Starter Kit for Germany
Your Local Expert for Frankfurt and Germany is Eric. Any questions pertaining to Germany or adjacent regions can be raised and will be promptly answered.
Getting There and Around
Most overseas visitors to Germany will enter Germany by plane with Frankfurt being Germany’s major international airport, as well as Munich and Dusseldorf. All three airports are directly connected to Germany’s high speed train (ICE) network located on the grounds of the airport terminals. An ICE will take the visitor from Frankfurt to all major German cities within 1 – 4 hours. Top speeds of 290 km/h is reached for the 180 km stretch from Frankfurt airport to Cologne main railway station which takes about 1 hour and costing EUR 60 one-way.
Discounter airways will take the visitor to minor airports all around the country, however given the high speed of trains, the latter are a viable alternative.
International visitors, especially those who have already arrived in some part of Europe will most likely opt to take a train to enter Germany. This applies especially to visitors currently in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Strassbourg, Zurich, Milan and Prague. Visitors from other destinations are better served by plane.
All train stations and most airports offer all potential onward transportation services which include taxis, local commuter trains, rental cars, and all major train stations also offer rental bicycles owned by the German railway company.
Renting a car in Germany is not a problem for those who have an international drivers licence in conjunction with their local driver’s licence, however keep in mind that renting a car in Germany is not cheap. The cheapest category car are always stick shift. So, for those who are unfamiliar with stick shift, be prepared to pay a hefty surcharge for automatic gear cars. Another point to keep in mind is that while some portions of the German Autobahn have no speed restrictions (you will see certain cars and motor cycles whiz by at speeds of 220 km/h and more), … in general, Germany has more traffic signs and rules, than any other country in existence. To avoid trouble, abide by them, even if most locals don’t follow them to a tee.
Within cities, local transport is usually easy to handle, except for those awful automated ticket machines, where even Germans sometimes ponder about how to use that gadget. More about this vital gadget in other blogs about “How to operate … Germany”. In general, you can board a German long distance train operated by DB or Deutsche Bahn without a ticket, and purchase the ticket on the train, but you cannot enter any other German public transport provider without a ticket and without being at risk of a EUR 40 fine and general embarrassment.
Long distance buses like the Greyhound in USA and Canada are not very common in Germany. A few private operators exist, but generally, long distance trains are the option of choice.
Few will consider cycling into the country, though I do not know of many who have opted for this means of entering Germany. Rest assured though, the German cycle and inline skate path network is extremely well established in all parts of Germany. For those of you who are somewhat fit and on a very narrow budget, why not simply explore Germany the “green” way. The green trend is very popular in Germany, and locals will respect you for abiding by the green trend.
Where to Stay in Germany
Germany essentially has two major types of accommodation: hotels and pensions. Motels hardly exist, despite Germany being the number one automobile nation. The drive-in mentality has hardly caught on, except at some suburban McDonalds locations. Hotels are all over, but hardly cheap. Best place to look for and book hotels and pensions are at www.hrs.de and www.easyres.com . Pensions are cheaper, frequently offer more spacious rooms, and a very generous breakfast buffet, but you will seldomly find a fitness centre at a pension. Keep an eye open for the Garni hotels which are a crossover between three star hotels and pensions. Pensions are frequently family run places.
Where to eat in Germany
This is definitely not a simple question to respond to. At the large magazine stores of many German railway stations, you will come across a magazine called [“city name” Geht Aus], e.g. Frankfurt Geht Aus. This magazine contains pretty much everything that you need to know about the best local eateries, etc. however unfortunately only in German. These magazine shops however also provide a series of informational products in English. Alternatively, you may want to visit the local tourism information center. Rest assured, the choice of eating options is tremendous, especially if you like Italian, Thai or Indian food. Each menu contains at least one, somewhat bland, vegetarian dish.
Tips: The 5% or 10% rule is not really valid in Germany. The tip is paid in accordance with whether you like or not like the food, and is usually rounded up to the next full Euro amount plus one Euro, for more expensive meals … plus two, three or four euros. Same applies to taxi tips.
How to communicate in Germany
Germany is not as state of the art as many would think. Most visitors will probably want to send a message home saying that they have arrived well. But the number of internet cafés except in major towns is limited. All hotels have internet access, but usually not at budget rates, and setting up the access to your laptop is not always easy. Free hotspots are available, however not as frequent as in other countries.
Mobile telephones, known as Handys in Germany, are probably the communication of choice. Beware though, even though you may be roaming on a local network, German mobile phoning prices are still much more expensive than in other countries. Calling a mobile phone or calling from a mobile phone will usually not be less than EUR 0.19 per minute. An SMS carries a similar price. It adds up quickly, if you decided to call home for one hour telling about your fantastic experience at Frankfurt airport … a shopping paradise within an airport.
Coin operated phones are all over the place, but are hardly used any more.
How to pay in Germany
The Deutsche Mark is out. The currency in Germany is the Euro, and one euro equals to 100 cents. Germany is still a very cash based society. Credit cards are starting to become a popular means of payment, but many places still don’t accept them. Ask before you acquire … noone will want to remain at a restaurant washing all the days dishes in order to compensate a restaurant for a non-paid bill.
No matter where you are in Germany, you are best off with cash or with a debit card connected to the so-called Maestro payment system. Even with cash you may have problems. Many automated systems will not accept 1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins, and also not bills of EUR 50 and higher. So try to keep a good amount of 10 cent coins to 10 euro bills in hand, and you will be fine. 5x “1-euro” coins should always remain a steady companion in all wallets and purses for emergencies. No worries, armed robberies are not so frequent, just apply a general sense of caution.
Last but not least … Where to Go ... in Germany
Germany is a big country and it is virtually impossible to go and see everything in one day or even a week. For those with little time on their hands, among the large towns, Berlin is a place that you must see. That’s the place of culture and cosmopolitanism. Other cities of Germany are also exciting: the Bavarian mentality is best seen in Munich, Hamburg is Germany’s major port facility and displays quite a different type of cosmopolitan atmosphere. Obviously, there are also all the famous cathedrals and museums in various cities of Germany. All the other must sees in Germany are more a matter of region than a matter of city urban locations. Rather than mentioning them here, they will be mentioned regularly in the Forum, especially if a major event worth visiting or seeing is scheduled to take place in such city or region.
The October Fest is currently ongoing on the Wiesn near Munich. Similar, small October Fest festivities are taking place all over the country. At the same time, wine festivals and wine tasting festivals are also taking place in October, so Fall is a great time to savour the tastes of Germany. www.oktoberfest.de .
December is all but dreary. It’s the high time of festivity in Germany, that starts as early as the third week of November with the famous German Christmas Markets appearing all over the country. The Christmas Markets of Germany are a definite Must See, and even these can be rated into less and more attractive, or more or less well known. The Nuremberg and the Dresdner Christmas markets are really well known but not necessarily the nicest. Potentially the least commercial and most romantic German style Christmas market is located in Strassbourg, France.
The Where to Go’s for Germany are endless, but in the German Forum, we will regularly report about a MUST-SEE-Where-To-Go location for every taste, age and gender.
We will also make you aware on how to operate certain things you may encounter, and which may make your travel simpler and more enjoyable, as many descriptions in Germany still are provided only in Germany.