Germany exists, to a certain extent, somewhat in the shadow of World War II. While many Germans may still feel a negative stigma from American visitors for their country's role in the Holocaust, you should find most Germans are fun-loving and very inviting hosts. While the country is not sweeping anything under the rug -- important war sites are maintained for educational purposes -- Germany is comprised of so much more. From rich history to colorful culture and lederhosen, sweeping hills to fine art, and, of course, beer and brats, travelers to Germany are in for a treat.
When To Go
Germany is accessible year-round and offers both a great ski season and summers by the lake. Snow is common in the winters, especially in the higher altitudes, and can delay transportation or tours. The bright side is that the country, especially Bavaria, is particularly gorgeous blanketed in snow, while the cities are fairly immune and can operate close to normal. German summers are hot, relatively humid and definitely require a bottle of water on-hand. This is a great time to visit for festivals, the most famous being Oktoberfest toward the end of September. During this time the city is hot, people are dining outside and the country is covered in green grass.
What to Pack
Your packing list for Germany can be as diverse as the country's many beers, however, there are a few basics that will see you through from Hamburg to Fuessen. Germany fully explores seasonal weather, so it is wise to pack accordingly; warm layers for winter with a knit hat, gloves and scarf in case of snow to shorts, comfortable walking shoes and even a bathing suit in spring and summer. If you are planning on hiking in the country's rolling hills, a nice pair of hiking boots is a good investment as is insect repellant, sunglasses and a small backpack. Most Germans speak English rather well, but it never hurts to carry a small phrase book.
What to See
Surprisingly, Germany is home to many great castles, most namely Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen's Bavarian Alps, about a two-hour train ride from Munich. With its fairytale towers and ornate design, Walk Disney is rumored to have modeled his castle after this beauty. Munich's Nymphenburg Palace is also a well-trodden stop along the tourist circuit and is just down the street from a flowering botanical garden. Ghost lovers should also spend a night in Munich where walking tours tell ghastly -- and supposedly true -- tales of Munich's haunted history. A trip to Dachau gives a grisly glimpse into life inside Nazi concentration camps, while other significant historical sites include the Berlin wall, the Gothic-style Cologne Cathedral, and the city of Nuremberg. And since it's almost impossible to travel around Germany without stumbling into -- or out of -- a traditional biergarten, grab a stein and bratwurst somewhere along the way.
Toss away any notions that Germans are rude or stuffy. This misconception may spawn from the German tendency toward bluntness. Try to not take this personally. Do be aware that the country is very clean and well-kept, so messiness or a disheveled appearance may be met with disapproval. While dining out, note that water comes in both still and sparkling, and may incur an extra charge. You may also need to specifically ask for the bill, as it is customary for people to spend all day in a cafe. Beware also of a satirical political party in Germany who are known to throw protests for putting the wall back up or other zany stunts that can be very confusing to tourists.
The official German currency is the euro. Most worldwide credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express are also accepted, as are debit cards containing these credit company logos. If you wish to purchase train tickets with an American credit card, you may need to go to the counter as the automated machines often only accept credit cards with a smart chip. Due to the red tape, exchange fees and lack of vendor acceptance, traveler's checks should be left at home. While it may be customary in the U.S., when dining out Germany, do not tip your server more than a few small coins. Hospitality workers are paid well in Germany and overtipping is considered condescending.
Life In the Fast Lane
Tales of driving in Germany usually include stories of the famous Autobahn -- a highway devoid of speed limits. While there is some truth to this, it should be noted that only specific sections of the Autobahn are free from speed limits. Most stretches have posted limits topping off at about 130 kilometers per hour, or 81 mph. Also note that the fast lane, better used as a passing lane, is located in the far left lane.
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