I’ve spent weeks traveling within Germany and a few months living there, and as a result, I’ve learned how to get the most out of my time there. I’ve laid out ten tips for traveling within Germany and experiencing the culture.
Rail travel seems expensive but remember, the rail system is efficient, comfortable, and you can get to practically any town or city within the country. Transfer times can seem tight, but you’ll get to your next train on time. And if you’re on the odd delayed train and miss your connection, you can check for the next train with the same route on the sheets within the station. Daily train schedules are printed and posted. Flexible tickets are a must-have when following a flight to allow for delays. Trainline.eu is a great place to find reasonable ticket prices. Travel by train is often a cheaper option for renting a car when taking into consideration the extra fee for automatic transmission and steep gas prices.
Ryanair is a budget airline that sacrifices their customer’s comfort for very cheap tickets. I’ve spent as little as 12 euros for a flight, cheaper than the bus and rail options for that same route. Most of Ryanair’s flights are only an hour or two, so it’s not too torturous. Keep in mind they have a carry-on and checked baggage fee, but it still ends up being cheaper than other airlines. Ryanair tends to service smaller airports within the country which are less convenient to get to but are always connected to main stations by rail and bus. This is a great option when traveling in Europe, not just Germany.
When you arrive at your destination, cycling is a fun way to explore the city. Bicycle rentals can be found within the tourism centers, and many cities are cycle-friendly. Muenster, known as Germany’s cycling capital, is littered with bike lanes and trails, and trust me when I say it is safe. As someone who has cycled in large cities such as Denver and Toronto, I have never felt safe enough to get on my bike without a helmet, except while in Germany. Bike theft is also very high in Germany, but they also don’t take too much care in locking them up. Looping the chain through the front wheel and frame is good enough security for them.
Food and drink
Many cities, big and small, have weekly markets filled with fresh produce, meat, cooked foods, German delicacies, flowers, and of course beer. If I were to recommend my top German attraction, I would say the markets! On weekends, Germans meet their friends at the market for lunch and beer or - if in Rhineland-Palatinate state - wine. In Rhineland-Palatinate in the summertime, a typical way to consume wine is with carbonated water, known as Wineschorle. Markets are bustling with activity, filled with smells of great food, and are the social centers of Germany. At Christmastime, you can expect lights and decorations, lots of gingerbread, and mulled wine.
Germany has a reputation for being highly educated in the English language, which is mostly true, but many of the rural merchants don’t know English. Be prepared with a few simple German phrases.
Beer is a German delicacy in itself. It is cheap, refreshing, and a way to really experience the German culture. Drinking in public is legal and well-practiced, and beer gardens are popular meet-up spots for friends. For those who don’t like to drink alcohol, German breweries make non-alcoholic beer that tastes no different than the traditional recipe. It’s an incredible feat that I don’t truly understand.
Great quality and fresh food
Food in grocery stores is quite cheap, but don’t be fooled by the price tag – it is great quality. Butchers sell minced pork that is so fresh they eat it raw on a bun. This is known as Mett and is commonly eaten at breakfast or Fruhstuck. The fruit is always ripe and full of flavor, and their quality of sauces and condiments is shocking compared to the North American standards.
An additional note: many grocery stores do not offer plastic bags and the cashiers don’t bag for you.
Believe it or not, Germany makes great wine. But don’t buy German wine as you would North American – that is, by the price. A German wine with an award, no matter the price, is going to be good. And yes, you can pay one euro for a great bottle of wine.
Know the difference between the diverse cultures
Many North American gestures are offensive in other cultures. For example, a ‘thumbs up’ is equivalent to the ‘middle finger’ in the Middle East, Latin America, Western Africa, Russia, and Greece. This should be recognized.
Germany consists of sixteen states, all of which have their own culture. Do some research before your trip to determine to which province you are traveling. Oktoberfest is commonly believed to be a tradition for all of Germany by most tourists, but actually, it is only so in Bavaria. Be a conscientious tourist and avoid offensive behavior.
Be on time
Germans are very punctual. Do not show up ‘fashionably late’. The message you send when you’re late to a German function is that you believe your time is more important than theirs.
Check local tourism websites for special events
The best way to experience German culture is to attend special events such as festivals and markets. I attended my first polo tournament in Germany, which was great fun, and had I not checked the local calendar I would have missed such an opportunity. The attendance is dominated by locals, so you know you’ll get a real local experience. Christmas markets, Oktoberfest, and Carnival are recommended events to attend, but keep in mind some of these special events are state-specific.
Germans may have a reputation for being innovative and modern, but many vendors are cash only, especially markets. Carry cash with you, and remember that German prices are always tax-inclusive.