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Guten tag aus Deutschland! The big country right in the middle of Europe: east meets west, north meets south, history meets progress, philosophy meets technology, ideas meet science, and (crucially) wine meets beer!
Modern Germany was formed in 1871 and throughout the next 120 years, the country lurched through a series of man-made disasters. It was a literally divisive time. Over the past few decades, though, it has grown into one of the world’s strongest, fairest, wealthiest and most progressive democracies.
With more than 80 million people, Germany is the most populous country wholly in Europe. Unsurprisingly, this also means there are large regional differences within the country. It all starts in the capital, Berlin, where bohemian culture and the relics of the past coexist in a vibrant balance.
Travel east to the port and university city of Hamburg and you’ll come across elegant canals and crazy nightlife. To the south, the sunny vineyards and dark forests around Stuttgart are spotlessly picturesque. Bavaria, meanwhile, stands alone. Almost a country within a country, Germany’s south-easternmost state is the home of Oktoberfest, fairytale castles, brass bands and lederhosen.
Dealing with the Airports in Germany
Curiously when you grab an international flight into Germany, you probably won’t be going to Berlin. Far and away Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and Munich Airport (MUC), each over 400km from the capital, are the big two of German air arrivals.
Frankfurt Airport tips:
- There are a lot of business travellers here, they’re going to be in a rush.
- It processes an extraordinary passenger volume, so the staff have to put efficiency before friendliness – and they are very efficient.
- It always seems to be under renovation, there will be construction going on somewhere.
- There’s a good chance you will disembark the plane onto the tarmac.
Munich Airport tips:
- Has a really cool gallery, its own brewery and an outdoor Visitor’s Park if you have a long layover.
- Some travellers complain that there are not enough toilets.
- Unusually efficient up to a certain point of busyness, after which it seems to be unusually prone to delays.
Getting from FRA or MUC airports to the cities
Frankfurt Airport is well connected to Frankfurt city. The best bet is one of the S-Bahn trains. They take about 15 minutes and costs less than €5.
From Munich, the S-Bahn is still the best way, but as the airport is further away from the city, the trip can take nearly an hour and costs just over €10.
Safety in Germany
Germany has quite distinct regional differences but, in general, it is an uncommonly orderly and rule-abiding country. Especially the south. The issues it does have tend to come from drug and alcohol-related harassment.
It is not uncommon to encounter large groups of addicts in poor areas casually asking for money and, as alcohol consumption is totally legal in most public places, drunks can pop up almost anywhere.
Germans are also a politically active people. If demonstrators come marching your way, just go the other. Rioting on May Day has become something of a sport. The fracas has a festive atmosphere but is still best avoided – 99.99% of Germans do so.
All that said, German police are very serious and very professional. While they are always trustworthy and helpful, they also don’t give anyone leeway. Playing the ‘duh, I’m foreign’ card – say, when caught skipping train fare – does not work.
Note: In autumn, Berlin just about drowns in pretty yellow leaves, but do not kick through them. They often conceal broken bottles, dog poo and the solid iron railings that surround most sidewalk trees.
Getting around Berlin
Berlin is big and, unlike most European cities, the interesting bits are fairly far apart. Luckily, everything is well connected by safe, easy-to-use public transport.
Bicycle travel also makes a lot of sense: the temperatures are generally pleasant, there are virtually no hills, helmets aren’t mandatory and there are hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike paths.
Lastly, one adventurous way to get your Berlin bearings is in a mini hot-rod. You’ll often see convoys of these tiny one-seat convertibles tearing about the city. The instant you see them zipping past you’ll know whether it’s something you want to do. There are several providers, just ask your hotel or go to Google.
What to wear in Germany
Germans don’t really dress for flair; they go for practicality. Man or woman, boy or girl, jeans, jumpers and t-shirts will take you most places. Look neat, tidy and clean. Lederhosen and dirndls are festival costumes only.
A word on nudity: in Germany many spas, saunas and group showers (such as in gym locker rooms) are governed by hygiene laws mandating total nudity. This law also applies in mixed gender facilities.
Getting along with Germans
There are a lot of misconceptions about Germans. It all comes down to one fact: they apply themselves wholly to whatever they are doing. If it is time for work, they work hard. If it is time for fun, they really know how to have a good time. Respect this, and you’ll find Germans are actually great company.
You should already know the language basics, but here they are again:
- bitte – bitt-eh – please
- danke – done-ka – thank you
- hallo – hull-o – hello
- Auf Wiedersehen – owf veeder-sayn – goodbye
- Entschuldigen Sie – en shooldy-gen zee – excuse me
- Es tut mir lied – ess toot mir lyde – I’m sorry
Some phrases you’ll actually use
Most phrasebooks cover all sorts of bizarre things, however the bulk of your conversations will be around accessing services or requests for information. Here’s a few good phrases:
In German: Entschuldigung, kann ich unterbrechen
In English: Excuse me, can I interrupt?
Note: Use this before asking for directions as asking for directions in the street usually involves stopping someone or interrupting a conversation.
In German: ein Milchkaffee bitte
In English: Coffee with milk, please
Note: Germans love coffee and tea, and they have their own distinct take. Drip coffee predominates. Ordering the above will get you a short cup of drip coffee topped with milk (no foam). You can also try a German-style ‘latte macchiato’ – it will be a tall, milky coffee with a LOT of foam.
In German: Ich schaue mich nur ein wenig um.
In English: I am just looking for now.
Note: Say this in the shop when you are approached by a staff member but not ready to buy.
In German: Mein deutsch ist noch nicht sehr gut
In English: My German is not very good yet.
In German: Wo ist die Toilette, bitte
In English: Where are the bathrooms?
Note: Public restrooms vary greatly in quality in Germany. Good ones tend to have an attendant who will ask a for a few coins.
In German: Kannst du mir den Weg sagen nach
In English: Can you tell me the way to …
In German: Was kostet das?
Say: Vuss cost-ett duss?
In English: What does this cost?
Eating out in Germany
Breakfast – Frühstück: The classic ‘continental’ breakfast. Coffee, fruit juice and bread figure prominently. Time: until about 9am.
Lunch – Mittagessen: A hearty meal often based on meat (especially sausages), vegetables and potatoes. Beer is a traditional accompaniment. Time: midday until 2pm.
Afternoons – Kaffee und Kuchen: Coffee and cake has a special place in German cuisine. While German coffee is mediocre, German baking is phenomenal. Time: traditionally bang on 4pm.
Dinner – Abendbrot: A light meal, often of hot soup with cold meats, pickles and more bread. Beer and wine are common. Time: 7:30 to 9pm.
Yes, it is chicken and chips fast food, but there is something special about Huhnerhaus 36. Both its locations deep in the edgy Kreuzberg district usually have lines out the door. The standard order is quarter of a large chicken, lots of heavily seasoned chips and four sauces.
Address: Skalitzer Str. 95A, 10997 Berlin, Germany
Web: None, but it is easy to find details on Google.
A ‘traditional’ German restaurant in a gorgeous 500-year-old belltower. It offers a selection of set menus of hearty, filling ‘comfort’ food. A dignified way to get absolutely stuffed on superb meat and potato based dishes. Wash it down with lots of the local wine.
Hours: Mon-Sat 5pm to midnight; closed Sundays
Address: Weberstrasse 72, 70182 Stuttgart
As Bavaria is the source of most of the German cliches, it’s also the place that reinterprets them the most. Brenner is one example. It takes the cliches of German cooking and reimagines them in amazing ways. Grilled fish is a specialty. Book ahead.
Hours: 8:30am to after midnight, 7 days
Address: Maximilianstrasse 15, 80539 München
Of course we have to recommend hamburgers in Hamburg! Open until 6am and right in the centre of the wild nightlife district, Burger Heroes Kiez offers pure party fuel. Because, forget Vegas, New York and London, a good night out in Hamburg in on another level.
Hours: Sun-Thu, midday to 4am; Fri-Sat midday to 6am
Address: Reeperbahn 99, 20359 Hamburg,
Travelling around Germany
Germany is one of the largest countries in Europe and was forged from a bewildering array of tiny kingdoms in the late 19th Century. This means there are a lot of regional differences. Very generally, things get wealthier as you move south and more traditional as you go east. Thus, the best in 24-hour techno is the north-west and the best in brass bands and beer is towards the opposite side of the compass.
Getting around Germany is best done by bus as the trains, while brilliant, are notoriously overpriced. Long-distance carpooling is a great option too. Many highways have no speed limit, so a good driver will get you across the country faster and cheaper than flying (door to door). Expect to see the speedo swing past 200km/h.
When planning your trip to Germany check out our German SIM card and learn how to make the most of your pre-paid phone card. We hope you will enjoy your stay in Germany!