Germany

5373 20120409 1441730749Germany, (officially: the Federal Republic of Germany, German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is the largest country in Central Europe. It is bordered to the north by Denmark, to the east by Poland and the Czech Republic, to the south by Austria and Switzerland, and to the west by France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Germany is a federation of 16 states, roughly corresponding to regions with their own distinct and unique cultures. Germany is one of the most influential nations in European culture, and one of the world's main economic powers. Known around the world for its precision engineering and high-tech products, it is equally admired by visitors for its old-world charm and "Gemütlichkeit" (coziness) or hospitality. If you have perceptions of Germany as simply homogeneous, it will surprise you with its many historical regions and much local diversity for its relatively small size.


People


Being a federal republic, Germany is very much a decentralised country, which does justice to the cultural differences between the regions. Most travelers will perhaps only think of beer, Lederhosen and Oktoberfest when Germany comes to mind, but Germany's famous alpine and beer culture is mostly centered around Bavaria and Munich. Here the beer is traditionally served in 1 liter mugs (but not in Kneipen (pubs) and Restaurants). The annual Oktoberfest is Europe's most visited festival and the world's largest fair. Germany's south-western regions, however, are well known for their wine growing areas (e.g. Rheinhessen and Palatinate) and Bad Duerkheim on the 'German wine route' organises the biggest wine festival worldwide with over 600,000 visitors annually.


The fall of the wall in 1989 and the subsequent German Reunification are the main events of recent German history. Today most Germans as well as their neighbours support the idea of a peaceful reunified Germany and while the eastern regions still suffer from higher unemployment and of brain-drain, the reunification process is overall seen as a success. October 3rd is celebrated as the day of "German National Unity" or "Reunification Day".


5442 20120409 1541278722Cars are a symbol of national pride and social status. Certainly manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen (VW) are world famous for their quality, safety and style. This quality is matched by Germany's excellent network of roadways including the renowned Autobahn network, which has many sections without speed limits that attract speed hungry drivers. There are actually speed tourists who come to Germany just to rent an exotic sports car and fly down the autobahn! Amazingly for its size Germany is home to the third largest freeway/motorway network in the world. Germany also features an extensive network of high speed trains - the InterCityExpress (ICE).


Most cities have a vibrant gay and lesbian scene, especially Berlin and Cologne. The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. In fact, some politicians (e.g. the Mayor of Berlin and the foreign minister) and stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.
Germany was the host of the FIFA World Cup 2006.


Cultural and historical attractions


When thinking of Germany, beer, lederhosen and Alpine hats quickly come to mind, but these stereotypes mostly relate to Bavarianculture and do not represent Germany as a whole. Germany is a vast and diverse country with 16 culturally unique states that only form a political union since 1871.


If you're still looking for the cliches, the Romantic Road is a famous scenic route along romantic castles and picturesque villages. With its fairy tale appearance, the Neuschwanstein Castle could be considered the most iconic of German castles. The walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has a beautiful mediaeval centre that seems untouched by the passage of time. Similar typical German towns can be found elsewhere in the country, like Augsburg, Bamberg, Celle, Heidelberg, Lübeck, and Quedlinburg. Your picture postcard visit to Germany will be complete with a visit to the beer halls of Munich and a peek of the Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.


5615 20120409 2072546245Germany is a modern industrial nation, and the Wirtschaftswunder is best represented by the industrial heritage of the Ruhr. Hamburg is another economic powerhouse with the second busiest port of the continent. Frankfurt is the financial centre of Germany, and of Europe as a whole, as it is the base of the European Central Bank. Its skyline comes close to those found at the other side of the Atlantic. The fashion city of Düsseldorf, media industry of Cologne, and car companies in Stuttgart each represent a flourishing sector of the German economic miracle.


A completely different experience can be found in Berlin, a city unlikely to be found anywhere else on the planet. While architecturally an odd mismatch of sterilised apartment blocks, post-modernist glass and steel structures, and some historic left-overs, it has a laid-back atmosphere and a culture of internationalism that accepts everyone as a "Berliner". Its turbulent history gave rise to an enormous wealth of historical attractions, among them the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor, Bundestag, Checkpoint Charlie, Fernsehturm, Holocaust Memorial, Rotes Rathaus, and the DDR Museum. But do not miss out the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood if you want to feel like a true Berliner.


The Schöningen Spears are 8 wooden throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age, that were found between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine, Schöningen, county Helmstedt, Germany, together with approx. 16,000 animal bones. More than 300,000 years old they are the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons in the world and they are regarded as the first evidence of the active hunt by Homo heidelbergensis. These discoveries have permanently changed the picture of the cultural and social development of early man.


Natural attractions


5627 20120409 1844382044Due to its size and location in Central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes. In the north, Germany has an extensive coastline along the North Sea and the Baltic Seas in a vast area known as the North German Plain. The landscape is very flat and the climate is rough with strong winds and mild, chilly temperatures. Due to the south-easterly winds that press water into the German Bight, tidal variations are exceptionally high, creating the Wadden Sea. Vast areas of the seabed are uncovered twice a day, allowing one to walk from one of the numerous islands to another. The East Frisian Islands just off the coast are very picturesque, although mostly visited by the Germans themselves. Favourite white sand resorts along the Baltic Sea include Rügen and Usedom.


The central half of Germany is a patchwork of the Central Uplands, hilly rural areas where fields and forests intermix with larger cities. Many of these hill ranges are tourist destinations, like the Bavarian Forest, the Black Forest, the Harz, the Ore Mountains, and Saxon Switzerland. The Rhine Valley has a very mild, amenable climate and fertile grounds, making it the country's most important area for wine and fruit growing.


In the extreme south, bordering Austria, Germany contains a small portion of the Alps, Central Europe's highest elevation, rising as high as 4000 m (12,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest summit in Germany being the Zugspitze at 2962 m (9717 ft). While only a small part of the Alps lie in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and the unique Bavarian culture. Along the country's southwestern border with Switzerland and Austria lies Lake Constance, Germany's largest fresh-water lake.


Cities


Germany has numerous cities of interest to tourists; these are nine of the most famous travel destinations.

  • Berlin — the reunified and reinvigorated capital of Germany; known for its division during the Cold War, the Berlin Wall. Today a metropolis of diversity with elegant clubs, shops galleries and restaurants
  • Bremen — one of the most important cities in northern Germany, its old town will be of interest to travellers who want a slice of history
  • Cologne — this city was founded by the Romans 2000 years ago with its huge cathedral, Romanesque churches, and archaeological sites
  • Dresden — once called 'Florence on the Elbe', world-famous for its Frauenkirche and its rebuilt historic center that was destroyed during the war
  • Düsseldorf — Germany's capital of fashion that also offers a wide scale of fascinating new architecture. The "Altstadt" and the "Medienhafen" have a vibrant nightlife
  • Frankfurt — Germany's metropolis with a magnificent skyline due to its role as leading financial center, transportation hub and the seat of the European Central Bank (ECB)
  • Hamburg — Germany's second-largest city, famous for its harbour as well as its liberal and tolerant culture. Don't miss the Reeperbahn with its night clubs and casinos
  • Munich — Bavaria's beautiful capital city, the site of the famous Oktoberfest and the gateway to the Alps.
  • Nuremberg — its old town has been reconstructed, including the Gothic Kaiserburg Castle, and you can visit the. You can also visit the Nazi party rally grounds, the Documentation Centre and Courtroom 600 (the venue of the Nuremberg Trials)

Other destinations

  • Baltic Sea Coast — miles of sandy beaches and resorts with picturesque islands such as Rügen
  • Bavarian Alps — home to the world famous Neuschwanstein castle, and Germany's best skiing and snowboarding resorts. Endless hiking and mountain biking
  • Black Forest — a region with wide mountain peaks, panoramic views, it is a haven for tourists and hikers
  • East Frisian Islands — twelve islands in the Wadden Sea; Borkum is the largest island by both square meters and population
  • Franconian Switzerland — one of the oldest travel destinations in Germany, it was called by Romantic artists who said its landscape was of the aesthetic beauty of Switzerland's
  • Harz — a low mountain range in the Central Uplands of Germany, famous for its historic silver mines and for the scenic towns of Quedlinburg, Goslar and Wernigerode
  • Lake Constance — an extremely beautiful corner of Central Europe, it boasts water sports and beautiful towns and villages to be seen by the visitor
  • Rhine Valley — part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and the valley is famous for its wines
  • Romantic Road — a theme route over 1000 km in length in southern Germany that passes by many historical castles. Old World Europe alive and well!
  • Schoeningen (Schöningen )- Worldfamous for ancient spears[2] , 320,000 years old ,the world's oldest human-made wooden artifacts, as well as the oldest weapons, ever found.
  • Elm Lappwald - Beautiful forest area between Braunschweig and Helmstedt at the scenic "German Timber-Frame Road" a haven for a one-of-a-kind family vacation .

Do


5806 20120409 1065613415Germany offers virtually every activity you can imagine. Most Germans are members of a sports club and visit cultural events less often. Due to the federal structure every region has its own specific activities.


Sports


Germany is crazy about football and the German Football Association DFB is the biggest FA association in the world with 6.35 million members (8% of the German population) in more than 25,000 clubs. Every village has a club and the games are the main social event on weekends. Participation is strongly encouraged.
In the winter many people go skiing in the Alps in Bavaria close to Munich.


Almost every middle-size German city has a spa (often called Therme) with swimming pools, water slides, hot tubs, saunas, steam baths, sun roofs etc. The sauna areas are coed and people are nude there.


Cultural events


Germany has world class opera houses (especially Berlin, Bayreuth, and Munich) and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is known as one of the Top3 orchestras in the world. Several theatres in bigger cities play outstanding classical and contemporary plays. Germany prides itself in the wide varierty of cultural events and every city works out a cultural agenda.


Musicals


5851 20120409 1393654100Musicals are popular in Germany. Although there are some touring productions from time to time, most shows stay in a specific city for a few years. Most shows belong to the company called "Stage Entertainment". The main 'musical cities' are Hamburg (for example The Lion King), Berlin (for example Blue Man Group), Oberhausen (Wicked), Stuttgart (for example Dance of the Vampires), Bochum (Starlight Express) and Cologne.


Shakespeare


Rather interestingly, William Shakespeare is adored in Germany like almost nowhere else - the Anglosphere included. This can be attributed in large part to Goethe, who fell in love with the Bard's works. If your German is up to it, seeing a performance can be very interesting. According to some Germans, Shakespeare is actually improved in translation, as the language used is more contemporary. Judge for yourself.


Language


The official language of Germany is German. The standard form of German is called "Hochdeutsch" (High German). This is accent-free or better dialect-free German, the "official" form of the language. It is understood by all and spoken by almost all Germans. However, every region has its historical dialect, which might pose a challenge sometimes to those who speak even good German and even to native speakers as well. This is usually noticeable only in the south and rural areas of the north and east. Thus, when traveling in Bavaria, Saxony and Baden, you are stepping foot in places where dialect remains a strong part of the local identity. The general rule is that south of the Main River divides north Germany from the south in both language dialects and local culture.


If you intend address the person you're speaking to in German, refer to the person as "Sie" if you aren't acquainted with that person yet. "Du" can be used if both of you are already close (the form of the verbs will also change).


All Germans learn English at school, so you should be able to get by with English in most places. Many people - especially in the tourism industry and higher educated persons - also speak French, Russian or Spanish, but if you can't speak German, English remains your best bet. Even if one member of the staff doesn't speak English, you are likely to find someone who does and is more than willing to help you. In the southeastern part of that area, a small Slavic community of 50,000 also speak the Sorbian language, the least spoken modern Slavic language today, but widely protected from near-extinction since 1945.


5918 20120409 1143401818If you address a German with English, always first ask "Do you speak English?" or even better its German translation, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" as that is considered a sign of politeness.


Germans less fluent in the English language often answer questions very briefly (one or two words) because they feel uncertain how to create a complete English sentence. This might sometimes appear impolite but is not at all meant this way. Germans less fluent in English also often say "become" instead of "get" because the German word "bekommen" ("get") is phonetically so close to "become". Since it's polite to reply "Bitte" if someone thanks you, Germans may literally translate this with "please" instead of "here you are" or "you're welcome". Another source of confusion is that Germans call mobile or cellular phones a "Handy" and many of them regard this as an English word.


It is worth noting that English is in the same language family as the German language. Hence when you read German signs, there are a good number of words that may resemble their English counterparts.


While Germany uses the 24 hour format for times, people very often use 12 hour times in conversations. There is no real suffix like "AM/PM", though you can add "vormittags" (before noon) and "nachmittags" (after noon) when it's not clear from the context. Another difference is that when saying the time is 7:30, English speakers would say "half (past) seven" whereas Germans say "halb acht" ("half eight"). In addition, Germans say two-digit numbers "backwards": instead of "twenty-two" they say "two and twenty." Numbers below 20 are said the same way as in English. This becomes especially important when you inquire for prices, although most who speak English with you should use the correct form. It is still better to double-check what is really meant.


Currency


Germany has the euro (EUR, €) as its currency. Therewith, Germany belongs to the 23 European countries that use the common European money. These 23 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. These countries together have a population of 327 million.


3223 20120409 1154873216One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse as well as all bills look the same throughout the eurozone. Nonetheless, every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.


Do not expect anybody to accept foreign currencies or to be willing to exchange currency. An exception are shops and restaurants at airports and also - more rarely - fast-food restaurants at major train stations. These will generally accept at least US dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate. If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank, where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, international airports and train stations are an exception to this rule. Swiss Franc can sometimes be accepted near the Swiss border.


While German domestic debit cards - called EC-Karte or girocard - (and, to a lesser extent, PIN-based Maestro cards) enjoy almost universal acceptance, this is not true for credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, American Express) or foreign debit cards (VISA Debit/Electron etc.), which are not as widely accepted as in other European countries or the United States but will be accepted in several major retail stores and some fastfood restaurants.


Don't be fooled by seeing card terminals in shops or other people paying with cards - these machines may not necessarily be programmed to accept foreign cards, so it is best to inquire or look out for acceptance decals before shopping or fuelling your car.


Hotels, larger retailers, chain gas stations and nationwide companies accept credit cards; supermarkets, discount stores or small independent shops tend not to (with exceptions). Some places impose a minimum purchase amount (typically 10 euros) for card payments. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card or foreign debit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.


Tipping


Unlike in some other countries, service staff is always paid by the hour (albeit not always that well). A tip is therefore mainly a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciate the service (e.g. slow, snippy or indifferent service) you may not tip at all and it will be accepted by the staff.


Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip (Trinkgeld, lit. "drink money") of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Nonetheless, service charge is already included in an item's unit price so what you see is what you pay.


Tipping in Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if eg. a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "€13.50", just state "15" and he will include a tip of €1.50.


Tipping in other situations (unless otherwise indicated):
Taxi driver: 5%-10% (at least €1)
Housekeeping: €1-2 per day
Carrying luggage: €1 per piece
Public toilet attendants: €0.30-0.70
Delivery Services: 5%-10% (at least 1€)


Shopping


5696 20120409 1936383535In common with most other Western European languages, the meanings of points and commas are exactly inverse to the English custom; in German a comma is used to indicate a decimal. For example, 2,99€ is two euros and 99 cents. The "€" symbol is not always used and may be placed both in front or after the price. A dot is used to "group" numbers (one dot for three digits), so "1.000.000" would be one million. So "123.456.789,01" in German is the same number as "123,456,789.01" in English speaking countries.


Taxes: Retail prices are reasonable and lower than in northern European countries but the value added tax, V.A.T., "Umsatzsteuer" (official, but even politicians use this rather sparsely) or "Mehrwertsteuer" (most Germans use this word) has been increased to 19% from 2007 onwards and therefore prices will slightly rise. Fuel, sparkling wine, spirits and tobacco are subject to even higher taxes, the first of those excise taxes - the "Branntweinsteuer" (spirit tax) - first being imposed on Nordhäuser Branntwein (the ancestor of Nordhäuser Korn) in 1507, the certainly most ridiculous of them - the sparkling wine tax - being introduced by Emperor Wilhelm II to finance the Kiel Canal and his war fleet. Some German brands of high end goods such as kitchen utensils, stationery, and hiking gear are considerably cheaper than abroad. V.A.T. is always included by law in an item's pricetag (only exception is for goods that are commercially exported but then duties might apply). There exists a reduced V.A.T of 7% i.a. for hotels (but not for edibles consumed within), edibles (certain items considered luxury goods, e.g. lobster, are exempted from this reduction), print products, public transport (short-distance only) and admission price for opera or theatre.


Supermarkets: Many Germans rather look for prices than for quality when shopping for food. As a result, the competition between food discounters (which might be the cause of this very specific behaviour) is exceptionally fierce (in fact, WalMart had to retract from the German market because it failed at competing on price) and results in very low food prices compared to other European countries (though not compared to North America or the UK - as a general rule, a discount German supermarket will have similar quality compared to a North American discounter, but at mid-range prices). The chains "Aldi", "Lidl", "Penny" and "Plus/Netto" are a special type of supermarket (don't call it "Supermarkt" - Germans call it "Discounter"; a Supermarkt/super market has slightly higher prices, but also a much wider range of products even of decent quality): their range of products is limited to the necessities of daily life (like vegetables, pasta, milk, eggs, convenience foods, toiletries etc.), sold in rather simple packaging for tightly calculated prices. While quality is generally surprisingly high, do not expect delicatessen or local specialties when you go to shop there. Many Germans buy their daily needs there and go to the more "standard" supermarket (like the chains Rewe, Edeka, Real, Tengelmann/Kaisers, Globus or Famila) to get more special treats. The personnel in these shops is trained to be especially helpful and friendly and there are big cheese/meat and fish counters where fresh produts are getting sold. Don't blame discounter personnel for being somewhat harsh; although they are paid slightly better than usual, they have to cope with a rather grim working atmosphere and a significantly higher workload than colleagues in "standard" supermarkets and therefore are certainly not amused about being disturbed in getting their work done. Beside those major chains, Turkish supermarkets which can be found in townships with predominantly Turkish population can be a worthwhile alternative since they combine the characteristics of discounters (low price levels but limited assortment) with those of "standard" supermarkets ((Turkish) specialties and usually friendly personnel.


5740 20120409 1959109049If you are looking for organic products, your best bet is to visit a "Bioladen" or "Biosupermarkt". (Bio- generally means organic.) There are also many farmers selling their products directly ("Hofladen"), most of them organized in the "Bioland" cooperative. They offer reasonable food at reasonable prices.


Similarly it applies to clothes; although competition on this market is not that fierce and quality varies, cheap clothing of sufficient quality might be bought at C&A, but don't expect designer clothes though. During the end-of-season sales you should also compare prices of conventional stores since they may be even cheaper than the discounters. H&M sells cheap, stylish clothing, but with notoriously awful quality.


Be prepared to bag your own groceries and goods as well as provide your own shopping bags for doing so. While most stores provide plastic as well as canvas shopping bags at the checkout, you are charged for them. The Germans think it is more environmentally-friendly to re-use bags rather than get a new one each time. It's a good reminder to also keep a euro coin handy for the buggys/shopping carts. They all require a euro to use the cart but you get it back once your shopping is done. At most super markets you can spot a canister with lots of cardboard boxes in it, usually after the cash point. You are allowed to take cardboard boxes from there! It's a service the markets offer and also a easy waste disposal for them. Just tell them you are getting yourself a box when the cashier starts to scan your goods, come back and start packing.


Factory Outlets: Germany has only about 6 Factory Outlet Centers, but approximately up to 1000 Factory Outlets called "Fabrikverkauf".


Local Products: You can find local food products (not necessarily organic) in most places at the farmer's market ("Wochenmarkt" or simply "Markt"), usually once or twice a week. While you your chances on finding english-speaking sellers there may be somewhat reduced, it's nevertheless quite fun to shop there and mostly you will get fresh and good quality food for reasonable prices. Most winemakers sell their products either directly or in "Winzergenossenschaften" (winemaker cooperatives). These wines are almost always superior to the ones produced by German wine brands. Quality signs are "VdP" ("Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter", symbolized by an eagle) and "Ecovin" (German organic winemaker cooperative). Wines made of the most typical German wine varieties are usually marked with "Classic".


Souvenirs


5819 20120409 1605046220German honey is a good souvenir, but only "Echter Deutscher Honig" is a guarantee for reasonable quality.


Along the German coasts, smoked eel is quite a common delicacy and a typical souvenir.


Cheese: If you head for a supermarket (even a "standard" one) to buy some cheese you certainly will discover its taste being as cheesy as the TV spot propagating it. What even many Germans do not know is that beside those "Qualitätsprodukte" (literally: quality produces – one of many quite cynical German legal terms), there actually exists an astonishing German cheese variety – you may find them in (one of the rare) cheese stores or in Bioläden.


Cigarettes are easily available in most kiosks, supermarkets and newsagents. Cigarette machines are often dotted around towns and cities (be aware you will need an EU driving licence or a debit card with an electronic chip to "unlock" the machine). As of July 2009, a pack of 17 costs around €4.20 and a pack of 24 costs around €5.70. The legal age to smoke in Germany is 18. Many Germans buy paper and tobacco separately as this is cheaper.


Opening hours


Due to a federal reform, opening hours are set by the states, therefore opening hours vary from state to state. Some states like Berlin, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein have no more strict opening hours from Monday to Saturday (however, you will rarely find 24 hours shops other than at petrol stations). Sunday and national holidays (including some obscure ones) is normally closed for shops everywhere in Germany, including pharmacies. However single pharmacies remain open for emergencies (every pharmacy will have a sign telling you which pharmacy is currently open for emergencies).


As a rule of thumb:
Supermarkets: 8 or 9AM – 8PM
Big supermarkets 8AM - 10PM
Rewe supermarkets 7AM - 10PM or midnight
Shopping centers and large department stores: 10AM - 8PM
Department stores in small cities: 10AM - 7PM
Small and medium shops: 9 or 10AM – 6.30PM (in big cities sometimes to 8PM)
Petrol stations: in cities and along the "Autobahn" usually 24h a day
Restaurants: 11.30AM – 11 or 12AM(midnight), sometimes longer, many closed during afternoon


160 20120409 1143862648Small shops are often closed from 1 to 3PM If necessary in many big cities you will find a few (sometimes more expensive) supermarkets with longer opening hours (often near the main station). Bakeries usually offer service on Sunday mornings (business hours vary) as well. Also most petrol stations have a small shopping area.


In some parts of Germany (like Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area) there are cornershops called "Kiosk", "Trinkhalle" (drinking hall) or "Büdchen" (little hut) that offer newspapers, drinks and at least basic food supplies. These shops are often run by Arab or Turkish immigrants and are, depending on the area, open till late night.


Basic supplies can usually be bought around the clock at gas stations. Gas station owners work around opening hour restrictions by running 7-Eleven style mini marts on their gas station property. Be aware that prices are usually quite high. Another exception to this law are supermarkets located in touristy areas. Towns designated as a Kurort (health resort) are allowed to have their stores open all week during tourist season. Just ask a local for those well-kept secret stores.


Train stations are allowed to and frequently have their stores/shops open on Sundays, though usually for limited hours. In some larger cities such as Leipzig and Frankfurt, this can include an entire shopping mall that happens to be attached to the train station.


Safety


Germany is a very safe country. Crime rates are low and the rule of law is strictly enforced.


Violent crimes (homicide, robberies, rape, assault) are very rare compared to most countries. For instance, 2010 homicide rates were with 0.86 cases per 100,000 inhabitants significantly lower than in the UK (1.17), Australia (1.20), ( France (1.31), Canada (1.81) and the US (5.0) - and they continue to decline. Pickpockets may sometimes be an issue in large cities or at events with large crowds. Panhandling is not uncommon in some larger cities, but not to a greater extent than in most other major cities and you will rarely experience aggressive panhandling.


Take the usual precautions (such as do not walk in parks alone at 3AM, do not leave your camera unattended, and do not flash around a big fat wallet) and you will most likely not encounter any crime at all while staying in Germany.


Health


Sanitary and medical facilities in Germany are excellent. The phone book lists telephone numbers for various medical services, many hotlines and services exist that are open during "off hours".


If you have an non-urgent medical problem, you may choose from any local doctor. The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you usually will be able to find every discipline from Dentistry to Neurology on duty within reasonable reach. In remote regions finding a doctor might require a ride to the next town but the German infrastructure allows fast connections. GPs/family doctors will usually describe themselves as "Allgemeinmediziner" - meaning "general medician".


Pharmacies are called "Apotheke" and are marked by a big, red "A" symbol. At least one pharmacy in the area will be open at all times (usually a different one every day), and all pharmacies will post the name and address of the pharmacy-on-duty in the window. Some medication that is sometimes freely available in other countries (e.g. antibiotics and the "morning-after pill") needs a prescription in Germany, so you may want to check before your journey. The staff of an Apotheke have specially trained personnel, as it is mandatory to have a university degree in pharmaceutics to run an Apotheke in Germany. A German pharmacist is able to offer advice on medications. In Germany pharmaceuticals tend to be expensive, so it might be wise to ask the pharmacist for "Generika" (generic drugs): A "Generikum" is virtually the same produce, often even produced by the same pharmaceutical trust, just lacking the well-known brand name and being considerably cheaper.


Culture


53 20120409 1233731552Especially in the English-speaking countries, Germany and the Germans have earned themselves a reputation for being stiff and strict with rules but also hard working and efficient. If you are caught breaking the rules, this will be pointed out to you by a fellow citizen. The two exceptions to rules in Germany seem to be queues and speed limits. The German language is not as softly spoken as English, so even a friendly word can sound harsh to the English-speaker.


More important, the German sense of "politeness" differs significantly from the Anglo-American concept of courteous remarks, small talk and political correctness. Germans highly value honesty, straight talking, being able to cope with criticism and generally not wasting other people's time. Many times, unfortunately, this applies to your interactions with them, and not their interactions with you. Once tempers are lost, they are very hard to reign in again. Consequently, business meetings tend to lack the introductory chit-chat. The Germans tend to be very formal people (especially in business) and titles rule the roost. Any titles (such as Dr., Prof. etc.) are used recursively, e.g. Herr Prof. Dr. Müller. Some colleagues that have worked together for many years still call each by their title and surname. When a German introduces himself to you, he/she will often simply state their surname, prompting you to call them "Mr/Mrs...". Using first names immediately may be seen as derogatory.


There is also a strong desire to achieve mutual agreement and compromise. As for the infamous efficiency: Germans are the world's leading recreationists (at an average of 30 days of paid leave per year, not counting public holidays), while maintaining one of the highest productivity rates on earth. A late-running train is considered a sign of the degradation of society.


The Germans tend to be quite impatient (which may be related to that efficiency) and don't think twice about queue jumping or driving over the speed limit if it gets them where they want to be faster. If there is a queue in the supermarket (which are common sights at cheaper supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto), there will be much huffing and puffing, snide comments and tutting until someone comes along and opens a new till.


Despite popular belief, the Germans do have a sense of humour, albeit an eccentric one. It is not true that Germans have no sense of irony and sarcasm. Although, it might be good to know when and how to be ironic or sarcastic. If you are around people you know well, sarcasm and irony are very common kinds of humor. Nevertheless, being ironic or sarcastic with your boss or professor is considered very inappropriate.


Punctuality


General rule of thumb: be on time!
In official contexts (when conducting business) punctuality is seen not as a courtesy but as precondition for future relations. Most Germans arrive 5-10 min early and take this for granted from everyone. Arriving more than 2 min late to a meeting is seen as rude and will be tolerated only with unknowing strangers, unless you can give good reason in your defense (i.e. being stuck in heavy traffic). It is seen as a courtesy to call the other participants if you seem to be running late. Regular delays are seen as disrespect for the other participants.


For personal relations, importance attached to punctuality may differ from individual to individual. It is still always safer to be punctual than late, but the subject may be a negotiable matter: if unsure just ask 'is punctuality important to you?'. Punctuality also depends on the milieu, in a collegiate environment, for example, it is taken much less seriously. For private invitations to a home, it may even be considered more polite to be 5-15 min late as to not embarrass the host in case not everything has been prepared.


Behaving in public


1127 20120409 1200553995Germany, especially urban Germany, is a rather tolerant society, and your common sense should be sufficient to keep yourself out of trouble.


Drinking in public is not forbidden and is even a common sight in the far west (Cologne and the Rhine-Ruhr Area). In some larger cities (such as Cologne) there are local laws that in theory make drinking alcohol in public a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of tens of euros; these laws are rarely enforced against tourists, except in cases when drinking leads to rowdy behavior (such laws have also been successfully challenged in court in several places). Behaving aggressively or disturbing the peace will earn you a conversation with German police officers and possibly a fine. Behave respectfully in places of worship and places that carry the dignity of the state (like the numerous war and holocaust memorials, parliaments and other historical sites).


Insults against other people are prohibited by German law and, if prosecuted for it, can result in jail time and a heavy fine. It is unknown how often charges are brought, but exercise common sense in all cases.


On German beaches, it's in general okay for women to bathe topless. Full nudity is tolerated everywhere though not a frequent sight outside of the numerous nudist areas (labeled "FKK" -- "Freikörperkultur", literally free body culture). These are especially common at the east German Baltic coastline, due to the high popularity of nudism in the former GDR. It's also possible to spot nudists in Berlin's public parks and in Munich's "English Garden". In most saunas nudity is compulsory and mixed sessions are common practice. One day of the week is usually only for women.


Know the locals


The general rule of thumb is that wealth rises towards the south: Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are the two richest states, competing with Switzerland and Austria for quality of life. A more liberal atmosphere is dominant as the traveler goes northward: Hamburg and Berlin have had homosexual mayors, bars and clubs are open all night and the density of young artists in Berlin Friedrichshain easily surpasses that of London, Paris or Manhattan. Northern Germany is in the same cultural sphere as the Netherlands and Scandinavia with even the food and architecture more pragmatic, simple and unrefined than in the traditionally Catholic south. Contrary to the general trend, Hamburg is the richest city in Germany (and one of the ten richest regions in Europe) even outpacing trendy Munich.


The Nazi era


50 20120409 1632782863In the late 19th Century, Germany was arguably the most enlightened society in the world. As a mental exercise, try to think of five famous physicists, philosophers, composers or poets without mentioning a German name. This dignity and prestige faced a severe setback during the period of National Socialist rule under Hitler. Since then, the Third Reich has been a permanent scar on the German national identity, and is considered a blot on Germany's national honor and will remain so for a very long time. Every German pupil has to deal with it at about 5 different times during his or her schooling and most classes visit a concentration camp (most of these sites have been transformed into memorials). Not a single day passes without educational programmes on television and radio dealing with this period of time. Growing up in Germany, whether in the GDR or West Germany, meant and still means growing up with this bitter heritage, and every German has developed her or his own way of dealing with the public guilt. For the traveler, this can mean confusion. You might come across people (especially young ones) eager to talk to you about Germany's troubled history, feeling the urge to convince you Germany has come a long way since then. Choose adequate places to talk about the issue and be polite about it. If you are visiting friends in Berlin, you might find it hard to keep them from constantly dragging you into one of the abundant memorials.


Humour, even made innocently, is absolutely the wrong way of approaching the matter and is insulting. Even worse, what might sound funny abroad may earn you jail time (up to 3 years) and a hefty fine in Germany. All Nazi-era slogans, symbols, and gestures are forbidden (except for educational purposes, and even these are strongly regulated), and displaying them in public is illegal. Foreigners are not exempted from these laws. Do not even think about jokingly giving a stiff arm Nazi (roman) salute! For example: a German court recently had to decide if it is legal to wear a crossed out swastika (to show one's opposing the ideas of national-socialism), since it still contains a forbidden symbol!


Buddhist and Hindu visitors should note that even though the swastika is not banned as a religious symbol, you might get some strange looks from the people living there if you wear the symbol, as most Germans are not aware that the swastika is also a religious symbol. You could also end up having to explain your religious situation to the German police.


Probably the best way to deal with the issue to stay relaxed about it. If your company likes to talk about German history, use the opportunity for a sincere, maybe even very personal conversation. If you want to steer clear of awkward moments, don't bring up the matter.


However, this is not the case when you ask them about the division of Germany into East and West. Communist symbols, GDR songs and other East-German related regalia are circulated freely and many are somewhat nostalgic about the country, hence the artistic and commercial movement "Ostalgie" (nostalgia for the East). Just avoid bringing up the topic of the Berlin Wall impulsively, as it is still a very divisive issue.

Based on the Wikitravel article about Germany.