Germany (German: Deutschland), officially the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is the largest country in Central Europe. Germany is politically, economically and culturally influential, and is the largest European Union member state by population and economic output. Known around the world for "German engineering" as well as world leading banking and insurance companies, it is equally admired by visitors for its old-world charm and Gemütlichkeit (cosiness). Discard any perceptions of Germany as simply homogeneous, and a country of surprising regional diversity awaits.
Germany is a federal republic consisting of 16 states (called Bundesländer - shortened to Länder) that sometimes correspond to historic regions and sometimes grouping very different peoples into the same state. Three of these Bundesländer are city-states: Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. For a long time, the cultural division between north and south was the most notable but, because of the legacy of the Cold War, nowadays the division between east and west is more noticeable.
|Northern Germany (Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein)|
Windswept hills and the popular vacation destinations of the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts
|Western Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland)|
Wine country and modern cities sharply cut by the breathtaking Middle Rhine and Moselle valleys
|Central Germany (Hesse, Thuringia)|
The green heart of Germany, with some of the most important cities and the ancient Thuringian Forest
|Eastern Germany (Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt)|
The eccentric and historic capital Berlin, and rebuilt baroque beauty Dresden
|Southern Germany (Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria)|
Black Forest, Alps, and Oktoberfest. The Germany of Lederhosen, Dirndl, and picture postcard views
Germany has numerous cities of interest to visitors; here are just nine of the most famous travel destinations. They are mostly the larger cities of Germany. Some, such as Berlin and Hamburg, stand like urban islands in more rural landscapes, others, like Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, are part of metropolitan areas together with other cities.
- 1 Berlin – The reunified and reinvigorated capital of Germany; a metropolis of diversity with some of the world's best-known clubs, shops, galleries and restaurants. As a result of being split it in two for decades during the Cold War, Berlin now boasts more opera houses and museums per capita than most other places in the world.
- 2 Bremen – Its old market, the Schnoor, the Böttcherstrasse, the Viertel and its maritime flair all make Bremen a great urban experience.
- 3 Cologne (Köln) – Founded by the Romans 2000 years ago and known for its huge cathedral (second largest in the world), Romanesque churches, archaeological sites and the lively old town quarter. The Cologne Carnival is a major draw around February.
- 4 Dresden – Once called "Florence on the Elbe", known for the Frauenkirche (the finest baroque cathedral outside Italy) and its historic Altstadt, that were both rebuilt after being destroyed during World War II. The Zwinger and Residenzschloss are world-renowned museums.
- 5 Düsseldorf – Germany's capital of shopping that also has a wide variety of fascinating new architecture. The "Altstadt" quarter and the Rhine embankments have a vibrant nightlife.
- 6 Frankfurt – A magnificent skyline, financial and transportation hub of Europe, headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) and an important trade fair. Small reconstructed centre with half-timbered houses, important museums and galleries around the Museumsufer like the Schirn Art Hall, the Städel and the Senckenberg Natural Museum.
- 7 Hamburg – Germany's second-largest city is known for its harbour, its numerous channels and bridges, the Speicherstadt, the Michel church and the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, the bustling nightlife around St. Pauli with the Reeperbahn, its musicals and the Hafengeburtstag festival.
- 8 Munich (München) – Germany's third-largest city and booming capital of Bavaria is known for the Oktoberfest, the Hofbräuhaus, its manifold cultural offerings including operas, theatres and museums, a vibrant nightlife, many music festivals, its beer gardens and river surfing, and being the gateway to the Alps.
- 9 Nuremberg (Nürnberg) – A former Reichsstadt with a medieval touch, its old town was partly reconstructed after severe bombing in the war, including the Gothic Kaiserburg and the major churches. You can also visit the Nazi Party rally grounds, the Documentation Centre and Courtroom 600, where the Nuremberg war crime trials were held.
- 1 Baltic Sea Coast (Ostseeküste) – Once the playground for crowned heads, this region is coming into its own again after the Cold War shut much of it off from the wider world. Site of the famous Strandkorb picture of the 2007 G8 summit.
- 2 Bavarian Alps (Bayerische Alpen) – Germany perhaps at its most clichéd, but also its most beautiful; nice skiing in winter, hiking in summer and Schloss Neuschwanstein are just the most obvious attractions.
- 3 Black Forest (Schwarzwald) – You are likely to think "cuckoo clock" or cherry pie, and you'd be forgiven, but there is much more to this region than that.
- 4 East Frisian Islands (Ostfriesische Inseln) – Among Germany's most popular summer holiday spots, those largely car free islands in the Wadden Sea still see less international visitors than they deserve.
- 5 Franconian Switzerland (Fränkische Schweiz) – A favourite with early 19th-century poets who gave a name that stuck, this karst region is world renowned for its climbing and has some beautiful caves.
- 6 Harz – Long forgotten due to German partition running right through it, the Harz today attracts tourists with superb hiking and the mystic romanticism of the Brocken mountain that is reputed to attract witches (as mentioned in Goethe's Faust).
- 7 Lake Constance (Bodensee) – Germany's largest lake, the "Swabian Ocean" (as it is jokingly) offers alpine panorama and water activities at the same time.
- 8 Middle Rhine Valley (Mittelrheintal) – Part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO Heritage Site between Bingen/Rüdesheim and Koblenz; the valley is famous for its wines.
- 9 North Frisian Islands (Nordfriesische Inseln) – Calm islands with resorts at the North Sea coast, especially Sylt is known for its posh celebrity guests and the pristine landscape.
- See also: Roman Empire
In the first century AD, after a series of military campaigns, the Romans conquered what is now most of western and southern Germany from the Germanic and Celtic tribes living there. The limits of the Roman empire were marked by the "Limes". The section separating the empire from the Germanic tribes (Limes Germanicus) was 568 km long, stretching from the mouth of the Rhine to the Danube near Regensburg. You can still see and walk along sections of the raised bank. In Roman times the Limes were not a rigid border: trade and occasional Roman military expeditions influenced most of what is now Germany until at least the fourth century AD.
Several cities that are still important in Germany were founded by the Romans as military bases and later, settlements, including Mainz, Wiesbaden, Cologne and Bonn. Baden-Baden's springs were also much appreciated by the Romans: the remains of their baths can be visited under the aptly-named Römerplatz (Roman Square). The most impressive Roman remains in Germany can be found in Trier, the oldest German city. These include the Porta Nigra, the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps, and the Trier Amphitheatre.
The Holy Roman Empire and the Middle Ages
Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day 800 AD by Pope Leo III. Charlemagne is often associated with France, but his realm was vast; his capital was in Aix la Chapelle, today the German city of Aachen. Remains of Charlemagne's winter imperial palace (the Kaiserpfalz) can be seen in the town of Ingelheim. The roots of modern German history and culture date back to the post-Carolingian Holy Roman Empire.
Starting in the early Middle Ages, Germany fractured into hundreds of small states, with strong regional differences that endure, for example in Bavaria. During this period the power of local princes and bishops increased, their legacy being the many spectacular castles and palaces like the Castle Wartburg in Eisenach, Thuringia. From the 1200s, trade with the Baltic area gave rise to the Hanseatic League and rich city states such as Lübeck and Hamburg. Other cities also came to prominence from inland trade routes, such as Leipzig, Nuremberg and Cologne.
As German society gradually changed from having a feudal structure to a mercantilist system, guilds or Zünfte of craftsman were established and became a major factor in German economics and society. Some Medieval guild halls can still be visited. This period also saw the rise of banking families such as the Fugger, whose debtors included popes and emperors, and who influenced the growth of cities such as Augsburg.
In the Middle Ages and early modern times the Holy Roman Empire (today's Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and parts of surrounding countries) consisted of some 2,000 semi-independent territories that were largely subordinate to the emperor. The Holy Roman Empire was — as Voltaire famously quipped — neither Roman nor holy nor an empire. While some petty dukedoms were not much more than a couple of hamlets, important cities gained the status of Reichsstadt, which made them city-states subject only to the emperor. Their former wealth can still be seen in places like Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Nördlingen. While there were some earnest efforts at modernisation from the 15th to early 17th century, the Holy Roman Empire eventually lost all but the most nominal central political power. And in the waning years, it wasn't even able to keep the peace between its two most powerful constituents at the time, Austria and Prussia, whose rivalry would dominate the fate of German-speaking areas for most of the 19th century.
Early modern Germany
A period of religious reform and scientific discovery was marked by the 1517 publication of Martin Luther's 95 Theses in Wittenberg, which started the Protestant Reformation. Luther would go on to translate the Bible into a Central German vernacular at the Wartburg, doing much to standardise German and exclude northern dialects as "Low German" or "Dutch". The empire split between Catholics and several branches of Protestants, while regional powers emerged from the more unified territories of Catholic Bavaria and Protestant Saxony and Brandenburg (later known as Prussia). The Protestant-Catholic conflict reached a climax in the Thirty Years War, which devastated many German territories. It took 100 years until Germany's population had grown back to prewar levels.
The rulers of the more affluent duchies and kingdoms of the empire supported the development of arts and sciences, like the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, employed by the Elector of Saxony, or the works of Goethe and Schiller who both had high paying sinecures in Weimar during their most productive years as writers. Richard Wagner found a willing patron in Ludwig II of Bavaria. Notable scientists included Daniel Fahrenheit, Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Wilhelm "hard luck" Scheele and, in mathematics, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz made major advancements in both Leipzig and Hannover. Another household name in German science is Carl Friedrich Gauß, a mathematician who developed the "Gaussian bell curve".
During the baroque period in arts and architecture, many of the German rulers created stately royal residences and rebuilt their capital cities to reflect their might and taste. Splendid creations of that period include Dresden and Potsdam.
The Napoleonic Wars ended the last semblance of a German state when Emperor Franz II decided to step down in 1806. The various German states were later bound together by a military alliance with fewer federal powers than today's EU. This confederation was overshadowed by the conflict between a liberal bourgeoisie and a reactionary aristocracy on the one hand and between Prussia and Austria on the other. In 1848 one of those tensions erupted, but the liberal revolution failed because the revolutionaries spent a lot of time arguing about whether Austria should be a part of the new Germany ("großdeutsch") or not ("kleindeutsch"). The title of German Emperor was offered to Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, but he rejected the offer as it was "tainted" by being offered by the bourgeoisie, not his "equals" in rank. More radical elements fought on until 1849. The moderate elements made their peace with the authorities and later supported the Prussian-dominated empire, while the radical elements increasingly gravitated towards socialism and opposition to all things monarchical.
From 1866 to 1871 after decisive wars with Austria and France, Prussia united Germany as a nation state called the German Empire (Deutsches Reich, or Kaiserreich) under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, who became the Reich's first chancellor. It was a federally organised state that kept the constituent states intact including their kings, dukes and princes. Some states, like Bavaria or Württemberg, kept their own armies, railways and postal services. The states and their residences were still important cultural centres.
The new empire combined traditional institutions such as the monarchy with elements of a modern democracy such as a democratically elected parliament (Reichstag) and political parties. There was universal adult male suffrage at the Reich level, but individual states could tie suffrage — or the weight of votes — to property requirements. Furthermore, gerrymandering and legal prosecutions hampered the activities of political parties which were in conflict with Bismarck and/or the Kaiser. First the wrath of the regime fell on political Catholicism with explicit laws banning political sermons against the government, but later social democrats and socialists were singled out. Civil marriage was introduced in that era and Protestant nationalism would remain a force on the political right — including being a major factor in Hitler's rise to power — until World War II.
Bismarck followed a shrewd "carrot and stick" approach with regards to the working class. On the one hand worker's clubs suspected of left wing leanings — even if they were outwardly "just" social clubs dedicated to athletics, singing or soccer — were outlawed or harassed by police. On the other, Bismarck introduced state pensions, health insurance and payments in case of illness, injury or death. Nonetheless, the Social Democratic Party increased its share of the vote, and in 1890 Wilhelm II fired Bismarck and ratcheted down persecution.
As trade barriers gradually fell, Germany found itself a hub of the later period of the Industrial Revolution and became a major industrial power. During this period, technological innovation took place in various fields, highlighted by the creation of the automobile by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in Baden-Württemberg. From the founding of the 'Bismarck Empire' to the First World War Germany, manufacturing underwent a development from cheap low quality mass goods (for which the British developed the "warning sign" Made in Germany) to some of the best goods in its respective fields. Germany also began to climb to the top spot in the natural sciences and medicine, with the Nobel Prize until World War II going to Germans almost as frequently as it goes to Americans today. Names like Paul Ehrlich (medicine), Max Planck (quantum physics), Robert Koch (germ theory) or Albert Einstein (who however lived in Switzerland by the time of his annus mirabilis 1905) are still known the world over and several research institutes of good reputation are named after them.
Millions of Germans emigrated overseas, especially to the United States, where they became the dominant ethnic group, especially in the Midwest. Canada had a city named Berlin in an area of heavy German immigration; it was renamed Kitchener, after a British general, in 1916. Australia, in particular Queensland and South Australia, also received many German immigrants who played a major role in kickstarting Australia's beer and wine industries. German immigration also occurred to Latin American countries and the German colonies in Africa and China, and while not always numerous, it has often left behind a trace in the economic or culinary history of the destination countries.
The Weimar Republic
After losing the First World War (1914-18), Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate. Germany was forced to give up all its overseas colonies, and also had to give up much of its land to neighbouring countries. A revolutionary committee prepared elections for a national assembly in Weimar which gave the Reich a new, republican constitution (1919). The republic is now usually called 'Weimar republic'. During the revolution, it briefly appeared as if Germany would become a socialist/communist state like Russia had two years prior, but the Social Democrats eventually made common cause with conservatives and reactionaries of the Kaiserreich era to squash anything to their left, murdering prominent socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in the process. This perceived betrayal embittered many communists. Unlike in France or Spain, forces to the left of the Social Democrats never made common cause with democratic parties to stop the rise of fascism. Instead, the Communist Party and the Nazi party often voted in concert on motions of no confidence and populist but unrealistic bills.
The young republic was plagued with massive economic problems stemming from the war (such as the 1923 hyperinflation). The reparations that Germany had to pay to the Allies under the Treaty of Versailles, exacerbated the disgrace of defeat in the First World War. Many elites (judges, civil servants and even politicians) were openly monarchist and took a "wait and see" approach towards the new system. This led to a justice system that was famously lenient on right-wing political violence, and draconian when it came to communist insurrection.
Inflation and political turmoil led to the growth of radical parties, on the left most notably the KPD (the Communist Party) and on the right the NSDAP (the Nazi party). A failed coup attempt in 1923 seemingly discredited the Nazis, and the KPD lost support during the economic good times between the end of the hyperinflation and the Great Depression. Both radical parties returned in full force in the 1930 elections, and the political centre-right collapsed. The gains of the NSDAP and KPD meant there was no possibility to form a majority in the Reichstag without their votes. All cabinets between 1930 and 1933 relied on the extensive "emergency" powers of the Reichspräsident (who could appoint or fire chancellors on his own say-so without consulting the Reichstag). The parliament increasingly became a place for the enemies of democracy to stage their theatrics rather, than the centre of political debate and power.
In the relatively good economic climate of the mid-1920s, many banks and business had taken out relatively cheap short-term loans to finance long-term investments which exposed the economy greatly in the Wall Street crash of 1929. Although the German economy recovered in the 1920s due to American investment, the Great Depression led to the withdrawal of this investment. Germany's economy was crippled, and the government's deflationary policy and global protectionism only worsened the situation. This allowed strong anti-democratic forces (such as the KPD and NSDAP) to take advantage of the inherent organisational problems of the Weimar Constitution. From 1930, there was never again a pro-democratic majority of any kind in the Reichstag.
The Nazis seized control by winning a plurality of disillusioned German voters seeking change. In early 1933, Nazi chief Adolf Hitler became Chancellor. President Paul von Hindenburg used his powers to support Hitler's emerging dictatorship. When Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler declared himself simultaneously President, Führer and Chancellor, and from there on governed unchecked and on his own.
The Nazi Era
In 1933 the nationalistic and racist National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party and its Führer, Adolf Hitler, came to power. Under the Nazi dictatorship, democratic institutions were dismantled and the police state was enhanced. Jews, Slavs, Romani/Sinti people (Gypsies), handicapped people, homosexuals, socialists, communists, unionists and other groups not fitting into the Nazis' vision of a Greater Germany faced persecution, and were enslaved or murdered in death camps. Europe's Jews and Romani/Sinti people were marked for total extermination. The site of the first Nazi concentration camp in Dachau as well as several others are now memorials.
Hitler's militaristic ambitions to create a new (third) German Empire in Central and Eastern Europe led to the Second World War.
Hitler's foreign policy became increasingly militaristic and aggressive. The leaders of France and Britain were wary of another European war, and as Germany had gained a lot of concessions through diplomacy between 1919 and 1933, some did not see the problem in letting Hitler getting away with breaking the Treaty of Versailles. Germany annexed the Saar Area after a plebiscite (1935), remilitarised the Rhineland (1936), aided the nationalist (Franco's) side in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and annexed and invaded Austria (1938). The infamous Munich Agreement (1938) forced Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland without being consulted in the matter. When Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, France and Great Britain finally felt bound by their alliance commitment and declared war on Germany on September 3. A 1940 offensive by the Nazis in the west led to the Fall of France and the withdrawal of British troops. Hitler betrayed his erstwhile ally Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, but neither Moscow nor Leningrad were captured. Eventually the Soviets managed to turn the tide with horrendous losses on both sides, including gruesome human rights violations and massacres, especially perpetrated by SS and Wehrmacht on civilians in the occupied areas. In 1944, the Allies (notably America, Britain and Canada) landed in Normandy. Hitler believed that landing to be a feint with the main thrust coming via Calais. The Soviets advanced steadily from the east, reaching Berlin on 16 April 1945, and culminating with the unconditional surrender of Germany of 7 May 1945.
In the later phase of the war, Allied bomber raids brought destruction to nearly every larger German city (as the German air force had done to Rotterdam, Warsaw, London, Coventry and other cities in the earlier stages of the war). After the war was lost the occupied country lost most of its eastern territories and was faced with a major refugee crisis, with millions of Germans flooding westward into what remained of Germany, and from other countries where significant German minorities were escaping the military and political influence of the victorious Soviet Union.
After the War
- See also: Cold War Europe
After the devastating defeat in World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors, controlled by British, French, Soviet and US forces. The UK, the US and the French decided to merge their sectors. With the beginning of the Cold War, Germany became increasingly divided into an eastern part under Soviet control and a western part which was controlled by the Western Allies. The western part was transformed into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG for its German name), a capitalist, democratic country with Bonn as the de facto capital, which was often referred to as West Germany.
The Soviet-controlled zone became the communist/authoritarian Soviet-style German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly called East Germany. This encompassed the present-day Länder of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Berlin, which was geographically left in East Germany, had a special status as it was divided among the Soviets and the West, with the eastern part serving as the capital of the GDR and the western sectors of Berlin (West Berlin) being a de facto exclave of the Federal Republic.
The fates of East and West Germany differed markedly, in political and economic development. Thanks to Western aid, the economy and industrial base in West Germany was quickly rebuilt, resulting in the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). The East became a socialist, centrally-planned economy with almost all of its economy nationalised, and increasingly lagged behind the West as this system proved much less efficient or conducive to growth. The limitations of personal freedoms, ever-present censorship and secret police led many of the East's citizens to attempt to flee to the West. However, compared to the other Soviet Bloc countries or even the Soviet Union itself, the East Germans were (on average) wealthier.
In 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected around West Berlin as part of a heavily guarded frontier system of border fortifications to deter inhabitants from East Berlin from defecting to the more prosperous West. Today some remnants of the era are museums, such as the former prisons in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen or Bautzen. While many pieces of the Berlin Wall were destroyed or sold to enthusiasts around the world, parts have been preserved in their original location as monuments or art installations. The most widely known such installations is the eastside gallery in central Berlin.
Germany was reunited peacefully in 1990, a year after the fall and collapse of the GDR's communist regime and the opening of the Iron Curtain that separated German families by the barrel of a gun for decades. 3 October is celebrated as a national holiday (Tag der Deutschen Einheit, "Reunification Day"). The united Berlin became the capital of the unified Germany again, and with all federal government branches gradually moving there in the 1990s.
Reunification meant that the affluent West helped the East rebuild its economy, while also accepting the willing migrants freely. This has not been without social and political tensions, but reunification is regarded as a success, with many cities of the East regaining their former glory (e.g. Dresden) and industrial might (e.g. Leipzig). The legacy of the GDR is still palpable in a slightly higher unemployment, a slightly lower standard of living and a more even distribution of wealth in some areas of the East. Many mementos to socialism remain, like the huge statue of Karl Marx in the city of Chemnitz. The DDR museum in Berlin offers a way to experience the peculiar, and sometimes absurd, life in the erstwhile East Germany.
While the major cities of the East are again growing, rural areas and minor towns have been hit hard, and some appear to be in terminal decline, having lost half their inhabitants to the big cities since 1990, with only elderly people remaining. However, even some places in the West are beginning to encounter problems once characteristic of the post-reunification East, such as dilapidated public infrastructure, empty municipal coffers and shrinking population figures. The overall downward trend was reversed — at least for the short term — due to the influx of refugees in 2015. There seems to be a trend of re-urbanisation driving up housing costs in major cities, but the decline of rural areas seems to be only getting worse.
As one of the 10 biggest economies in the world by GDP, Germany is a European economic powerhouse. Much of Germany's economic reputation stems from the export orientation of many of its companies. Germany is known as an exporter of machinery and technology, be it consumer goods like automobiles, and machinery for all branches of industry, mining and agriculture. Creative industries, high-tech start-ups and the service sector are an increasingly important part of Germany's economic output.
A characteristic of Germany's economy is its relative decentralisation: large companies are headquartered in many different German cities and Länder, not just in or around the capital as the case in many other European countries. This means wealth is relatively widespread, living standards are high, and large cities and small towns are elegant and tidy. You can visit the factories and company museums of BMW in Munich or Mercedes and Porsche in Stuttgart. Increasingly, factories are built to include "experience centres", like the BMW and Porsche plants in Leipzig or VW'sGläserne Manufaktur in Dresden, which builds electric cars.
The global importance of the German economy and its decentralised nature are reflected in the country's transport network. Frankfurt Airport is an important European airport and Lufthansa's main hub. Other airports also have intercontinental, European and domestic flights, including those in Berlin, Munich, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Hamburg. Germany has a dense rail network which connects to neighbouring countries, much of which is made up of high-speed lines (served by Inter-City-Express trains run by state operator Deutsche Bahn). The Autobahn (motorway) network is world-famous for its quality and comprehensiveness, as well as the lack of speed limits on certain stretches. Unlike most of its neighbours, the vast majority of Germany's motorways do not have any tolls for cars. Bus companies offering low-cost alternative to airlines and railways also use the motorways.
Germany is a federal republic, consisting of 16 federal states (Bundesländer). The federal parliament (Bundestag) is elected every four years in a fairly complicated system, involving both direct and proportional representation. The parliament elects the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler), who serves as the head of the government. The Bundesländer are represented at the federal level through the Federal Council (Bundesrat). Many federal laws have to be approved by this council and this can lead to situations where council and parliament block each other if they are dominated by different parties. The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has the right to pass judgement on the constitutionality of laws.
The head of state is the Federal President (Bundespräsident). He or she is not involved in day-to-day politics and has mainly ceremonial and representative duties. While the president lets his party membership "rest" during his time in office and the office is supposed to be non-partisan, all but one had had a clear party-affiliation prior to taking the office.
The two largest parties are the centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and the centre-left SPD (Social Democratic Party). Smaller parties are also represented in parliament. They cover a full spectrum of political views from free market economy, environmentalism to far left socialism, and the far-right populist party the "Alternative für Deutschland" (AfD)
The 16 states retain a great deal of political power, setting for example education policy, store closing hours and local rail traffic.
Germany is very much a decentralised country, which does justice to the cultural differences between the regions. Some travellers will perhaps only think of beer, Lederhosen and Oktoberfest when Germany comes to mind, but Germany's famous alpine and beer culture is mostly in Bavaria and Munich. The annual Oktoberfest is Europe's most visited festival and the world's largest fair. Germany's south-western regions, however, are well known for their wine growing areas (e.g. Rheinhessen and Palatinate) and Bad Dürkheim on the "German wine route" (Deutsche Weinstraße) organises the biggest wine festival worldwide with over 600,000 visitors annually.
Immigration has also played a large part in Germany since World War II, with approximately 20% of the total population being either foreign or of a 'migrant background' (Germans and non-Germans who moved to Germany after 1949 or have at least one parent who did so). Many cities have large communities of Turks, Poles, Italians as well as people from Southern and Eastern Europe or the Middle East. Immigration of various types also played a role before then, but in most cases descendants of refugees from the former German territories east of Oder and Neisse or descendants of French Huguenots are distinguished from other Germans by little more than their last name if that. Although the Jewish community was virtually wiped out by the Nazis, high levels of immigration from the former Soviet Union since its collapse in 1991 have resulted in many Soviet Jews settling in Germany. Germany again has one of the world's largest Jewish communities, and the fourth largest in Europe after France, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Many cities have a vibrant LGBT scene, especially Berlin and Cologne. Berlin's tourism agency and other tourism organisations actively attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. Laws legalising gay marriage were passed and implemented in 2017. Homosexuality is widely accepted in society. Open homosexuals have attained high political office, and even some rural and conservative places have elected openly gay mayors. Views on homosexuality have traditionally been more negative in rural areas and among blue collar workers, but even here acceptance is increasing, as is visibility. Some people of Middle Eastern descent — including urban youth — also have more negative views of homosexuals and homosexuality as do people on the extreme political right.
With the exception of German Unity Day, public holidays are established by the states. In practise, many holidays celebrated in all 16 states.
Germany has a number of holidays observed nationwide and a few others only in specific states, typically based on whether the state is historically Catholic or Lutheran, but it is not always apparent which is which. Retail businesses are closed on such days, as well as on Sundays.
- 1 January — New Year's Day (Neujahr)
- 6 January — Epiphany (Heilige Drei Könige) (only in Bavaria, Baden Württemberg, and Saarland.) This is when the Sternsinger show up to paint "C+M+B" on the doors and collect money for charity
- the Friday before Easter — Good Friday (Karfreitag). Many Germans travel home during this period to celebrate with family. It's a "silent holiday" in most states, meaning that certain festivities are prohibited, including public dances
- A Sunday in March or April — Easter (Ostern), the holiday also extends to the following Monday (Ostermontag).
- 1 May — Labour Day (Tag der Arbeit) usually celebrated with parades by trade unions and leftist parties
- 39 days after Easter, normally a Thursday in May — Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt) also known as "Vatertag" ("father's day") or "Herrentag" ("mister's day") and often celebrated by men consuming copious amounts of alcohol
- 49 days after Easter, normally a Monday in May or June — Pentecost (Pfingsten), one of the few holidays celebrated on Monday which traditionally falls on Sunday. Many Germans travel home or make their first outdoor excursion of the year thanks to the late spring warmth. Many clinics or services may have extended closures due to their employees taking a long holiday.
- 60 days after Easter, normally a Thursday in May or June — Feast of Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam), celebrated only in southern and western Germany as well as select communes in central Germany.
- 3 October — German Unity Day (Tag der deutschen Einheit) — celebrating the German reunification in 1990. Every year, a city is selected where a large celebration is held. Due to the often iffy weather and the recent vintage of the holiday, there are few traditions associated with it. Hiking is popular, though.
- 31 October — Reformation Day (Reformationstag) — commemorating the start of the Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517. Celebrated in Protestant-majority states such as northern and eastern Germany (except Berlin); now largely overtaken by Halloween in public observance
- 1 November — All Saints' Day (Allerheiligen) — Celebrated in Catholic-majority states in southern and western Germany (except Hessen). A "silent holiday" in some places, meaning public Halloween celebrations need to stop at midnight
- 25 & 26 December — Christmas (Weihnachten) Most shops close early on 24 December.
- 31 December (31 December) — New Year's Eve (Silvester). Not an official holiday, but stores close around midday as they do on December 24th. Big fireworks around midnight.
Some holidays are celebrated only in specific states, such as International Womens' Day on 8 March in Berlin, Assumption of Mary on 15 August in most communes of Bayern and Saarland, and Childrens' Day on 20 September in Thuringia.
Many Germans travel at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. Expect smaller businesses and clinics to be closed for extended periods and for travel to be more expensive.
A particular custom is "Brückentag" (literally "bridge day"): when a holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday, many Germans will take Monday or Friday off to get a four day weekend, often used for short trips. Public transit operators may have slightly different schedules on Brückentage (for example: extra departures later into the night). Small family businesses may be closed entirely or have fewer staff on those days.
Electricity is supplied at 230 V and 50 Hz and power failures are very rare. Almost all outlets use the Schuko socket, and most appliances have a thinner but compatible Europlug. Travel adapters of all kinds are widely available in electronics stores, but they are often rather expensive.
- See also: German phrasebook
The official language of Germany is German (Deutsch). The standard form of German is called "Hochdeutsch" (High German). It's understood by all and spoken by almost all Germans. However, each region has its own dialects, which can challenge even native speakers. This is usually noticeable only in the south and rural areas of the north and east. Dialect remains a strong part of identity in Bavaria, Saxony, southern Rhineland and Hesse, Württemberg and Baden. Generally, the Main river divides north Germany from the south in terms of both language dialects and local culture. Dialects are losing ground to some extent throughout Germany: they can be associated with ruralness, a lack of education and the prejudice that dialects impede acquisition of "proper" standard German in school.
'Sie' or 'Du'?
Politeness in German is important, and you should generally refer to other unacquainted people with the formal and polite form of 'you' which is "Sie". The informal version of 'you' is "du" and can be used if both of you are already very familiar, or if the person is a child. These days younger people, roughly below the age of 30, can use "'du'" with complete strangers, except in some professional contexts. Verb endings will also change depending upon which you use.
Many Germans have learned some English at school (a compulsory subject in the West since the 1980s), so you should be able to get by. However, while many Germans claim to speak it fairly well, actual proficiency varies tremendously socially, generationally, and even geographically; some Germans have near-native fluency on a par with the Netherlands and Nordic countries, while others barely utter a few sentences. Generally speaking, people in large and cosmopolitan urban areas such as Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart speak very good English, whereas people from more industrial regions, such as much of Rhine-Ruhr, smaller urban areas (Hanover, Kiel, Münster), rural areas, and most of east Germany may not be as fluent. Younger people tend to be able to converse in English, whereas older generations tend to not speak any English at all.
It can be difficult to persuade many Germans to speak German to you if they know you are a native English speaker. Saying that you are (or pretending to be) a non-native English speaker can get around this situation. Germans fluent and confident in English usually have no issue speaking German with you.
Germans tend to be direct, and will often answer in English with short responses. Since it's polite to reply "Bitte" if someone thanks you, Germans may literally translate this with "please" instead of "here you are" or "you're welcome".
Other languages are spoken in Germany as well. A surprising number of Germans speak French, often with good proficiency. In parts of eastern Germany, a small Slavic community of 50,000 also speaks Sorbian. Many people who grew up in what was East Germany were taught Russian and a sizeable community of immigrants from what was the Soviet Union tends to speak Russian. Turkish is spoken by many in the large ethnic Turkish community. Immigration means other foreign languages are becoming more common, such as Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin. Many children of immigrants though do not speak the language of their parents or grandparents.
Virtually all movies and foreign TV shows are dubbed into German. Movies in English are sometimes shown undubbed in the biggest cities. Look for the letters OmU or OmengU ('Original [language] with subtitles'). An even rarer treat is a cinema showing movies without subtitles or dubbing — usually only in cities of half a million or more. Niche films and shows shown on high-brow channels like arte (a French-German channel) or 3sat (a German-Swiss-Austrian channel) may sometimes be shown with their original audio and subtitles due to the cost of dubbing niche media, but those are rare even on these niche channels. It's often possible to watch the undubbed versions of newer shows and films shown by public broadcasters online.
Germany is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- A visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Recognised refugees and stateless persons in possession of a valid travel document issued by the government of any one of the above countries/territories (e.g., Canada) are exempt from obtaining a visa for Germany (but no other Schengen country, except Hungary, The Netherlands and Belgium, and for refugees, Slovakia) for a maximum stay of 90 days in a 180-day period.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the US are eligible to obtain a residence permit, or Aufenthaltstitel (authorising a stay of more than 90 days and permission to work), upon arrival in Germany, but before the end of the 90-day period of visa-free entry. Before obtaining such status, they are not allowed to work, with the exception of some specific occupations (such as artists). Nationals of Honduras, Monaco and San Marino can also obtain such a permit, but this is issued only if they may not work on the residence permit. Other nationals will need to obtain a visa before if they intend to stay in Germany for longer than the 90-day period, even if they are visa-free for that period for a stay in the Schengen area, or if they intend to work.
Authorised members of the British and US military need to possess only a copy of their duty orders (NATO Travel Order) and their ID card to be authorised entry into Germany. The passport requirement, though, applies to spouses and dependents of military personnel, and they must obtain a stamp in their passports to show that they are sponsored by a person in Germany under the Status of Forces Agreement.
There are no land border controls: travel between Germany and other Schengen states, including Switzerland, is easy. However, plain-clothes officers of the German border police are known to ask travellers for their ID especially on the border between Bavaria and Austria.
When crossing a border in an international Eurocity train (especially to/from the Czech Republic and Poland) you will almost always be asked for ID.
There are a number of ways to get into Germany. From neighbouring European countries, a drive with the car or a train or bus ride are perhaps the easiest and most comfortable options; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
Major airports and airlines
The most important airports are Frankfurt (FRA IATA), Munich (MUC IATA) and Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER IATA). Düsseldorf (DUS IATA), Cologne (CGN IATA), Hamburg (HAM IATA) and Stuttgart (STR IATA) also have many international flights. Frankfurt is Germany's main hub (as well as one of Europe's main hubs) for intercontinental flights. Munich is a growing secondary hub. All Lufthansa flights either start or end in Frankfurt or Munich. Lufthansa is a Star Alliance member.
Many other airlines fly from their main hub to Frankfurt Airport. Few countries are more than one connection away.
Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Köln/Bonn airports are on the InterCityExpress high-speed rail network. Berlin Airport is served by local trains, S-Bahn and Intercity trains (on the Rostock-Berlin-Dresden route). Leipzig Halle airport (LEJ IATA) is served by both local and Intercity trains. Most other airports are either connected to the urban public transport network or have their own commuter rail station. There are exceptions: "Frankfurt"-Hahn airport only has a two-hour bus route to Frankfurt.
Lufthansa passengers travelling from Frankfurt Airport can to check in at Cologne or Stuttgart train stations and travel to Frankfurt airport by ICE, dropping off their luggage at Frankfurt airport long distance railway station. Be sure to book the train journey as a Lufthansa connecting flight; otherwise you are responsible for any missed connection. All major German airports and most airlines also offer Rail&Fly, a programme that allows you to get a ticket to/from the airport and anywhere on the German rail network. Usually it has to be bought at the same time as the plane ticket, but some airlines allow you to buy it later on. For more see rail air alliances.
Minor and budget airlines
- See also: Flying on a budget
Flying can be the cheapest way to get to Germany and from there to other European countries. Before booking a budget flight, compare carefully as their destinations are often out of the way. After adding all the fees, taxes, additional bus tickets to get to their airports, you might end up paying even more than you would for a discounted legacy airline ticket. A 2013 VCD (Verkehrs Club Deutschland) study found that inner-European flights are more expensive than a train ticket when booked on the same day as the flight would be in over 80% of the time.
The major airports for budget airlines are Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER IATA), "Frankfurt"-Hahn (HHN IATA) and Weeze (NRN IATA) as well as smaller airports with fewer destinations like Memmingen (FMM IATA) (110 km (68 mi) from Munich). Some smaller airports are former cold war military airports. They are far away from urban centres. Don't be fooled by the name: Frankfurt-Hahn is actually 130 km (81 mi) from the city of Frankfurt. Düsseldorf-Weeze is 85 km (53 mi) to the south east of the city. No frills airlines are notorious for changing the airports they serve at short notice, and several airports that had dozens of flights daily have become to slumbering general aviation fields.
There are budget flights from almost every city in Europe to Germany. The major budget airlines in Germany are easyJet, Ryanair, Eurowings, and Wizz Air (for flights from eastern Europe), all of which fly from many countries throughout Europe. easyJet's main hubs are Berlin-Brandenburg and Dortmund, for Ryanair Hahn and Weeze and for Eurowings Cologne/Bonn and Stuttgart. Those airlines also fly into and out of other airports but usually with a more limited choice of flights.
For budget flights from European holiday destinations, for example around the Mediterranean, some of Germany's other carriers are Condor (also from main tourist destinations throughout the world) and TUIfly. Holiday charter airlines offer (often seasonal) flights, largely from Mediterranean destinations. Almost all of them sell flight-only tickets. Antalya (Turkey) has several daily flights to relatively minor German airports during the holiday season.
- Main article: Rail travel in Germany
Regular train services connect Germany with all neighbouring countries. Almost all neighbouring countries (especially Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic and Austria) and even some non-neighbouring countries (e.g. Italy and Hungary) are quite well connected with "EuroCity" trains. They are a little bit slower and sometimes slightly less comfortable than the European high-speed trains but still reach speeds of up to 200 km/h. Rail is attractive to budget travellers (though budget airlines can sometimes be cheaper) and people interested in the scenery (the Rhine valley lines are particularly beautiful). Booked in advance, Deutsche Bahn sells very competitive tickets to many European destinations under their "Europa-Spezial" brand, with tickets starting at €39 (or less for short "hops" across the border) one way. You can usually book no earlier than 180 days in advance; you cannot change the train or date of travel and refunds are limited. If you miss the train that usually means the ticket becomes worthless.
Several European high-speed trains cross into and out of Germany:
- The ICE brings you at 300 km/h top speed from Frankfurt (3.25 hr), Cologne (2.5 hr) or Düsseldorf (2.25 hr) to Amsterdam. The train journey from Frankfurt to Paris (320 km/h) using the ICE will take about four hours; going from Hamburg to Paris can take eight and a half hours. There is also an ICE line from Frankfurt to Brussels via Cologne.
- The Thalys brings you from Cologne (Köln) to Paris in approximately four hours and to Brussels in about two hours.
- The TGV brings you from Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg to Frankfurt, and from Paris, and Strasbourg to Munich.
- Between Stuttgart and Milan you can travel with one stop in Zurich, the fastest trans alpine train connection. The Italian and German lines feeding into the Gotthard Base Tunnel (which opened in late 2016) are being upgraded. The German and Swiss railways plan to introduce new services along this route for the 2018 schedule.
Standard rail fares are quite high, but a number of special fares and discounts are available – see the "Get Around" section for more information. In particular, Bahncard discounts apply to an entire journey, as long as it starts or ends in Germany. If you have the time, local trains to the border on a domestic ticket might actually be cheaper, especially to/from the Czech Republic and Poland.
International ferry services exist, notably to Scandinavia. Some of the most popular connections are listed below:
- Lübeck and Sassnitz are connected to Kaliningrad, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Sassnitz is also connected to Rønne, Denmark and Trelleborg, Sweden.
- Kiel has connections to Gothenburg, Sweden, Klaipeda, Lithuania and Oslo, Norway.
- Rostock has connections to Helsinki (Finland), Trelleborg (Sweden) and Gedser (Denmark). Germany's busiest cruise port is at Rostock-Warnemünde.
- Travemünde has connections to Helsinki (Finland), Malmö (Sweden), Trelleborg (Sweden), Ventspils and Liepaja, Latvia
- Puttgarden is connected to Rødby, Denmark. This ferry also takes the ICE to Copenhagen.
River cruises along Rhine and Danube also cross international borders. The Main Donau Kanal is popular with river cruises as it allows easy access to both Rhine and Danube and makes Nuremberg reachable by boat.
The German intercity bus market has grown and changed significantly since it was fully liberalised in the 2010s. Most operators have folded and Flixbus dominates both the German domestic market and international routes. France-based "Blablabus" became the first serious challenger to Flixbus after they cornered the market. Newer non-German entrants to the market include Student Agency/Regiojet from the Czech Republic. New routes appear and disappear quickly, so beware of outdated information from other sources.
Germany is served by two foreign tram systems with connections across the border. The Basel tram has one line to Weil am Rhein, whereas the Strasbourg tram system has a line to Kehl. As both Switzerland and France are part of the Schengen Area, there are no border controls. However, when going to/from Switzerland, you pass a customs border as Switzerland is not in the EU and thus there may be a customs inspection.
On the whole transportation is efficient and fast, though last minute tickets can be a bit on the expensive side. All modes of transportation are up to a high modern standard, including a dense network of airports, high speed rail services connecting most major cities and regional trains reaching almost every settlement of any size, one of the densest and best maintained highway networks on earth (with stretches where the speed limit is shrug emoji), and intercity bus services introduced in 2013.
Given the size of Germany, there are few routes where flying makes sense. High-speed rail services offer better overall travel times on all but the longest routes, and flights are almost never cheaper than other options. Most airports have at least flights to Frankfurt airport, and many have flights to Hamburg, Munich airport, Cologne-Bonn airport or Berlin airport, mostly as feeder flights for their long distance services or catering to business travellers.
Domestic flights are also more prone to cancellation or weather delays. Strikes are at least as common on airlines as they are on the railways and when only some flights have to be cancelled, domestic flights are invariably the lowest priority. Don't worry though, you might be given a voucher for a train to complete your journey regardless.
Lufthansa or its subsidiaries are the only airlines on many domestic routes. Because of a fast connection by train from Berlin to Munich offering travel times competitive with aviation, and the Coronavirus in 2020, Easyjet has withdrawn and Lufthansa scaled back its domestic flights. DB meanwhile is increasing its frequencies on many busy routes — Hamburg Berlin has a train every half-hour — and can sometimes charge "premium" fares for business travellers with few other options.
- Lufthansa has greatly reduced its domestic network. Some routes were turned over to no-frills subsidiary Eurowings, others have been replaced by trains, bookable through Lufthansa if you are booking an international flight with them
- Eurowings Lufthansa's no-frills subsidiary based in Düsseldorf flies some domestic routes in Germany
The picture is a bit different for Germany's islands, but only Sylt is served by major airlines (Lufthansa, SWISS, and Eurowings as of Aug 2022) and from any airport much farther away from the coast than their harbour. Local carriers offer scheduled and charter flights to Sylt, Heligoland and some of the East Frisian islands. Operators include:
- Sylt Air: scheduled flights Hamburg–Sylt (summer only)
- OFD (short for Ostfriesischer Flugdienst; East Frisian flight service): scheduled flights to Heligoland from several places in Northern Germany as well as from Emden–Borkum.
- FLN Friesia: scheduled flights to Juist and Wangerooge.
- Main article: Rail travel in Germany
Germany's railway system is usually fast, on time and reliable and if you book tickets in advance (180 days before departure at the earliest) it can be surprisingly affordable. Regional trains are now run by a variety of private operators as well as Deutsche Bahn subsidiaries, but they can all be booked through bahn.com. Long distance trains on the other hand are almost exclusively run by Deutsche Bahn, with the other formidable competitor being Flixtrain, the train unit of Flixbus. Those few that aren't have to be booked through the operating company. To give you a hint of just how dense the German railway system is: the biggest town without any rail service has barely over 60,000 inhabitants and you've probably never heard of it.
All major cities are linked by DB's ICE (InterCity-Express) and regular InterCity trains. ICE is a system of high speed trains that are capable of speeds up to 330 km/h. They can be expensive, with a 1-hr trip ( Frankfurt to Cologne, around 180 km) costing around €67 one-way (normal price "Flexpreis" without any discount). However, unlike high-speed trains in most other countries (e.g. France), taking the ICE on a "Flexpreis" fare does not require a reservation or bind you to a particular train.
If you want to save money, try for discounted Super Sparpreis or Sparpreis tickets, starting at €17.90 or €21.90, respectively regardless of distance. As those tickets are sold mainly to attract people to use less popular routes and times, you should try looking for them on off-peak times (Tuesday at noon is the time when trains are emptiest, according to statistics). You cannot change the train or departure time with the Super Sparpreis tickets and you will incur a change fee (plus fare difference) for changes to a Sparpreis ticket. However, if you miss a train due to a delay on another train you can use the next train, if you have a confirmation for the delay. With a BahnCard 25 or a BahnCard 50 you will get a 25% discount on the Sparpreis (reduced fare) tickets.
Sparpreis and Flexpreis ICE tickets include a DB City-Ticket, which gives passengers access to most local public transport networks to allow them to get to the station where they will commence their main train journey and from the station where they terminate their main train journey to their final destination (e.g. hotel). This is particularly useful if your actual origin and final destination are not covered by DB's railway network.
Seat reservations are not mandatory but are recommended, especially when you travel on weekends or holidays. This means that with an Interrail or Eurail pass you can use domestic ICE trains without supplement (except for international ICE trains).
Next are the regular InterCity (IC) and EuroCity (EC) trains. The latter connect the larger European cities and are virtually identical to the regular ICs. These trains are also fairly comfortable, even if they lack the high-tech feeling of the ICE. The rolling stock used for IC services varies widely with both old coaches from the 1970s and 1980s and much newer ones – sometimes on the same train – as well as bilevel (Doppelstock or Dosto in German) multiple units that only entered service in 2015. Most older rolling stock, including the first two generations of ICE (dating to the 1990s) have since undergone extensive refurbishment. Eurocities on the other hand are often composed of cars from several different countries with the style and quality difference that implies.
On the major lines, an ICE or IC train will run each hour or so during the day, and even certain minor cities of tourist importance like Tübingen or Heringsdorf are connected on a daily or weekly basis. Before you shell out the money for the ICE ticket, you may want to check if it actually makes a significant time difference. ICE trains travel faster than other IC trains only on specially equipped high-speed routes. There are also long distance trains operated by other companies than Deutsche Bahn, usually running over secondary routes. Virtually all of them are marketed by Flixbus under its Flixtrain brand. Other than that international trains such as Thalys or TGV serve stations in Germany and sometimes even domestic routes to an extent. However, a number of operators have announced plans to offer some train service, especially in the sleeper train business, as DB has abandoned that service completely. Usually DB only sells tickets for other operators if a cooperation exists or if forced to by law (e.g. all regional trains). DB tickets are not usually sold by other operators either.
Regional and local trains in Germany come in several flavours:
- IRE (InterRegioExpress). The same as RE, but goes between two regions (Bundesland).
- RE (Regional-Express). Semi-express trains, skips some stations. On many routes, this is the highest available train category.
- RB (Regional-Bahn). Stops everywhere except that it may skip some S-Bahn stops.
- S-Bahn. Commuter network for a city or metropolitan area but can travel fairly long distances. S-Bahn trains do not offer a toilet, with the exception of those in Bremen, Dresden, Hanover, Leipzig, Nuremberg and some S-Bahn Rhein-Neckar trains.
Within a region (Bundesland), it is often possible to get a (statewide day ticket) for unlimited rides on all regional trains and buses, many of which can also be used until the outskirts of a neighboring state. It is available as a single or group ticket. Prices for Ländertickets vary from region to region, but start generally at about €23-27 for one person and usually between €3 and €5 for any additional member of your group up to a party of five. More information is provided at the Website of Deutsche Bahn as well as in the get around section of most Bundesländer.
While regional trains are more and more operated by companies other than Deutsche Bahn and carrying a livery other than DB red, in practice this makes little to no difference as all regional trains are subject to franchising with the state prescribing everything from timetables to rolling stock and the operators receiving a subsidy as well as the ticket price. You may see ticket machines or counters for several regional train operators at stations they serve but Deutsche Bahn is - with very limited exceptions - forced to sell you a ticket for them as well and Ländertickets will be accepted there as well. While many non-DB operators follow the scheme outlined above, some chose to name their services something other than RB or RE, however they will still often follow a distinction between (semi)"express" and "local".
In general local trains have no on board food or beverage service, but sometimes a salesperson passes through the seats to sell (usually overpriced) beverages and snacks. Some lines and operators - such as Metronom - also have vending machines aboard their trains.
Group train tickets
It is possible to get around cheaply with regional trains when you get a small group together. There are some caveats:
- The price of the ticket usually depends upon the number of travellers with a relatively high base price and a small supplement for every other member of the group up to five. If your group consists of more than five people, contact Deutsche Bahn about special offers for larger groups.
- Those tickets are only valid on regional trains (RE, RB and S-Bahn) and some local transport (subway light rail and bus) depending on the city. Taking an ICE or IC with such a ticket is not possible.
- While some Ländertickets are available for first class (provided you pay extra) they are only valid for second class unless specified otherwise.
If you know your itinerary, you can arrange a group on the Internet, buy a ticket and get started. Group tickets can be bought through the DB Navigator app. All tickets are valid from 09:00 on weekdays and from midnight on Saturday and Sunday. Their validity usually ends at 03:00 the following day.
- See also: Long distance bus travel in Germany
There are dozens of daily services between most major cities, which are often significantly cheaper than trains. Most buses offer amenities like Wi-Fi, A/C and power outlets and some can even transport bicycles. Flixbus is the biggest player. Rides of other intercity bus companies are covered in the website and app Busradar.
Apart from the intercity buses, there is a very dense network of regional and local bus lines. In rural areas, though, many lines run only once per day. Regional and local express bus line designators usually contain the letters CE (local), E (regional around Hamburg; in other areas, E is used for special runs), S (regional), SB (regional and local) or X (local within Berlin), city bus line designators may contain the letters BB ("Bürgerbus", not integrated within tariff unions), C or O. Always check the departure boards carefully: sometimes, especially at night or in rural areas, you have to order your bus by phone.
- Main article: Driving in Germany
Germany has a world-famous network of excellent roads and Autobahn (motorways) with no toll or fees for cars. Although public transport in Germany is excellent, those who choose to drive will find the road network fast and efficient as well. Like most of Europe, Germany drives on the right-hand side.
Check in advance on whether your non-German driving licence is valid in Germany. Otherwise, you may risk a heavy fine or up to one year in jail. For longer stays most foreign licences are not valid no matter what your residence status is. If you plan on driving on a longer stay (several months or years) try getting a European drivers licence that is usually valid throughout the European Union.
Always respect red traffic lights, with one exception: a green arrow board affixed to the red traffic light allows you to turn right on red. Unlike a green arrow lighting up as part of the traffic light itself, this still requires you to come to a full stop, assess the situation and yield to other traffic. In either case, you may still have to give way to pedestrians crossing the street.
Speed limits are taken seriously, with a large number of speed cameras. Speed limits are:
- Walking speed in traffic calming zones (marked by a blue/white sign showing playing kids), pedestrians have priority
- 30 km/h (19 mph) in most residential areas within cities (marked with a sign "30 Zone", "20 Zone" also exist)
- 50 km/h (31 mph) inside towns and cities (marked on entry by yellow town name sign), including "Kraftfahrstraßen" (marked by a sign showing a white car on a blue background)
- 100 km/h (62 mph) outside towns and cities
- There is no constant general speed limit on the "Autobahn" or on "Kraftfahrstraßen" for cars and motorcycles that are not towing a trailer. It's not entirely unrestricted as there are sections that have periodic or permanent speed limits and the recommended maximum speed on the Autobahn is 130 km/h (81 mph), and you should try and keep to that if you are new to high speed driving.
Autobahns, especially those with single digit numbers (connecting larger regions over longer distances) or those in or close to urban areas (e.g. Rhein/Ruhr) get very crowded starting Friday afternoon or the summer holidays. Popular thoroughfares leading south to Italy or North to the Baltic and North Sea Coast experience a certain crowding with the beginning of every state's school holidays. When planning your trip look for the beginning of school holidays and try to avoid driving on that day or the weekend following it. In winter holidays (Christmas and Carnival) the streets leading to the skiing resorts in the Alps can also get somewhat crowded which is made much worse by even moderate snowfall - particularly if it is the first snow of the season.
Parking is usually easy to find but free parking is getting rarer and rarer. While some neighbouring countries would laugh even at the highest of parking rates in Germany, the supply of cheap parking is notably lower than in the U.S. One type of free parking that is still widely available are park&ride lots (known under P&R in Germany) which are adjacent to usually rail based public transit. Some of those lots fill up in the morning and stay occupied until the evening commute but they can be almost empty on weekends. Malls and supermarkets usually have free parking for customers for the duration of their stay, but increasingly enforce parking violations such as non-customers storing their motorcar on their land or cars being left on the lot for hours on end.
Ride-sharing (Carpooling) is popular in Germany and the fare for a ride is often cheaper than rail. Blablacar is a popular website for arranging shared rides. International journeys can also be arranged using the site.
Taxis are expensive and often only accept cash. The conditions are usually not written on the car, so ask the driver. The rates are defined by local authorities.
By recreational vehicle and campervans
German campgrounds (like most others in Western Europe) usually offer a full range of amenities. You always have your own electricity hookup, and water and sewer hookups for each are common. Every campground has restrooms and showers as well as kitchens, washing-machines and a spin dryer.
The yellow pages of camping, or, if you like, the German camping bible, is the ADAC Campingführer, a campground guide by Germany's largest automobile club ADAC. It lists almost all campgrounds along with prices, type of location, size, opening hours, amenities, you-name-it. Since the guide uses lots of symbols which are explained in a number of languages, it is suitable for travellers from abroad, too.
A general speed limit applies to RVs and anything towing something - even on stretches of Autobahn without a posted limit. Usually there will be a sticker on the back or your papers or rental contract will spell it out.
By electric vehicle (EV)
The most charging stations in Germany are listed in the webpages of www.goingelectric.de (a network of EV-Drivers) under the point ''Stromtankstellen''. An official website is the ''Ladesäulenkarte'' of the german authority Bundesnetzagentur.
It is possible to hitchhike in Germany and most Germans speak basic English, so you will be understood if you speak slowly. Drivers rarely expect you to give them any money for the ride. The first letters of the German number plate (before the hyphen) indicate the city in which the car is registered. If you know the code for your destination, it will increase your chances of stopping the right vehicle.
It is illegal to stop on the Autobahn, but hitchhiking from service areas or petrol stations is a good way of getting long rides (100–200 km). The hard part is getting onto the Autobahn, so it pays off to sleep near the gas stations if you are going far. At the gas stations, you can get a free booklet called Tanken und Rasten with a map of the Autobahn and its gas stations. When getting a lift, agree with the driver where to get off, and make sure there is a gas station. Try to avoid the Autohofs.
It is also quite common to arrange a ride in a private vehicle in advance through on offline agency or the Internet. Offline agencies like Citynetz or ADM have offices in major cities, mostly near the city centre or the main railway station. These offline agencies charge a commission to the cost for fuel you need to pay for the driver.
Online services to arrange rides in private vehicles are very popular, as neither party pays a commission to traditional agencies. You need to contribute only towards fuel costs (example: Frankfurt to Berlin €25). You can contact the driver directly by e-mail, phone or sms. As the drivers need to be registered, it is safer than hitchhiking.
- See also: Cycling in Europe
Germany is, in general, bicycle friendly, with many bike lanes in cities. There is also a substantial network of well signed, long distance bike routes. The German Cycle Network (Radnetz Deutschland) consists of twelve official routes (D1-12). You can download GPX-tracks for each of the sections on the webpage for free.
Cyclists are expected to follow the same road rules as motor vehicles. While in theory cyclists are subject to many of the same road rules as people in cars or on motorcycles, enforcement tends to be more lenient and for instance the DUI limit is much higher (at 1.3 per mill) than the 0.5 per mille for motorists. Using a mobile phone while cycling is also a fine but not as high as with a motorised vehicle. If there is a cycleway parallel to the road posted with white-on-blue "cycle" signs (see right), cyclist must use it. These cycleways are generally one-way, unless explicitly indicated otherwise, and you may be fined for going in the wrong direction. In some towns bike lanes are marked by dark red paving stones in the main walking area. Be careful though, as cyclists and pedestrians tend to drift across these boundaries. Cycling on the sidewalk is not allowed, unless it is marked as a cycleway (there are exceptions for children younger than 10).
Most rail stations, shopping areas, hotels and business premises have bike stands (some covered) with a place to attach your own bike locking chain.
On regional trains there is usually one carriage that allows you to bring your bike on board. InterCity trains also allow taking a bike, while only a few new ICEs accommodate bicycles. Usually bringing a bike requires a separate ticket and/or reservation. For more details see Rail travel in Germany#Bicycles.
If you want to take your bike on a long distance bus you have to book several days ahead and may not be successful, as the storage room for bikes is very limited (only two or three per bus).
Several German cities now offer bike-share programmes, most run by either nextbike or Deutsche Bahn subsidiary call a bike. They are a great way to go short distances within a city but not the best option for longer tours, because the maximum rental time is usually 24 hours. Classic bike rentals still exist in many cities, as well as in smaller villages close to the coast that see many tourists. They often require a deposit or ID card for rental.
In a number of larger cities such as Berlin, Munich and Cologne; with the right app loaded you can pick up an extricable scooter that are scattered around the streets. Run by a number of companies including Circ, Tier, Bird and Lime. You must be over 14 to ride and are under the same regulations as a bicycle; that is cannot use on pavements/side-walk (only use of cycle-paths or roads) and being over the alcohol limit will affect your driving licence status. They are limited to 20 km/h, but even so are a common cause of accidents since their introduction.
Cultural and historical attractions
When thinking of Germany, beer, lederhosen and Alpine hats quickly come to mind, but these stereotypes mostly relate to Bavarian culture and do not represent Germany as a whole. Germany is a vast and diverse country with 16 culturally unique states that only form a political union since 1871. Even within states there is often considerable cultural diversity. The government of Bavaria for instance likes to talk of the three "tribes" living in the state; "old Bavarians", Franconians and Swabians. Especially the former two like being lumped together about as much as English and Scots.
If you're still looking for the cliches, the Romantic Road is a famous scenic route along romantic castles and picturesque villages. With its fairy tale appearance, the Neuschwanstein Castle could be considered the most iconic of German castles. The walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has a beautiful mediaeval centre that seems untouched by the passage of time. Some similar typical German towns can be found elsewhere in the country, like Augsburg, Bamberg, Celle, Heidelberg, Lübeck, and Quedlinburg. Your picture postcard visit to Germany will be complete with a visit to the beer halls of Munich and a peek of the Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In Ulm you can visit the highest church spire in the world - the Ulmer Münster. You can also go to the lovely yet seldom visited medieval city of Schwäbisch Hall. For those who are fans of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, which include many famous ones such as Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and The Pied Piper, the German tourism board has a recommended Fairy Tale Route which takes you to places where the Brothers Grimm lived, as well as towns that were featured in the Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Germany is a modern industrial nation, and the Wirtschaftswunder is best represented by the industrial heritage of the Ruhr. Hamburg is another economic powerhouse with the second busiest port of the continent. Frankfurt is the financial centre of Germany, and of Europe as a whole, as it is the base of the European Central Bank. Its skyline comes close to those found at the other side of the Atlantic. The fashion city of Düsseldorf, media industry of Cologne, and car companies in Stuttgart each represent a flourishing sector of the German economic miracle.
A completely different experience can be found in Berlin, a city unlikely to be found anywhere else on the planet. While architecturally an odd mismatch of sterilised apartment blocks, post-modernist glass and steel structures, and some historic left-overs, it has a laid-back atmosphere and a culture of internationalism. Its turbulent history gave rise to an enormous wealth of historical attractions, among them the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor, Bundestag, Checkpoint Charlie, Fernsehturm, Holocaust Memorial and Rotes Rathaus. But do not miss out the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood if you want to feel like a true Berliner. Kreuzberg (once famous for punks, now largely gentrified) and the delightfully named Wedding aren't far behind either.
The dark memories of the Nazi era have also made traces in Germany; see World War II in Europe and Holocaust remembrance. While the subject is a touchy one and "jokes" about the subject are a bad idea unless you know your hosts well, Germany has gone to great lengths to conserve monuments of the era as a warning and the detailed educational exhibits at places like former concentration camps, the former Nazi party rallying grounds in Nuremberg or the former seats of Nazi ministries and offices in Berlin are well worth a visit, if a chilling and depressing one.
Due to its size and location in Central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes. In the north, Germany has an extensive coastline along the North Sea and the Baltic Seas in a vast area known as the North German Plain. The landscape is very flat and the climate is rough with strong winds and mild, chilly temperatures. Due to the south-easterly winds that press water into the German Bight, tidal variations are exceptionally high, creating the Wadden Sea. Vast areas of the seabed are uncovered twice a day, allowing one to walk from one of the numerous islands to another. (This should only be done with a guide.) The East Frisian Islands just off the coast are very picturesque, although mostly visited by the Germans themselves. Favourite white sand resorts along the Baltic Sea include Rügen and Usedom.
The central half of Germany is a patchwork of the Central Uplands, hilly rural areas where fields and forests intermix with larger cities. Many of these hill ranges are tourist destinations, like the Bavarian Forest, the Black Forest, the Harz, the Ore Mountains, North Hesse and Saxon Switzerland. The Rhine Valley has a very mild, amenable climate and fertile grounds, making it the country's most important area for wine and fruit growing.
In the extreme south, bordering Austria, Germany contains a portion of the Alps, Central Europe's highest elevation, rising as high as 4,000 m (12,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest summit in Germany being the Zugspitze at 2962 m (9717 ft). While only a small part of the Alps lie in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and the unique Bavarian culture. Along the country's southwestern border with Switzerland and Austria lies Lake Constance, Germany's largest fresh-water lake.
- Bertha Benz Memorial Route – follows the world's first long-distance journey by car
- Romantic Road – the most famous scenic route in Germany that starts in Würzburg and ends in Füssen
- Rheinsteig and Rheinburgenweg – Walk the high level path through some of Germany's most beautiful landscapes with spectacular views of castles above the River Rhine between Wiesbaden and Bonn or Bingen and Bonn-Mehlem.
Germany offers a wide variety of activities of both a cultural and sporting nature. Many Germans are members of a sports club.
Germany is crazy about football (soccer) and the German Football Association (DFB) is the biggest football association in the world with 6.35 million members (8% of the German population) in more than 25,000 clubs. Many German football clubs are among the most valuable football brands in Europe, like Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Munich. Every village has a club and the games often are the main social event on weekends. Keep in mind that due to the nature of (a small minority of) soccer fans, there is often a heightened police-presence during games and violence is rare but not unheard of. Other popular team sports include (Olympic) handball (especially popular in the north), ice-hockey ("Eishockey"), volleyball and basketball. Motor sports are a popular visitor attraction, with many famous Formula one courses like Hockenheim and Nürburgring ("Green Hell").
Germany - particularly the North - is also one of the best countries when it comes to Handball. Teams like Flensburg, Kiel and others draw sellout crowds to their halls week in week out and produce some of the best Handball in the world.
American football is also played in Germany, enjoying a tradition that goes back to the 1970s. The German national team has won the last two European championships (2010 and 2014). While the crowds are nowhere near those of more popular sports (2000 fans are a number many teams only get for important games) the final draws somewhere between 15 000 and 20 000 spectators and the atmosphere is relaxed with even supporters of the visiting team welcomed and the worst that can happen to you being good natured jabs at your team or its history. On Super Bowl Sunday there are a bunch of "public viewing" (that's the actual German term) events, even though it is in the middle of the night and it is a good opportunity to meet other football enthusiasts as well as the local North American expat population.
During the winter, many people go skiing in the Alps or in mountain ranges like the Harz, Eifel, Bavarian Forest or Black Forest.
One of the more popular individual sports is tennis; although it has declined somewhat since the days of Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, there are still tennis courts in many places and most of them can be rented by the hour.
Almost every medium-sized German city has a spa (often called Therme) with swimming pools, water slides, hot tubs, saunas, steam baths, and sun roofs.
Several theatres in bigger cities play outstanding classical and contemporary plays. Germany prides itself on the wide variety of cultural events and every city works out a cultural agenda. Most theatres and opera houses receive generous subsidies to keep tickets affordable and a cheap seat can be had for less than €10 in many venues if you qualify for certain discounts.
- See also: European classical music
Germany is known for its several world class opera houses (especially Berlin, Bayreuth, and Munich), and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the top three orchestras in the world. Germany is considered to have one of the strongest classical music traditions in Europe, with many famous composers such as Bach, Handel (called Händel before he settled in London in 1712), Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Wagner originating from Germany.
While France and Italy may have a longer history with opera, Germany too has developed its own unique operatic tradition. German, along with Italian and French, is considered to be a main operatic language, with many famous German-language operas having been composed by famous composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Strauss.
Germany has more than 130 professional orchestras – more than any other country in the world. This is a legacy of feudal times, when the country's territory was fragmented and each of the local rulers employed a separate court orchestra. Nowadays most orchestras are run by state or local governments or public service broadcasters. The biggest one is the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig with 185 salaried musicians (however they rarely play all at the same time, parts of the orchestra accompany the opera, ballet, the Thomaner boys' choir and play its own symphonic concerts).
Musicals are popular in Germany. Although there are some touring productions from time to time, most shows stay in a specific city for a few years. The main 'musical cities' are Hamburg, Berlin, Oberhausen, Stuttgart, Bochum and Cologne. German performances include The Lion King, Wicked, Starlight Express and Rocky.
In general, German theatres are plentiful and—compared to most other western countries—dirt cheap, as the government considers them to be "necessary" and subsidises many of them in order to make visits affordable to everyone. Even some unsubsidised theatres are still pretty affordable compared to, e.g., musicals. There are often special discounts for students or elderly people. Most plays are performed in German, but there are occasional events with plays in other languages as well. The best known German language authors can be found both in the names of many streets and in many theatres on a daily basis. Goethe, Schiller and Lessing are all household names but more contemporary authors like Brecht are also frequently interpreted and played. There is really no easy line to be drawn between German theatre and German language theatre outside Germany, so works by Austrian, Swiss, or other German-language writers and directors are also often shown on German stages and vice versa.
Rather interestingly, William Shakespeare is perhaps nowhere more adored than in Germany — the Anglosphere included. For example the - still extant - Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft dates to 1864 and thus predates any English or American Shakespeare society. This can be attributed in large part to Goethe, who fell in love with the Bard's works. If your German is up to it, seeing a performance can be very interesting. According to some Germans, Shakespeare is actually improved in translation, as the language used is arguably somewhat more contemporary. Judge for yourself.
There are some well known and large annual festivals in Germany like the Wacken Open Air (heavy metal music festival), Wave-Gotik-Treffen (festival for "dark" music and arts in Leipzig) and Fusion Festival (electronic music festival in the Mecklenburg Lake District).
Swimming and bathing
Germans love swimming, bathing and going to the sauna and even relatively small towns will often boast a public pool. These come in different flavors; Freibad is an open air public pool, usually but not always with the water heated on the colder days. Open air pools usually charge admission per day irrespective how long you stay but should you leave and come back later, you'll be charged admission again. Then there are Thermen, literally "thermal baths" even though most of them are unrelated to any thermal waters bubbling up from the ground. They're indoors (with perhaps an outdoor pool or two directly linked by water to the indoor pools and kept comfortably warm even in winter) and focused more on a relaxed, often elderly clientele offering health, wellness and relaxation oriented extras. A Spaßbad will usually be privately run (the others are mostly run by local government) and tend towards the pricy end. They'll invariably have slides and other "action" oriented attractions and aim towards a younger clientele. In indoor pools you pay for admission by time, usually either two hours, four hours or an entire day. You'll then be issued a chip and an armband to contain the chip which tracks when you entered and may be used to pay for concessions. If you stay longer than your allotted time, you'll have to pay before leaving and the same is true for your concessions purchases. Most German indoor pools have attached saunas which are usually charged in addition to regular admission. In German saunas the rule is that everyone is naked and they are gender mixed with the exception of the occasional "women only" day or hour.
Bodies of water
Both of Germany's seacoasts, the Baltic Sea Coast of Germany and Germany's North Sea Coast are popular with German holidaymakers and despite the North Sea being towards the colder end (water temperatures rarely exceed 25°C even in summer and usually hover around the low 20s) they're popularly used for bathing. Most natural lakes are similarly used for bathing. Rivers are more rarely used for swimming as many of them were historically quite polluted and the local river swimming traditions died down in those times. Furthermore there is considerable danger when ships pass by as they may cause turbulence that'll drag people underwater. In general there'll be liveguards, concession stands and all sorts of infrastructure at the more popular swimming places. In some places there is a nigh ritualistic "anbaden" or "first swim of the season" in the dead of winter (or in other cases in the spring when water temperatures are still low, but the claim that this represents "the beginning of the season" is at least somewhat credible) with great fun for both the crazy few who actually swim and the much larger number of spectators.
More than in natural bodies of water, however, Germans love swimming in artificial lakes. Germany must hold some sort of record in the sheer amount of artificial bodies of water commonly used for recreation. The German generic term for a small bathing pond or lake "Baggersee" even implies it being excavated. A lot of former sand or gravel pits have filled up with water after resource extraction was done and are now used recreationally. Then there are numerous Stauseen (reservoirs created by a dam) and finally artificial lakes like the Franconian Lake District created for water management or the results of gigantic open pit lignite mines like the Lusatian Lake District or the Central German Lake District. As German law dictates that every new body of water ipso facto creates a new fishing territory, the majority of the artificial lakes are also legal (with a permit and licence) and popular to fish in.
Exchange rates for euros
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Germany uses the euro, like several other European countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents. The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
All banknotes and coins of this common currency are legal tender within all the countries, except that low-denomination coins (one and two cent) are phased out in some of them. The banknotes look the same across countries, while coins have a standard common design on the reverse, expressing the value, and a national country-specific design on the obverse. The obverse is also used for different designs of commemorative coins. The design of the obverse does not affect the coin's acceptability .
Notes larger than €100 while legal tender aren't seen in circulation all that often and will be refused at some stores or for small purchases. Be prepared for larger bills to face more scrutiny with regards to potential counterfeits. Small shops and even a few automated machines for public transport do not accept €50 or larger banknotes.
Currency exchange has diminished greatly since the introduction of the euro, though you may still find it at or near major train stations and airports. Foreign currency, even those of neighbouring countries, will rarely be accepted and often at pretty bad exchange rates. However, you might have some luck with Swiss francs in the immediate border area, as Germany is quite a popular shopping destination for Swiss tourists. Similarly some fast food restaurants, especially those near US Army facilities accept US dollars (again, at pretty bad exchange rates) but do not count on it. Banks usually offer currency exchange, but they sometimes charge considerable fees for non-customers, and when changing from euros to foreign cash advance notice may be required. Travellers checks are increasingly rare, but banks still exchange them, though it would likely be less hassle to just take your debit or credit card and withdraw money from regular ATMs.
Cash (Bargeld) is the most preferred way of paying for everyday transactions. Independent vendors, small cafes and stalls on the likes of Christmas Markets by and large do not accept credit cards and there is sometimes a minimum purchase amount. While German domestic debit cards – called EC-Karte or girocard – (and, to a lesser extent, PIN-based Maestro cards and VPay) enjoy almost universal acceptance, credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) or foreign debit cards (Visa Debit/Electron, etc.) are not as widely accepted as in other European countries or the United States. However, they will be accepted in nearly all major retail stores and most fast food chain outlets. Major retailers increasingly accept credit cards (usually Visa and MasterCard only) and the Near Field Communication technology is now widely available (look for the logo ) even though many people working in retail may not be familiar with the technology yet.
Most ATMs will accept credit cards and if the ATM charges a fee (of which there are many in Germany in comparison to other EU countries), EU legislation mandates the machine to tell you the fee before the withdrawal (either through a sticker or a notice on the screen). However, your card issuer may levy their own charges regardless of or in addition to the presence of charges levied by the ATM operator; check with your issuer before using.
In common with most other Western European languages, the meanings of points and commas are exactly inverse to the English custom; in German a comma is used to indicate a decimal. For example, "2,99€" is two euros and 99 eurocents. The "€" symbol is not always used and is virtually always placed after the price and some Germans consider the "currency sign first" notation weird. A dot is used to "group" numbers (one dot for three digits), so "1.000.000" would be one million. So "123.456.789,01" in German is the same number as "123,456,789.01" in English-speaking countries.
All goods and services include VAT (Mehrwertsteuer) of 19%. It is always included by law in an item's price tag (the only exception is for goods that are commercially exported but then duties might apply). Fuel, sparkling wine, spirits and tobacco are subject to higher taxes. There is a reduced VAT of 7% for hotels (but not for edibles consumed within), edibles (certain items considered luxury goods, e.g. lobster, are exempt from this reduction), print products, all short-distance public transportation and long distance trains, and admission price for opera or theatre. The precise details of whether goods or services get the full or reduced VAT rate are incredibly complicated and arcane but to give just one example, the question "eat here or takeout" you'll hear at a fast food restaurant has tax implications with takeout being taxed at 7%.
In Germany tips (Trinkgeld, literally "drink(ing) money") are commonplace in restaurants, bars (not in fast-food restaurants), taxis and hair salons. Whilst not mandatory, it is always appreciated as a thanks for excellent service. Tips rarely exceed 10% of the bill (including tax) and tips are also rather common when the bill is an uneven amount to avoid having to deal with small change (e.g. a bill of €13.80 will commonly be rounded up to €15 to make making change easier). The server will never propose this and even when dealing with one of the annoying €x.99 prices, they will diligently search for the copper coins to make change unless you say otherwise.
Unlike in some other countries, service staff are always paid by the hour and the minimum wage of €12.00 an hour (as of 2023) applies to service staff as well as any other profession. However, service staff is more likely to get only the minimum wage or barely above even in establishments where other jobs get higher wages. A tip is therefore mainly a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciate the service (e.g. slow, snippy or indifferent service) you may not tip at all and it will be accepted by the staff. Americans in particular are known among service staff for being generous tippers pretty much regardless of service, so they may be a lesser priority on busy days in some places.
Tipping in Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if, e.g., a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "€13.50", just state "15" and s/he will include a tip of €1.50. Alternatively, if you wish to ask them to keep the change, you may say "Stimmt so!" or simply "Danke!".
Tipping in other situations (unless otherwise indicated):
- Taxi driver: 5–10% (at least €1)
- Housekeeping: €1–2 per day
- Carrying luggage: €1 per piece
- Delivery services: 5–10% (at least €1)
Retail prices - especially for groceries - are much lower than one would expect given the GDP per capita and to some extent even compared to local wage levels. This in no small part is due to intense competition on price led by "Discounter" (that's the usual German term for a low price supermarket) since the 1960s in the food sector and in other sectors since at least the 2000s. Germans are said to be very cost-conscious and advertisements tend to put an emphasis on price. That said, there's no upper limit for the price of high-quality or high-value goods in specialty stores.
Got a euro?
Virtually all supermarkets that have shopping carts require you to insert a coin into them (usually €1 or €0.50). Most Germans have one or several small plastic chips that work just the same for the shopping carts. If and when you properly return the shopping cart, you will get back whatever you inserted into it. As Germany has been a rather slow adopter of "cashless" transactions, virtually everybody has change at hand when going shopping and if all else fails, there are those plastic chips, which seem to only ever exist as free giveaways for marketing purposes. If you intend to stay in Germany for a longer period of time, those come highly recommended.
Chains like "Aldi", "Lidl", "Penny" and "Netto" are discount supermarkets (Discounter). Their range of products is limited to the necessities of daily life (like vegetables, pasta, milk, eggs, convenience foods, and toiletries), sold in rather simple packaging for tightly calculated prices. While quality is generally surprisingly high, do not expect delicatessen or local specialities when you go to shop there. Don't blame discounter personnel for being somewhat brusque; although they are paid slightly better than usual, they have to cope with a rather grim working atmosphere and a significantly higher workload than colleagues in "standard" supermarkets. Lidl and Aldi have tried to brand themselves as more "upscale" and laying focus on quality since about the mid-2010s but prices have stayed the same while new "gimmicks" such as coffee machines (€1 per drink) or freshly baked (from frozen dough) bread, rolls and other baked goods were introduced as part of that strategy.
Examples of standard supermarket chains are Rewe, Edeka, Real, Kaufland, Globus or Famila. Their prices are slightly higher than in discount supermarkets, but they have a much wider range of products (including cheap to high-end quality). Usually there are big cheese, meat and fish counters where fresh products are sold by weight. The personnel in these shops is trained to be especially helpful and friendly.
Plenty of chain supermarkets only exist in certain parts of the country or show a clear geographic focus. Norma is only found in the south, Sky only in the north and Netto "with dog" (there are two separate chains both named "Netto", one of them having a dog as their symbol) only in the north and east.
Besides those major chains, Turkish supermarkets (which can be found in virtually all west German cities) can be a worthwhile alternative since they combine the characteristics of discounters (low price levels but limited assortment) with those of "standard" supermarkets ((Turkish) specialities and usually friendly staff). Fruits and vegetables at Turkish supermarkets tend to be particularly good value for money. Other diaspora groups also own some supermarkets, but they tend to be rarer outside big cities. In Berlin you might find an ethnic enclave of many groups, but they can be harder to find even in Munich or Hamburg and non-existent in smaller cities. The East has a surprisingly large Vietnamese diaspora and "Asia Shops" of varying kinds can be found in many parts of the country. Specialised Asian food items tend to be cheaper, of better quality and more readily available here than at Rewe and co. However, the shop might not look like much from the outside and feel rather cramped on the inside.
If you are looking for organic products, your best bet is to visit a "Bioladen" or "Biosupermarkt". (Bio- generally means organic.) There are also many farmers selling their products directly ("Hofladen"), most of them organised in the "Bioland" cooperative. They offer reasonable food at reasonable prices. Fresh produce - both organic and "regular" - can also be bought at roadside stalls or (for seasonal stuff like asparagus or strawberries) at temporary stalls on store parking lots. Buying directly from producers cuts out a lot of middlemen and you'll likely get fresh, high quality goods, but finding them can be a challenge as even internet based solutions (e.g. a website listing all agricultural producers who sell directly to producers or an order online service) tend to be rather local.
Toiletries, makeup, skincare and other amenities are best bought in Drogerie (drugstore) such as dm, Rossmann, and Müller, as the supermarkets do not usually provide the complete lineup. They also sell simple medicines and supplements that do not require a prescription. Common painkillers sold in drugstores elsewhere around the world such as aspirin or ibuprofen however are only sold in pharmacies and require a doctor's prescription.
Be prepared to bag your own groceries and goods as well as provide your own shopping bags for doing so. While most stores provide plastic or paper as well as canvas shopping bags at the checkout, you are charged up to 50 cents per bag for them. Buggies/shopping carts usually have to be unlocked with a euro coin which you get back. At most super markets you can spot a canister with lots of cardboard boxes in it, usually after the cash point. You are allowed to take cardboard boxes from there! It's a service the markets offer and also an easy waste disposal for them. Just tell them you are getting yourself a box when the cashier starts to scan your goods, come back and start packing. Packing the items however is like a national sport, in which the cashier simply moves them on the scanner and you need to pack them yourself and prepare your payment as fast as possible, so as not to make the person behind you impatient.
Bottle and container deposits (Pfand)
Germany has an elaborate beverage container deposit ("Pfand") system. Reusable bottles, glass and plastic, usually cost between 8 and 25 cents Pfand per bottle depending on size and material - the actual value depends on the material but isn't always spelled out on the bottle (it will be spelled out on the receipt, though). Additional Pfand is due for special carrying baskets matching the bottle measures. The Pfand can be cashed in at any store which sells bottles, often by means of a high-tech bottle reader that spins the bottle, reads the Pfand, and issues a ticket redeemable with the cashier. Plastic bottles and cans usually cost 25 cents Pfand, if not they are marked as pfandfrei. Exempt from Pfand are liquors and plastic boxes usually containing juice or milk. There are also a few other instances where Pfand is due, for example for standardised gas containers or some yogurt glasses. Pfand on glasses, bottles and dishware is also common at discotheques, self-service bars or public events, but usually not at a students' cafeteria.
Outlet centres as such are a rather new phenomenon, but the similar concept of "Fabrikverkauf" (literally factory sale) where products (including slightly damaged or mislabeled ones) are sold directly at the factory that makes them, often at greatly reduced prices. American style outlets not associated with a factory have become more common and Herzogenaurach for instance has outlets of Adidas and Puma (whose headquarters - but no production - are there) and of other clothing and sports companies.
You can find local food products (not necessarily organic) in most places at the farmer's market ("Wochenmarkt" or simply "Markt"), usually once or twice a week. While your chances of finding English-speaking sellers there may be somewhat reduced, it's nevertheless quite fun to shop there and mostly you will get fresh and good quality food for reasonable prices. Most winemakers sell their products either directly or in "Winzergenossenschaften" (winemaker cooperatives). These wines are almost always superior to the ones produced by German wine brands. Quality signs are "VdP" ("Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter", symbolised by an eagle) and "Ecovin" (German organic winemaker cooperative). Wines made of the most typical German wine varieties are usually marked with "Classic".
Some agricultural producers have also started to sell their produce directly to consumers, either via a small stand at the roadside (often along rural Bundesstraßen but sometimes also inside urban areas) or directly from their farm. Dairy farmers sometimes run "Milchtankstellen" (a compound noun from the German words for milk and gas station) where you can get milk from a vending machine similar to a soda fountain. All of those tend to be cash only but prices and value for money tend to be rather good.
German honey makes a good souvenir, but only "Echter Deutscher Honig" is a guarantee of reasonable quality. Along the German coasts, smoked eel is quite a common delicacy and a typical souvenir. You can discover an astonishing number of German cheese varieties in cheese stores or in Bioläden.
Some of those products may not be taken into some other countries due to concerns about possible agricultural contamination.
Some German brands of high-end goods such as kitchen utensils, stationery, and hiking gear are considerably cheaper than abroad.
Cheap clothing of sufficient quality might be bought at C&A, but don't expect designer clothes. During the end-of-season sales you should also compare prices of conventional stores since they may be even cheaper than the discounters. H&M sells cheap, stylish clothing, but with notoriously awful quality.
Germany is also a good place to shop for consumer electronics such as mobile phones, tablets and digital cameras. Every larger city has at least one "Saturn" or "MediaMarkt" store with a wide selection of these devices, as well as music, movies and video games on CD/DVD. MediaMarkt and Saturn belong to the same company, but there are also independent stores and the Expert/TeVi chain. Prices are generally lower than elsewhere in Europe. English-language movies and TV shows are universally dubbed into German, and computer software and keyboards are often German-only. For photography enthusiasts, Zeiss and Leica are among the world's leading lens manufacturers, but ensure that whatever lens you buy is compatible with your camera.
Germany is justifiedly famous for world-class board games. Board games are taken very seriously as a field even of academic study: Germany boasts "board game archives", several scientific publications on the phenomenon, and the prestigious "Spiel des Jahres" ("[board] game of the year") award first awarded in 1979. Many book stores, several Drogeriemärkte of the Müller chain, and some general purpose stores will boast a board game section. In most bigger towns, there will be one or several dedicated board game stores. While games in languages other than German are hard to get, dedicated board game stores will often also have the raw materials for tinkerers to build their own board games. There are often conventions of board game enthusiasts to buy, play or exchange games.
Opening hours vary from state to state. Some states like Berlin, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein have no more strict opening hours from Monday to Saturday (however, you will rarely find 24-hour shops other than at petrol stations), while most stores in Bavaria and Saarland are by law required to close between 20:00 and 06:00. With some exceptions, shops are closed nationwide on Sundays and national holidays (including some obscure ones), including pharmacies; single pharmacies remain open for emergencies (every pharmacy will have a sign telling you which pharmacy is open for emergencies or the list can be found here). An exception would be on special occasions called Verkaufsoffener Sonntag, in which shops at selected communes are open from 13:00 to 18:00 on selected Sundays, usually coinciding with public holidays or local events. Train stations however are allowed to and frequently have their stores open on Sundays, though usually for limited hours. In some larger cities such as Leipzig and Frankfurt, this can include an entire shopping mall that happens to be attached to the train station. Some shops in tourist areas and towns designated as a Kurort (health resort) are also allowed to have their stores open all week during tourist season.
As a rule of thumb:
- Smaller supermarkets: 08:00-20:00 give or take an hour
- Big supermarkets 07:00-22:00 or midnight
- Shopping centres and large department stores: 10:00-20:00
- Department stores in small cities: 10:00-19:00
- Small and medium shops: 09:00 or 10:00-18:30 (in big cities sometimes to 20:00). Small shops are often closed 13:00–15:00.
- Spätis (late night shops): 20:00-23:59 or even longer, some open 24 hours, especially in big cities
- Petrol stations & their attached minimart: in cities and along the "Autobahn" usually 24 hours daily - however during night hours you might have to pay and order through a small window and night cashiers might not always speak English well
- Restaurants: 11:30–23:00 or midnight, sometimes longer, many closed during the afternoon
If necessary, in many big cities you will find a few (sometimes more expensive) supermarkets with longer opening hours (often near the main station). Bakeries usually offer service on Sunday mornings (business hours vary) as well. Also, most petrol stations have a small shopping area.
In some parts of Germany (like Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area) there are cornershops called "Späti" oder "Spätkauf" ("latey"), "Kiosk", "Trinkhalle" (drinking hall) or "Büdchen" (little hut) that offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic food supplies. These shops are, depending on the area, open till late night or even 24/7.
- See also: German cuisine
German food has traditionally been simple and hearty, and a typical dish will consist of meat with some form of potatoes and gravy, accompanied by vegetables or salad. That said, with an increasingly cosmopolitan Germany, as well as imports and technological advancements that have made it possible to procure new ingredients that were historically unavailable locally, a new style known as modern German cuisine has developed, particularly in fine dining restaurants. This new style has absorbed influences from other European countries such as Italy and France, making it lighter than traditional German food. Modern German cuisine has also absorbed considerable Turkish influences, due to the large number of Turkish immigrants in Germany. Dishes show a great local diversity, interesting to discover. Most German Gaststätte and restaurants tend to be children and dog friendly, although both are expected to behave and not be too boisterous.
Places to eat
Putting places to eat into 7 categories gives you a hint about the budget and taste. Starting from the lower end, these are:
The word Schnellimbiss (meaning 'quick snack'), Imbiss, or Grill (often with a local prefix) on a sign, indicates stalls and small shops that primarily sell fries (Pommes Frites) and sausages (Wurst), including Bratwurst. A very German variant is Currywurst: sausage chopped up and covered in spiced ketchup, dusted with curry powder. Beer and often even spirits are available in most Schnellimbisse.
Döner Kebab is a dish of veal, chicken or sometimes lamb stuffed into bread, similar to Greek gyros and Arab shawarma. Despite being considered Turkish, it was invented by Turkish immigrants in West Berlin during the 1970s. The Döner is Germany's most loved fast food.
Fast food giants like McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut can be found in most cities. Nordsee is a German seafood chain, which offers 'Rollmops' (pickled herrings) and many other fish and seafood snacks. Many independent seafood snack-bars (most common along the German coasts) offer slightly better and slightly cheaper seafood. You can also find independent shops selling pizza by the slice.
In addition to being able to grab a sweet snack at a bakery, during the summer, it seems like ice cream shops are on every block. Try Spaghettieis for a popular sundae that is hard to find elsewhere. They press vanilla ice cream through a potato ricer to form the "noodles". This is topped with strawberry sauce to mimic the "spaghetti sauce" and usually either white chocolate shavings or ground almond nuts for "Parmesan cheese".
Bakeries and butchers
Germans do not have a tradition of sandwich shops, but you will find that bakeries and butchers sell quite good take-away food and are serious competition for the fast food chains. Even the smallest bakeries will sell many sorts of bread or rolls, most of them darker (for example, using wholemeal or rye flour) than the white bread popular around the world and definitely worth a try. Many of them also offer a variety of sandwiches and pastries, as well as a decent coffee. Larger bakeries often even have tables and chairs and serve you more or less like a Café.
Even if they don't already have it prepared, almost all butchers will prepare a sandwich for you if you ask. In some regions, butcher shops often have a "Heiße Theke" (hot counter), where you can get hot sausages or a slice of Leberkäs or crunchy pork roast in a bread roll. They will often have a narrow, stand-up counter along one edge, so that you have a place to put your food while you stand up and eat it. This kind of Imbiss inside a butcher shop is mainly popular in southern Germany, and the quality and freshness of food is usually high. Some butchers even offer hot meals and a place to sit down.
Canteens and cafeterias
If you want to sit down to eat but have little time or a limited budget, canteens and cafeterias are a good alternative to fast food restaurants. Many companies allow non-employees to eat at their canteens as do the university and college cafeterias. Another option popular with pensioners and office workers are self-service restaurants in the larger furniture stores such as XXXL or IKEA.
In traditional beer gardens in Bavaria, you can bring your own food if you buy their drinks. Most places will offer simple meals. Some Biergärten are also known as Bierkeller (literally beer cellar), especially in Franconia. As the name implies, a beer garden is in a garden. It may be entirely outdoors, or you may be able to choose between an indoor (almost always non-smoking) area and an outdoor area. They range in size from small, cozy corners to some of the largest eating establishments in the world, capable of seating thousands. Munich's Oktoberfest, which happens at the end of September each year, creates some of the most famous temporary beer gardens in the world.
Smaller breweries sell their products straight to the customer and sometimes you will find food there as well. Haxe or Schweinshaxe (the ham hock, or the lower part of the pig's leg) will usually be among the offerings. It is a distinctively German specialty and probably the best dish in almost every establishment of that sort.
Probably 50% of all eating places fall into this group. They are mainly family-run businesses that have been owned for generations, comparable to pubs in the UK. You can go there simply for a drink, or to try German food (often with a local flavour). Food quality differs significantly from place to place but the staff will usually give you an indication of the standard; regulations require restaurant owners to indicate certain possibly harmful ingredients (e.g. glutamates/MSG) in footnotes – a menu containing lots of such footnotes usually indicates low quality; if a cheap "Gasthaus"/restaurant is overcrowded with Germans or Asians, this indicates at least sufficient quality (unless the crowd is thanks to an organised coach excursion).
Germany has a wide range of flavours (e.g. German, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Polish, Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, Vietnamese) and almost all styles of the world are represented.
Turkish cuisine in Germany ranges from simple "Döner" shops to mostly family-run restaurants offering a wide variation of usually very cheap (in relation to German price levels) Turkish home cooking.
In most restaurants in Germany you can choose your own table. You can make reservations (recommended for larger groups and haute cuisine on Saturday nights) and these are marked by reservation cards ("Reserviert"). In expensive restaurants in larger cities you will be expected to make reservations and will be seated by the staff (who will not allow you to choose your table).
Restaurants in commercial areas often offer weekday lunch specials. These are cheap (starting at €5, sometimes including a beverage) options and a good way to sample local food. Specials tend to rotate on a daily or weekly basis, especially when fresh ingredients like fish are involved.
Some restaurants offer all-you-can-eat-buffets where you pay around €10 and can eat as much as you want. Drinks are not included in this price.
"XXL-Restaurants" are rising in popularity. These offer mostly standard meat dishes like Schnitzel or Bratwurst in big to inhumane sizes. There is often a dish that is virtually impossible to eat alone (usually bordering 2 kg!) but if you manage to eat everything (and keep it inside), the meal will be free and you'll get a reward. Unlike in other restaurants it is common and encouraged to take leftover food home.
How to get service
In Germany, at sit-down establishments, you usually look for a table that pleases you by yourself. Tables that have been reserved in advance will be clearly marked with a little "Reserviert" sign. You are expected to choose a table without one of those signs, but if there's none left don't hesitate to ask the staff if they can find a table for you. If it's not too busy, they will usually find a way to make some room for you in their schedule. In more expensive restaurants, it is more likely that a waiter attends you at the entrance who will lead you to a table.
When you get a table, it's yours until you leave. There is no need to hurry, but if you stay to chat, it is polite to order some coffee or another round of drinks. That said, if the restaurant is getting really crowded and people find it difficult to get a place, consider continuing your after meal conversation with your friends elsewhere.
It is also not absolutely unheard of in restaurants in the countryside, and in cities like Munich, to take a seat at a table where other people are already seated, especially if there are no other seats available. While it is uncommon to make conversation, in this case saying a brief hello goes a long way.
In Germany, the waiter or waitress is contacted by eye contact and a nod. He or she will come to your table immediately to serve you. Many service staff are university students who do it as a side gig, so the service might not always be as prompt and flawless as you could expect of trained staff. Have a bit of patience. Also keep in mind that waiters in Germany are expected to be as professional and unintrusive as possible. They will check in on you on occasion, but certainly not as frequently as they do in the United States, so be sure to ask if you need anything.
You will usually pay your bill directly to your waiter/waitress. Splitting the bill between individuals at the table is common. For tipping practices, see "Tipping" in the "Buy" section.
At very formal events and in high-end restaurants, a few German customs may differ from what some visitors may be used to:
- It's considered bad manners to eat with your elbows resting on the table. Keep only your wrists on the table. Most Germans will keep up these manners in everyday life since this is one of the most basic rules parents will teach their children. If you go to a restaurant with your German friends, you may want to pay attention too.
- When moving the fork to your mouth, the tines should point upwards (not downwards as in Britain)
- When eating soup or other food from your spoon, hold it with the tip towards your mouth (not parallel to your lips as in, again, Britain). Spoons used to stir beverages, e.g. coffee, should not be put in the mouth at all.
- If you have to temporarily leave the table, it's fine to put your napkin (which should have rested, folded once along the centre, on your lap until then) on the table, to the left of your plate, in an elegant little pile—unless it looks really dirty, in which case you might want to leave it on your chair.
- If you want the dishes to be cleared away put your knife and fork parallel to each other with the tips at roughly the half past eleven mark of your plate. Otherwise the waitstaff will assume you are still eating.
Rinderroulade mit Rotkraut und Knödeln: this dish is unique to Germany. Very thin sliced beef rolled around a piece of bacon and pickled cucumber flavoured with onion and German mustard, and served with red cabbage, potato dumplings and gravy.
Schnitzel mit Pommes Frites: there are probably as many different variations of Schnitzel as there are restaurants in Germany, most of them have in common a thin slice of pork that is usually breaded, and fried for a short period of time and it is often served with fries (usually called Pommes Frites or often just Pommes).
Rehrücken mit Spätzle: in and around the Black Forest, Bayrischer Wald and Odenwald, you can enjoy the best game in Germany. Rehrücken means venison tenderloin and it is often served with freshly made noodles such as Spätzle and a very nice gravy based on a dry red wine.
Wurst: there is hardly a country in the world with a greater variety of sausages than Germany and it would take a while to mention them all. "Bratwurst" is fried, other varieties such as the Bavarian "Weißwurst" are boiled. Here is the shortlist version: "Rote" beef sausage, "Frankfurter Wurst" boiled pork sausage made in the Frankfurt style, "Pfälzer Bratwurst" sausage made in Palatine style, "Nürnberger Bratwurst" Nuremberg sausage – the smallest of all of them, but a serious contender for the best tasting German sausage, Landjäger, Thüringer Bratwurst … this could go on till tomorrow. If you spot a sausage on a menu this is often a good (and sometimes the only) choice. Often served with mashed potato, fries or potato salad. The most remarkable way to prepare a sausage probably is the Currywurst (cut into slices and served with spiced ketchup and curry powder) and some variation of it can be bought almost everywhere.
Königsberger Klopse: Literally "meatballs from Königsberg", this is a typical dish in and around Berlin. The meatballs are made out of minced pork and anchovies and are cooked and served in a white sauce with capers and rice or potatoes.
Fischbrötchen: Fish in a bread roll, a typical street food in the coastal areas. I comes in different varieties, often with soussed (Matjes) or otherwise pickled herring (Bismarckhering, Rollmops), salmon, mackerel, or tiny bay shrimps (Krabbenbrötchen).
Germans are very fond of their bread (Brot), which they make in many variations. This is the food that Germans tend to miss most when away from home. Most people like their bread relatively dark and dense and scorn the soft loaves sold in other countries. Bakeries will rarely provide less than twenty different sorts of bread and it's worth trying a few of them. In fact, many Germans buy their lunch or small snacks in bakeries instead of takeaways or the like. Prices for a loaf of bread will range from €0.50 to €4, depending on the size (real specialities might cost more).
Because German bread tends to be excellent, sandwiches (belegtes Brot) are also usually to a high standard, including in train stations and airports. However, if you want to save money do as most locals and make the sandwich yourself as belegtes Brot can be quite expensive when bought ready made.
You will rarely find restaurants catering for special needs within Germany, although most restaurants will prepare special meals or variants for you if they are neither relying on convenience foods only nor too fancy.
Kosher and halal food
Muslims may want to stick to Turkish or Arabic restaurants. Kosher restaurants are common only in cities with a notable Jewish population like Berlin. For not-so-strict Jews the halal (sometimes spelled helal for the Turkish word for it) Turkish food stalls are also the best option for meat dishes.
Veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise in Germany, and most restaurants offer one or two decent vegetarian dishes. Outside of bigger cities, there aren't many places which are particularly aimed at vegetarian or vegan customers, though. If the menu doesn't contain vegetarian dishes, don't hesitate to ask. If a seemingly vegetarian dish is not marked as such on the menu, it may be wise to confirm with the waiter, as it may well contain ingredients like chicken stock or bacon cubes.
German fast food stalls are still very meat-heavy, but at Turkish and Arab food stalls vegetarians will usually find at least some falafel and baba ganoush to suit their tastes.
Most cities have at least one organic food shop ("Bioladen", "Naturkostladen" or "Reformhaus"), providing veg(etari)an bread, spreads, cheese, ice cream, milk substitutes, tofu and seitan. The diversity and quality of these products is great and you will find shop assistants that can answer special nutritional questions in great depth. Many supermarkets now also have a small selection of vegan products such as seitan-sausages, tofu or soy milk at a reasonable price.
Allergy & Coeliac sufferers
When shopping for foods, the package labelling in Germany is generally reliable. All food products must be properly labelled including allergens, additives and preservatives. Places that sell unpackaged food also have to provide a list of allergens, typically either on the menu (restaurants, etc.) or upon request in a separate binder (most butchers, bakeries, etc.).
With coeliac disease, be on the look out for Weizen (wheat), Mehl (flour) or Malz (malt) and Stärke (starch). Be extra cautious for foods with Geschmacksverstärker (flavour enhancers) that may have gluten as an ingredient.
- Reformhaus. 3,000-strong network of health food stores in Germany and Austria that has dedicated gluten-free sections stocked with pasta, breads and treats. Reformhaus stores are usually found in the lower level of shopping centres (e.g. PotsdamerArkaden).
- DM Stores. This retailer offering cosmetics, healthcare items, household products and health food and drinks has dedicated wheat- and gluten-free sections.
- Alnatura. A natural foods store with a large dedicated gluten-free section.
On a budget
Cooking by yourself costs way less then eating in any restaurant. Look for a hostel or Airbnb with a kitchen. A good variety of groceries you find in the widespread supermarkets of Lidl, Penny, Aldi, Rewe, Netto, Edeka and Kaufland. All of the named supermarkets have store brands for food, which have a high quality and a lower price than the known brands.
You get tasty fresh baked products for a low price from German supermarkets, especially before mid-day when all of them are fresh out of the oven. You get them in Lidl, Penny, Netto Marken Discount, Aldi and Rewe (not that good in "Rewe To Go").
Baked products from supermarkets
Offered are for example (prices as of April 2022):
Germany is covered by Too Good To Go. With the app you get the food of restaurants and eateries about 70% cheaper. It's in order to reduce food waste. So it's saving money and doing something good at the same time. The app can be switched to English language. You can pay for example with Paypal, credit card, Google Pay and Apple Pay.
The legal drinking ages are:
- 14 - minors are allowed to buy undistilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages in a restaurant, such as beer and wine, as long as they are in the company of their parents or a legal guardian.
- 16 - minors are allowed to buy undistilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages, such as beer and wine without their parents or a legal guardian. Any drink that contains distilled alcohol (even if the overall alcohol content is lower than for a typical beer) is not allowed
- 18 - having become adults, people are allowed unrestricted access to alcohol.
- See also: German beer and wine#Beer
The Germans are world-famous for their beer, and have exported its production and consumption around the world.
For centuries, beer-making in Bavaria has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) that was made national policy with the unification of Germany in 1871, which states that German beer may be made only from hops, malt and water (yeast was still not known back then). The national law has been watered down and now states that a variety of additives and auxiliary substances may be used during the production process, as long as they aren't found in the end product.
Usually bars and restaurants serve the local varieties that differ from town to town. However the North has less variety than the south and especially in localities that aren't specialised in beer you are more likely to get mass-produced watered down Pils from the big breweries than not. If you truly want to experience German beer, try sticking with smaller brands, as they don't have to appeal to a mass market and are thus more "individual" in taste.
For Germans, a lot of foam is both a sign of freshness and quality; thus, beer is always served with a lot of head. (All glasses have volume marks for the critical souls.)
Germans are not afraid to mix beer with other drinks. Beer is commonly mixed with carbonated lemonade (usually at 1:1 ratio) and called a "Radler"; "Cocktails" of Pilsener/Altbier and soft drinks like Fanta, a "Krefelder"/"Colaweizen" cola and dark wheat beer is another combination that can be found. Pils mixed with cola is very popular especially among younger Germans and goes by different names – depending on your area – such as "Diesel", "Schmutziges" (dirty) or "Schweinebier" (pigs beer).
Pubs are open in Germany until 02:00 or later. Food is generally available until midnight. Germans typically go out after 20:00 (popular places are already full by 18:00).
Undisputed capital of "Apfelwein" (or Äbblwoi as it is locally called) cider in Germany is Frankfurt. Frankfurters love their cider. There are even special bars ("Apfelweinkneipe") that will serve only Apfelwein and some gastronomic specialities. Cider is often served in a special jug called "Bembel". The taste is slightly different from ciders in other countries and tends to be quite refreshing. In autumn when apples are turned into cider you might find "Frischer Most" or "Süßer" signposted at some places. That is the first product in the chain of "Apfelwein" production; one glass of it is nice, but after two or three glasses you will have a problem unless you enjoy spending lots of time on the toilet. In the Saarland and surrounding regions "Apfelwein" is called "Viez". It varies here from "Suesser Viez" (sweet), to "Viez Fein-Herb" (medium sweet) to "Alter Saerkower" (sour). The Viez capital of that region is Merzig. During winter it is also quite common to drink hot cider (along with some cloves and sugar). It is considered an efficient measure against an oncoming cold.
Germans drink lots of coffee. The port of Hamburg is the world's busiest place for coffee trading. Coffee is always freshly made from ground coffee or beans – no instant. However, persons coming from countries with a great coffee tradition (like Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Greece or Austria) might find the coffee that is served in normal restaurants a bit boring. A German specialty, originating from North Frisia but nowadays also common in East Frisia, is "Pharisäer", a mixture of coffee and a spirit, usually rum, with a thick cream top. A variation of this is "Tote Tante" (dead aunt, with coffee replaced by hot chocolate).
Over the past few years, American coffee house chain Starbucks or clones have expanded into Germany, but mostly you will encounter "Cafés" which usually offer a large selection of cakes to go along with the coffee.
Visiting Germany in December? Then go and see one of the famous Christmas Markets (the most famous taking place in Nuremberg, Dresden, Leipzig, Münster, Bremen, Augsburg and Aachen) and this is the place where you find Glühwein (mulled wine), a spiced wine served very hot to comfort you in the cold of winter.
A generic word for spirits made from fruit is Obstler, and each area has its specialities.
Bavarians like their beer as well their Enzian, a spirit high in alcohol that is best as a digestive after a hefty meal.
Kirschwasser literally means cherry water; it certainly tastes of cherry but on the other hand it is not regular drinking water. There is a long lasting tradition in making spirits in Baden, and "Kirschwasser" is probably the flagship product and it might encourage you to taste other specialties such as Himbeergeist (from raspberry), Schlehenfeuer (flavoured with sloe berries), Williamchrist (pear) and Apfelkorn (apple juice and Korn).
Korn, made of grain, is probably the most common spirit in Germany. Korn is more popular in the North, where it exceeds beer in popularity. In the South the situation is reversed. Its main production centre (Berentzen) lies in Haselünne, where tours and tastings can be arranged in the distilleries. The town is near the river Ems in northwest Germany; for rail service to Haselünne (very sparse) see Eisenbahnfreunde Hasetal. A common mixture is Korn with apple juice ("Apfelkorn") which usually works out to about 20% abv. and is usually consumed by younger people. Another town famous for its Doppelkorn (with over five hundred years of tradition to boot) is Nordhausen in Thuringia, where tours and tastings are also easily arranged.
In Lower Saxony, especially in areas surrounding the Lüneburg Heath, different specialised liquors and schnaps are prominent. Ratzeputz holds 58% alcohol and contains extracts and distillates of root ginger. Heidegeist is a herbal liquer that contains 31 heather ingredients with an alcohol content of 50%. It is clear in colour and has a strong, minty taste.
In North Frisia, Köm (caraway spirit), either pure or mixed with tea ("Teepunsch", tea punch), is very popular.
Eiergrog is a hot mixture of egg liquor and rum.
Tea, Tee, is also very popular, and a large choice is readily available. The region of East Frisia in particular has a long tea tradition, and is probably the only place in Germany where tea is more popular than coffee. The East Frisian tea ceremony consists of black tea served in a flat porcelain cup with special rock sugar (Kluntje) that is put in the cup before pouring the tea. Cream is added afterwards, but is not stirred into the tea. The East-Frisian fondness for tea was made fun of in a rather infamous commercial for a certain sweet that supposedly goes well with coffee, only for the claim to be interrupted by a noisy East Frisian who would say "Und was ist mit Tee?" (And what about tea?) in a stereotypical Northern German accent. Most Germans still know this sentence, if not necessarily its origin.
Especially in winter, Germans love their hot chocolate (heiße Schokolade), which is widely available. Hot chocolate in Germany tends to be more or less Zartbitter — that is, bittersweet — and in the more gourmet establishments, it can be quite dark and bitter and only a little sweet. It is commonly served with Schlag (fresh whipped cream, also called Schlagsahne). Although usually served pre-prepared some cafes will serve a block of chocolate that you mix and melt into the hot milk yourself. Milk chocolate is called Kinderschokolade ("children's chocolate") in Germany and not taken seriously at all, so don't expect to be able to order hot milk chocolate if you are an adult.
- See also: German beer and wine#Wine
Some Germans are just as passionate about their wines (Wein) as others are about their beer. The similarities don't stop here; both products are often produced by small companies, and the best wines are consumed locally. The production of wine has a 2,000-year-old history in Germany as may be learned from the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier but, of course, this was a Roman settlement at that time. Sunshine is the limiting factor for the production of wines in Germany and, therefore, wine production is limited to the south. White wine plays a main role in the wine production, but some areas produce red wines (Ahr, Baden Württemberg). White wines are produced from Riesling, Kerner and Müller-Thurgau grapes (there are many more), and produce generally fresh and fruity wines. German wines can be rich in acid and are quite refreshing. It is generally accepted that Riesling grapes produce the best German wines, but they demand a lot of sunshine and they grow best in very exposed areas such as the Mosel, Rheingau, Bergstraße, Kaiserstuhl and Pfalz.
Germany is known for its ice wine (Eiswein), in which the grapes are left to freeze on the vines before being harvested. German varieties of ice wine are generally less sweet than their Canadian counterparts.
The best way to learn about wines is go to the place where they are grown and taste them on the spot. This is called "Weinprobe" and is generally free of charge - though in touristed areas you have to pay a small fee.
Good wines usually go together with good food so you might like to visit when you are hungry as well as thirsty. The so-called Straußenwirtschaft, Besenwirtschaft or Heckenwirtschaft are little "pubs" or gardens where a wine-producer sells his own wine, normally with little meals such as sandwiches or cheese and ham. Normally, they are open only in summer and autumn, and not longer than 4 months a year (due to legal regulations). As they are sometimes in the vineyards or in the back streets, they are not always easy to find, so you best ask a local for the next (or best) Straußenwirtschaft he knows.
Germany provides almost all options for accommodation, including hotels, B&Bs, hostels, and camping. You might also consider staying with members of a hospitality exchange network.
German mattresses tend to take a middle ground for firmness, compared to plush American ones and hard Japanese ones. The bedding tends to be simple: a sheet to cover the mattress, one duvet per person (Decke, very nice if you sleep with someone who tends to hog the blankets, but sometimes a little breezy around the toes for tall people) and an enormous square feather pillow, which you can mold into any shape that pleases you. Making the bed in the morning takes mere seconds: fold the Decke in thirds with a quick flick of the wrists, as if it were going to sleep in your place while you are out, and toss the pillow at the top of the bed.
Most international hotel chains have franchises in the major German cities, and a large variety of local hotels exist. All hotels in Germany are ranked by stars (1 to 5 stars). The rankings are made independently and are therefore generally reliable, but in some cases they may be based on rather outdated inspections. The rate always includes VAT and is usually per room. Prices vary significantly by city (Munich and Frankfurt are most expensive). You can find many "value-oriented" chain hotels like Motel One or Ibis, both in the suburbs and city centres of most cities, which are often quite new or renovated and surprisingly nice for the price. For people who travel by car, much like France, Germany has a dense network of Ibis Budget hotels at the outskirts of cities near Autobahns, offering a truly bare-bones hotel experience at prices that can compete with hostels.
On the other end of the scale, Germany has many luxury hotels. The market penetration by hotel chains is high. Local brands include the ultra-luxury Kempinski (a global brand), while Dorint and Lindner operate upscale business hotels. Most global hotel chains have solid presence, with Accor (Sofitel, Pullman, Novotel, Mercure) leading the way.
It is not a cliche that you can count on German hotels delivering quality and a predictable experience. You may not get pampered if the brochure doesn't say so, but it is very rare that your experience will truly be bad. Moreover, Germany domestic tourism is quite family-oriented, so you should have no trouble finding family-friendly hotels with extra beds in rooms, often in the form of a bunk bed, and amenities for your younger ones.
When the name of a hotel contains the term "Garni", it means that the breakfast is included. So there can be a good number of hotels whose name contains "Hotel Garni" in a city; when asking directions, mention the full name of the hotel and not only "Hotel Garni".
Bed & Breakfast
B&Bs ("Pensionen" or "Fremdenzimmer") (usually) provide less comfort than hotels for cheaper prices. The advantage is that you are likely to meet Germans and get a touch of the German way of living. A sign saying "Zimmer frei" indicates a B&B with a room available.
Hostels provide simple, budget accommodation primarily in shared rooms. They are good places to get to know other travellers. In Germany, as in many countries, two types exist: international youth hostels and independent hostels.
International Youth Hostels ("Jugendherbergen") are owned and run by the association "Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk" (DJH), which is part of the Hostelling International (HI) network. There are more than 600 hostels spread all over Germany in big and small cities and in the countryside. Not only individual travellers are guests but also school classes and other youth groups. To sleep there, you have to be or become a member in a youth hostel organisation belonging to the HI network. Detailed information about this and each of their hostels can be found on the DJH's. Generally, this entails simply filling out a card and paying a few extra euros per night. In general, the advantage of these places is that they tend to serve a buffet style breakfast for no additional charge, though this is not an absolute rule. However, the quality is often below that of private hostels, and many do not provide a good opportunity for socialising.
Privately run independent hostels are starting to be an attractive alternative for a similar price. More than 60 already exist in Germany, and more and more open every year. They are found in bigger cities, especially in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, and Hamburg. Only a few are in the countryside. Sometimes run by former travellers, hostels refrain from having strict rules. Especially small ones are frequently places where you can feel at home. Many are known for their vibrant, party atmosphere and can be an excellent way to meet other travellers. There is no need to be a member of some organisation to stay there. About half of the hostels have organised themselves in a "Backpacker Network Germany", which provides a list of their members hostels. A website which lists almost every independent hostel in Germany is Gomio. Of course, international room booking agencies such as Hostelsclub, Hostelworld & Hostelbookers are also good resources, and give travellers the ability to leave reviews. A & O Hostels/Hotels have a number of quality central city locations in Germany providing an interesting blend of hostel and hotel style accommodation usually catering for young adults and families.
There are countless campsites in Germany. They vary significantly in the infrastructure and standard. The ADAC, the German automobile club, offers an excellent guide for most German camping groups. If you are member of your national motorclub assistance and guides are free or at substantial reduced prices.
Some travellers just put up their tents somewhere in the countryside. In Germany this is illegal (except in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), unless you have the landowner's permission. Practically however nobody cares as long as you are discreet, stay for one night only and take your trash with you. Be aware of hunting ranges and military practice grounds or you could be in significant danger of being shot.
German universities are competitive with the best in the world. In general, Germans do not think much about the relative quality of one German university compared to another, but state-owned ones are usually deemed more prestigious than private ones and older ones more than younger ones. There has been an "Excellence initiative" by the federal government to honour the most prestigious universities and give them extra funding, however the funding was strictly given on the basis of their research not their teaching and is often limited to a few select departments. One of the best known universities in Germany among English-speakers Heidelberg University (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg), which is also Germany's oldest university.
Since the vast majority of the universities are state-owned, studying in Germany is usually very cheap (€50–700/semester), but the cost of living in most of Germany is quite high (for example Tübingen: €350–400 rent per month for a one-room apartment and living expenses) with rent being the major factor. Because of this, most students either share a flat or live in a dormitory. Dormitories also often consider the financial situation of the applicants and decide accordingly.
Whereas admission to German universities is straightforward for EU nationals, prospective students from non-EU countries may face bureaucratic hurdles such as being asked to provide proof that they can cover their own expenses. Due to the demand for young skilled workers, the German government is encouraging foreign students from countries such as USA and India, with more universities offering courses in English. There are very few scholarships easily available to foreigners, "classic" student loans are atypical and "duale Studiengänge" (working and studying at the same time earning a professional and an academic degree) tend to pay less than comparable entry level jobs, especially considering the workload involved. Many Universities were founded centuries ago and have long outgrown the buildings originally built for them and thus having a coherent campus is the exception rather than the rule. Still, many universities try to at least keep related fields close to each other, but if you happen to study a combination of subjects that are taught at different parts of town, or even in different towns, you'll have to do quite a bit of commuting. Some universities are also the result of mergers and thus have locations in different towns. Offices of student advice or university administration can have odd opening hours or may even be closed entirely outside the semester. It is also not unheard of that they'll rather gruffly tell you that you should go to some other office: they mean you no harm, they are just overworked and don't want to deal with stuff that isn't their job.
While the German university system used to have many unique quirks, in the course of the "Bologna Process" most subjects are now offered in the EU-wide "Bachelor/Master" system which is, compared to the earlier system, rather school-like and streamlined. Nevertheless, more self-initiative is expected at German universities than in many other places. Help with problems is not "automatic" and newcomers may feel a little left alone in the beginning. "Fachhochschulen" (often calling themselves "Universities of Applied Sciences" in English) tend to focus on "practical" or "applied" fields and are even more school-like. While "FH" (the German short-form) used to be seen as a "lesser" grade of university, that stigma is fading in many fields.
The unemployment rate in Germany is 5.1% as of February 2022 and there are jobs for those with the right qualifications or connections. Non-EU foreigners wishing to work in Germany should make sure they secure the proper permits. Getting these permits can mean extended dealings with the distinctly Germanic bureaucracy, especially for non-EU citizens, and so may not be a practical way to help your travelling budget.
Non-EU students are permitted to work on their residence permits, but there is a limitation of 120 full (more than four hours worked) days per year or 240 half-days (under 4 hours worked) without special authorisation. Working through one's university, though, does not require a special permit.
Citizens of some non-EU countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea and the US) can apply for resident status with a work permit during their 90-day visa-free stay in Germany; however, they may not work without a visa/authorisation. Other nationals require a work visa before entering the country, which they need to exchange into a residence permit after entry. For more information, see the 'Entry requirements' subsection of the 'Get in' section above. Illicit work is rather common in the German hospitality and tourism industry (about 4.1% of the German GDP) and virtually the only way to avoid the German bureaucracy. Being caught, however, can mean time in jail, and you are liable to your employer to almost the same extent as if you worked legally.
If you want to stay in Germany for an extended period of time, but do not speak German, your best bets are large multinational companies in the banking, tourism or high-tech industries. Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich and of course Hamburg and Berlin are likely the best places to start looking. A good knowledge of German is usually expected, but not always a prerequisite. English speakers who are certified teachers in their home countries might be able to secure work at American or British international schools. English teaching without these qualifications is not lucrative in Germany. If you are fluent in other languages (preferably Spanish or French) teaching on a private basis may be a (additional) source of income.
During the asparagus season (April to June) farmers are usually looking for temporary workers, but this means really hard work and miserable pay. The main advantage of these jobs is that knowledge of German is not required.
In Germany, the government collects tithes on behalf of the churches and synagogues in the form of a "church tax", meaning that it is perfectly legal for your employer to ask for your religion. If you are not Christian or Jewish, then you do not have to pay this tax.
Germany is a very safe country. Crime rates are low and the rule of law is strictly enforced.
Violent crimes (murders, robberies, rapes, assaults) are very rare compared to most countries. For instance, 2010 murder rates were 0.86 cases per 100,000 inhabitants — significantly lower than in the UK (1.17), Australia (1.20), France (1.31), Canada (1.81) and the US (5.0) – and they continue to decline. Pickpockets may sometimes be an issue in large cities or at events with large crowds. Begging is not uncommon in some larger cities, but to no greater extent than in most other major cities and you will rarely encounter aggressive beggars.
If you're staying in certain parts of Berlin or Hamburg around 1 May (Labour Day) expect demonstrations that frequently degenerate into clashes between the police and a minority of the demonstrators.
Take the usual precautions and you will most likely not encounter any crime at all while staying in Germany.
The nationwide emergency number for the police, fire and rescue services is 112 (same as in all EU countries) or 110 for police only. These numbers can be dialled toll-free from any phone, including phone booths and mobile phones (SIM-card required). If you are reporting an emergency, the usual guidelines apply: stay calm and state your exact location, the type of emergency and the number of persons involved. Do not hang up until the operator has received all required information and ends the call.
There are orange emergency telephones interspersed along the main motorways. You can find the closest SOS-phone by following arrows on the reflection posts at the side of the road.
Ambulances (Rettungswagen) can be summoned via the national toll-free emergency number 112 and will help you regardless of insurance issues. If an emergency physician (Notarzt) is required, they will typically arrive in separate vehicle. All hospitals (Krankenhäuser) except for the smallest private ones have 24-hour emergency rooms able to cope with all kinds of medical problems.
The overwhelming majority of foreign visitors will never deal with issues of open racial discrimination or racism in Germany. Virtually all cities in Germany are some of the most cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic in the world, with large communities of people from all continents and religions. Public displays of overt anti-Semitism are strictly forbidden by laws that are very much enforced. Most Germans are also very aware and ashamed of the historical burden of the Nazi era and are usually open-minded and tolerant in contacts with foreigners. Non-white visitors may get an occasional wary look in rural areas, but not to a greater extent than in other countries with a predominantly white population.
This general situation may be different in some predominantly rural parts of East Germany, including the outskirts of some cities with higher unemployment levels and high rise neighbourhoods, e.g., "Plattenbau". Incidences of racist behaviour can occur with a few incidents of violence. Most of these happen at night when groups of drunken "neo-Nazis" or some migrant groups might look for trouble (and solitary victims) downtown or near public transport. This might also affect foreign visitors, homeless persons, West Germans and people with alternative looks such as Punks, and Goths.
German Police (German: Polizei) officers are always helpful, professional and trustworthy, but tend to be rather strict in enforcing the law, which means that one should not expect that exceptions are made for tourists. When dealing with police you should remain calm, courteous and avoid getting into confrontations. Most police officers should understand at least basic English or have colleagues who do.
Police uniforms and cars are blue. Green used to be the standard, but all states and the federal police have transitioned to blue uniforms and cars to comply with the EU standard. This process is almost complete, only very few vehicles are still green.
Police officers are employed by the states except in airports, train stations, and border crossings, which are controlled by the federal police (Bundespolizei). In mid-sized towns and big cities, local police (called Stadtpolizei, kommunale Polizeibehörde or Ordnungsamt) have some limited law enforcement rights and are in general responsible for traffic issues. States have a pretty big leeway when it comes to police and their tactics and as most police are state police, there is a marked difference between left-wing city states like Berlin and conservative southern states like Bavaria. As a broad generalisation, police in the north tend to be more hands-off and tolerant of minor misbehaviour while police in the south show more presence and are stricter about the rules, but you may get fined for jaywalking in Berlin just as well. The only major cases of police using violence on citizens (or vice versa) happen during demonstrations and soccer games, but you will notice that by the riot gear and mounted police patrolling in seemingly vastly excessive numbers. It's not advisable to talk to police during political demonstrations or soccer matches as they might construct a case of "Landfriedensbruch" (disturbing the peace) during such events on pretty flimsy grounds, sometimes misrepresenting what you said. Police are armed but will hardly ever use their weapons and never on unarmed people. As firearms are hard to get and a permit to carry one in public is virtually unheard of, police usually do not think anybody is armed unless the suspect brandishes a weapon and are thus unlikely to shoot somebody reaching in their pocket or the likes.
If you get arrested, you have the right to have an attorney. Foreign nationals also have the right to contact their respective embassy for assistance. You are never obliged to make a statement that would incriminate yourself (or someone related to you by blood or marriage) and you have the right to remain silent. Wait until your lawyer arrives and talk to your lawyer first. If you do not have a lawyer then you can call your embassy or else the local justice official will appoint a lawyer for you (if the alleged crime is serious enough).
If you are a victim of a crime (for example robbery, assault or theft in public) and wave an oncoming patrol car or officer, it is not uncommon that the officers will (sometimes very harshly: "Einsteigen") command you to enter the back seat of the police cruiser. This is an action to start an instant manhunt to identify and arrest the suspect. In this case remember that you are not under arrest but to help the officers to enforce the law and maybe get back your property.
German police do have ranks but are not that keen about them; many Germans won't know the proper terms. Do not try to determine seniority by counting the stars on the officers shoulders in order to choose the officer you will address, since such behaviour can be considered disrespectful. Talk to any officer and they will answer your questions or redirect you to the officer in charge.
Prostitution is legal and regulated in Germany.
All larger cities have a red light district with licensed bars, go-gos and escort services. Tabloids are full of ads and the internet is the main contact base. Brothels are not necessarily easily spotted from the streets (outside of red light districts) to avoid legal action by neighbours. Places best known for their redlight activities are Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Recreational vehicles parked by the roadside in forests along Bundesstraßen (German for "federal highway"), with a red light in the front window and perhaps a lightly dressed woman on the passenger's seat, are most likely prostitutes soliciting customers.
Due to Germany's proximity to Eastern Europe, several cases of human trafficking and illegal immigration have taken place. Police regularly raid brothels to keep this business within its legal boundaries, and check the identity documents of workers and patrons alike.
Alcohol may be purchased by persons 16 years and older. However, distilled beverages and mixed drinks with those (including the popular 'Alcopops') are available only at 18. It is not illegal for younger people to drink, but it is illegal to allow them to drink on premises. Youth 14 years and older are allowed to drink fermented beverages in the presence and with the allowance of their legal guardian. If the police notices underage drinking, they may pick the person up, confiscate the drinks and send the person home in the presence of an officer.
Smoking in public is allowed starting at age 18. Vending machines for cigarettes require a valid "proof of age", which in practice means that you need a German bank card or a (European) driving licence to use them.
The situation on marijuana can be confusing. The Constitutional Court ruled that possession for "personal use", though still illegal, should not be prosecuted. Germany is a federal state; therefore the interpretation of this ruling is up to the state authorities. In fact charges are sometimes pressed even for tiny amounts, which will cause you a lot of trouble regardless of the outcome. As a general rule the northern states tend to be more liberal while in the south (especially Bavaria), even negligible amounts are considered illegal. The customs officials are also aware of the fact that you can legally buy marijuana in the Netherlands and therefore set up regular border controls (also inside trains), as importation of marijuana is strictly prohibited.
Even if you get off the charges, the authorities may cause different problems, like revoking your driving licence and if you have more than a few grams, you will be prosecuted in any case. Drugs will be confiscated in all cases.
All other recreational drugs (like ecstasy) are illegal and possession will lead to prosecution and at least a police record.
Crimes with date-rape drugs have been committed, so as anywhere else in the world be careful with open drinks.
Some types of knives are illegal in Germany: this concerns mostly some types of spring knives, "butterfly" knives, knuckle knives and the like — possessing such knives is an offence. Knives that are intended as weapons are restricted to persons over 18. Furthermore, nunchakus, even soft-nunchakus, are illegal in Germany.
"Dangerous" knives are generally those with a blade length exceeding 12 cm and locking "one-handed" folding knives. Mere possession of these is not illegal, but you may not carry them on your person in public unless you have a valid reason to do so. For example, while you are out fishing you are still entitled to carry a fishing knife. A chef's knife is fine in the kitchen, but if you want to transport it on the subway, it needs to be stowed away securely.
In daily life, carrying anything beyond a regular Swiss army knife without an obvious professional reason to do so is inadvisable. Germans will consider it very rude, as they see it as a sign of aggression. Flashing a knife (even folded) may cause bystanders to call the police, who will be very serious in handling the upcoming situation.
Firearms are strictly controlled. It is practically impossible to legally carry a gun in public unless you are a law enforcement officer. "Fake" firearms may not be carried in public if they resemble real guns. CO2 and air guns are relatively easy to acquire. If the police find any kind of weapon or firearm on you, you will appear highly suspicious.
Bows and arrows do not legally count as weapons while crossbows do, but you're certain to get stopped by police openly carrying either. Hunting is only legal with firearms or employing birds of prey and requires a licence with rather strict requirements for environmental and animal welfare reasons.
Avoid bringing any fireworks into Germany, especially from outside the EU. Even bringing those can be an offence. Fireworks are traditionally used on New Year's Eve. Most "proper" fireworks (marked as "Klasse II") will be available at only the end of the year; they may be used by persons only over 18 on December 31 and January 1. Really small items (marked as "Klasse I") may be used around the year by anyone.
Fishing laws differ a lot from state to state. Obtaining a fishing licence for Germans and foreigners has become a highly bureaucratic process due to animal protection laws.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Germany is in general very tolerant of homosexuality. Nevertheless, like in every country some individuals still may disapprove and some areas are more accepting than others, so use common sense and be geared to the behaviour of the locals around you. In small towns and in the countryside, open displays of homosexuality should be limited.
The attitude towards gays and lesbians is rather tolerant, with openly gay politicians and celebrities being considered increasingly normal. While some, especially the elderly, Germans inwardly still don't approve of homosexuality or bisexuality, they usually suppress open utterances of homophobia. Therefore, in most cases, display of homosexuality (holding hands or kissing) will at most provoke stares or sometimes comments by children or elderly people.
Today, wild animals, although they abound, are mostly very shy, so you might not get to see many. A few wolves in Saxony and Pomerania and a bear in Bavaria have been sighted.
The most dangerous animal in Germany's forests is by far the wild boar; in particular, sows leading young are nothing to joke about. Wild boar are used to humans, since they often plunder trash cans in villages and suburbs, and their teeth can rip big wounds. Boars are even found on the outskirts of cities like Berlin where they can be found scavenging for food at night. If a boar, particularly a mother with young children, thinks you are a threat to it or its family, it will charge you and it can seriously harm or even kill an adult human by charging. Do not try to outrun a charging boar, but slowly walk into the opposite direction while still facing the animal. Try to climb up a tree if possible.
The poisonous crossed viper can pose a threat (in the Alpine region and natural reserves), though they are rare. Don't provoke them.
The most underrated dangerous animals in German woods are ticks, as they can transmit serious diseases. Rabies is also a remote possibility – see the section on diseases below.
Sanitary and medical facilities in Germany are excellent. The phone book lists telephone numbers for various medical services, many hotlines and services exist that are open during "off hours". See the section Medical Emergencies above if you are in an emergency.
If you have an non-urgent medical problem, you may choose from any local doctor. The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you will usually be able to find every discipline from dentistry to neurology on duty within reasonable reach. In remote regions finding a doctor might require a ride to the next town but the German infrastructure allows fast connections. GPs/family doctors will usually describe themselves as "Allgemeinmediziner", meaning "general medical doctor".
Pharmacies are called "Apotheke" and are marked by a big, red "A" symbol. At least one pharmacy in the area will be open at all times (usually a different one every day), and all pharmacies will post the name and address of the pharmacy-on-duty in the window. Some medication that is sometimes freely available in other countries (e.g. antibiotics) needs a prescription in Germany, so you may want to check before your journey. The staff of an Apotheke is well-trained, and it is mandatory to have at least one person with a university degree in pharmaceutics available in every Apotheke during opening hours. A German pharmacist is able to offer advice on medications. The apotheke is also where you go to get common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, antacids, and cough syrup. Don't be misled by the appearance of "drug" in the name of a drogeriekonzern, such as the large dm-drogerie markt chain: "drug stores" in Germany sell everything except drugs.
In Germany pharmaceuticals tend to be expensive, so it might be wise to ask the pharmacist for "Generika" (generic drugs): A "Generikum" is virtually the same substance and dose, often even produced by the same pharmaceutical trust, just lacking the well-known brand name and being considerably cheaper. As the brand names for even common substances can vary a lot between countries as well as brands try to know the scientific name of the substance you need as they will be printed on the package and trained pharmaceutical professionals will know them.
EU citizens who are members of any public health insurance can get a European Health Insurance Card. The card is issued by your insurance provider and lets you use the public health care system in any EU country, including Germany.
If you're from outside the EU, or if you have a private health insurance, check if your insurance is valid in Germany. If not, get a travel health insurance for the trip; German health care is expensive.
Foreign insurance, even if it covers travel abroad, may not be accepted by local hospitals.
In any somewhat urgent case you will be treated first and asked for insurance or presented a bill later.
Tap water (Leitungswasser) is of excellent quality, and can be consumed with little concern. Exceptions are labeled ("Kein Trinkwasser", no drinking water) and can for example be found on fountains and in trains. In restaurants and cafes you will often have to specifically request 'Leitungswasser' since it is not generally assumed.
Many Germans tend to avoid drinking tap water and prefer bottled water (still or sparkling), in the erroneous belief that tap water is somehow of inferior quality. The term Leitungswasser actually means 'plumbing water' which also doesn't sound too enticing. Tap water is sometimes of even better quality than bottled water, and there is no chlorine taste to it whatsoever. However, in some areas there is a taste difference for particularly sensitive palate due to the different mineral composition. However, some regions tap water has nitrate content above WHO levels and should not be drunk by women in early stages of pregnancy for any prolonged period.
Many Germans prefer sparkling (carbonated) water. Sparkling water is sold in any store that sells beverages and prices range from inexpensive 19-cent bottles (1.5 L) of "no-name" brands to several euros for fancy "premium" brands.
Most people buy bottled water in crates of 12 glass bottles or packs of 6 plastic bottles. Both the bottles and crates include a returnable deposit (Pfand). While the deposits for reusable plastic (15 cents) or glass bottles (8 cents) are relatively low, the deposit for disposable plastic bottles (marked by a special symbol on the side of the bottle) is relatively high at 25 cents and may be higher than the price of the water itself. Bottled water is usually sold carbonated (sparkling), although regular water (stilles Wasser) is also widely available and slowly gaining popularity among Germans. Sparkling water is usually sold in supermarkets in two degrees of sparkling: one with more CO2 (usually called spritzig or classic) and one with less CO2 (usually called medium).
Most fountains and many public restrooms (e.g. on planes or trains) use non-potable water that has to be clearly marked by the words "kein Trinkwasser" or a symbol showing a glass of water with a diagonal line through it. If there is no such sign and the surroundings don't indicate otherwise it is safe to assume that the water is safe for human consumption.
Many lakes and rivers, as well as both the North Sea and Baltic Sea are generally safe for swimming. Nevertheless, while there may be no life-threatening pollutants in most bodies of water, you would do very well to inform yourself about local regulations. If you intend to swim in a large river, at best do so only on official bathing locations. Keep away from structures (power plants might cause streams you don't see from the surface) in the river or reaching from the shore into the river, also keep out of the path of ships. Both structures and ships, even if they look harmless or far away, may create major sucks underwater. Take particular care of children.
If you intend to swim in the North Sea you should inform yourselves about the tide schedules and weather conditions – getting caught in a tide can be fatal, getting lost in the mist, too. Hiking in the Wattenmeer without a local guide is extremely dangerous. In the Baltic Sea, on the other hand, there are virtually no tides.
You should be aware of rabies (Tollwut) which has been a problem in some areas in the past, even though the authorities take it very seriously. If you go hiking or camping then be careful around wild animals such as foxes and bats.
The biggest risks hikers and campers face are two diseases transmitted by ticks. In some parts of Germany there is a (low) risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis; vaccination is advised if you plan out-door activities in high-risk areas. The risk of Lyme disease is higher and vaccination is not available. Therefore, you should try to prevent tick-bites by wearing long trousers and appropriate shoes. Chemical repellents can also be effective. You should also check for ticks afterwards since the risk of transmission is lower if the tick is removed early. The safest way to remove a tick is by using a credit card-sized device called a "Zeckenkarte" (tick card), which you can get at most pharmacies. Other methods (fingers, using glue, etc.) might lead to the tick injecting even more infectious material into the wound. If in any doubt consult a doctor.
Peeing or even defecating in public is illegal. Yet it can be surprisingly hard to locate a public toilet when needed. They are usually indicated by the letters WC or pictograms. Doors to sex-separated facilities may bear the letters "H" (Herren; gentlemen) or "D" (Damen, ladies). Public toilets are rarely free. Sometimes you have to be a customer at the place they're attached to, sometimes there's an attendant and a "tip plate" to guilt trip you into paying money that may or may not be handed on to cleaning personnel. But one of the more common ways they charge you is the Sanifair system whereby you pay an amount of money and get a voucher for a lower amount of money (75 cents pay, 50 cents value) that you are able to cash in for goods at the adjacent (and other) stores, often subject to a bunch of conditions.
Toilets on trains, air-planes and buses are still free, but patrons often leave them in a disgusting state, and there isn't always anyone to clean them. Fast food outlets and hotel receptions are usually a good option, fuel stations will usually provide facilities on request of a key. Shopping centres (Globus, Kaufland, Real, MediaMarkt, etc.) or hardware stores (Bauhaus, Hagebau, Hela, Hornbach, Obi, etc.) also have customer toilets, which can mostly be used free of charge. Aldi, Lidl or Netto mostly have no customer toilets. Last but not least, although those public toilets are not specifically advertised, during regular office hours public buildings such as courthouses, city halls, hospitals, churches, or schools usually have a fairly easy to find “public”/non-staff restroom.
Smoking and vaping
Laws on smoking in public places and other areas vary from state to state. Smoking is generally banned in all restaurants and cafes. Some places may provide separate smoking areas but it is best to enquire when booking. Smokers should be prepared to step outside if they want to light up. The only three states with a strict non-smoking law without exceptions are Bavaria, Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia. Smoking is banned on all forms of public transport including on railway platforms (except in designated smoking areas, which are clearly marked with the word Raucherbereich [smoking area]). The laws are strictly enforced.
In restaurants it is widely accepted for customers to leave their table without paying the bill to go for a smoke and return later. If you are alone, tell the staff that you are going outside to smoke, and if you have a bag or coat, leave it there.
Supermarkets sell cigarettes, but they are usually encased in a special section adjacent to the cashier, where you must ask if you want to get one. Vending machines can also be found near bus stops, but you must insert a German ID card before using it. One pack of 20 cigarettes would usually cost €5-7,50. Cheaper alternatives are roll-your-own tobacco, yet these cannot be bought in vending machines.
In nearly every city you can find a Dampfershop [vaping store] where you can get hardware or liquid, with or without Nicotine, €3-6 per 10 ml. If you stay longer buy base and aroma separate and mix by yourself, it is much cheaper. Bringing large liquid bottles with Nicotine into Germany, in particular with more than 20 mg/ml and from outside the EU, can be illegal. To be safe carry only your needs for few days. The law says vaping is not smoking and so it is not affected by the non-smoking law, but most people do not know this. So if you like to safe, do it like smoking and accept the common no-smoking rules too. Deutsche Bahn and other state-level public transport companies do not allow vaping on stations (except in the smoking areas), nor on their public transport.
The Germans have earned a reputation for being stiff and strict with rules but also hard-working and efficient. If you are caught breaking the rules, this will be readily pointed out to you by someone. The main exception in Germany seems to be speed limits. A quintessentially German action is waiting at a red traffic light at 02:00 with all streets empty.
More importantly, the German sense of "politeness" differs significantly from the Anglo-American concept of courteous remarks, small talk and political correctness. Germans highly value honesty, straight talking, being able to cope with criticism and generally not wasting other people's time. For instance, while the answer to "How is your day?" is a standard pleasantry like "It's going very well" in the Anglosphere, Germans will feel obliged to answer the question honestly when asked. Consequently, business meetings tend to lack the introductory chit-chat.
When a German introduces himself to you, he/she will often simply state their surname, prompting you to call them "Mr/Mrs...". Germans would not expect you to use the German words "Herr" (man) and "Frau" (woman) when speaking in English. The title "Fräulein" for an unmarried woman is considered nowadays to be dated or even sexist, so just stick to "Frau".
Using first names immediately is most likely seen as derogatory, depending on the situation. Of course, there are differences between the young and older people. As a general rule, you should consider the use of the surname and the formal Sie as a sign of friendly respect. In the workplace, some colleagues prefer to be addressed by their surname and the Sie, even by colleagues they have known for a long time. If you have a drink together, you may be offered the non-formal Du and to call your colleague by their first name, you can also offer it. However it might be seen as a faux-pas to do so if you are clearly younger or "lower-ranking". Start-up culture usually values informality and will address every employee with Du, and there are a few organisations in which members have been addressing each other with Du since the 19th century, including leftist parties like the SPD, railroaders or the Scouting movement. Still, being too formal by using "Sie" is virtually always the "safer" option and saying "Du" to a police officer on duty can even get you fined.
The German word Freund actually means close friend, or "boyfriend". Someone you may have known for a few years may still not refer to you as a Freund but rather Bekannter (an acquaintance).
There is also a strong desire to achieve mutual agreement and compromise. As for the infamous efficiency: Germans are the world's leading recreationists (at an average of 30 days of paid leave per year, not counting public holidays), while maintaining one of the highest productivity rates on earth. A late-running train is considered a sign of the degradation of society.
Despite popular belief, the Germans do have a sense of humour although it is often expressed differently than it is in English-speaking countries. If you are around people, you get to know well that sarcasm and irony are very common kinds of humour. Puns are popular too, just like in anglophone countries. However, humour is not the default approach to the world, and therefore a quip in the wrong situation may draw blank stares or disapproval or simply not be understood as a joke.
In official contexts (when conducting business) punctuality is seen not as a courtesy but as a precondition for future relations. As in most countries, you are expected to arrive on time at a business meeting unless you can give a good reason in your defence (i.e. being stuck in unforeseeable heavy traffic). It is seen as a courtesy to call the other participants if you seem to be running late, even if there is still a chance that you will arrive on time. Regular delays are seen as disrespect for the other participants. However, such German punctuality doesn't apply on German railways.
For personal relations, importance attached to punctuality may differ from individual to individual. It is still always safer to be punctual than late, but the subject may be a negotiable matter: if unsure just ask 'is punctuality important to you?'. Punctuality also depends on the milieu, in a collegiate environment, for example, it is taken much less seriously. For private invitations to a home, it may even be considered more polite to be 5–15 minutes late as to not embarrass the host in case not everything has been prepared.
Behaving in public
Germany, especially urban Germany, is rather tolerant and your common sense should be sufficient to keep you out of trouble.
Drinking alcohol in public is not forbidden and is even a common sight in the far west (Cologne and the Rhine-Ruhr Area). In some larger cities (such as Cologne), there are local laws that in theory make drinking alcohol in public a misdemeanour punishable with a fine of tens of euros; these laws are rarely enforced against tourists, except in cases when drinking leads to rowdy behaviour. Such laws have also been successfully challenged in court in several places. Behaving aggressively or disturbing the peace will earn you a conversation with German police officers and possibly a fine or an order to leave, regardless of whether you're drunk or stone-cold sober.
Be particularly careful to behave respectfully in places of worship and places that carry the dignity of the state, such as the numerous war and holocaust memorials, parliaments and other historical sites. Some such sites will post Hausordnung (house rules) that prohibit disrespectful or disruptive behaviours. These rules may range from common-sense prohibitions against taking pictures during religious ceremonies to things that may seem strange to you, like prohibiting men from keeping their hands in their pockets. You should keep an eye out for these signs and obey the posted rules. Another very common sight is a sign that says Eltern haften für ihre Kinder (parents are liable for their children). This is a reminder that German people believe both that children should be children, and also that parents should supervise them, so that no one gets hurt and nothing gets broken. If your child is being rowdy and accidentally spills or breaks something in a store, you can generally expect to pay for it.
Insulting other people is prohibited by German law and, if prosecuted, can result in jail time and a heavy fine. It is unusual that charges are brought, but exercise common sense in all cases. Insulting a police officer will always lead to charges though.
On German beaches, it's generally alright for women to bathe topless. Full nudity is tolerated on most beaches, although not a frequent sight outside of the numerous nudist areas (labelled "FKK" or "Freikörperkultur", literally free body culture). These are especially common at the East German Baltic Sea coastline, due to the high popularity of nudism in the former GDR. It's also possible to spot nudists in Berlin's public parks and in Munich's "English Garden". In most saunas, nudity is compulsory and mixed sessions are common practice. One day of the week is usually only for women.
Being a guest
In general, Germans will only invite you to their home if they expect you to take them up on the offer. The "Yeah let's hang out sometime" that Americans sometimes use as a piece of meaningless conversation fluff will not be understood by Germans. While Germans value hospitality ("Gastfreundschaft", literally "guest friendliness"), they see their culture of hospitality as weaker than that of the Arab world, for example.
When invited it is certainly courteous to bring a small gift. Consumable gifts are usually prepared as many Germans dislike filling their home with trinkets they don't know what to do with. If the invitation is one where the consumption of alcohol can be expected, bringing a bottle of wine or spirit can be a good gift and if you are invited by younger people for a party you can also bring a crate of beer - though preferably of a smaller independent and more upmarket brand. If you can gift something connected to your place of origin, all the better - a treat from abroad will virtually always arise the curiosity of your hosts.
Germans like to keep their home neat and tidy and will likely "apologise for the mess" even if there isn't any. This entails that you usually should leave your shoes at the entrance - when in doubt, just ask. Most hosts will provide you with Hausschuhe (literally "house shoes") to be worn inside. When you are invited to a German's home, you can expect to have some sort of food or drink. Should you have any allergies, religious dietary restriction or be a vegan or vegetarian, you should make that clear ahead of time, to avoid the mutual embarrassment of a menu being cooked for you which you can't or won't eat.
"Kaffee und Kuchen" ("coffee and cake") is the quintessential German afternoon food and it is likely that any invitation during the afternoon for an informal gathering will entail that. If you don't drink coffee, it is usually possible to replace the coffee with tea or cocoa.
Owing in part to the long era of numerous German petty states being de jure or de facto sovereign, Germany has strong regional identities and local patriotism that may refer to a city, a federal state or a region within a federal state or crossing state lines. While some state boundaries are drawn pretty arbitrarily, states are politically powerful and many have their own unique character. Especially in large cities and metropolitan areas, however, traditional cultural differences between the regions are increasingly dissolving.
The rule of thumb is that wealth rises towards the south and west: The most prosperous regions are to be found in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, while the economy in many of the eastern states is still lagging behind. The richest city in Germany and one of the ten richest regions in Europe is Hamburg, even outpacing Munich in this regard. Northern Germany is in the same cultural sphere as the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and the food and architecture are often more pragmatic, simple, and unrefined than in the south, where Catholicism has been predominant. The capital Berlin is known for its cultural diversity, its nightlife and its density of young artists, and thus attracts especially young people from all over the world.
The Nazi era
In the late 19th century, Germany was one of the most enlightened societies in the world. As a mental exercise, try to think of five famous physicists, philosophers, composers or poets without mentioning a German name. This dignity and prestige faced a severe setback during the period of National Socialist rule under Hitler (1933-1945). Since then, the Third Reich has been a permanent scar on the German national identity, and is considered a blot on Germany's national honour and will remain so for a very long time. Every German pupil has to deal with it at about 5 times during his or her schooling, and is very likely to visit a concentration camp at least once (most such sites have been transformed into memorials). Not a single day passes without educational programmes on television and radio dealing with this period of time.
Growing up in Germany, whether in the GDR or West Germany, meant and still means growing up with this bitter heritage, and every German has developed her or his own way of dealing with the public guilt. For the traveller, this can mean confusion. You might come across people (especially young ones) eager to talk to you about Germany's troubled history, feeling the urge to convince you Germany has come a long way since then. Choose adequate places to talk about the issue and be polite about it. If you are visiting friends, you might find it hard to keep them from dragging you into a memorial.
Humour, even made innocently, is absolutely the wrong way of approaching the matter and is insulting. All Nazi-era slogans, symbols, and gestures (most notably the Nazi salute) are forbidden, except for educational purposes, and even these are regulated. Displaying them in public or spreading Nazi propaganda is illegal. Foreigners are not exempt from these laws. While you may face a fine of €500, if the authorities suspect you of having propagandistic intentions, they can put you in jail for up to three years. While religious swastikas are exempt from this rule, you are still advised to avoid displaying the symbol so you do not cause any unintentional offence.
Also, do not sing the first stanza (Deutschland, Deutschland über alles) of the German national anthem Deutschlandlied; only the third stanza is used as the official German national anthem today. While not forbidden, the first stanza was used as the national anthem during the Nazi era, and even today is strongly associated with ultra-nationalism and neo-Nazis in Germany.
Probably the best way to deal with the issue is to stay relaxed about it. If the people around you like to talk about German history then use the opportunity for a sincere, maybe even very personal conversation. If you want to steer clear of awkward moments, don't bring up the matter.
German Democratic Republic era
Compared to the Nazi era, Germans have a more open attitude to the postwar division of Germany into East and West. Communist symbols, GDR songs and other East-German related regalia are circulated freely (though uncommon in the western parts) and many are somewhat nostalgic about the country, hence the artistic and commercial movement "Ostalgie" (nostalgia for the East). Be careful when discussing the East German secret police (Stasi) since many people in the East were negatively affected by the control of all aspects of life by this organisation, that maintained an extensive network of informants throughout the country during the communist era. While the division is some time in the past now, there are still cultural remnants often referred to as the "mental wall" (Mauer in den Köpfen) and the last couple of years seem to have reinforced stereotypes between East and West if anything. More and more positive aspects of East German policies are openly discussed these days - be they the more extensive use of rail as a mode of transportation or the comparatively high gender equality of the East, but attitudes vary from person to person and generally follow the political spectrum - right wingers will be less inclined to see anything positive about the GDR.
Many Germans are fiercely attached to their region or even town and it is nothing out of the ordinary to hear people making disparaging remarks about a town a few miles over or even a different neighbourhood in large cities like Berlin. While the purported reasons for such rivalries vary, they're almost never as serious as they may appear. Some of those rivalries overlap with sports rivalries (mostly soccer), but even then they only get heated when a game is on or someone is wearing the uniform of a team involved. While saying positive things about the town or region you're in is always appreciated, you should tread more lightly with bashing other places, even if locals seem to be doing it constantly.
Traditionally, regional rivalries also extended to religion, with the north and east being predominantly Lutheran, and the south and west being predominantly Roman Catholic, though cuius regio eius religio and early modern splintering of territories ensured heavily Catholic areas could lie right next to heavily Lutheran or reformed areas. However, this has diminished significantly in modern times as Germany has transformed into a largely secular society, with regular churchgoers now being in the minority. Work migration and the influx of (post-) World War II refugees has also made erstwhile confessionally homogenous villages much more mixed. In general, people from formerly communist East Germany tend to be less religious than people from the West because religion was undermined in various ways by the officially-atheist communist regime. There has also been a tendency for Lutheran areas to secularise more rapidly than Catholic areas and East Germany was overwhelmingly Lutheran at the end of World War II.
The international calling code for Germany is 49, and the prefix for international calls is 00; the area code prefix is 0. Some number blocks are reserved for special use: Numbers starting with 010xx let you choose a different phone provider, 0800 and 00800 are toll-free numbers, 0180 are service numbers (which may or may not be more expensive than a local call). Avoid 0900 prefix numbers. These are for commercial services and usually incredibly expensive.
German phone numbers are of the form
+49 351 125-3456 where "49" is the country code for Germany, the next digits are the area code and the remaining digits are the "local" part of the subscriber number that can be called from within that particular area code using abbreviated dialling. Since there are no standard lengths for either geographic area codes or subscriber numbers, the last part may be as short as two digits! The 5000-odd German area codes vary in length from 2 through 5 digits. You need to dial "0" in front of the geographic area code from outside that particular area code (but when still within Germany).
Since the liberalisation of Germany's phone market, there are a multitude of phone providers on the market. If you're calling from a private landline phone, you can usually choose from the different providers (and thus from different pricing schemes) by using special prefix numbers (starting with 010xx) with prices of €0.01 or €0.02, sometimes below €0.01 even for international calls. Hotels usually have contracts with a particular phone provider and won't let you use a different one. The telephone rates charged by hotels can be staggering, especially at luxury hotels, where a five-minute phone call to make restaurant reservations can cost €50. Check the tariff card before picking up the phone.
- See also: European Union#Connect
Mobile numbers in Germany must always be dialled with all digits (10-12 digits, including a "0" prefixing the "1nn" within Germany), no matter where they are being called from. The 1nn is a mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the second and third digits (the nn part) denotes the original mobile network assigned before number portability is taken into account, for example
Mobile phone coverage on the three networks (Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and O2) is by and large excellent throughout the country. UMTS (3G data and HSDPA), LTE (4G), EDGE, and 5G is also available. LTE is still somewhat limited to urban areas. All mobile providers use GSM technology on the 900 and 1800 MHz frequency ranges. This is different from the GSM 1900 standard used in the United States, but modern "multi-band" handsets will usually work in all GSM networks. Non-GSM phones cannot be used in Germany. If you have a GSM mobile telephone from the USA, make sure to call your provider in the USA prior to your trip and have them "unlock" your telephone handset so that you can use it with a German SIM card, since they're sometimes incompatible with those SIM cards. The toll for a phone call to a German mobile phone number is paid by the caller.
If you're staying for a longer period of time, consider buying a prepaid phone card from one of the mobile phone companies or one of the endless number of MVNOs; you won't have trouble finding a Deutsche Telekom (bought at a Telekom Shop), Vodafone, or O2 store in any major shopping area.
Mobile telephony is still comparatively expensive in Germany. Depending on your contract you may be charged about €0.10–0.39 per minute for calls to German mobile and landline phones. Calls from your German mobile phone to non-German telephone numbers (including non-German mobile phones that are physically present in Germany) often cost €1 to €2 per minute, depending upon the country in question and your plan. Generally, for mobile phones, T-Mobile and Vodafone are the preferred choices for people who want high-quality service, especially outside of cities. O2/E-Plus has lower prices. If you expect to need customer support in English, then Vodafone might be one of your better options.
In most supermarket chains (for example Aldi, Lidl, Penny, Netto, Tchibo, Rewe, and toom) you can buy prepaid SIM cards from their own virtual providers, although their network are still operated by the big 3 German telecom operators. These are normally quite cheap to buy (€10–20 with 5–15 minutes' airtime) and for national calls (€0.09–0.19/minute), but expensive for international calls (around €1–2/min), but incoming calls are always free and SMS's cost around €0.09–0.19. While international calls using the German SIM card can be expensive, there are some prepaid offers with good rates.
Companies like Lyca Mobile, Lebara and others have specialised in providing rather affordable international calling rates (sometimes cheaper than Voice over IP services), mostly aimed at diaspora and immigrant groups.
However, unfortunately, paranoia over mobile phones being used in crime or terrorism have made it increasingly hard to simply buy a phone or a pre paid SIM and start calling. Depending on the provider you may need to provide a credit card number, identify yourself via Post ID or video ID. Even when those are doable, they are not always easy for foreigners without residency status, although in theory, anyone with valid identification can purchase these cards. That said, it's best to purchase a SIM card from a store that offers SIM card registration services and make sure you bring your ID card/passport with you. If you already have an active mobile phone package from a provider based in another EU country, you will generally be able to use your regular data (subject to a monthly EU-imposed data cap), SMS, and domestic call allowances whilst in Germany without the need to register it or incurring extra charges (although calling a German telephone number may cost extra: check with your provider).
The vast majority of Germans own mobile phones (called "Handys" in German, pronounced "hendy"); the disadvantage of this is that the once-common phone booths have disappeared except at "strategic" locations such as train stations. They usually consist of a silver column with a pink top and the phone attached on the front. Older versions consisting of a yellow booth with a door and the telephone inside are also still around.
Alternatively, you can also buy prepaid phone cards you can use by calling a toll-free number; this is an especially good deal if you intend to make international calls. Card quality and prices vary wildly, however, so a good recommendation cannot be made.
In phone shops, which you can find in major cities, you can make international calls at cheap rates. These call shops are mostly in city areas with a lot of immigrants and are your best option to call internationally. Apart from offering calls abroad, they sell international calling cards for use from any phone in Germany. You can usually spot these shops by the many flags decorating their windows.
Internet access through Wi-Fi (also commonly called WLAN) is common in Germany. Internet cafes are starting to become less common due to widespread free Wi-Fi in shops, restaurants or cafes. Usually it's free within the premises but sometimes requires a purchase. Phone shops will often offer internet access, too. The following shops provide free Wifi:Galeria, real (supermarket), REWE, IKEA, H&M, dm-Drogerie, Subway, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Burger King.
Many hotels offer internet access for guests; however, speeds are limited and may be inadequate for viewing and using multimedia-rich pages/apps quickly. Premium high-speed internet may be available - it´s often expensive so confirm with your hotel before using. Small private hotels and cheaper chain hotels often offer free Wi-Fi (e.g. Motel One) when you book as a package with breakfast, larger chains will usually charge exorbitant rates. Free internet access is often a perk for members of loyalty programmes.
In several cities, projects provide free "community" hotspots for wireless networking. For example, "Freifunk" hotspots are provided free by local communities and don't require any registration. There´s a map of the hotspots at freifunk-karte.de.
Passenger lounges at some airports and central railway stations also provide internet access to their customers.
Public libraries often offer internet access, though it is often not free or only available to library members. The National Library branches in Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin are not free.
Most universities in Germany participate in eduroam. If you are a student or staff member of a participating university, the service may allow you to get guest access to their wireless networks. Check with your own university for details before your trip.
On transport, there is Wi-Fi in a small (but growing) number of local trains (mostly due to pre-smartphone era contracts between the railway and the state subsidising the service WiFi was not always seen as a huge priority). Intercity trains do not have any kind of WiFi, but virtually all ICE trains do have free WiFi in second and first class. Long distance buses are usually equipped with WiFi but bandwidth is often limited and buses may lack WiFi. Local buses are increasingly equipped with WiFi. Connecting to WiFi on transport will send you to a landing page where you either enter some data or an email address, or simply confirm that you accept the terms and conditions. As mobile hotspots are part of the normal mobile internet network, they tend to be less stable in rural areas or when many people use them at the same time. If you have a data plan that allows it, your own phone can be faster than the WiFi.. WiFi on airplanes is relatively uncommon, even on domestic flights. Flixbus offers free WiFi (and commonly also power sockets) on most of their bus services.
Mobile data plans
Several pre-paid SIMs provide internet access for a monthly flat fee, for example those available at Tchibo coffee stores (o2 network, €10/month limited to 500 MB, €20/month for 5 GB) or Aldi (E-Plus network). A regular O2 SIM card, which can be used for calls and text messages, is €15 and another €15 buys 1GB of data valid for 1 month. Vodafone offers a prepaid SIM card for €25 which includes €22.5 of credit, out of which you can get 300 MB of data for 2 days for €15 and be left with €7.5 of credit.
File sharing and streaming of copyright protected content is illegal in Germany. Specialised law firms continuously track offenders using their IP addresses and charge hefty fines and processing fees (up to several thousand euros) as well as requesting the offender sign legal documents that he/she will refrain from doing so again. Even if you have left the country, the registered owner of the internet connection you used can get in serious trouble. This applies to private connections (friends, family and so on) in particular. In your own and your hosts interest be sure that all file sharing applications on your devices are inactive while in Germany and as refrain from streaming content from sites that are not undoubtedly legal, or use a VPN service.
The postal sector in Germany is deregulated, but Deutsche Post, the partly-privatised national post service, is the only universal operator. Smaller local operators charge their own rates, typically working with a patchwork of other operators to provide national and international service.
As of July 2022, the price of a postcard is €0.60 for postage within Germany, and €0.95 for everywhere else. A standard letter not weighing more than 20 grams cost €0.80 for domestic and €1.10 for international. Standard letters weighing up to 50 grams cost €0.95 domestic and €1.70 international. Besides weight, letters are also priced according to size. Standard letters (Standardbrief) may not exceed the format 23.5 x 12.5 cm and 5 mm of thickness.
Deutsche Post stamps are available at post offices and sometimes at newsagents or shops selling postcards, but you might find shops will only sell postage stamps if you also buy their postcards. Stamp vending machines are most often found outside post offices. You can purchase stamps of all denominations from €0.01 to €36.75. Unlike most other vending machines they accept every coin from 1 cent to €2, but change is only given in the form of stamps. Such stamps tend to have odd nominal values, so be sure to have enough small change.
Other postal operators tend to sell stamps in retail outlets like supermarkets or newsagents and have their own mailboxes.
Domestic letters are mostly delivered the next day, post is delivered six days a week. Delivery time is a bit longer for the rest of Europe. Mail to North America may take a week or more.
Increased theft (especially by outsourced letter carriers and contractors) means any international shipments, especially incoming, should be insured if they are valuable. The German customs service will charge duty and taxes on parcels arriving from outside the EU. Usually the duty is collected by the post office, which charges a flat rate for the service, regardless of how much the duty actually is.
If you want to send packages internationally, Deutsche Post offers two main options, both branded DHL: Päckchen (a small package up to 2 kg, uninsured), Packet (heavier and with insurance and tracking). You can buy shipping labels online and get them printed at post offices or at Packstations, where you can also drop off packages. Letters and parcels sent by Deutsche Post can also be addressed to a particular post office or a Packstation, a parcel locker, often found in grocery store parking lots or gas stations. Various parcel locker systems are often incompatible with each other: you can´t for example send a UPS parcel to a Deutsche Post parcel locker. You don´t need to be registered with Deutsche Post to send parcels from Packstations. Registration is required if you want to pick up parcels from them.
Letters and parcels can also be sent from FedEx and UPS stations, but expect to queue.
Germany is an excellent starting point for exploring the rest of Western Europe. From several cities a number of direct high speed rail connections get you to major European capitals within a couple of hours.
- From the east it is easy to reach Prague in the Czech Republic and Warsaw in Poland
- From the south west the French cities of Reims and Paris as well as the country and town of Luxembourg would make good first goals.
- The direct TGV/ICE to Paris stops in Strasbourg, a lovely town at the border with French and German influence alike
- Belgium and Netherlands from the west with Leuven and Maastricht being recommended first stopping points; and Denmark in the north west
- From the south and south west into the mountains of Austria and Switzerland with Salzburg and Lausanne being "must visit" places.
- By sea in the north east try Cruising the Baltic Sea to access the Baltic states and Nordic Countries.
Frankfurt Airport has direct connections to many major airports around the world.