If you have ever dreamed of visiting a fairytale setting, why not visit the original land of fairytales? From Cinderella’s castle to quaint rows of houses straight out of Snow White’s tales, Germany is pure magic. But Germany is more than just fanciful tales. This country in the very heart of Europe is filled with history and majestic nature. And, the people will always make you feel “Wilkommen!”
Germany has a long history and has played an important role in the development of Europe. Many of the continent’s great thinkers, such as Martin Luther, Beethoven, Nietzsche, and Einstein are German. Germany was a founding member of the European Union and these days enjoys peace and economic success.
While Germany has a rich and distinct culture, most Western travellers will find that they have more similarities with Germans than differences. However, there are a few things to keep in mind to make a good impression on the locals.
Germans tend to be very structured and organised. Always be respectful of local rules and laws. For example, follow all traffic and pedestrian guidelines. Jaywalking is forbidden and make sure not to walk in the bike lane!
Sustainability and climate change are important topics in German society. Be respectful of this by remembering to recycle where appropriate. Conserve resources by turning off electrical items when not in use. Not only will you win over your German hosts, but the world will thank you as well!
Beyond social rules, Germans also like to be polite. Visitors should make a special effort to be punctual for meetings or appointments, even casual ones. Friendliness is always appreciated! Make sure to learn a few essential German words in order to greet and thank shopkeepers.
Travel to Germany is very easy. Situated in the middle of Europe, Germany is surrounded by France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland. It is a part of the Central European Time zone, which means that it is usually one hour ahead of UTC.
Germany is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Area. This means Australian visitors will need a passport to enter Germany but will not require a visa for stays less than 90 days. International airlines arrive at modern airports around the country. Alternately, visitors might enter by car or train at a number of land crossings.
Within Germany, tourists will have no trouble getting around. The country boasts a superb system of public transport. Expect travel between cities to be smooth and comfortable on one of the country’s efficient trains. The more adventurous may be tempted to try driving on Germany’s famous Autobahn highway system. Local transportation within the cities includes a vast array of highly effective buses, trams and metros.
The official language of Germany is German. A member of the Germanic language family, German can sound intimidating to many non-speakers! While the grammar can be notoriously difficult to master, travel basics are fairly easy. When in doubt, many Germans speak excellent English!
As part of the EU, Germany uses the standardised currency, the Euro. On average, one Australian dollar will buy about 66 Euro cents, or .66 Euros. Most major credit cards will be accepted throughout the country. However, just in case, carry cash! ATMs are readily available in cities and towns alike. It is always a good idea to keep a supply of coins and small notes for Trinkgeld, or tips. In restaurants, simply round your bill up or give about 10%. However, always make sure to give the tip directly to the waiter rather than leaving it on the table.
Germany has a temperate climate and experiences all four seasons. Each season in Germany has something to recommend! Spring flowers compete with autumn foliage. German summers are pleasant and filled with outdoor activities. Winters will also find Germans outdoors as they hit the snowy ski slopes.
Because there is always something to offer, Germany can be enjoyed year round. However, visiting on the occasion of a local festival is always enjoyable. The biggest and best of these festivals is the famous German Oktoberfest in Munich. Despite the name, this festival is actually held in September! Book well in advance, however, as crowds swell during this time and many accommodations will fill up.
Germany is a vibrant and diverse country, blending sleek modernity next to quaint medieval charm. The country features lush forests and alpine mountains for the nature lover. For the history buff there is no shortage of museums and monuments. Artists and foodies will each find much to admire. In fact, there is something for everyone! However, you probably can’t see it all, so here are a few places to focus on.
There are a number of excellent cities to choose from when planning your visit. The most obvious choice for many is the country’s capital, Berlin. Located in what was formerly East Germany, Berlin is also Germany’s largest city. Berlin is perhaps best known for its division and many tourists still flock to see the remnants of the old Berlin Wall. These days, however, the city is happily united and harmonious. Travel buffs will still find a vast selection of museums and monuments detailing the city’s and the country’s long history.
On the opposite side of the country, don’t miss Cologne (Köln). This city has historical roots going back to ancient Rome. It is most famous, however, for the picturesque cathedral which sits right near the Rhine River. Those with a sweet tooth shouldn’t miss the chocolate museum hosted on a boat on the Rhine. There is a tasty treat for visitors at the end!
Not far from Cologne, Frankfurt is the business hub of the country. While this city is mostly focussed on finance and modernity these days, it is also the birthplace of one of Germany’s most famous historical thinkers. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is often considered the Shakespeare of Germany. Literature lovers can visit the Goethe-Haus museum.
In the northern part of Germany, the city of Hamburg connects the country to the North Sea and to the world. Hamburg is home to Germany’s largest port and visitors can explore a wide variety of maritime exhibits.
Finally, after Berlin, the next most famous German city is arguable Munich (München). This is the region of the country’s most well known and loved stereotypes. Beer halls, pretzels, dirndls and lederhosen, Munich is the postcard image of Germany. This city is home, not only to the famous Oktoberfest celebrations in fall, but also to the memorable fairytale Castle Neuschwanstein.
Oktoberfest, misleadingly in September, is a tradition going back more than two hundred years to the times of crazy King Ludwig. This two to three week festival was originally a celebration of the king's marriage to Princess Therese. Most people know this festival as a time to consume large quantities of beer. However, the festival also includes activities such as horse races and amusement rides. And let’s not forget the food! Traditional favourites such as roast meats, würstl sausages, and pretzels are eaten in large quantities!
King Ludwig is also responsible for the picturesque Castle Neuschwanstein. This nineteenth century Romanesque Revival palace was designed by the king as a tribute to composer Richard Wagner. However, the king’s fancy ran away with him and as his designs expanded, so did the cost. By the time the king died, the palace was far from complete. However, the castle stands completed today and many tourists will recognise it as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Cinderella’s Castle.
Speaking of theme parks, why not treat the kids to Germany’s own EuropaPark. The park has many similarities to other famous theme parks and features a cartoon mouse as mascot. The park is grouped into themed areas based on European lands, such as “England,” “France” and “Scandinavia." Rides range from tame experiences for younger visitors to exciting roller coaster rides, such as Euro-Mir or the Matterhorn Blitz. New expansions are underway for even more excitement!
History lovers will enjoy the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This massive archway was intended as a symbol of peace. However, it became a symbol of division when it became a featured section of the famous Berlin Wall. Now a symbol of unity once more, the gate is a prominent German icon featured on German Euro coins.
Germany does, however, have a darker period to its history. A visit to the Dachau Memorial outside of Munich reminds tourists of what can happen when hate divides us. Constructed in 1933, the Dachau camp was used during the Nazi period as a labour and confinement camp for prisoners and opponents of the Nazi regime. It was liberated by allied troops in 1945. While Dachau was not intended as an “extermination camp,” such as Auschwitz, nevertheless more than 32,000 prisoners died there while in operation.
Tourists can also visit an even earlier time in history to experience a more romantic era. The city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beautifully preserved medieval town in Bavaria. For the closest thing to time travel possible, take a stroll down charming cobbled streets and take in the picturesque half timber buildings that appear to have stepped off the pages of a Grimms Brother fairytale. For extra charm, visit this city during the Christmas season!
Those looking to spend a little time in nature will appreciate Germany’s Black Forest. The name derives from forests so thick and dark that they almost appear black. Nature lovers will enjoy hiking the abundant trails amid the rolling hills or kayaking the area’s rivers. After you have gotten your exercise and fresh air, indulge in the area’s signature Black Forest Cake.
Of course, Germany is synonymous with cars. Whether you like BMW, Mercedes or the Volkswagen, automobiles are in the German blood. Car enthusiasts can try their hand at driving on the famous autobahn highway system where more than half of the roads have no speed limit. But real speed demons will want to try their skills on the Nürburgring. This world class Grand Prix racetrack allows tourists to drive a part of the track in their own vehicle. You can even rent a fancier car if yours doesn’t feel sporty enough!
Finally, no trip to Germany is complete without experiencing the food. Most people know Germany as a land of sausages, pretzels and beer. The sausage, or wurst, is a cultural experience in itself and comes in dozens of varieties: bratwurst, bockwurst, weisswurst…There are even currywurst and bierwurst!
Another traditional German dish which visitors shouldn’t miss is spätzle, a kind of soft noodle dumpling. Finish the meal off with sweet apple strudel, or apfelstrudel. And of course, don’t forget the beer!
Germany is a modern and very developed country with a high standard of living and excellent infrastructure. As such, there are relatively few health and safety concerns for travelers. However, like anywhere in the world, travellers should take a few precautions.
Generally, overindulgence poses the biggest threat to tourists. Germany has very relaxed alcohol laws and individuals can drink as young as 16 years old. However, because alcohol is such an accepted part of the culture, Germans learn drinking etiquette while young. Many visitors, on the other hand, have not yet learned to control their excitement. Public drunkenness is discouraged and may even result in problems with law enforcement. Worse, overconsumption can leave a traveler exposed to crime and poor judgement. Know your limits!
Similarly, while Germans understand the dynamics of their speed limitless highway system, many enthusiastic tourists may overestimate their driving skills while in high speed situations. Never drive in situations beyond your skill level and always stay alert on the road.
Although crime is relatively low in Germany, there are unsavoury elements here as elsewhere. Petty theft is the most common nuisance. Remember never to bring valuables traveling unless absolutely necessary. If you must bring valuables with you, keep them close to your body at all times and always watch your surroundings. Crowds are particularly troublesome areas for pickpocketing. Vehicle break ins are also increasingly common. Never leave anything enticing inside the vehicle. This is especially a problem in areas of Berlin, including Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.
On a more serious note, terrorism has been an issue in many parts of Europe. Germany is no exception. Always stay up-to-date on current affairs. When in crowded public areas, be mindful of your surroundings and if something feels suspicious, leave. German police forces are working hard to eliminate this threat. Always cooperate with officials if questioned.
Finally, tourists should be respectful of Germany’s attempts to distance its Nazi history. While the country is committed to remembering the atrocious events in order to prevent history from repeating itself, it is illegal to display or promote anything relating to the Nazi regime outside of the context of museums and monuments. Tourists should refrain from making jokes about this dark era, or from wearing Nazi symbols. The Nazi crimes are no laughing matter.