Germany is a country that has words to describe it with no equivalent in English. The concept of Gemütlichkeit really has no name in English. It’s a word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness and good cheer. But it also means coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance. Welcome to Gemütlichkeit.
Germany will capture your heart with its beautiful country side, majestic mountains, ocean beaches and its deep history that predates the great Roman and Greek empires. From the romantic palaces of Prussian aristocracy and big-city architecture in the north to the Black Forest and Bavarian culture in the south, Germany will tantalize your soul.
Germany is extremely diverse, with an ever-evolving scenery. From the ocean dunes on the northern coast to lovely river valleys and vineyards in the middle; to vast pine forests and majestic Alpine mountains in the south. All of it picturesque and awe inspiring. But make sure you get off the Autobahn and start driving on those country roads – that is where Germany’s beauty will reveal itself.
History runs deep in Germany and you will notice that in pretty much every town and city. The most prominent reminders are the palaces of formerly reigning monarchs, but moreso in the layout and architecture of villages that have existed for thousands of years. The large modern cities of Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart and Hamburg offer an amazing array of cultural diversity. From high art to naughtier red-light districts and underground nightclubs, Germany has something for everyone. The architecture varies widely from Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque to ultra-modern architectural masterpieces from Frank Gehry and Daniel Liebeskind.
To say that Germany has had a massive impact on the rest of the world is no overstatement. The birth places of Martin Luther King and the protestant reformation, Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity, Hitler and the Holocaust and Karl Marx and Communism. To the arts like Goethe, Beethoven, and the Brothers Grimm. And Germany’s brain trust gave us the car, the printing press, aspirin, mp3, wind power and the atomic bomb. From a violent past to a peaceful revolution with the overthrow of communism in east Germany and the tearing down of the Berlin wall. All have left their mark on the world. Germany’s history is well documented and preserved and you will find plenty of opportunities to discover and learn the history that has shaped this country.
Famous German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote, “When one is polite in German, one lies." While clearly a comedic line, Goethe was perhaps making a point that the beauty of German is its bluntness. And sometimes Americans see Germany’s ultra-efficient ways, as rude or even arrogant. But nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike Americans, Germans are generally more reserved, but they do their jobs with extreme efficiency and a work ethic like the Japanese. So, for example when you are in a restaurant you won’t see twelve waiters fawning over you – but rather one. That rude waiter/waitress in Germany is not being rude, but rather he/she gets the job done, because one person runs the entire restaurant. Tips are generally less than what we are used to giving in America, this is because the staff get a portion of the sale and earn a very high wage compared to the USA. 5% of the total bill is generally sufficient to acknowledge good “efficient” service.
Unlike the British, German’s don’t understand the concept of queuing (standing in line), there will always be people pushing in – whether that’s at the boarding gate at the airport or the lineup at the cashier. Waiting is something German’s hate. It’s not because they are trying to be rude towards you, but rather its their way of dealing with an inefficient gate agent or cashier. Also, in local department stores don’t expect the sales person to approach you and say hello. Custom dictates that the service personal is there to help you when you need it – but not to bother you while you browse. But do expect sales staff to be very proficient in their jobs once you engage their services.
Germany is much more than sausage, sauerkraut and pretzels. In fact, the German cuisine is quite diverse with seasonal specialities being the focus on many of its regions. This includes new white wines and asparagus in spring, mushroom season in summer and venison dinners in fall. Germany is well known for its organic beers and the country is a mirco-brewery heaven with no less than 1,300 breweries dotting the landscape. Foods in the north tend to be lighter with a bigger focus on seafood, whereas in the south foods tend to be heartier and heavier on sauces. However, many restaurants will offer a wide variety of meal options that will please almost any palate. Vegetarians sometimes have it harder in Bavaria, but many restaurants have now started to include purely vegetarian main courses.
In Germany, its perfectly OK to share a restaurant table with strangers. Also many restaurants do not have hostesses, so just seat yourself at the nearest empty table. German's are very proper eaters, always use a knife and fork. Tap water is not served - if you ask for water it will be bottled water and will cost money. When you are finished, place your cutlery side-by-side on top of the plate at a 45 degree angle to you that will signal the waiter/waitress that you are done. You have to ask for your bill, it doesn't automatically arrive, as no German restaurant owner would ever want to be seen as throwing out his guests - many will continue drinking beer after their meal.
Techno and EDM lovers will get their fix in the many nightclubs of Berlin, whilst lovers of culture oompah-pah bands, beer and girls in dirndls will get their fill in Munich - in particular during the Oktoberfest. The naughtier side of life can be explored in Hamburg's red light district where prostitution is legal, unionised, taxed and above all clean and safe. Rural towns won't have any big clubs, but you will always find a restaurant or bar you can hang out in, just ask any local. Berlin suburbs like Prenzlauer Berg or Munich's Stachus are full of hidden midnight Cafes and cocktail lounges where the glitterati hold court. Pick up a local copy of Prinz Magazine (Prinz Magazine) which lists all nightlife in each and every major city. LGBT travellers will enjoy a wide array of gay bars and nightclubs in major cities, albeit they are very often scattered throughout the city and fully integrated with the straight nightlife.
Germany has a wide range of high quality accommodations around the country. You will find major hotel chains in all major cities and smaller family owned hotels in rural areas. Standards are extremely high and its rare to land a bad hotel. Just keep in mind that hotel room sizes tend to be smaller than in the USA. There are a range of budget hotels, with Ibis being one of the more popular spartan-low-cost, but very tidy and clean hotel chains. The German version of Bed & Breakfasts are called "Pension" and vacation apartments are called Ferienwohnung. Very often the smaller rural hotels will offer a meal plan with "Halb Pension" meaning just breakfast and one meal (either lunch or dinner) and "Voll Pension" meaning breakfast, plus two meals (lunch & dinner). Always make reservations to avoid a late night hunt for accommodations.
The best time to go, but its also the time when Germans go on Vacation, so expect a busy Autobahn and longer lines at key tourist sites. You will need to make reservations for your accommodations in advance as there are many summer festivals in full swing.
It will be a bit cooler and more rainy but late May and early September are a great time to travel as crowds are less and the weather still reasonably nice.
Germany used to have nice snowy winters, but many ski towns are now simply out of business as the ski season is very short from January to February. Weather can fluctuate from cold and wet to mild depending on weather coming over the Alps from Italy. There won't be any queues at local attractions and many activities will be focused on the arts and museums.
The two major European hubs are Frankfurt am Main and Munich airports. Most major European and International airlines will offer nonstop flights to them. Many of the European Low cost carriers will use smaller airports like Dusseldorf, Augsburg and Stuttgart. There are plenty of connecting flights to cities like Hamburg, Berlin and Stuttgart. Germany has numerous low-cost airlines that can connect you to most major European cities. Inter-European flights are competitively priced.
Germany's public transit system is excellent, with both U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (Lightrail) connecting the inner city with the suburbs.
Frankfurt Airport S-Bahn train lines S8 and S9 link the airport with the city centre several times hourly for €4.90 (11 minutes). Taxis make the trip in 20 to 30 minutes and average €30.
Munich Airport The S1 and S8 trains link the airport with the city centre in 40 minutes (€10.80). The Lufthansa Airport Bus (€10.50) departs every 20 minutes and takes about the same time as the train. A taxi costs about €70-€120.
High quality long distance (Inter-City- IC) and high speed train service (Inter City Express - ICE) is available throughout the country and to most European cities (www.bahn.de). Seeing the country from the train is another wonderful way to explore the sights without the hassle of dealing with traffic. With the exception of slower regional trains, most long-distance trains offer restaurant, bistro or food service on board.
Car rentals are generally available at airports and most major city centers. In addition to international companies like Hertz, Avis and National (Europcar) there are also reputable local companies like Sixt Car Rental.
The German Authobahn is known around the world as the last refuge of no speed limits. And if your car can go 300 km/h then go for it. Just keep in mind that many times the Autobahn is just jammed, similar to places like Los Angeles. Warning: obey the speed limits and red lights - Germany is littered with photo radar and you can quickly rack up a huge bill in fines if you are not careful. Commercial trucks and transports are not allowed to run on Sundays. Many cities have also instituted no-drive city centers unless your car has a specific sticker. Please ask your rental agency for more details. The best times to drive between major cities are in the early morning. Get up at 4 AM and hit the road by 5 AM and you will be spared much of the traffic that seems to pile up by 10 AM.
Whatever you do, make sure you get off the Autobahn and enjoy the scenic country roads. A trip to Garmisch and the Zugspitze is just more special if you drive back via the windy roads of Obberammergau, Bad Kohlgrub and Weilheim. And similar hidden gems await you all across Germany.
The local currency is the Euro. Prices are generally higher due to a heavy tax burden. Don't haggle or negotiate it's not allowed. The stated price is the true price, including all taxes. Gasoline prices are astronomical with a full tank of gas easily costing you €150+.
If you decide to go away, book your hotel, flights and activities through our trip concierge for discounts and benefits. We offer free upgrades, free breakfasts, free hotel credit and VIP gifts at many luxury hotels for the same price as the hotel’s own websites. (Book direct and you don’t get these benefits so why would you?). Our packaged vacation prices tend to be considerably cheaper than flight and hotel prices available online.