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Germany

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Overview of Germany

Germany – our home and so incredibly versatile! You can smell the sea breeze at the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, hike or ski in the mountains, swim in crystal clear lakes, see roaring water falls, savor wines in the wine growing areas or enter a different world altogether on the remote islands in the North.

Location and people

The Federal Republic of Germany lies in central Europe and consists of 16 federal states. The largest city and also capital of the country is Berlin. There are more than 81 million people living on around 357,000 square kilometers. Germany shares borders with 9 other countries so it holds a very pivotal position in Europe.

Climate and best time to travel

Germany is part of central Europes temperate zone. The North and Baltic Seas are nice and warm in summer but not hot and the winters are not all too cold. Temperatures differ a lot more in the South. June to September it will be wonderfully warm whereas January is the coldest month.

Germany can be travelled in any season because it always has something to offer: in January and February you can go to the Alps or the lower mountain ranges for skiing and snowboarding, or simply go for the fun of Après-Ski. Summer is best for a trip to the sea. And Spring or Autumn are best for city trips or hiking in the mountains, so plan Mai through June or September through October.

Language

Germany is German speaking but English is very common. You will have no problem getting around the larger cities with English. In Berlin you can live and work without really knowing German, there is a large startup community of internationals in town. Berlin is also very popular among foreign students who come for an exchange semester.

In smaller towns it is helpful to know a little German, at least the most common words. But be warned: there are many different dialects in Germany and having studied High German you will have a hard time understanding people in Bavaria, which is in the South, or in Saxonia, in the East. Even Germans struggle with that!

Currency and payment culture

Since Germany is part of the EU it uses the Euro as of 2002. Germans love cash! Unlike countries such as Sweden or Australia where oftentimes you can pay only with creditcard or mobile be prepared to have cash on you in Germany.

This is slowly changing and you can use your card in department stores or super markets. Most stores and ATMs will accept Visa as well as MasterCard. If you come across an ATM you might want to go ahead and withdraw some cash because they are not as commonplace as in some other countries. There are surprisingly few ATMs in Berlin considering the fact that most smaller shops restaurants and cafes accept cash only!

Immigration and vaccinations

If you hold an EU citizenship you can enter the country without a visa. Citizens of some non-EU countries can also stay up to 90 days without a visa per 6 months, working is not allowed without a special work visa.

Here you can check whether you need a visa or not:
http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/EinreiseUndAufenthalt/StaatenlisteVisumpflicht.html?nn=350374

Visas are issued at embassys or general consulates, cost 60 Euros and usually cover two to ten work days. If you want to work in Germany expect several months for the visa procedures. Applications have to be made in person with the consular representation in you hometown.

There are no vaccination requirements for Germany, no worries here.

Transport

The largest airports are Frankfurt, Munich, Düsseldorf and Hamburg. Almost all foreign airlines will fly there. Berlin planned to open another bigger airport but due to complicaitons it has yet to be finished. There currently are two airports in Berlin: Berlin Tegel and Berlin Schönefeld.

There are also several small airports which the very cheap airlines frequent but in places like Frankfurt or Munich they are an hour away from the city. Sometimes the savings on airfare hardly pay off if you consider the cost of transportation to the city and the time you lose.

Transport infrastructure is very good in Germany. You can get around pretty fast with buses, trains and affordable domestic flights. The latter you should not book too late, unlike Thailand for example a spontaneous flight can become pretty expensive.

The German trains are usually pretty expensive, a ticket from Berlin to Hamburg can quickly cost you up to 120 Euros, but if you look around you can sometimes get special offers for 29 Euros. If you plan to take several trains in one working day then consider buying a Deutschland Ticket, it is 44 Euros for the entire day with unlimited transfers!

Check Ltur if you are planning a trip, here you often find cheap tickets for 19 Euros even for longer distances like Berlin to Munich. But they sell fast, so hurry!

Buses are a more economic alternative to taking the train. They might need a little longer but are very good for your travel budget. There are several companies with buses going between all major cities, the coverage here really is very good. And you can even make a detour abroad, go see Vienna or Prague. If you book early then operators like Meinfernbus will take you across all of Germany from Berlin to Munich for 19 Euros, free wifi on the bus included. A really good deal!

Public transportation within cities is also very good, you really do not need a car in larger cities. Having to find parking and then probably pay for parking as well is just unnecessary stress.

Events

Germany celebrates most traditionally Christian holidays, especially Christmas and Easter. On the 3rd of October Germans celebrate the unification of East and West Germany with a huge party in Berlin.

Apart from that there are countless other large events that take place every year:

⁃ Hamburg harbour’s birthday: it is the world’s biggest harbour party and is celebrated anually in May.

⁃ Carnival: in February/March things go crazy around the Carnival center Cologne. Costumes are a must! But other parts of Germany celebrate the carnival as well, Munich for example holds the dance of the market women at Viktualienmarkt, and of course Düsseldorf and Mainz love their carnival as well.

⁃ Festivals: on an old industrial site the Melt festival offers up electronic and rock music, Wacken festival in August draws heavy metal fans from around the world, the music and arts festival Dockville on a river island in Hamburg offers music for every kind of taste.

⁃ Carnival of cultures: every year around Pentecost Berlin celebrates multiculturality with colourfully dressed groups from Africa and South America. Really worth seeing!

Oktoberfest: the largest fair in the world actually begins in September. The traditional clothing (Dirndl dresses for women and leather pants for men) as well as a Maß (a liter glass of beer) are almost prerequisites for visiting. But be careful, this is a special kind of strong beer which can take you out after only one of those Maßs!

⁃ Christmas markets: punctually on the first Advent Germanys christmas markets open and offer up their sweet and savory goods. Enjoy the wonderful, romantic atmosphere with a glass of Glühwein (a warm sweetened and spiced red or white wine)!

Cultural specialities

When you think of Germany you probably think of cars, football (soccer), sauerkraut and beer. Germany is also known for high quality, precision and reliability because Germans work hard and effectively. Structure, punctuality and ones own privacy are on the top of the list of priorities. Germans really love good planning and attention to detail!

At first glance the people are often perceived as grumpy, uptight and not too cheerful. But behind all that often lies a soft and nice core! Germans are also very direct, they have no problem with pointing out when something is wrong or if they don’t approve of something or other. So don’t be surprised if a German talks back to you, this is perfectly normal!

Their own home is very important to the Germans. Tidying, tending to the garden, remodeling… these all are favourite occupations of a German homeowner. In larger cities there are entire garden lots (Schrebergärten) where one can rent a piece of garden complete with garden shed. The tennants spend their off days and weekends here.

If you are invited to someone’s home bring a little gift for the host. Chocolate, flowers, something to cook with, etc. are always well received. And be on time or at least notify your host early enough if you are going to be late!

Germans usually extend the right hand when introducing themselves. If you already know someone it is fine to hug or exchange kisses on the cheek.

The love for cleanliness and order also reflects in the streets, you will find very little trash lying around. There are bins everywhere and they are emptied regularly.

Arts and culture are very important to public life in Germany. Great poets, thinkers and composers such as Goethe, Schiller, Bach and Beethoven have strongly influenced the German cultural landscape. Make the most of the many operas, theaters and museums around, some will even be free on certain days!

You will encounter fairly high levels of tolerance and respect in Germany. Many ethnic groups live together here. Berlin in particular is a melting pot of different cultures. Gays, lesbians, transsexuals… nobody is stared at here or disciminated against.

You should keep in mind that shops and supermarkets in small towns will close at 6. In larger cities they are usually upen until 8, some even until midnight or 24/7. Sunday is a day of rest in Germany, all stores are closed for the day. Cafes and restaurants will be open and of course you can get fresh rolls in a bakery!

Food and drink

Germans like hearty food but every region has its own specialties. There are loads of meat dishes with pork being the most consumed meat. You find it in the German specialties Schweinshaxe (a pig’s foot) or Saumagen (pig’s stomach). Popular sides with that are filled or plain dumplings and Spätzle (a special type of pasta). Bratwurst and currywurst are also very common and of course various potato dishes and sauerkraut.
Naturally, in the cities you find not just German cuisine but any kind of cooking you can think of: Vietnamese, Korean and burgers have gained great poplularity in the last years. And of course there are delicious Italian eateries on every corner, great Indian and Greek food and slightly pricier French restaurants. The prices in Berlin are notably lower than in other German cities but you will also find star quality restaurants.
Germans are known for their diverse selection of breads and baked goods. Bakeries are everywhere but for the really good traditional rolls and cakes you need to find a small bakery that is not part of the big chains. The Germans love for bread is pretty obvious, it is part of the typical German breakfast and the dinner.
On weekends and holidays in particular people traditionally get together for the fourth meal of the day: for coffe, cake and gossip with friends and family. Something sweet to go with the coffee absolutely is a must.
Beer is THE ultimate German drink! Weizen, Pilsner and Altbier are said to have been invented by Germans. If you don’t dig the strong taste of beer itself you might like the various mixtures of beer with coke, lemonade or sweet liquors (beer with raspberry liquor is a Berliner Weisse). Beer is traditionally consumed in a beer garden. Bavaria in particular is the perfect place for that! Here you can get a closeup of the tradition. Waiters usually wear the typical Dirndl or Lederhose.There are also several wine growing areas in Germany which are known for white wine. Around Frankfurt you will find pubs that serve the local apple wine. A very popular drink, especially among women, is Weißweinschorle, which is white wine mixed with sparkling water. Aperol Spritz is also pretty popular as an aperitif or after-work drink. A typical nightcap to end the evening with would be schnaps, a hard liquor.

In terms of non-alcoholic beverages Germans drink mostly water, but caution: it has to be sparkling water, called Sprudelwasser. Sparkling water mixed with juice is also pretty popular, apple juice being the classic mixer. The (apple) juice with water is super refreshing in summer and a healthy alternative to beer.

In Germany a service tip of around 10% is expected but not mandatory, especially if the service is not great.

So ‘Prost’ and ‘guten Appetit’!

What to pack

There is nothing you really need to think of when packing for a trip to Germany. A rain jacket never hurts and just as for any trip where you will be walking a lot it is wise to bring comfortable shoes. If you are headed for the mountains then sturdy light hiking boots and functional clothing will be good. You can of course go hiking in sneakers but the rist of injuring yourself is a lot higher.

If you want to go camping then definitely bring mosquito spray! Those biests are really aggressive around lakes in summer. Winter can get pretty cold in some areas so from October on you really must bring warm clothes.

Off The Path Highlights

Germany is large and diverse, so even we have not nearly seen everything. But we do have our favourite places and activities:

Kitesurfing in Laboe by Kiel: the perfect place for kitesurfing in Germany because the water is shallow and not very salty, you can stand for pretty long and are close to the city.

Streetfood markets in Berlin: we love streetfood markets and Berlin has a lot of them! Every Sunday you can fill up at Neue Heimat or Thursdays at Markthalle 9.

Hiking at Königssee: the cleanest and highest lake in Germany offers great hiking trails and breathtaking views fo the mountains and the turquoise lake.

⁃ Skydiving: there are many great places in Germany to jump from a plane, helicopter or even a hot air balloon.

⁃ A trip to Saxonian Switzerland: hiking or biking through the bizarre cliff formations of the Elbsandstein mountain range is truly unique!

⁃ Spend the night in a tree house: it is quite an adventure to sleep in the trees in the middle of a wolf park between Bremen and Hamburg!

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