Darren Crocker’s Guide to Germany
Use these quick links to navigate Darren's wonderful guide
- Health Advice
- Getting There
- Getting Around
- Top Events
- Top Sites and Activities
- Further Information
Hallo! Und Herzlich Willkommen!
Thinking of a trip to Germany? Good choice. It's historical, beautiful and practical. Whatever your budget; travelling Germany has plenty to offer backpackers.
In many senses, Germany is the true gate way to Europe, bordering with nine other countries; France, Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Poland, Luxembourg and Belgium.
There you go folks. Ace that pub quiz machine!
The country also has some of the worlds most amazing landscape of rivers, lakes, forests and mountains, friendly and diverse people and some of the planets greatest beer! How do I know? By trying on my jeans...
From second largest City of Hamburg in the very North, to the picturesque Lake of Constance in the extreme South, (about as South as you can get folks. I can actually walk to Switzerland in five minutes from my flat!) Germany is bigger than you may think.
Luckily with great transport options, and the notorious Autobahn, all of Germany can be easily reached by experienced and new travellers alike.
So what makes Germany a must see destination?
Where do I start!
One of the most famous and recognised events in Germany is Oktoberfest in Munich, running for 16 to 18 days, from the end of September into the beginning of October ('Septemberfest' doesn't have the same ring I guess..) The annual festival attracted more than 6.4 million people in 2010, and consumed a staggering 7 million litres of beer over 34 tents.
No typo folks. Litres. That's a crazy amount of toilet breaks...
Oktoberfest is iconic of Germany and attracts visitors from all over the world, all eager to taste the local brew, dress up for the occasion (dust off your lederhosens!) and sit in Munich's famous beer halls. With the event becoming bigger and bigger every year, a little planning is essential in order to make the most of your time.
Like most Countries in Europe, the Germans are mad about sport. The National football team has been a force on the world stage, consistently over the years and are known for being hard to beat. With a total of three World Cups and three European Championships - there is little room for argument (although people will anyway!).
The National league at club level (The Bundesliga) is firmly established and successful. It boasts some of the most attractive, competitive and entertaining football your likely to see anywhere in the world. With huge names such as Bayern Munich, Borrusia Dortmund, and Bayern Leverkusen all attracting some of the games biggest stars, tickets for a match are in high demand. With average attendances close to the 40 thousand and with a lot of those fans made up of passionate and loyal season ticket holders, you are guaranteed a game to remember on atmosphere alone, even if you are unlucky enough to not witness any goals!
Of course no trip to Germany is complete without a visit to the Capital, Berlin; Germany's largest city. Doused in history, arts, events and culture, Berlin is an extremely popular tourist destination.
However - only a visit to Berlin or Munich does not make up a balanced trip to Germany. Both cities are awesome and many people go for weekend breaks. But it's the longer stay in Germany that will give you a true representation of what the Country has to offer.
Germany is made up of 16 different states, all boasting their own breweries, food, and must see sites. Cologne for example is simply unmissable.
With only a couple of hours on the plane (from the UK) and International airports scattered generously across the Country, it is pretty easy to get to in a short space of time.
Where ever you are in Europe, there will most likely be a budget airline to take you there.
The train system is highly efficient and can zip you from one region to the next with ease, and with English being widely spoken by many locals - you shouldn't find it too hard to get by.
However that's not to say you shouldn't try your hand at speaking the language.
Overall, Germans are tolerant, patient and friendly to tourists. But as like most Countries - using a few key words in the local language goes along way.
Brief being the key word.
If I was to write about German history in depth, I would develop arthritis in every finger, have enough material for a novel and would be taking my caffeine addiction to a whole new level.
To put it simply; Presenting a detailed history of a Country, that's as old, varied, epic and complex as Germany isn't very easy.
So if you are looking to make German History your specialist subject on Mastermind, then I apologise in advance!
With that being said...
Germany as we know it today was originally a region called Germania. It is thought that the tribes there date back to 500 B.C.
By 100 B.C, the tribes that inhabited the land, had migrated South, forming new territories throughout much of (what you know now as) Germany.
There were three separate tribes inhabiting the lands. The Eastern, The Northern and The Western (South it is then!). By 2nd Century B.C, they had all came to blows, with Julius Ceasar's Romans.
Fast forward to 9 A.D, and the Roman army were looking to advance beyond the river Rhine, in the South of Germany. They were met with huge resistance and subsequently defeated.
In the 3rd century, other German tribes began to crop up from the West. Among those were the Franks and the Saxons. They began to invade Roman strongholds and dominate the smaller tribes. By the end of all the conflict, northern Germany was ruled by the Saxons and the Slavs, whilst the Franks had a large grip on the South. The Franks went onto to form an empire in what you now know as France.
However during this time, no one was getting along for long, and there were many battles and hardships to be had, including the great famine of the 1600's due to the 'thirty year war'.
Germany (to which had many different leaders in different regions) fought over religion, land, and power, all the way through to the 18th Century.
In 1806, Napoleon defeated the Holy Roman Empire, but it was the Prussians with Otto Von Bismarck that eventually created a unified Germany in 1871.
During this time, Bismarck laid the foundations for German industry, but was dismissed by new leadership.
Germany began colonizing parts of North Africa and was built into a military nation. It was the International aspirations of the German empire that partly played a part in the coming of the first world war.
The German revolution was replaced by the Weimer Republic in 1918, after military surrender during the war. Much like many other countries, Germany found itself in financial ruin after the war.
A new leader emerged in 1933 in Adolf Hitler. Hitler had an aggressive foreign policy, and the German invasion of Poland, acted as a trigger for the second world war.
The war involved most of the worlds nations, including all of the great super powers. Germany conquered much of Europe and became a dominate force. In the six years it lasted (1939-1945), over 60 million people lost their lives giving the war the unfortunate title of 'The deadliest military conflict in history'.
The war ended with allied victory over Germany and Japan. Hitler was to marry in the days before, and it is believed that he committed suicide with his wife in Berlin, as the City was being captured. However this has been heavily speculated over the years.
Following Germany’s defeat in the war, the Country became occupied by British, French, US, and Soviet rule. This eventually led to the formation of two separate states.
The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and the German Federal Republic (West Germany).
This led to the construction on The Berlin Wall, (Building began on the 31st of August 1961 by the Democratic Republic) which acted as a barrier to completely cut off West Berlin from East Germany, and the area that surrounded it.
On the 9th of November 1989, the Wall began to be demolished. A significant moment in modern history.
And after 45 years, on October 3rd 1990, history was made again as Germany was reunified with Berlin being made the Capital City.
There you have it.
A brief history of Germany in under 5 cups of coffee...
Ah politics. Probably not everyones favourite topic unless you study it or it effects you directly, but something that if you know a little about - could earn your team a round of drinks at the next pub quiz. Unless that is the next round is on 'Miss World winners from 1980 - 2000' like my team got not long ago, then you could get full marks on German politics and still have no chance of winning.
Germany is a Federal Republic. The government is based in Berlin, consisting of the Federal Chancellor and the Cabinet of Federal Ministers. Federal elections are held every four years, however state elections are also held every four to five years. There are 16 state governments, each having it's own constitution and parliament.
There are currently 5 major political parties. They are:
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU),which also includes the Christian Social Union (CSU); the Free Democratic Party (FDP); the Social Democratic Party (SPD); the Green Party; and the Left Party (die Linke)
As it stands, Angela Merkel is the Federal Chancellor ( she is currently serving her second term). Elected in 2005, she became the first ever woman Chancellor of Germany.
Christian Wulff is the current president, being elected in June 2010. He took over a 'vacant office'.due to the retirement of former president Horst Köhler
They both represent the CDU.
The German electoral system is geared towards a multi party system, making it difficult for any one party to form a government on it's own. However saying that, the CDU and the SPD have been fairly dominate since 1949.
Most recently in 2009, the CDU/SPD both secured the highest percentage of votes with 33.8% and 22.9%, forming a coalition government and winning the majority of the seats in the Bundestag (German parliament). The next Federal election will take place in October 2013.
Germany is the 3rd largest contributor to the United Nations budget and the largest to the European Union. They are also have the largest economy in Europe, the 4th largest in the world and is ranked 2nd in the world for large exports.
They have been getting fairly involved on a number of key international issues as well. The G20, climate change, energy, the Middle East Peace Process, and international security amongst others.
The weather you will experience in Germany really depends on two factors.
- What time of year you will be there.
- Which part of the country you're in.
From north to south, to east and west; the conditions can be very different.
The climate in the north-west and the north of Germany is Oceanic. Meaning? Rain falls all year round, so you might want to pack that jacket after all. Summer can be cooler compared to elsewhere in Germany but temperatures can get pretty high and can reach above 30 degrees Celsius. Winter is relatively mild compared to the east of Germany.
However this isn't saying much. The east is very cold indeed. It is more continental, meaning that winter can be extremely cold, whilst summer can be really hot for long periods.
But don't let that put you off travelling in the winter months. It is still possible and all month long in December, most of Germany plays host to Christmas markets, where you can by souvenirs and get tipsy on mulled wine!
Central Germany and the south, is a bit harder to predict as the weather can change from one day to the next. I know by experience that the south can be having a beautiful, sunny day then suddenly there will be torrential rain for hours on end. It's fairly unpredictable, and not what I signed up for when I left Scotland!
What I tend to answer (when asked about the summer) is: “Think of the weather in the UK and add ten degrees.”
Much like the north, the temperature can reach as high as 30 degrees and you can go swimming in the lakes and rivers.
You should do a little planning before a trip to Germany, just so you know what to expect. However it's fairly straight forward.
For the summer? Bikini/swimming trunks.
Winter? A woolly hat and scarf.
Don't get the two mixed up folks. You might get some dodgy looks at the market.
A 5 day forecast from the BBC is fairly reliable.
Alternatively - If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, and would like to try navigating a site completely in German, this site will go into the forecast in more detail:
There is no specific health requirements for visiting Germany, so you don't need to worry about getting a dozen needles or patting the next door neighbours dog.
Straight forward travel insurance will suffice for a holiday, however (without trying to sound like an elder) you should always make sure you pick the right plan. Activities such as skiing and snowboarding will require more substantial cover, so try and have a read over the small print and choose wisely. You really don't want to be paying for medical treatment out of your own pocket as it can be very expensive and you can kiss goodbye to your holiday.
As they say – better to be safe than sorry
One option you may want to look into (if you haven't already) is the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). If you are a British citizen, and heading to any country in the EU, this card can cover emergency medical costs, if you're unlucky enough to need treatment. They are free to get (beware of sites that ask for payment) and valid for 5 years. However this isn't an alternative to travel insurance. You may want to obtain that as well, as the EHIC only covers specific costs.
Don't worry - It's not as confusing as it sounds.
Have a look at this article in The Telegraph. It explains the usage of the card a bit more in depth and should clear up any questions you may have:
If you are looking to live and work in Germany, health insurance is mandatory. You have three options for health insurance:
- Or a combination of both.
Sadly – there is no cheap option.
Whether you are working part time, full time, or unemployed - you will have to pay for health insurance and sadly - there is no cheap option.
- Full time - your employer will pay a percentage of the cost for you. This is usually half, whilst you pay the remainder. It is more than likely that the employer will sign you up with an insurance company when taking you on.
- Part time - you should expect to pay the whole cost yourself and deal with an insurance company on your own. This can be a huge blow to your wage packet and you might want to think about if it's worth working. These are typically 400 euro per month contracts.
If you have just arrived in Germany, getting insured should be near the top of your priority list, as it will haunt you until you deal with it. Plus you can't start earning money unless your insured. Although Germany has one of the best health care systems in the world, at times the system can get very confusing. Knowing what you are/are not entitled too can give you a headache.
When I first arrived here I started working part time in an Italian restaurant. Not only did €300 of my wage go towards rent, I paid €140 a month health insurance.
That my friends is depressing math at it's finest.
I was also due payment for the two months I was unemployed, as well as a backlog of missed payments due to my employer cancelling my policy without my knowledge (needless to say – I work elsewhere). I wasn't even breaking even in my first few months of working in Germany so this is something you need to think about.
It's important to understand why you are making these contributions and what you get out of it, otherwise you might be left feeling short changed.
The Toytown forums ( a message board for ex-pats living in Germany) has some great information on this matter. I highly recommend checking it out.
Like most countries, depending on what you intend to do in Germany and where you're from, will determine whether you need a visa or not. Rules and regulations can change quite regularly, so
if your intention is to study, work or just visit – you might want to check the requirements before turning up.
As it stands...
- If you are a member of the EU (or a national of Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein), you won't require any type of visa for Germany. So that goes for working, studying and just visiting. However if you intend to stay any longer than three months and want to work/study, you will need a residence permit, which you can get from any immigration office in Germany.
- If you are a citizen of the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Israel, or Switzerland you also don't need a visa for visits up to three months. However you will need a visa if you are planning on working/studying.
Again – you will also require a residence permit as well as the visa.
Important – Visa's are never issued in Germany. You will have to sort this out before getting there, otherwise you will be flying home and applying from
- If you are from a country that hasn't already been mentioned, chances are – you'll need a visa, regardless if your only planning a holiday. Check out the German embassy (that's a link for the one in London) for more information. You might need some or all of the following when applying, (depending on the visa):
- Proof of adequate means of financial support during stay.
- 2 passport photographs.
- Proof of medical insurance.
- Proof of purpose of visit and/or a hotel reservation and/or a return ticket.
- Letter from employer or place of study. If self-employed a letter from a solicitor, accountant, bank manager or local Chamber of Commerce.
- Passport with at least 3 months validity beyond the end of the visa period requested, with a blank page available for the visa.
One other thing...
- Germany is part of the 'Schengen Agreement'. Haven't heard of it?
It means that as part of your visa, you are able to travel to participating countries for stays up to 90 days. So basically, travelling to these countries is legally the same as travelling within Germany, meaning you won't require another visa.
The countries are:
Spain, Italy, Austria, Belgium, France, Denmark, Greece, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
Unless you are stranded on a dessert island or floating out at sea, the chances are, wherever you are in the world , you'll be able to get to Germany with minimum hassle.
With only a couple of hours flight time from the UK and a choice of budget airlines to choose from, it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. You could even consider Germany as part of your round the world ticket. There's plenty of International airports to choose from so this makes the country very accessible and achievable as a stop over.
If you're feeling super adventurous or have a fear of airline food?
No stress. It's possible to get there by land.
To save you time scanning through countless pages and to give you some ideas, below is a general overview of where you can fly in and out of when it comes to the main International airports in Germany.
Obviously this can change at any time folks, and this isn't every destination on offer.
Click on the airport links if you need further information:
Berlin (TXL) – There are two massive airports in Berlin; Tegel and. Schönefeld.
Top Destinations – Milan, Moscow, Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels, Prague, Vienna, Belgrade, Casablanca, Copenhagen, Zurich, Dubai.
Flights to/from the UK – Liverpool, London-Gatwick/Luton/Stansted, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow.
Düsseldorf (DUS) – The third largest in Germany.
Top Destinations – Dublin, Moscow, Athens, Bangkok, Cancun, Barcelona, Miami, New York, St Petersburg, Beijing, Paris, Dubai, Rome, Prague, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Toronto, Zurich, Chicago, Copenhagen, Lisbon.
Flights to/from the UK – Birmingham, Exeter, Manchester, Southampton, London Stansted/Heathrow/Gatwick, Leeds/Bradford, Edinburgh, and Inverness (seasonal).
Frankfurt / Main (FRA) – Busiest airport in Germany in terms of passenger traffic.
Top Destinations – Dublin, Athens, Moscow, Montreal, Shanghai, Paris, Delhi, Mauritius, Toronto, Milan, Rome, Tokyo, Seoul, Vienna, Minsk, Hong Kong, Barbados, Phuket, Vancouver, Houston, Prague, Cairo, Madrid, Gothenburg, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Mexico City, Lyon, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Las Vegas, Johannesburg.
Flights to/from the UK – London-Heathrow/Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton and Aberdeen.
München - Munich (MUC) – Second busiest behind Frankfurt.
Top Destinations – Cork, Moscow, Cairo, Toronto, Athens, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Helsinki, Abu Dhabi, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Boston, Beijing, Barcelona, Delhi, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Stockholm, Rome, Madrid, Zagreb, Naples, Singapore, Marrakesh, Philadelphia, Bangkok.
Flights to/from the UK – London-Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham..
Other International airports
Dresden, Hanover, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Dortmund, Hoff, Nurnberg, and Rostock
Plentiful. And can be very cheap indeed.
There are cheap flights to be had to pretty much every major City in Europe and you have a fair few companies to choose from. In fact at the moment, there are 62 low cost airlines operating in Europe, and the majority of them operate in and out of Germany.
Here are three of the cheapest:
Tickets start from €0.01 one way, but that's madness. In reality the average price of a one way flight is €40 to €50, including fees and taxes. Bear in mind add ons will cost you more. They will charge you for any extras, including checked baggage and for over weight baggage.
(A gut wrenching €40 per kilo over. Ouch...)
Flights from the UK:
London (Stansted) – Berlin, Bremen, Karlsruhe, Frankfurt (Hahn), Hamburg (Lubeck), Düsseldorf (Weeze), Memmingen (Munich)
East Midlands – Berlin
Edinburgh – Berlin, Bremen, Frankfurt (Hahn), Memmingen (Munich)
Leeds/Bradford – Düsseldorf (Weeze)
Manchester – Frankfurt (Hahn), Memmingen (Munich)
- 9 times out of 10 - the cheapest flight you will get
- Online check in
- No refunds
- Obscure airport locations, far away from the main City
- You must print off your boarding pass before arriving at the airport. If you do so there; you will be charged
Like Ryanair, Easyjet only offer one way tickets. Prices start from €20 but you're more likely to pay more than that. Expect to pay anything from €50 to €100, however you could land lucky (pardon the pun) if you keep an eye out and get in quickly enough.
Flights from the UK
Bristol – Berlin.
Edinburgh – Cologne, Munich,
Glasgow – Berlin.
Liverpool – Berlin.
London-Gatwick – Düsseldorf, Cologne, Munich, Berlin, Hamburg.
London-Luton – Dortmund, Berlin, Hamburg.
London-Stansted – Munich.
Manchester – Hamburg, Berlin, Munich.
- Centrally located airports
- No charge for printing of boarding pass at the airport
- Generally more expensive that Ryanair
- No free checked baggage
Tickets start from €44,99 one-way including all taxes and fees.
Flights from the UK
Edinburgh – Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich.
Glasgow – Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich.
Newcastle – Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart.
Manchester – Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich, Paderborn.
London – Cologne, Munster, Paderborn, Erfurt, Dresden, Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich.
- Free drinks, snacks, sweets and newspapers. Hurrah!
- Free checked baggage up to 20kg.
- aried destinations across Germany.
- Mixed reviews (however so do most budget airlines).
Getting in early
I recommend booking your flight, as soon as you know your travel dates. As with most budget travel, the longer you leave it – the higher the price will get. Booking weeks or months in advance can save you a fortune. In the past I've managed to fly back to Scotland for under £40 (albeit with carry on baggage only), but the overall price will be effected depending on what day you fly, when you book and where you fly to.
Keep the cost down by:
- Flying early in the morning or late at night.
- Flying midweek.
- Not flying on public holidays.
- Keeping an eye out for sales.
Which ties me into my next point...
It's awesome bagging a cheap flight (everyone loves a bargain) but if it drops you off at airport 100km away from your destination, you're going to need to find a way of getting to where you need to be. So unless you're planning on hiring a car or getting picked up - expect some extra costs.
Look at it this way; If you have to pay €20 for a taxi, a €30 train, €5 for the bus and a €2 donkey ride, just to get to your hotel - it might be worth paying for a more expensive flight based on convenience alone.
When booking a discount flight, keep in mind that there is usually hidden costs somewhere, which could make the difference between a good and a bad deal. Don't be fooled by colourful banners and crazy offers. You're still likely to get a sweet deal but be realistic.
Just remember; If it seems too good to be true – then it probably is.
Getting there by other means
Last year, due to a certain volcano, I had to find a way of getting from the North of Scotland to the South of Germany by land. It was an adventure, but I got there eventually. In the event of Icelandic ash clouds, frozen runways or fear of flying, you also may be looking into other ways of getting to Germany. Luckily you have a couple options like I had:
Train - There are reliable and regular train services that connect Germany with all neighbouring Countries, so if you are coming from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, France, Poland, Belgium, Holland or Luxembourg – you will have no problem. In fact it's possible to find a service running from Italy.
Due to the price war with the budget airlines, train travel has also become relatively cheap for budget travellers.
Check out EuroCity, Inter rail and this awesome page - A beginner's guide to buying cheap European train tickets.
Buying a multi-stop ticket could save you a tonne of cash and these sites are great if you're planning on travelling more than just Germany.
Bus - Busabout is a Europe-wide, hop-on hop-off service designed specifically for backpackers. It seems to have a similar structure and style as some of the New Zealand tours you may know about, and it covers up to 30 destinations in 10 Countries. They also offer great value trips as well as student discount.
I'll be honest – the trips look awesome! Check it out.
You may see me on the bus one day...
Eurolines is more of a 'get to point B from point A' sort of bus ride, that you won't be doing much partying on. However the company serves a purpose in offering affordable and efficient travel across the whole of Europe. Much like the budget airlines, get in quick for the best deals.
The German bus system is very good. Buses are on time and reliable on the most part, so you won't be standing around for too long (although that bus is taking you nowhere). A one way ticket will average out at €2.30 for short local journeys. If you are looking to go further a field, bus stations across the country are usually pretty central, and located close to the train station.
Although you won't see the punchable face of the Megabus mascot cruising throughout the country, you can get a similar service with Berlin linien, who offer a pretty extensive and affordable route across Germany. A one way ticket too Munich from Berlin (which at 9 hours is long journey by the way) will cost you anything from €30- €50. They also offer long distance travel to neighbouring countries, such as Belgium, France and Holland.
Eurolines has many more destinations out of Germany, so it's worth checking out both. Price check and figure out the best route for yourself. Buses are no fun to sit on for hours on end so if you can save yourself a buck or two - your journey will be a bit more bearable.
Car – There's no doubt about it. Driving is the best way to see a Country and Germany is no exception. The roads are decent and you can get to every corner of Germany by car.
If you're a keen driver then you've probably heard about the Autobahn.
There are no speed limits on the Autobahn, but driving like a maniac and as fast as you can could actually land you in trouble. It's been noted that people have been stopped by the police and fined for driving recklessly so be wary. Another thing to keep in mind, that just like everywhere else, you may find yourself stuck in traffic during peak times or when maintenance is being done on the roads. So if your racing ahead to be stuck in traffic, then your journey won't be that quick anyway!
The government recommended speed limit is 130kmph (80 mph) and driving will be on the right hand side.
When renting a car in Germany, you must be at least 18 and have held your license for between one and three years depending on what type of car you go for. There will also be extra charges based on your age and experience.
Plane – There is a host of budget airlines flying in and out of Germany, so if your short on time then flying might be an option for you.
In terms of the cheapest?
It differs as the prices are fairly competitive but a quick search on Skyscanner should answer that question. They compare all the flight prices for you and in my opinion; generally find the best results.
These are all of the budget airlines that have domestic flights within Germany:
One of the main reasons for travel to Germany right?
There is quite literally something going on in all year round and whatever your preference – there is plenty on offer.
With every event comes the inevitable party, and the Germans sure know how to host one. From the beer halls of Munich to the famous 'Carnival' in Cologne, events here are incredibly enticing and regarded by many as some of the best in the world.
Here are a few to get the idea ball rolling:
Oktoberfest - September 17th – October 3rd:
Every year, the centre of Munich plays host to the famous 'Oktoberfest'. Visitors from all over the world come to drink the beer, dress silly (although not mandatory it does get you in the spirit) and leave their heads at the door. With 14 huge beer halls to choose from, (and 21 small ones) all representing different breweries; pick wisely,grab a bench and enjoy your litre (average price – 9 Euros) of beer with live music, food, sing – a longs, smiles and in the company of great people.
GAPPER TIP - If there is a party of you going, I recommend reserving a table in advance. It can get extremely busy as the day goes on and you will only be served whist sitting at a table. So unless you want to sober up in the fair ground prematurely - get in quick and reserve a table. You will be moved on half an hour before the table is due to be occupied and you will end up searching for a free seat that will likely never come. This happened to my friends and I last year at 5pm, and we didn't find another table after over an hour of searching.
You can't reserve from the Oktoberfest website but you can do from the respective breweries. All the contact details you'll need are provided by the site. Just click on the link above.
Stuttgart Beer Festival – This is the second biggest beer festival in Germany, running around the same time as Oktoberfest. It offers all of the same thrills and could also be an option. I recommend looking into both.
Cologne Carnival – November 17th:
Traditionally, the Cologne Carnival starts at 11 minutes past 11, on the 11th day of the 11th month and goes on for 5 days.
Get a taxi there. The number 12 bus will get you in late...
Terrible joke? Moving on.
The tradition can best be described as 'organised madness', taking the form of parades, balls, music, costumes, masks and the election of the carnival king and queen. Germany's 'Mardi Gras' has become a popular tourist destination and although the Cologne carnival is perhaps the most well known, the whole of the country celebrates there own festivities, with different days having different themes and events.
There is a day dedicated to woman, where they are free to kiss any passing guy they want by cutting off their ties.
Drunk girls running around with scissors, throwing themselves on guys?
When packing and you decide to take one pair of underwear to make room for more ties, you might want to consider fitting in a first aid kit as well.
The timing of the carnivals vary from County to County but celebrations can go on right through to early Spring and even in the Summer in Berlin, so it's best to do some planning before hand.
This video should give you an idea of the mayhem.
Christmas Markets – December:
If you are in Germany for Christmas, and near any main town or city - chances are you'll be a stones throw away from a Christmas market. They are literally located all over the Country.
Walking through the make-shift winter wonderland and warming your stomach with mulled wine, should guarantee to get you into the Christmas spirit (unless this is your idea of hell).
Rows of stalls sell everything from wooden toys to chocolate covered waffles.
What I especially love is the atmosphere and the friendliness whilst groups of people, huddle around electric heaters as the snow falls, grasping onto their warm mugs of wine. Truly a unique and memorable image to take home.
Hamburg Harbour Anniversary – 1st weekend of May:
Every year Hamburg celebrates the birth date of the harbour in style. In what started as a small event now attracts up to 1 million people every year, and has became the worlds biggest port festival.
The festival boasts a wide range of events for people of all ages, ranging from fairground rides and live music, to air displays and the docking of some of the largest tall ships in the world.
I have fond memories of the tall ships coming to town when I was a kid, and if that experience is anything to go by – Hamburg's celebrations is bound to be off the charts.
Airberlin offers direct flights to Hamburg from most major cities in the UK (likewise with most of mainland Europe)
Check it out.
From a tourist stand point,Germany has pretty much everything you could possibly want. From historical castles to awesome football stadiums, there are no shortage of picture opportunities.
Here are some of the must see sights and activities:
Castle Neuschwanstein, Bavaria – One of the most famous attractions and the most photographed building in Germany. Walt Disney drew inspiration from the castle for 'Sleeping Beauty' (never seen it. I'm a Lion King man) and you can see why. It's situated in the Alps and unless you're driving, you will have to catch a train to Füssen and a bus from there. I've been before and if you have nice weather - it truly is spectacular. You can take the very same picture that I have from a suspended walk way over a deep canyon. Shuttle buses can take you up to the castle, but if your with your other half and fancy being romantic, you can take a horse and carriage up there for €5. Entry to the castle is €9 but expect to pay for parking as well. Worth the trip and the castle is iconic of Germany, so it really is a must see. Have fun!
Cologne – Cologne is probably most famous for three things:
- The awesome Cathedral.
- Carnival (February each year)
- The Christmas market (every December)
So you have three reasons to visit already! Although the market and the carnival are different months of the year, so you may need to stick around for a while. At least the Cathedrals there all year round...
One of the most liberal cities in Germany with a vibrant art, as well as a big gay scene. The city boasts more than 30 museums to explore (but expect a €5- €10 charge for the top exhibitions) and is also home to the busiest shopping street in Europe. Cologne is one of Germany's top tourist hot spots. Check it out.
Berlin – What do we say? Germany's most well known and famous city? Probably a safe bet.
The capital city, Berlin holds some of Germany's most famous and historic sights.
The Brandenburg Gate, at one time stood between east and west Germany but it is now seen as a symbol and landmark of new Germany.
Museum island is home to (you guessed it) museums. Five of them, and they are all world-class. However it doesn't end at five and you could spend your whole trip in museums if you wanted to.
You can also check out the Reichstag (the German parliament building), the moving Holocaust memorial and the East side gallery, which holds the last piece of the Berlin wall, stretching 1.3 kilometres.
And folks; you can do all that for free.
All of those sights are a must see and there is so much more on offer.
Berlin is also famous for it's night life and the cities clubs cater for almost any taste. Although don't expect to crawl home until the very early hours and keep in mind that many train services stop operating after midnight.
The Bundesliga – OK so I’ve never actually been to a bundesliga game. I did have tickets for Bayern Munich v Hanover 96 last season, but due to the infuriating Icelandic volcano - I couldn't make the game.
Which finished 7-0.
Football is the number 1 sport in Germany, and they do it very well indeed. The Bundesliga is one of the most exciting, competitive and financially stable leagues in the world and you would be extremely unlucky to sit through 90 minutes of a boring game.
Although Bayern Munich are a household name with a great pedigree, the rest of the teams are not there to make up the numbers. In fact Borussia Dortmund are champions this year.
From top to bottom it's a great league, which produces a high quality brand of football.
Games are usually a sell out, even for the lesser names due to the high number of passionate season ticket holders.
So folks if you would like to see a game (expect to pay anything up to €100 for a ticket or even more), I recommend getting your tickets online when they go on sale or see if the club you're going to see has a a ticket office open before game day. Otherwise expect to pay over the odds on e bay or to sit in a pub watching the game. Rocking up to the stadium in hope of a ticket on match day will more than likely will leave you disappointed.
Munich – The third largest City in Germany and without doubt - one of the most popular with tourists.
A crazy amount of people flock to Munich every year for the world famous 'Oktoberfest'.
(People tend to mention Central Park when they talk about people watching, but in my opinion; you can't be more entertained than watching the crowds go by during Oktoberfest.)
Alternatively if you would like a taste of Oktoberfest but not in town during the event check out
The Hofbräuhaus – the most famous beer hall in the world built in 1589. They offer all the thrills that Oktoberfest does and is open all year round.
But If you are wondering what else Munich has to offer?
It is a beautiful city and just strolling around is rewarding in itself.
Take the free walking tour (in English) which takes you to all the famous sites and landmarks. I've never been on one but apparently they are entertaining and a great introduction to the city.
And free! No complaints there then...
Crowds gather at Marienplatz (the central square in the heart of the city) everyday at 11am and 12 noon to hear the glockenspiel chime of the New Town Hall and watch 32 life-sized figures reenact historical Bavarian events. Very cool.
10 miles north-west of the city is the concentration camp of Dachau. This was one of the first concentration camps of Nazi-Germany and offers guided tours. It goes without saying that this is a very emotional experience for many, so be prepared for a hard hitting and thought provoking visit. Keep this in mind before deciding on making the trip.
Other Top Sights
Frankfurt – Famous for it's skyline, wine bars and financial district.
Hamburg – Home to the 'Reeperbahn'; a street of clubs, bars, sex museums and the red light district. Hamburg is also known for having the world's biggest harbour and the festival that frequents there every year.
Leipzig – Known for being Germany's centre for arts and culture.
Heidelberg – One of the few German cities that wasn't destroyed in the second world war. Beautiful, picturesque and steeped in history.
Düsseldorf – Famous for it's high end shopping street 'Koenigsallee' and the cities architecture, mixing old with new.
The Black Forest – Popular with hikers and cross- country skiers. The forest runs from 130km south of Frankfurt all the way to the Swiss border.
The Rhine River Valley – Scenic and romantic with some breath taking views
In comparison with the UK, The States and Australia, Germany isn't that expensive. But with any trip, it all depends on what you're spending your money on. It's standard that staying a weekend in a four star hotel will set you back more than in a backpackers hostel. That's common sense and fairly obvious. To get straight to the point:
Can you travel/visit Germany on a budget?
Well the short answer to that is yes. Yes you can.
As like everywhere else, costs will vary from city to city, and how much money you'll spend per day, will depend on what kind of traveller you are.
Check out Numbeo for up to date, average costing from renting a flat to buying an apple. Although they have a slightly strange obsession with levis jeans...
Hostel - Expect to pay anything from €15 - €30 per night for dorm accommodation, at a centrally located and decent hostel, (around the higher end of that average for a private room for each person) but as I touched on above - prices vary from city to city. (For example – a hostel in Berlin is usually cheaper than in Munich). Also keep in mind that prices will likely hike up nearer peak season. I.e. - During Oktoberfest.
Breakfast - Your hostel might offer to line your stomach with slices of toast and instant coffee, but if you fancy something a bit more substantial there's a good chance you'll be hitting the bakeries,where you can buy posher versions of sliced toast and instant coffee.
Many of the big chains offer very competitive prices and if you play your cards right – you can get breakfast for under €2.
Hunt down Backwerk. They are dotted all over the country and you will get a take away coffee and a buttered pretzel for under two bucks.
But just to contradict what I just said...
If you have the cash to spend, think about buying from local and independent bakeries. Like everywhere else, they are a dying breed and need all the help they can get.
(The cakes are nicer anyway...)
Transport - A one-way bus fair averages out at €2.30 but this can vary. It's €2.10 in my town.
A ride in a taxi will start at €3, and go up €1.50 or so per kilometre.
If you'll be using the subway often, it's always best to look into pre-paid travel cards or multi-day tickets. They save you money in the long run.
Renting a medium sized car will come in at around the €45 mark per day.
For longer journeys, train travel tends to be cheaper when you book online and not at the station. Check out Deutsche Bahn. There usually have promotions on offer.
Overall; travel prices are not too bad in Germany folks.
Lunch - Many bars and restaurants offer lunch promotions, and it will simply be a case of tracking them down.
For a pizza and a drink, expect to pay no more than €10.
You'll find Turkish kebab shops dotted all around the country and these are very popular for lunch. Around €3 - €5 for a donor. This is more of a 3am meal for me but each to their own.
Alternatively, you could try one of Germany's famous sausages for around the same price.
Cigarettes and Alcohol - Want to hear something awesome? Local beer is cheaper than imported, and truly is some of the best in the world. You will have plenty to choose from so get trying. In a bar, a half litre will come in from €2.50 - €4. A pint of Guinness will set you back at least €4.
If you're going clubbing, it'll be more expensive and expect a door charge (usually around €5- €10).
Cocktails? €5 if you're lucky, during happy hour. Anything after that at least €7 and over.
Cigarettes are relatively cheap. Usually around €5 a pack. Plus you will get up to 25 in there, giving your body five more reasons to hate you.
Trips and Sightseeing - Obviously this varies depending on what you would like to do. However, there is plenty of cool things to do for free in Germany. In Berlin for example, you can see most of the historical sights and museums free of charge and in Munich you can partake in a city walking tour for free as well. You can't get any cheaper than that! Just walking around is great folks. Germany is a beautiful country with pretty cool cities.
Dinner - Aldi. Can you go wrong?
If you are on a budget and you are spending a few days in one place, you might want to think of doing a shop here. You can get all your basics, for insanely cheap. If you are really struggling,
you can get 6 packs of cheap beer for under €2, but they are not that great. (So I guess you can go wrong...)
I do a weekly shop in Aldi for two people and never spend more than €50.
Cheap and cheerful.
Five things you might want to know...
1. Most cinemas are not in English.
If you don't understand German, then going to the cinema is pretty much out of the question. Your best bet of seeing a film would be at an independent cinema, although I can't speak for all theatres. I recommend signing up for a mailing list and keeping an eye out.
By the way - No subtitles either.
So sit back. Relax. And try to figure out what the hell is going on.
2. Living in Germany? At some point you might be asked why you don't speak the language.
Depending on where you are living, it is quite likely many people you encounter will speak either fluent English or know a little. It is also more than likely that at some point you will be asked if you can speak German. The best way to respond to this? Well by answering in German (if you can).
Not only will you be respected for doing so, but it will give you a perfect opportunity to get chatting and practise what you know.
If you can't answer some straight forward questions in German, at times you may find yourself in an awkward spot where the focus is on you and you might feel self conscious.
I've been in this spot countless times and the way to get around it is to really have a go. You might feel like a performing monkey but at the end of the day, where ever you are in the world – picking up some of the language does help.
Learning a new language takes time and effort so don't feel too bad about it. What I will say, is 90% of the people I’ve encountered have been very friendly when approaching this subject. But there might be times where this can cause problems. (They're are ass holes wherever you go in the world.)
How to deal with it? By trying your best. Simple.
3. Cigarette machines require a credit/bank card.
You will see these machines dotted all over main towns and cities which dispense packs of cigarettes for €5 usually.
To save you standing there bemused for 10 minutes, wondering why the machine has taken your money but not paid out, you need to put a card in the top in order for the transaction to go through. It takes coins and not money from your account, but it is to verify that you are over 18, which is strange as you can drink at 16 but not smoke.
Anyway. Smoking is bad. I'm quitting tomorrow.
4. Some clubs and bars take a deposit for the glass.
This is one that takes a bit of getting used to.
It doesn't happen everywhere but I’ve been caught out by it a couple of times. Basically, you return the glass after you've used it to get your deposit back. This is usually €1- €2. So beware that when you order a round, it will add up to more than you thought.
The problem is, you are left to carry around this glass all night unless you cash it in. For someone that likes to have a beer followed by a short of some kind, this can get pretty annoying as your left to baby sit a glass. Especially annoying if you're ready to leave and you have to cue at the bar, just to get your money back...
5. It is considered bad luck to not look someone in the eye whilst toasting a drink.
I have been caught out by this on occasion, as I have purely just forgotten about it.
When someone clinks glasses, (which can happen quite often during a drink) looking everyone in the eye is standard. If you don't? Expect 7 years of bad luck and terrible sex. That's a long time so you better get looking.
Crossing arms whist clinking (cool word) is also considered bad luck.
After a while, both become second nature but it's better to give you a heads up now, as sadly I’m already 5 years into my sentence...
Rosetta Stone is expensive and classes are time consuming. Need a quick fix to get off the ground?
All four of them are free to use. They are ok but not ideal and can be hard to navigate through.
Great for getting started but you'll be needing something more substantial if you are serious about learning the language.
Check them out and have a go.
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