German weather can be a real mixed bag at any time of year, thanks to the way in which continental and maritime air masses collide in this part of Europe. That said, those used to British variability and poor weather are likely to find German weather much better; while those used to the searing summer heat of much of North America will also be pleased. Summer temperatures rarely hit 30°C and temperatures tend to stay comfortable well into the evening, allowing beer gardens and outdoor cafés to bustle as darkness falls as late as October. Winter tends to be cold enough to be a very different season, unlike the UK, but not so savage that many activities have to halt entirely, as in much of the US or Canada.
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By European standards, prices in Germany are reasonable; Berlin, for example, is well short of the excesses of Paris and London and with quality to match. Nevertheless, the country has the potential to become expensive, especially if you’re set on flashy nightspots, swanky restaurants and smart hotels. There can also be large differences in prices between regions and cities – Cologne is noticeably cheaper than near-neighbour Düsseldorf, for example.
Assuming you intend to eat and drink in moderately priced places, use public transport and stay at hostels, the bare minimum living-cost you could get by on is around €40 (£35/US$58) a day, including a hostel bed (around €20), snacks and an evening meal (€10), and a little for museums and entertainment. Make lunch the main meal of the day and you may save maybe €5 per day; but overall a more realistic typical holiday budget is about twice that of shoestringers, at €80 per day.
Full-time students can expect discounts at almost all sights and attractions – often around thirty percent – as well as being able to save money on transport such as rail travel. In general you’ll need to be under 27 to qualify for many of the discounts, and in possession of some kind of proof of your status. The International Student Identity Card (ISIC; isic.org), available from student travel agents, is the most widely recognized way to prove your status.
Crime and safety
Crime is low by Western standards, but not nonexistent, and standard modern tensions exist. Statistically, crime is more prevalent in eastern states of the former GDR, fuelled by rising prices and depressed economies. Small-minded attitudes also often exist here, and xenophobic neo-Nazi thugs can target those who look “foreign” – non-white. Paradoxically, east German city centres, and German cities in general, are safer in comparison with other European cities. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing or bag-snatching in shopping precincts or busy U-Bahns are the most likely crimes you’ll encounter.
As far as personal safety is concerned, even the rougher city neighbourhoods feel more dangerous than they actually are. Those run-down U-Bahn stations or train stations with a crowd of drunks look alarming when compared to the rest of the country, but wouldn’t stand out in most other European cities. The situation in city suburbs is a little trickier, in Berlin, for example. With caution it’s fine, but muggings and casual violence do occur, particularly to those who stand out.
If you do have something stolen (or simply lost), or suffer an attack you’ll need to register the details at the local police station: a straightforward, but inevitably bureaucratic and time-consuming process. Note the crime report number – or, better still, get a copy of the statement itself – for your insurance company.
The two offences you might unwittingly commit concern identity papers and jaywalking. By law you need to carry proof of your identity at all times. A driver’s licence or ID card is fine, but a passport is best. It’s essential that you carry all your documentation when driving – failure to do so may result in an on-the-spot fine. Jaywalking is also illegal and you can be fined if caught.
Supply runs at 220–240V, 50Hz AC; sockets generally require a two-pin plug with rounded prongs. Visitors from the UK will need an adaptor; visitors from North America may need a transformer, though most of those supplied with electrical equipment – like cameras, laptops and mobile phones – are designed to accommodate a range of voltages.
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British and other EU nationals can enter Germany on a valid passport or national identity card for an indefinite period. US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens do not need a visa to enter Germany, and are allowed a stay of ninety days within any six-month period. South Africans need to apply for a visa, from the German Embassy in Pretoria, which will cost around R260 depending on the exchange rate. Visa requirements vary for nationals of other countries; contact your local German embassy or consulate for information.
In order to extend a stay once in the country all visitors should contact the Ausländeramt (Alien Authorities) in the nearest large town: addresses are in the phone books. For embassies in Berlin. Some countries have consulates in major cities elsewhere in Germany.
German embassies abroad
UK 23 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PZ, 020 7824 1300, london.diplo.de.
Ireland 31 Trimelston Ave, Booterstown, Blackrock, Co Dublin, 01 269 3011, dublin.diplo.de.
US 2300 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20037, 202/298-4000.
Canada 1 Waverley St, Ottawa, ON K2P 0T8 , 613/232-1101, ottawa.diplo.de.
Australia 119 Empire Circuit, Yarralumla, Canberra 2600, 02 6270 1911, canberra.diplo.de.
New Zealand 90–92 Hobson St, 6011 Wellington, 04 473 6063, wellington.diplo.de.
South Africa 180 Blackwood St, Arcadia, Pretoria 0083, 012 427 8900, pretoria.diplo.de.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Germany has a legendary gay and lesbian culture in its major cities and gay pride event Christopher Street Day is celebrated throughout the nation. Along with the two metropolises of Berlin and Hamburg, Cologne is one of the world’s great gay cities, with one in ten of the population either gay or lesbian. The scene in Berlin – home to the world’s first gay organization in 1897 and ruled by openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit – centres around the districts of Schöneberg, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg. That of Hamburg is in St Georg, and in Cologne there are two main gay districts – around Rudolfplatz and close to the river around Alter Markt and Heumarkt. Other thriving gay centres are in Munich and Frankfurt. Details of local scenes are provided in the sections on relevant destinations. Otherwise newsstand listings magazines have information on gay and lesbian clubnights and events.
Small-town Germany is inevitably more socially conservative – staunch Catholic towns of Bavaria can be hostile and physical assaults are not unknown in depressed towns of eastern Germany.
The standards of healthcare in Germany are world-class. For immediate medical attention, head for the 24-hour emergency room of a major hospital; details are provided in major destination listings. In the event of an emergency, phone 112 for an ambulance (Krankenwagen). If you simply need a doctor call 01805 32 13 03 (calladoc.com; calls cost €0.14 per minute) for an English-language service that will discuss your symptoms and refer you or send an English-speaking doctor. Doctor surgery hours are 9am to midday and 3 to 6pm weekdays except on Wednesday afternoon.
As a European Union member, Germany has free reciprocal health agreements with other member states, whose citizens can apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC; www.ehic.org.uk), which will give you free, or cut-rate treatment, but will not pay for repatriation. The EHIC is available from post offices in the UK. Without this you’ll have to pay in full for all medical treatment, which is expensive – currently €30 for a visit to the doctor. Non-EU residents will need to insure themselves against all eventualities, including medical costs, and are strongly advised to take out some travel insurance.
Staff at Apotheken (pharmacies) provide over-the-counter advice, often in English, and basic medicines for minor health upsets. Marked by a green cross, pharmacies are generally open on weekdays 8.30am to 6.30pm and on Saturday mornings. They also operate late opening hours (24hr in cities) by rota – a list of the current incumbent and its address is displayed in windows. For prescription medicines you must provide a Rezept (prescription) from either your home doctor or a local one.
Since pre-Roman days, Germany has sworn by the curative powers of spa waters, a fixation which peaked in the mid-1800s. Towns with a “Bad” prefix to their names, or which include Baden (baths) in their titles (spa doyenne Baden-Baden or Wiesbaden) still offer extensive spa facilities.
Even though EU healthcare privileges apply in Germany, an insurance policy is a wise precaution to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury.
If buying a policy check small print for waivers on “danger sports” – common activities such as mountain biking can be classed among the likes of skiing and rock climbing. A supplemental payment provides cover. If you need to make a claim, keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have something stolen, obtain an official statement (Anzeige) from the police.
Germany has fully embraced the internet. Most German towns operate a municipal website with good tourism information and helpful databases of festivals and events as well as accommodation booking engines. Larger cities provide an English-language version. Many museums, hotels and even restaurants also have a web presence. Be aware when hunting addresses that letters with an umlaut are rendered with an e – ä becomes ae, ü becomes ue and ö becomes oe.
Online access is good in medium-sized towns and cities, where internet cafés cost about €1–4 per half-hour. “Callshops” – discount international call centres – often in the streets around the main train station, usually have computers. Most backpacker hostels also provide a connection, often free. Larger hotels and a growing number of cafés have free wi-fi hotspots. Even a national laundry chain has started offering free wi-fi .
Larger hotels generally provide a laundry service – but at a cost. Most hostels offer a cheaper wash-and-dry service for around €5 a load. Launderettes are a little cheaper still, with an average load costing around €4 to wash and dry.
Hours tend to be daily 7am to 10pm; addresses can be found listed under “Waschsalon” in the Yellow Pages (GelbeSeiten). One popular nationwide chain is Schnell und Sauber which sometimes have bars and free wi-fi.
Left-luggage lockers at the large main train stations allow storage for time periods of 24 to 72 hours. Charges for lockers are around €2 for 24 hours. Many hostels provide free storage for a few days if you have stayed or intend to.
Living in Germany
Berlin and to a lesser extent Hamburg are magnets for young people from Germany and all over Europe. The capital’s reputation as a politicized, happening city with a dynamic arts scene and tolerant attitudes means there is a large English-speaking community: something that will work to your advantage for jobs and housing, and to your disadvantage in competition. Work permits (Arbeitserlaubnis) aren’t required for EU nationals working in Germany, though everyone else will need one – and, theoretically, should not even look for a job without one. Long-term permits are a world of complicated and tedious bureaucracy. It’s essential to seek advice from an experienced friend, especially when completing official forms. The best official place for advice is the Auswärtiges Amt (German Federal Foreign Office; auswaertiges-amt.de), whose website has the latest information – in English – on entry into Germany and local contact details.
All those who want to stay in Germany for longer than three months – including EU citizens – must technically first register their residence (Anmeldung) at an Einwohnermeldeamt. For non-EU nationals – North Americans, Australasians and everybody else – finding legal work is extremely difficult, unless you’ve secured the job before arriving in Germany. The best advice is to approach the German embassy or consulate in your own country. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand and Canada between 18 and 30 can apply for a working holiday visa, enabling legal work in Germany for 90 days in a twelve-month period: contact German embassies for details.
For long-term accommodation, while newspapers advertise apartments and rooms, it’s much quicker and less traumatic to sign on at one of the several Mitwohnzentralen, accommodation agencies that specialize in long-term sublets in apartments. When you find a place to live, you need to register your residence as explained earlier. The form for this requires a signature from your landlord.
Post offices of Deutsche Post (deutschepost.de) and their unmissable bright yellow postboxes pep up the streetscape. Post offices are often located near (or with a branch inside) the main train station. Standard post office opening hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm, although the main office will operate longer hours. These often have separate parcel offices (marked Pakete), usually a block or so away; and you can also buy stamps from the small yellow machines next to some postboxes and at some newsagents.
Mail to the UK usually takes three days; to North America one week; and to Australasia two weeks. A postcard or letter under 50g costs €0.75 to send worldwide. When posting a letter, make sure you distinguish between the slots marked for various postal codes. Boxes marked with a red circle indicate collections late in the day and on Sunday.
Your best bet for a country map is the companion edition to this guide: the Rough Guides Map: Germany (£5.99/US$9.99/CAN$13.99) produced on rip- and waterproof paper. Town maps are available from tourist information offices, usually free of charge, otherwise for a nominal sum. Larger bureaux in cities or tourist regions – the Rhine valley, Harz mountains or Black Forest, for example – also provide free regional maps. Both are generally adequate for orientation, though don’t rely on the latter for touring. Commercially produced maps available at larger bookshops are a joy. Falkplan and motor organization Allegmeiner Deutscher Automobil Club (ADAC) are consistently excellent, with distances indicated for the smallest lanes and clear town plans. Kompass (kompass.at) publish a full range of walking and cycling maps.
Money and banks
Germany uses the euro as its currency, which divides into 100 cents. There are seven euro notes – in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 euros, each a different colour and size – and eight different coin denominations, including 2 and 1 euros, then 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents. Euro coins feature a common EU design on one face, but different country-specific designs on the other. All euro coins and notes can be used in twelve countries that share the currency (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands). At the time of writing, €1 was worth £0.88/$US1.44/AUS$1.32/ZAR9.70; for current rates go to xe.com.
Banks are plentiful and their hours usually weekdays 8.30am to 5pm and no later than 6pm. It may be worth shopping around several banks, as the rates of exchange vary, as can the rate of commission. The latter tends to be a flat rate, meaning that small-scale transactions should be avoided. In any case, the Wechselstuben (bureaux de change) at the main train stations in cities, offer better rates, as well as being open outside normal banking hours and weekends, usually daily 8am to 8pm, a couple of hours longer on either side in the nation’s principal travel hubs.
Debit and credit cards, once a foreign concept, are becoming a part of everyday life, though their use is not as widespread as in the UK or North America. Cash is still the currency of choice, particularly in bars and restaurants. Major credit and debit cards (such as American Express, MasterCard and Visa) are good in department stores, mid- to up-market restaurants, and an increasing number of shops and petrol stations. Should you want to get cash on your plastic, the best way is from the many ATMs. You can withdraw as little as €20; however they do charge a minimum fee, often around €2.50, and charge two to four percent of the withdrawal as commission. In addition to credit cards, most bank debit cards, part of either the Cirrus or Plus systems, can be used for withdrawing cash, and carry lower fees than credit cards; your home bank will almost certainly levy a commission for use of the card abroad. Various banks will also give an advance against your credit card, subject to a minimum of the equivalent of £60/$100 – stickers in bank windows indicate which cards they’re associated with. Make sure your personal identification number (PIN) will work overseas.
Opening hours and public holidays
Shops and markets: Business hours are generally Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to 2pm, although some bakeries open on Sunday mornings, and department and chain stores will stay open till 8pm on weekdays and till 4pm on Saturday, both legal closing times. Conversely, many shops in smaller towns still close for lunch, generally from midday to 2pm. Outside of trading hours, small supermarkets in train and petrol stations supply the basics. Produce markets (usually weekdays in towns) operate between 9am and 1pm.
Tourist information: Typically Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 2pm, closed Sunday; but consult relevant chapters.
Museums and tourist attractions: Tend to open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 6pm, though occasionally some open on Mondays too. Many museums close from November to March, particularly in very tourist-orientated regions like the Rhine and Mosel.
Restaurants: Generally 10am to midnight, although smarter restaurants tend to take Sunday or Monday as Ruhetag (closing day).
Churches: Access is generally excellent, usually open all day and all week, though respect services.
Opening hours on public holidays generally follow Sunday hours: most shops will be closed and museums and other attractions will follow their Sunday schedules. Public holidays fall on January 1, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May 1, Ascension Day (40 days after Easter), Whitsun, October 3, November 3, and December 25 and 26.
You can make local and international calls from most phone boxes in the city – marked international – which are generally equipped with basic instructions in English. Another option is to use one of the many phone shops offering cheap international calls and calling cards, usually alongside internet services, which can be found throughout the city. The cheapest time to call abroad is between 9pm and 8am.
Most British mobile phones should work in Germany, but if you haven’t used your phone abroad before, check with your phone provider whether it will work in Germany, and what call charges are. Unless you have a tri-band phone, it is unlikely that a mobile bought for use in the US will work outside North America.
If you are in Germany for a while, consider buying a local SIM card for your mobile phone. These are available through the phone shops and even corner stores and tend to cost around €15, often including some credit. Technically German SIM cards are only available to German residents and you will be required to register it at an address in Germany. In practice you can supply the address of your accommodation for this.
To use a different SIM card in your phone, it will need to be unlocked, if it isn’t already, to accept the cards of different providers. The phone shops will be able to advise where this is possible locally. Expect to pay around €10 for this instant service. Top-up cards can be bought in supermarkets, kiosks and phone shops.
Calling Germany from abroad the international code is 49. For directory enquiries in English call118 37; the service costs an initial €0.20, then €1 per minute.
Germany is in the Central European Time Zone, one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time: one hour ahead of British time, nine hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time and six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Daylight savings time (summer time) applies from the end of March to the end of October, when clocks are put forward one hour.
In a word, excellent. The national tourist board (germany.travel) produces stacks of brochures on regions and holiday themes; its website is great for ideas and planning and you can order a range of free brochures. Most regional tourist boards, cities and small towns also maintain an online presence, the majority with pages in English. On the ground, you’ll find a walk-in tourist office almost wherever you go, even in many villages; details are provided in the guide. These typically stock a good spread of pamphlets and brochures – usually in English in larger towns and cities, where one member of staff will be near-fluent. Tourist information offices will reserve accommodation, either for free or for a nominal charge.
Travellers with disabilities
Access and facilities for the disabled (Behinderte) are fair to good in large towns and cities: most major museums, public buildings and much of the public-transport system are wheelchair-friendly, and an active disabled community is on hand for helpful advice. Nearly four hundred Deutsche Bahn train stations have lifting aides or ramps. The company also offers assistance to travellers with disabilities upon reservation; call 01805 99 66 33, daily 8am to 10pm. Under certain conditions, the disabled and their escorts travel by train free or at reduced rates. For full information check on their English-language website, bahn.co.uk, under “Services” and “Barrier-Free Travel”.
The German Tourist Board website has links to dedicated state providers. NatKo (Nationale Koordiationsstelle Tourismus für Alle; National Tourism Coordination Agency for All; natko.de) handles enquiries concerning accessibility issues, supported by the main German disabled associations. Its German-language website publishes information and addresses for state travel-advice centres for tourists with disabilities as well as a list of tour operators with suitable programmes. For formal, in-depth information in Berlin, try disability activist group Mobidat (mobidat.net). They provide information on wheelchair-accessible hotels, restaurants, city tours and local transport services. Finally if you speak German, you might like to browse the online version of quarterly magazine Handicap (i-motio.de), for its hundreds of articles and active forums.