films, as well as the latest German films, are shown in various movie theatres around the city and tickets can be purchased at any box office. So, as well as chasing those who are popular at the moment, you also get to see who will be in the future. It’s an education.
Now that you are walking the streets that some of the world’s most famous composers once walked – Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner – it would be unforgivable not to visit at least one German theatre. Even if you despise classical music, you will be swept up in the whole atmosphere and ceremony of this particular form of entertainment. The Germans have even dedicated a whole festival to Mozart, but it does go on for over a month, you’ve been warned. The majority of the most popular theatres are found in the bigger cities so here are just a few of many – the Deutshe Oper Berliner in Berlin (strangely enough), Staatsoper in Hamburg, and the Residensztheater and Volkstheater in Munich. You could also check out the comic opera at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz or the smaller fringe theatres in Nymphenburg.
The German Jazz Scene
As well as music of the classical variety, Germany also has a vibrant jazz scene. You will find several excellent jazz clubs from the bright and cheerful to the dark and smoky in all the bigger cities, and there is usually one or two hidden in the smaller towns too. In fact, a lot of the time the smaller clubs are better as the atmosphere is much more akin to the true jazz scene than it is in the larger clubs. The jazz festivals which take place throughout the year are popular too so if you are in Germany around the time that they are on you could do worse than pay one of them a visit. You will find one in Frankfurt in March, the Stuttgart Jazz Fest is on in April and in Berlin it takes place in November. The events are lively and relatively cheap thanks to the multitude of free out-door concerts, and well worth a look and a listen.
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.