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Germany > Germany travel guide

Germany Travel Guide



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For tourists, Germany has a little bit of everything – picture elegant major cities, old historic towns, medieval houses and castles, gothic churches and cathedrals, beer gardens and cafes, fine wine, outdoor events, and beer and harvest festivals in quaint villages.

As the largest country in central Europe, Germany is home to a large variety of landscapes. The Alps mountains in the Southern regions bordering Austria and Switzerland is a great place for skiing, hiking, and climbing. Germany’s North and Baltic Sea coasts and islands are picturesque and, with strong winds year-round, are perfect for windsurfing. The valleys of the lower Rhine River and around Germany’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Constance, boast fertile grounds for wine and fruit growing and offer visitors opportunities for wine touring and tasting. Plains, hills, and forests also paint the country’s heartland. The Black Forest in Baden-Württemberg is perhaps the most famous German forest and is the subject of numerous fairytales and poetry. The Black Forest is also mountainous and scattered with dark and humid woods and an ideal setting for long walks and hikes. The region is also known for watchmaking, cuckoo clocks, skiing and tourism.

The top travel destinations in Germany include Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Kreuzberg, Hannover and Schwerin in the north, Brandenburg, Leipzig, and Dresden in the east, Nuremberg, Munich, Stuttgart and Freiburg in the south, and Frankfurt and Cologne to the west. Most people visit between May and September or in the shoulder seasons from March to May and September to November when the weather is sunnier. Between November to early March, the weather tends to be gloomy and the temperatures can drop below freezing.

Climate and Weather
Germany lies within the continental climate zone which means it can be really hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. You will, however, experi­ence a slight change in climate when traveling from the northwest to the southeast. In the north around Hamburg and in Schleswig-Hoistein the weather is more oceanic with milder winters and moderately warm summers. Further south the weather becomes more continental with greater seasonal variations.

The average temperature in the winter varies from -1 degrees C (30 degrees F) in Berlin to 2.5 degrees C (37 degrees F) in Cologne; in the mountains it is between -10 and -15 degrees C (14 and 5 degrees F). The hottest spots in the summer can be found in the Upper Rhine Valley around Ludwigshafen / Mannheim.

The hottest month is July when it can be as hot as 35 to 40 degrees C (95 to 104 degrees F). If you come in the summer you will hardly ever be dis­appointed by the weather—German summers are mostly hot and dry. But of course, it does rain too. July is the wettest month with an average rainfall of 750 mm in the north of Germany and 620 mm in the Rhine Valley. The average rainfall in Bavaria for example is 1,300 mm with Oberstdorf in the lead, with rainfall up to 1,750 mm.

The Alps are by far the wettest section. This region has another climatic phenomenon—the Fohn—a warm dry wind which blows down the Alps into South Bavaria and Swabia. The Fohn has two effects—it clears the sky so that one can see the Alps even in Munich.

The best time to travel to Germany is the summer from late May to early October. Those who like to ski are best advised to travel from mid-December to March. By the way, warm clothes are not only advisable in the winter, it can be pretty cool in the summer, too. If you choose the summer months for your visit, bring sun­glasses and an umbrella.


Clothing
Whatever you do, don't forget a raincoat and your sunglasses because the weather can be very unpredict­able indeed. Even if you come in the hottest summer months (July and August) you are advised to bring one warm sweater or cardigan for it can be quite cool in the evenings. And for your trip to the North Sea you should bring a blazer or a raincoat. In case you forget to bring any, you can "go native" and buy a "Friesennen" (a yel­low rubber raincoat) and a pair of rubber boots quite cheaply.

Good walking shoes are another must for a visit. It doesn't matter whether you go walking in the Black Forest or the Luneburger Heide or hiking in the Alps, a pair of good walking shoes is indispensable. (Especially in the Alps many people die each year because of inade­quate equipment.)

Otherwise, casual clothing is accepted. Jeans and sweat shirts are common long ago. Germans are very fashion conscious especially in big metropolises like Berlin, Hamburg or Munich. Long evening dresses and tuxedos are still worn when going to the opera, although this is beginning to change.


Shopping
Germany, being a popular tourist haunt, offers lots of souvenirs to take home. The shop to look out for is the Andenkenladen which has anything from valuable souvenirs to all sorts of knick-knacks. Beer mugs (Bierkruge) are typical gifts. You find them made out of glass, ceramics and tin, colorfully painted or plain. Especially fancy, and therefore more expensive, are the mugs with the tin-lid. For those who don't like beer, there are typical wine glasses. White wine for example is served in Romer, which are bulbous glasses.

In the south, you will find less mundane souvenirs. Wooden sculptures, crosses, rosaries etc. You can get the best selection in pilgrimage areas like Oberammer-gau or Altotting. Non-religious but attractive souvenirs are the national apparel. In Bavaria you can get a typical Dirndl or aLederhosen in specialized shops, look for the sign that reads Trachtenmoden.

Traditional clothing in the north of Germany are the Schiffermiitze, Seemannspullover and the Friesenneri. The Schiffermiitze is a blue sailor's cap similar to what ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt wore. The Seemannspullover is a big blue sweater sailors wear at sea. It is very comfortable for the rough winds over the North Sea coast. Another indispensable garment is the Friensennerz, a raincoat made out of yellow rubber.

In practically every town you will find a Fufigdngerzone pedestrian zone with all kinds of shops, big department stores, and small specialized shops. There you will find everything your heart desires. Cigarettes may be bought in cigarette vending machines (Zigarettenautomat) either in the streets, restaurants or other public places if you have enough one or two Mark coins. Cigarettes, cigars and tobacco may also be bought in newspaper shops which also stock postcards, writing supplies, magazines and newspapers.


Commuting in Germany

Car

Germany is renowned for its motorways, the Auto­bahnen. Altogether there are about 8,500 km (13,600 meters) of motorways throughout the Republic, making it one of the densest in the world. The Autobahnen are marked with an "A" on blue signs while the regional roads are marked with a "B" on yellow signs.

There are rest stops (Raststatteri) every 30 to 50 km (20 to 30 meters) along the Autobahnen. Here you may drink, eat, or use the toilet facilities. Often you will also find hotels at these rest stops; both are open 24 hours. In addition, there are small rest stops every four to five km, offering the opportunity to stretch your legs.

Despite its length and density, traffic congestion is the order of the day during the holiday season (from the end of June to the middle of September). It is therefore advisable to check traffic conditions on the local radio stations (Traffic Broadc&stfVerkehrsfunk). The respec­tive wavelengths (VHR) are indicated on blue square road signs along the motorways and roads.

Should you get stuck, use the diversions indicated by blue signs with the letter "U" (Umleitung) and a number referring to the diverting road. If your car breaks down on the motorway you can call the breakdown services direct. Use the orange telephones along the road. Black triangles on the posts along the side of the motorway indicate the direction of the next telephone. This is the list of the breakdown services throughout the Republic; they operate 24 hours daily.

The ADAC {Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobili-club) gives you road assistance free of charge provided the damage can be fixed within half an hour. Should it take longer, you will have to pay for the repair as well as the cost of all spare parts needed.

Road assistance is free of charge and all recovery costs will be refunded if you have an Auslands-schutzbrief (insurance certificate). In fact you should take out the insurance with your national automobile association before you leave home. The other auto­mobile clubs (ACE, AvD, DTC) charge you for spare parts, gas and towing.

You can also rent a car {Autovermietung) practically everywhere. There are many international companies such as Hertz, Avis, Europcar, etc. For local car rentals inquire at your hotel's tourist information desk. If you go to an international company such as InterRent and you come from an English speaking country, all that is needed is your national driver's license and cash, credit card or check deposit. Smaller companies may insist on an international driver's license.

When driving in Germany observe the following rules: The traffic goes on the right with returning traffic on the left. Main road traffic has the right of way. At the junctions of two main roads or two minor roads, traffic coming from the right has priority unless otherwise indicated. Traffic signs are in accordance with interna­tional standards.

The general speed limit (Geschwindig-keitsheschrdnkung) in towns and villages is 50 km/hour; on open roads it is 100 km/hour. Vehicles towing trailers are limited to 80 km/hour on all roads outside of towns and villages. The recommended speed limit on motorways is 130 km/hour. This is changing, however. Recently the government has been promoting a general speed limit of 100 km/hour on motorways and 80 km/hour on open roads due to the rapid increase in the number of dying trees and forests. Fasten your seat belt if driving, or sitting in the front seat; you can be fined for this violation. Children under 12 are not allowed to sit in front.

Before setting out make sure you have the following safety equipment in your car: first-aid kit and a warning triangle and should you have an accident, switch on your hazard lights and put up the warning triangle at a safe distance from the scene of the accident. Depending on the sever­ity of the damage, you should summon the police. Ask the other party for the name of their insurance company and their insurance policy number, and you should take note of possible witnesses. And, do not forget to contact your own insurance company immediately.

Train
The German railway system (Deutsche Bundesbahn) is a nationalized enterprise. On the whole, tlje German railway system is very efficient and will get you to all major places. There is an hourly service from each major city in the Republic, by the intercity trains (IC). The map on page 349 shows the intercity network.

You can travel from Munich to Hamburg in less than eight hours. If you board an IC-train at 8:37 a.m. in Munich you will arrive in Hamburg at 4:15 p.m. There are lunch-cars, first- and second-class cars and even a telephone service on the trains for an additional fare. IC-trains do not run at night. If you want to travel at night get on a D-Zug, which travels slightly slower because it makes more stops on the way. Another type of train, the E-Zug, stops even more often, but has the advantage of getting you to smaller towns.

The Bundesbahn is not only very efficient, it also has some attractive fare structures. The only restriction is your earliest possible date of return is the following Saturday or Sun­day. So if you go from Munich to Hamburg on a Tuesday, the earliest date of return is the following Saturday or Sunday. If you begin your trip on a Saturday or Sunday you can return on any day.

Bus
Buses are a primary means of transportation in cities and they connect the smaller villages in the countryside. But there is no national coach network like the Grey­hound in the United States.

The overland buses in the Federal Republic are a substitute for the German railway system, that is, wher­ever the Deutsche Bundesbahn does not travel there will be a bus taking you to the most remote corners of Ger­many. Information on the regional bus services is available at either the railway stations or the tourist information centers.

Other Public Transportation

Similar to the transport conditions between towns, you can also use the dense network of public transport systems available in every large city. Cities having a population of 100,000 and more, offer an efficient bus system that runs frequently and usually very punctually. You can buy the bus tickets from the driver or at automats available in the bus or at the bus stop.

In big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, the bus lines are integrated with the underground (U-Bahn), the tram, and the S-Bahn into one large public transport system. The same ticket may be used for all four means of transport.

The trams (Strafienbahnen) run on rails throughout the city. The speed at which they travel allows for sight­seeing, although there is the danger of getting into a traffic jam. Still, they are substantially faster than the trams in San Francisco. Look out for yellow signs with a green "H" at bus and tram stops; they list the time schedules.

Underground (U-Bahn) stations are usually identi­fied by a sign showing a white "U" on a blue back­ground. Every station has detailed route maps displayed on the wall.The S-Bahn will transport you at about the same speed as the U-Bahn. The S-Bahns are short trains that travel to the suburbs of the larger cities, and within the city they travel mostly underground. For people living in the outskirts and suburbs it is a fast way of getting into the city. S-Bahn stations are identified by a white "S" on a green background. The price of tickets varies from town to town. For more detailed information contact the respective information office in each town or city.

Taxis
Taxis are more comfortable although they are the most expensive form of transport available. You can recognize them by their beige color and the taxi sign on the roof (illuminated if the cab is free). In every large town there are special taxi stands, but you can also call for them. (Usually the telephone numbers are listed on the first page of the telephone directory). You should memorize the yellow taxi i.d. number in case you leave something behind in the cab or wish to complain about the driver. In some towns there are also minicars and call cars which are cheaper and also have space for luggage.








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