Holiday in Germany
Germany 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, each with its own distinct and unique culture. If you have perceptions of Germany as homogeneous, it will surprise you with its regions and diversity.
Tourists at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Three of the states (Bundesländer) are actually city-states: Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg. The states can be roughly grouped by geography as listed below.
Northern Germany (Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Schleswig-Holstein)
Wind-swept hills and the popular vacation destinations of the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts.
Western Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Saarland)
Wine country and modern cities sharply cut by the breathtaking Rhine Valley and Moselle valley.
Central Germany (Hesse (Hessen), Thuringia (Thüringen))
The green heart of Germany, with some of the most important historical and financial cities and the ancient Thurigian Forest.
Eastern Germany (Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony (Sachsen), Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt))
highlighted by the eccentric and historic capital Berlin, and rebuilt historic Dresden, the Florence of the Elbe.
Southern Germany (Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria (Bayern))
Black Forest, Alps, and Oktoberfest. The Germany of lederhosen and postcards.
Germany is a decentralised country, which does justice to the cultural differences between the regions. Most travelers will think of beer, Lederhosen and Oktoberfest when Germany comes to mind, but Germany's famous beer culture is mostly centered around Bavaria and Munich, where 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 actually 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 reunified Germany and while the eastern regions still suffer from higher unemployment and a brain-drain the reunification overall is seen as a success. October 3rd is celebrated as the day of "German National Unity" or "Reunification Day".
Cars are a symbol of national pride, and 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 world famous Autobahn network, which has many sections without speed limits and attracting speed hungry drivers. 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).
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 — and the Berlin Wall. Today its a metropolis of diversity with elegant clubs, galleries and traditional restaurants. It is also a haven for shoppers.
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. Hamburg is also popular for its many musicals.
Munich (München) — Bavaria's beautiful capital city and Southern Germany's primary city. The third largest city in Germany, Munich is the site of the famous Oktoberfest and is the gateway to the Alps.
Cologne (Köln) — Germany's fourth-largest city. Cologne was founded by the Romans and is 2000 years old with its huge cathedral, Romanesque churches, and archaeological sites. Cologne also well known for its carnival and its Christopher-Street-Day parade. Don't forget to try the local cuisine and of course the local beer, called "Kölsch".
Dresden - Once called 'Florence on the Elbe', and world-famous for its Frauenkirche and historic center which was destroyed during the war, the city offers more than what the average traveller can expect: Great festivals, all kinds of cultural entertainment, vibrant night life, and surrounded by beautiful natural vistas. Dresden hosts the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) which is one of the world's most impressive museums and collections. The art collections consist of eleven museums, of which the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and the Grünes Gewölbe are the most well-known.
Dusseldorf (Düsseldorf, Duesseldorf) — Germany's capital of fashion, the capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia offers a wide scale of fascinating new architecture. Right along the shores of river Rhine, the "Altstadt" and the "Medienhafen" are among the best places in Germany to enjoy a vibrant nightlife. Being one of the country's wealthiest cities, the atmosphere is very pleasant. Germans call it "the only metropolis ending with -dorf (German for village)".
Frankfurt — Germany's leading financial center, transportation hub, seat of the European Central Bank (ECB), international trade fair center (Book Fair, Motor Show), hub of multicultural activity (30% Immigrants), and site of numerous world-class museums and theaters. It is also Germany's only city with enough skyscrapers to have a skyline.
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.
Nuremberg (Nürnberg) — Second largest city in Bavaria, after WWII over 90% of the old-town was destroyed. Today it has been reconstructed, including the Gothic Kaiserburg Castle (Emperor's Castle of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation). You can also visit the infamous Nazi party rally grounds, the Documentation Centre and Courtroom 600 - venue of the Nuremberg Trials.
The Baltic Sea Coast (Ostseeküste) and North Sea Coast (Nordseeküste), with picturesque islands such as Rügen, the North and East (Ostfriesische Inseln) Frisian Islands.
The Rhine Valley (Mittelrhein) between Bonn and Bingen and the Upper Rhine Valley (Oberrheinische Tiefebene) between Bingen and Basel, Switzerland. Home to the Ruhr area (Ruhrgebiet), part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO Heritage site, and the valley is famous for its wines.
Franconian Switzerland (Fränkische Schweiz). One of the oldest travel destinations in Germany, it was called by Romantic artists who said its landscape was that of Switzerland's.
Black Forest (Schwarzwald) A region with wide peaks, paranomic views , it is a haven for tourists and hikers.
Lake Constance (Bodensee). Occupying an extremely beautiful corner of Central Europe, it boasts water sports and beautiful towns to be seen by the visitor.
The Bavarian Alps (Bayrische Alpen), home to the world famous Neuschwanstein castle, and Germany's best skiing and snowboarding resorts.
Other smaller but notable, destinations in Germany include the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge), Bavarian Forest (Bayerischer Wald), the Harz Mountains, Spreewald and the ancient city of Heidelberg.
The Castle Road (Burgenstraße) is a theme route over 1000 km in length in southern Germany (in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) and a small portion in the Czech Republic, between Mannheim and Prague. It passes by many historical castles.
Germany 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.
Due to its size and location in central Europe, Germany boasts a large variety of different landscapes, offering many activities related to nature, from hiking in the forests to exploring the picturesque islands off the northern coasts!
Seacoasts: Germany's north has coasts to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The landscape, especially along the North Sea shore is very flat, 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 "Wattenmeer": Vast areas of the seabed are uncovered twice a day, allowing one to walk from one of the numerous islands to another. The North Sea islands just off the coast are very picturesque, although mostly visited by the Germans themselves. Most of the north sea islands are free of car traffic and guarantee a silent holiday. Out in the German Bight lies the country's only off-shore island, Helgoland. Thanks to the strong winds, Wind-Surfing is possible all year round. Do not expect Hawaiian temperatures, though.
Forests: Germans are fanatic about their forests. While they are much smaller now than they used to be in medieval times, they are still huge compared to forests in other, especially western and southern European countries and only thinly populated. Among others, the Black Forest and the Bayrischer Wald have been declared national heritage and will, over the course of the next centuries, slowly return into a wild state. Although Germans love to go for long walks and hikes in these dark and humid woods, there's space enough for everyone to get lost. If you take one of the smaller paths you may not meet another person for the rest of the day (this in a country of 230 people per square kilometer). Especially the more remote areas are of an almost mythical beauty. It is no wonder the brothers Grimm could collect all those fairytales among the dark canopies, and a large part of the German poetry circles around trees, fog and those lonely mountain tops. Even Goethe sent his Faust to the Brocken for his most fantastic scene. Today, wild animals, although abound, are mostly very shy, so you might not get to see many. While a few wolves in Saxony and a bear in Bavaria have been sighted, their immigration from Eastern Europe caused quite a stir. In the course of events "Bruno" (the bear) was shot, and while the wolves are under heavy protection local hunters have been suspected of killing them illegally. The most dangerous animal in Germany's forests is by far the wild boar, especially sows leading young are nothing to joke about. Wild boar are used to humans, since they often plunder trash cans in villages and suburbs and their teeth can rip big wounds. If you see one, run.
Königsee nearby Berchtesgaden, Bavaria St. BartolomäMountains: The centre half of Germany is a patchwork of the so-called "Mittelgebirge": Hilly rural areas where fields and forests intermix with larger cities. Many of these hillranges are tourist destinations. Most noteably are the Bayrischer Wald (Bavarian Forest), the Black Forest, the Harz, the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and Elbsandstone Mountains. In the extreme south, bordering Austria, Germany contains a small portion of the Alps, Central Europe's highest elevation, rising as high as 4000m (12,000 ft) above sea level, with the highest summit in Germany being the Zugspitze, at 2962m (9717 ft). While only a small part of the Alps lie in Germany, they are famous for their beauty and the unique Bavarian culture. A lot of people go there or further south into neighboring Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein for skiing in the winter and hiking and climbing in the summer.
Lake Constance: Lying along the country's south-western border with Switzerland and Austria, Lake Constance is Germany's largest fresh-water lake. The area around the Lake and up the lower Rhine valley has a very mild, amenable climate and fertile grounds, making it the country's most important area for wine and fruit growing.
The Romantic Road (Itinerary): is the most famous scenic route in Germany. It starts in Würzburg and ends in Füssen. Most important points to visit on the Romantic Street are the cities: Würzburg, Harburg, Donauwörth, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Definitely recommended--the best preserved Medieval city in Germany by far, with its original, complete city walls and no modern construction--if you can stand the crowds of tourists that have taken over the town, see this city. Some areas of the old city are less picturesque but very residential in character, including the high street. Be aware that the city closes extremely early, and the last triains leave around 20:00, or 8pm), Landsberg am Lech and Augsburg. Most notable wider areas are: Taubertal, Nördlinger Ries and Lechrain. (For cyclists there's a special route available called "Radwanderweg Romantische Straße".)
Bertha Benz Memorial Route (Itinerary): This tourist route follows the tracks of the world's first long-distance journey by automobile in the year 1888, performed by Bertha Benz, the wife of Dr. Carl Benz, the inventor of the automobile. It starts and ends in Mannheim. Important cities along Bertha Benz Memorial Route are: Heidelberg, Wiesloch (with the world's first filling station, a pharmacy), Pforzheim, Bretten, Hockenheim and Schwetzingen. Important landscapes: Rhine Valley, Odenwald and Black Forest.
Using the Autobahn
German drivers tend to drive faster and more aggressively than you might be used to, especially on the parts of the highway system without a speed limit, which is taken literally.
While most passenger vehicles only have a recommended speed limit of 130 km/h, vehicles with studded tires must not travel faster than 145 km/h, some buses generally have a speed limit of 100 km/h, and any vehicle towing a trailer, along with buses in general and non-passenger vehicles with a gross weight of greater than 3,5 tonnes, is limited only to 80 km/h.
Road signs on the Autobahn show possible destinations (mostly city names). They do not show the direction of the road (e.g. east/west), like in some other countries. Signs at exits rather show the name of the next exit than destinations.
You must use the right lane if it's free, even if everybody seems to prefer the left and middle lanes (where they exist). You may stay in the left/middle lane if there are occasional slow vehicles on the right. Overtaking on the right lane is not allowed and can be dangerous as other drivers may not expect it. You must always pass vehicles on the left side, except in a traffic jam (note that passing on the right is allowed on other streets within city limits). Before using the left lane in order to overtake look carefully behind as there might be really fast cars coming.
Autobahns have an emergency lane where you can stop only in case of a breakdown or when otherwise unavoidable. For everything else, always use the frequent service areas; it is illegal and dangerous to stop there for other reasons. Running out of fuel on the Autobahn may also incur a small fine if the police happens to notice you, as this is considered to be avoidable. If you have to stop you must set up your warning triangle. The emergency lane is a dangerous place - you should leave your vehicle and stay off the road until help arrives!
Arrows on the small posts along the Autobahn will guide you to the next orange emergency phone. These will automatically connect you free of charge with an emergency call center which will help you get the police, an ambulance or just a mechanic. These phones should be the preferred choice over using your mobile since they transmit your exact location.
In some areas emergency tracks are used as extra lanes in times of heavy traffic. But this is always announced by electronic light signs.
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 only noticeable 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 of thumb is, south of the Main River divides north Germany from the south in both language dialects and local culture.
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.
Vacation Rentals Germany