Germany in a nutshell

Germany is big and has the biggest population of Europe to go with it: 81 million people! And every day we think about or use stuff that’s from this country like Beethoven, cars, mp3, aspirin and Albert Einstein.

The north has beaches and islands, the centre has forests, vinyards and river valeys and in the south the Alps are carved out. This country has highways without speed-limit, over 400 zoos, the narrowest street of the world (in Reutlingen, its 31cm wide) and 15 National Parks.

Discover that German food is more than sausages and pretzels with beer: white asparagus in springtime, chanterelle mushrooms in summer, 300 different kinds of bread and beautiful Riesling wine to go with it.

There are big urban cities scattered in between it all where the baroque and gothic architecture meet high-modern creations and the parts of history that we don’t all learned about in school are just waiting to be explored.

Top things to see and do in Germany:

  • The Romantic Road

    Running 400km from Wurzburg to Fussen in the south of Germany lays this great road-trip of cute towns. All worth a stop but especially Görlitz is lovely.

  • Neuschwanstein Castle

    Up in the Bavarian Alps you’ll find the former home of Ludwig II that looks like it might belong in fairytale book.

  • Prinzessinengarten, Berlin

    Weird place for a garden, the middle of a busy roundabout, but this urban gardening project is a great initiative and good place to quickly escape the chaos.

  • Rugen Island

    With its white-sand beaches, charming architecture and even its own national park, this island is immensely popular but still has a lot of hidden quiet corners for you.

  • Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich

    One of the best modern and expressionist museum’s in my opinion, especially the design section with a great display of applied arts. The entrance is only 1euro on Sundays and just the roof/dome is worth your visit.

  • The Ruhr industrial heritage trail

    Some might call me weird, but I think old industrial stuff is gorgeous! This part of the country was full of coal and steel production and has the leftover giants to prove it. Make sure to check out the Landschaftspark at Duisburg by night, the light-show is amazing.

  • Hamburg’s fishmarket

    Get up early, or better yet; go straight from a party, because it starts at 5 and is over by 9.30 a.m. Cool old market with the best sandwiches you have had in a long time. Oh and if you still have some time/energy left, take the old Elbe tunnel [no traffic, just walking] with beautiful Art-Deco details to the other side and enjoy the view from there.

  • Berlin Mauerpark

    On nice days just a big city-park with the usual drinking/barbecue/guitar-playing people, but on Sundays it’s turned into a huge open air flea market with people selling their crafts and food.

Accommodation

Finding a bed won’t often be a problem in Germany and the range of accommodation – from hostel to designer hotel, pension to palace or even campsite – means there’s something to suit all budgets and tastes. There are two things two look out for though: during high season in top resorts and during major festivals, when you may struggle to find a room anywhere near where you want to be or will have to pay top price. Youth hostels are good, clean and affordable. Campsites can be found anywhere and often big. Couchsurfing and AirBnB are used often and can get you good prices even last minute and in popular places. Expect to pay around 35EUR minimum.

Food

Germans take eating quite seriously, formerly meaning a meal of traditions, but a foodie revolution has taken over parts of the country over the last decade or so, introducing some lighter meals too. The Michelin Guide reviewers have a lot to say about the contemporary Neue Deutsche Küche (New German Cuisine) of superstar chefs but I don’t think the gourmet Bratwurst produced in Bavaria’s Wurstküchen (sausage kitchens) will ever leave the menu’s. Most accommodation include breakfast with different kinds of bread, mueslis and cereals, yoghurt, hard-boiled eggs, jams, marmalade and honey, as well as cheese and cold meats. Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cakes) are a traditional treat equivalent to English tea. Talking about tea, beverages are big here too. Not just tea though, but coffee, all kinds of hip vegan soft-drinks, beer, wine and ofcourse schnaps. If you can keep the alcohol in control, expect to spend around 25EUR a day.

Transport

Germany has probably one of the best public transport systems in Europe with many and good travel options within the country. You can take planes, trains, cars, buses, bikes and even boats, which is quite unusual for a mostly landlocked nation. Services operate on rivers such as the Rhune, Mosel and Elbe, generally from April to October. It might be more expensive but that’s what you get with slow travel. If you book a minimum of two weeks in advance, flight tickets can be quite cheap. The national railway system is very good, although strikes are not uncommon, trains are frequent, clean and prices are fair, with discounts available to help out your wallet.

Activities

From the muddy North Sea to the Alps in the South, there’s a lot to enjoy in Germany’s outdoors. And with the variety of landscapes comes a huge array of activities. From surfing to mountaineering and a lot of football in between. Germans like their festivals. From city to village, wherever there are people there will usually be a festival; classical music and theatre, Christmas markets and ofcourse Octoberfest. There is a lot to learn about art, culture and history in all kinds of museums but the contemporary art-scene is pretty big in the cities too. There are cathedrals and castles straight out of fairytails and cities filled with glass skyscrapers. There are valleys, lakes and beaches. Basically if you pick out the right season, anything is possible.

Language

They obviously speak German in this country, but it being the size that it is, the dialects and accents vary greatly. Like many other European languages, German has two “you” verb forms which show difference in the relationship the speaker has to someone else. The grammar is very hard with four grammatical cases but most people speak decent English, so just learn your basic greetings and thanks and you will be fine.

Money

Germany has the euro as its sole currency since 2002 like most countries in the EU, before which it was Mark. The German coins illustrate oak twigs, the Brandenburg gate and the German eagle, symbol for unity, justice and freedom. By European standards, prices in Germany are reasonable and ATMs [called Bankomat] are wide-spread at most train stations and all banks or you can use your ATM card at most ATM’s in Germany. ATMs are multilingual so your Visa or debit card should be used without problems. Be aware that credit cards are not widely accepted here so it’s important to know that smaller shops only accept CASH or the German EC card (a bank card). It is always a good idea to check before you buy or sit down to ensure which type of payment is accepted (American Express can be a problem).

Visa

Germany is a member of the Schengen Agreement. There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty. So a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed it and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union so it can be quite confusing. But for travel, any non-EU foreigner can travel for up to 90 days without any problems.

Overall conclusion

Germany is big! The people are mostly not as strict as movies and history make you believe but can be very warm and open-minded. It has land borders with nine countries and a coastline of 2389km so there is a lot to explore, but definitely something to find for everybody’s taste. I personally very much like the diversity that this country has to offer, because every 100km feels like a totally new place. Don’t let the aggressive-sounding language scare you off 🙂

3 thoughts on “Germany in a nutshell

  1. What a great roundup post! I would love to visit Germany. After a luncheon last year I realized it has a variety of landscapes which I love. I also want to go and try the food!

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