UPDATED MAY 2018
Ah Deutschland…Germany is one of my favourite countries to visit. You simply cannot say you’ve travelled to Europe without visiting Germany, a country which has been at the heart of the continent for centuries. Deutschland ist gut. I know you’ll like it. So read on for my essential Germany travel tips.
GERMANY TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Visa: Germany is a founding member of the EU and is part of the Schengen Agreement bloc which allows for free movement between Schengen member countries – a combination of EU and non-EU countries. Not all EU countries are members of Schengen. A Schengen visa entitles its holder to travel within Schengen countries for a period of no more than 90 days.
EU/EEA citizens have the right to visit, live and work in Germany. Citizens of a number of countries including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand can visit Germany visa-free for up 90 days.
For further information on the Schengen visa process have a look at the European Commission’s website.
Language: Politeness is a core value in Germany so learning the courtesy basics will win you favour. German is an easy language to read as it’s pronounced as written with some words having similar English versions. After your efforts at Guten Tag and Danke your German host will modestly apologise in advance for their English language skills. After 10 seconds their fluency will amaze you. Here is a list of basic German vocabulary:
Currency: The Euro. Frankfurt is home to the European Central Bank as I examined in my Frankfurt’s Way post.
Best time to visit Germany: If you want double-digit temperatures on the Celsius scale for sight-seeing then late April to September is the best time to visit Germany. International festivals are a huge drawcard with Cologne’s Karneval (Pre-Lent Carnival), Munich’s Oktoberfest and the Frankfurt Book Fair the most well-known. Germany is also a major centre of trade fairs and its Christmas markets are some of the best in Europe.
Temperatures in the shoulder seasons can change considerably in a short space of time. I visited Berlin in the last week of March where the temperature was 3C. A week later it was 15C! So one of the most-important Germany travel tips I can give you here: Check the long-range weather forecast!
Electrical plugs in Germany: The standard continental European type which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V.
Travel in Germany: The diesel engine, the electric trolleybus and airship were invented in Germany along with pioneering work in the production of the helicopter and other internal combustion engines. Welcome to transport heaven!
For long distances within Germany, Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway, comes highly recommended. The main railway station in a city/town is called the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf). Each city has its own extensive public transport system.
My Germany by Train post gives extensive details on train travel in Germany including tips on understanding rail tickets and signs at the station.
Travelling by bus in Germany is ideal for short distances and for budget travellers. Routes are run by a whole host of private companies too numerous to mention here. The GoEuro and BusRadar websites give a good overview of the ticket prices, timetable and of the companies. Cities and towns will have a central bus station (Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof- ZOB) but some companies operate to and from a site near the local hauptbahnhof.
For private transport, Germany’s autobahn road network is the envy of Europe. Just remember, the most well-known advertising slogan in Germany is Audi’s Vorsprung durch Technik (Progress through technology), a philosophy everyone seems to embrace.
Germany has excellent links to neighbouring countries by train, bus and plane. International airports are dotted around the country near major cities with Frankfurt Am Main airport by far the largest.
The Arts in Germany: Where do I begin? For classical music check out Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, Handel, Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn. For literature try Goethe, Hesse, Brecht, Mann, Müller, Böll and Grass. For philosophy check out Marx, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Hegel and Engels. German cinema has produced some gems from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the Oscar-winning and highly recommended The Lives of Others. The Goddess of German cinema is Marlene Dietrich.
Is Germany safe to visit?
I’ve always considered Germany a safe and civilised country and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs advises to take normal precautions. In fact, Germany is the perfect country for solo female travellers to start their adventures.
Frankfurt is Europe’s second-busiest transport hub and a convenient gateway to Germany given the direct flight between my local airport in Ireland and Frankfurt Hahn. But Frankfurt is also home to the European Central Bank, an organisation which isn’t well received in my own recession-hit country.
Ever since Otto von Bismarck united the various German states in 1871 to form the German Empire, Berlin has been at the heart of Europe. Decisions, good and bad, made in Berlin have had a profound effect on the continent. Creative, historical, liberal, energetic, friendly – Berlin is an unmissable stop on any tour of Europe.
GERMANY TRAVEL TIPS: BOOKS & RESOURCES
However, as Germany is a large country which packs much into each region and city it’s best to refer to the specific guides of each. For Munich check out the Top 10 Munich DK Eyewitness Travel Guide and for the greater Bavaria area I recommend Lonely Planet’s Munich, Bavaria & the Black Forest guide. The extensive Berlin recommendations are listed in the corresponding post.