Germany conjures up images of toasting at Oktoberfest amongst shrews of folks clothed in lederhosen. True, beer is one of main attractions in Germany, but there are plenty of famous sights, fast cars, and culture to experience too. In fact, Germany is a big country and seeing everything in one trip might be difficult. Choose a region or major cities that are of particular interest and start from there.
There a seemingly endless number of castles, cathedrals, palaces, and museums to explore in history-rich Germany. Famous landmarks such as Neuschwanstein, the model for Disney’s Cinderella castle, Wartburg Castle, and Hohenzollern Castle are just a few not to be missed. Germany also boasts an incredible 30-plus World Heritage sites including Aachen and Cologne cathedrals.
Also known for its natural beauty, from the Black Forest Mountains to the Harz Mountains, the Wadden Sea, and Messel Pit, Germany has many places where outdoor activities are plentiful in both the winter and summer months. If you love cycling, hiking or mountain climbing there are a seemingly endless number of trails to explore when the weather is good. In fact, wander (walking/hiking) is a national past time. Just make sure to greet other hikers with Guten Tag (hello) when passing by. In the winter months, it is possible to ski or snowboard in the Bavarian Alps. There is something for every season in Germany.
Different seasons bring different attractions in Germany. The spring months are popular for visiting vineyards, trips along the Rhine River, hikes up the Zugspitze, and enjoying white asparagus. The summer months see locals sunbathing in parks and relaxing on the lake as soon as the sun peaks out. The fall months bring the Fasching season (carnival) as well as the famous Oktorberfest. The winter months come with snow in the southern regions and many Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt). Generally, the peak tourist season in Germany is between May and September.
Currency: the Euro
Official language: German
Germany’s original inhabitants date back to the Bronze Age and are thought to have come from Scandinavia. Much of Germany was overrun by the Romans, who expanded their empire well into central and northern Europe, and called the area Germania. As the Roman Empire declined, Germanic tribes emerged. Of special importance was Charlemagne and the subsequent rise of the Hohenstaufen emperors, whose princes ruled until 1254.
A turn in Germany’s history was the Protestant Reformation, led by Marin Luther in 1517. The spread of Protestant religion united many Germans and led to the construction of some of the country’s most stunning churches. Pilgrims and those interested in history still follow the Luther Trail, which includes sites such as St. Anne’s Church in Augsburg, the Coburg Fortress, the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Marburg Cathedral and Wartburg Castle, to mention a few.
Germany was ravaged by many wars, with tumulus events wreaking havoc to important historic buildings and documents. Notable conflicts include the Silesian Wars (1740), the Seven Years’ War (1756), the Danish-Prussian War (1864), the Austro-Prussian War (1866), the France-Prussian War (1870), and WWI (1914). The rise of the Third Reich and the Holocaust were dark points in history and badly damaged the country’s spirit. The heavy bombings during WWII by the Allies significantly destroyed many of the historic cities and sites in Germany. A good place to learn more is at the German History Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum) in Berlin.
Known as the "Land of Poets and Thinkers," German culture has been heavily influenced by religion, composers, writers, and philosophers. The country has been home to the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, and poets such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, and Max Weber.
Culture, of course, varies from region to region. The southern state of Bavaria spends a significant amount of its annual budget in supporting the arts. There are many folk songs, music, and festivals in this region and spending some time here can be an eye-opening experience.
Temperatures also vary greatly according to season, with January and February generally seeing the coldest days of the year, averaging around 27°F. The warmest month is July, when temperatures can reach 75°F. However, the summer months are also when Germany sees most of its rain. Fall can be wonderful, with colors decorating the forests and temperatures ranging from 45 to 65°F. However, from October onwards, days start getting shorter and generally darker. Having an umbrella handy most of the time is a good idea in Germany.
Germany is part of the Schengen Agreement, which means there are no border controls for nationals of EU countries. EU citizens only require a valid national identity card or passport to enter Germany. Non-EU citizen require a valid passport and possibly a visa if you intend on a longer visit.
Many visitors are surprised that most German taxis are Mercedes Benz. Licensed companies are cream or off-white in color and have a ‘taxi’ sign on their roof. Taxis are metered, with some routes having fixed prices, such as from downtown to the airport. Tipping is a must, usually 10 percent of the fare and the driver will charge extra for each passenger and piece of luggage. Taxis are generally not flagged down and have to be picked up at a stand. Outside the main cities, it may be necessary to call for a taxi. Taxis in Frankfurt are available from Frankfurt Ruf Taxi (+49-69-23-00-01) and in Berlin, from Taxi Berlin (+49-30-20-20-21-220). Taxis can become expensive, so using them for long-distance travel is not recommended.
Germany boasts excellent train and bus networks, which are great ways to explore the country and cities. The Inter-City (IC) trains offer clean and comfortable, high-speed connections to all major cities in Germany, as well as to other European outposts. However, long-distance trains are not cheap and international visitors should look into obtaining a Eurail pass prior to arriving which allows for unlimited travel on German and European trains. There are also long-distance buses that offer cheaper inter-city connections and discount air carriers that may be a better option.
Most German cities have public buses as well as S-Bahn (street cars) and U-Bahn (metro trains). The transportation networks are extensive and well-connected, and a good way to explore cities. However, buying tickets is not always straightforward and visitors should obtain day passes to save on multiple trips in one day. Most German S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems use the ‘honor system’, so there is no monitoring whether riders have bought a ticket or not. Instead, inspectors randomly check passengers for tickets and fines are levied on the spot for non-ticket holders. It does not pay to ride the train without a ticket so if you’re unsure how to purchase one, ask a local for help.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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