German accommodation offers plenty of variety for all budgets and desires. Train or bus travellers can find hotels, pensions, hostels or other types of lodgings reasonably close to the centre of town while motorists can seek establishments with ready parking a little out of the centre and choose how to explore the local attractions from there. As a price guide, budget single rooms are in the €40-55 range, but their availability can be affected by festivals or trade shows (see Events) or even by international football matches.
Bookings are described by day of arrival (Anreise, Ankunft) and departure (Abreise) – hence the morning after the last night’s stay should be included. Expect to provide a credit card number when booking direct online, by email or by phone. Cancellation (Stornierung) of bookings is often possible at 24 hours’ notice, but check terms – special deals tend to have restrictive cancellation rules or demand part or full payment. When booking follow the convention of giving an intended arrival time and keep a phone number handy in case you are delayed. Occasionally, where the reception desk is not 24-hour, late arrivals or night owls will be given a security access code to use at the door.
Many establishments are non-smoking but when booking specify non-smoking rooms if desired. Smokers should check on any prohibitions in rooms. In Germany airconditioning is mostly a four-star feature and in the heat of summer some travellers find the necessity for keeping windows open can affect sleep when city streets are below.
Accommodation rates shown should include the 7% consumer or value-added tax (Mehrwertsteuer). Seasonal rates are not usual but there are exceptions, especially among budget hotels and private hostels. It is important to note the German preposition ab, when appended to a price, effectively means 'from' – it's the lowest room price offered, perhaps among differing rates for various rooms or various times of year (or nights of the week). Seek clarity when booking.
In classified tourist spa areas there is a daily charge (Kurtaxe or Ortstaxe), typically €2-3 per adult (€1 for older children) levied on top of room rates. Expect the day of departure to be included. Other local taxes can be levied in some towns and cities and can be payable on arrival, so it’s best to know in advance.
Tourist taxes also apply in some destinations under various headings – a culture tax (Kulturförderangabe), a bed tax (Bettensteuer) or simply a city tax, levied per tourist, per day, on top of advertised accommodation rates. These generally range from 1% to 5% (sometimes they are flat or differential charges or have ceilings) and, because most stated rates are VAT-inclusive, most apply to the after-tax figure. Generally business travellers are exempted, which means filling out a form (check with hosts). These charges are typically absorbed in advertised accommodation rates.
Germany’s national tourist and restaurant association DEHOGA regulates star ratings under the conventions of the Hotelstars Union and the country was one of the first signatories to its standardised star classification system.
A tourist accommodation agency (Zimmervermittlung) is usual at bigger tourist offices but there are some privately run agencies. Booking from online listings at tourist office websites is generally preferred by the offices themselves but most will deal with email or telephone inquiries.
Whether in big or small hotels, professionalism and English-speaking desk staff are normal, while friendly and efficient service are usual. Germany has a long tradition of small, family-run hotels that offer a pleasant alternative to chains. Many are reasonably priced two-star or three-star options and often small children can stay free. Extra portable beds can often be booked for as little as €10 each. The drawbacks of some of these establishments, generally in older buildings, are the need to climb stairs and a lack of airconditioning for summer nights.
In business markets competition from trade fairs (Messen) and conferences can push up rates. On the other hand, weekend charges can be cheaper at such destinations. Some hotels might charge separately for breakfast. WLAN or internet access charges vary but in many establishments are free. Parking fees are common and in small city hotels it is best to inquire about availability.
Visit accommodation booking websites for cheap deals but check terms and conditions carefully before booking. Some travellers prefer to verify any bookings made this way independently by email. Cancellations or changes to bookings may forfeit any deposit or incur a fee. Major chains have their own central booking websites for which varying rates and associated conditions – such as no-cancellation discounts – may apply.
The German-owned HRS Hotels online booking portal (www.hrs.de) covers a wide range of hotels and chains and offers a handy indicator of distance from city centre, central rail station and airport as well as filtered searches. The similar (www.hotel.de) site claims 300,000 listings worldwide. Both websites operate in multiple languages.
For budget hotel accommodation in single, double or family rooms see the A&O Hostel and Meininger Hotel paragraphs under Hostels.
The Ibis hotels (ibis.accorhotels.com/gb/country/hotels-germany-pde.shtml) have new or upgraded, often centrally located properties with parking access and offer three levels of comfort and service. The accent is on modular simplicity rather than character. At budget level there are more than 70 German hotels, some offering single room rates from about €45 (at strict no-cancellation terms). When not included in rates, breakfast comes at charges starting at €6.90. Young children stay free with parents (apart from the charge for breakfast) but no more than two adults (aged 12 or over) may use one room. Arrangements for WLAN vary: it's usually free in common areas but for access in budget rooms there may be a charge.
The B&B Hotels (www.hotelbb.de) chain has more than 50 German hotels, also on the modern, bright-and-basic model. Charges are in the €50-55 range for singles, about €60 for doubles, €70-80 for family rooms. Not all are central but parking is generally ample and free. WLAN room access is standard at no extra charge.
The GCH Hotel group www.gchhotelgroup.com/en, offers deals as low as €60 for single or double rooms with breakfast in the two-star and three-star categories. The Wyndham Group German hotels are affiliated.
VCH-Hotels is an established network with more than 50 generally quiet, mostly mid-sized and three-star private hotels in Germany, varying in location but many offering rooms in traditional buildings starting around €50/70 single/double a night. Visit www.vch.de to survey the choices and book.
The romance of staying in a German castle or manor is an attraction. Romantik Hotels & Restaurants International www.romantikhotels.com has more than 100 listings for traditional German buildings. Similarly the Schenks Castles & Gardens guide www.schencksreisefuehrer.de includes links to accommodation listings by state. Charges at many of these last two groups of properties are high, but some fall into the budget range.
These are much the same thing – usually small, privately run B&Bs or guesthouses that are family concerns where a dinner restaurant and a full range of hotel services are not to be expected. There are roughly 5000 such establishments in Germany, generally offering single rooms including breakfast in the €45-70 range. Families can sometimes stay for €60-80 a night. Some are basically a few private rooms with breakfast served but others have about 20 beds and the more successful enterprises have managed to expand further without losing their two or 2½-star status. At pensions half-pension (Halbpension) is sometimes offered, supplying one meal other than breakfast.
Older-style buildings are the norm, sometimes quaint (no elevators) but others have been renovated and modernised. Parking tends to be limited or non-existent. Some of these establishments now offer internet or WLAN access, generally at a fee. It’s best to ask what is included when booking or when choosing at the tourist office.
The register at www.pension.de includes a claimed total of 30,000 German properties to search. The site is in German, but translates quite well in browsers. Further listings are at www.deutsche-pensionen.de, which includes apartment rentals.
Also a private concern, the Gästehaus (also Gasthof, Gaststätte or, away from towns, sometimes Landhaus) can have the function of an inn or tavern (Wirtshaus) while offering rooms and breakfast. In the south these can be very traditional in atmosphere, with landscapes or folk paintings and local cuisine. They tend to charge lower rates than hotels, but the name can sometimes conceal a more up-market establishment with full restaurant service. Check before booking.
Some establishments describe themselves as B&Bs, but never assume the breakfast is included in the headline price. Check websites (where available) carefully or inquire. Many accept cash payment only or charge fees of the order of €5-6 for payments by credit card.
Hostels (Herbergen) are private but most youth hostels (Jugendherbergen) are affiliated with the national organisation Deutsches Jugendherbergswerk (DJH). There are about 500 DJH-affiliated hostels. Most are closed during the day, usually between 10.00 and 16.00, though they are generally 24-hour in big cities. Some are not open year-round and many close between Christmas and New Year. When booking with DJH hostels it is important to be clear about check-in times. All can be searched in English at the DJH website www.jugendherberge.de/en.
The basis of youth hostel accommodation is dormitories or multi-bed rooms, for which most nightly bed charges with breakfast are between €19.50 and €28. But some hostels offer single, double or family rooms at higher rates. A small charge for single-night bookings may apply. House rules vary but night-time quiet and self-maintenance of rooms is standard. Bed linen is included in the rate.
Holders of valid memberships in the international federation Hostelling International (HI) can use youth hostels but other visitors from abroad can also obtain an international guest card (€18) at a hostel or pay a nightly €3.50 fee for a welcome stamp to allow them to stay (six of these stamps function as an international guest card). Junior hostel memberships apply for people aged up to 26. The best advice is to sign up for annual youth hostel membership before leaving home as only permanent residents of Germany can join DJH. Conditions and family and group memberships are explained on the website. For HI details in your home country go to www.hihostels.com.
Hostels vary widely – often they are a little out of town but occasionally can be in a castle or heritage building, such as in Nuremberg, Passau or Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Reservations as a rule are held until 18.00 but guests expecting to arrive later can usually do so by arrangement when booking. Checkout is 10.00. For guests 27 or over surcharges of €4 usually apply. Hostels in Bavaria give priority to guests aged under 27.
There are four ratings for DJH hostels (category IV is the highest). Self-catering kitchens are normal but breakfast is generally included in the cost. Full or half-board (or packaged lunches) can often be arranged at an extra charge but meeting all dietary requirements cannot be guaranteed. Inquire when booking – individual hostel websites cover most details. Hot meals when offered cost €4-6.90.
Christlicher Verein Junger Menschen (CVJM, the German YMCA) runs about 40 German hostels and seven hotels, several of which are in key destinations such as Berlin (two), Munich, Dresden, Düsseldorf (with an associated hotel), near Hamburg, and Hannover. The Lübeck hotel is separately listed. Hostel rates are generally compatible with DJH and budget hotel charges are competitive with private hostels. The website cvjm.de/reisen/cvjm-gastfreunde is in German and less complete than DJH but refers to individual sites.
The privately operated hostels cater for backpackers, business or budget travellers and families. The A&O Hostel group combines hotel and hostel accommodation in one operation, covering 11 cities and offering rooms for families. These establishments include a 24-hour reception desk and bar and most have lounges with computer and telephone access. WLAN access is usual in common areas. Parking is offered at €7.50 or more per night. Hostel dormitory beds are in the range €11.50-30, with bed linen or towels available at a small charge. Single rooms are mostly in the €45-55 range (linen supplied). For breakfast, add €6.75 per person.
A&O rates vary according to availability and can rise considerably when houses are near fully booked. Users of Interrail, Eurail or German Rail passes, and travellers on DB overnight City Night Line trains, can claim 10% discounts on advertised rates. Some automobile club members also qualify for discounts. For central booking and more details visit www.aohostels.com/en.
The Meininger group has nine German big-city hotel-hostels (four in Berlin) and the central information and booking website www.meininger-hotels.com translates to English. Meininger also works on higher rates at peak times, with different grades of single or double rooms and family or group rooms while offering budget deals at certain times and maintaining hostel dorm beds at rates below €20 under the same roof. Breakfast costs €6.90-9.90 extra per person. Book early or be prepared to grab deals as offered.
Hostels of any sort may be booked out well in advance for festivals, conferences and trade fairs. Vacant student accommodation in university towns can go on offer to travelling students during summer vacation – prospects can be checked at tourist offices.
Apartments (Ferienwohnungen, colloquially FeWo) for families and groups with full facilities including a kitchen can be had for rates similar to two or three-star hotels. Apartments can be cost-effective for couples or families even for a few days, though usually the rate per day is cheaper over longer periods.
The commonly levied post-stay cleaning fee (Endreinigung), typically of the order of €20 or €30 per apartment, is important to factor into overall cost, especially over short stays.
Generally apartments would be booked by the week but some, sometimes labelled Apartmenthotels, are part of hotel establishments and still offer breakfast.
Short-term apartment listings for properties in private ownership are many and are especially attractive options for the big cities. The Germany-based Wimdu site www.wimdu.de, www.deutsche-pensionen.de, the US-based HomeAway site, www.homeaway.com, the various national homepages of www.airbnb.com, and the site www.bedandbreakfast.eu have plenty of properties to browse and choose from.
The Oh-Berlin website www.oh-berlin.com offers searchable Berlin properties with daily charges as well as pension, B&B and hostel options.
The local or regional accommodation agency for rooms or apartments (Mitwohnzentrale) can be found by internet searches, sometimes with the help of tourist offices. Searching 'Mitwohnzentrale' with the destination will bring up options to examine but this will also be best used by German-speakers, who can better grapple with terms and conditions.
Students seeking longer-term apartments (Wohnungen) or places in shared apartments (WGs) for a period can explore options by location at www.studenten-wg.de, which is also in German but translates well in web browsers.
These can be even less expensive than a pension but can still offer breakfast. It’s easiest to check on the choices at the Zimmervermittlung – some houses only accept guests this way – but signs to look for are 'Zimmer', 'Zimmer frei' or 'Fremdenzimmer'.
The German enthusiasm for the outdoors is catered for by more than 2000 camping and caravan parks, more numerous in western parts. Sites generally offer access to communal bathrooms and kitchens, many offer kiosks and sometimes the facilities are extremely good, including restaurants and some quite elaborate swimming pools. Most charges for a car, caravan and family in high season are in the €30-45 range, but facilities and equipment are generally of a high standard. Many parks also offer self-contained holiday cabins (Ferienhäuser).
The Netherlands-based ACSI collects information about European camping sites and, through the Eurocampings site www.eurocampings.co.uk, the websites of hundreds of German camping grounds can be reached. The PiNCAMP site www.pincamp.de is the national automobile organisation ADAC's website for camping grounds with almost 1300 German listings. Users have to rely on browser translations from German.
Farm stays are being marketed as an experience in themselves, especially for families, offering accommodation in traditional buildings in a farming atmosphere, some including hands-on experiences for children. At the German website www.landreise.de are more than 4000 listings of farm holiday locations with basic information, links to individual websites and contact details.
The Landsichten site www.landsichten.de translates quite well in browsers and covers concerns offering stays in manor houses, even small castles. The Berlin-based marketer's name is a mouthful: Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft für Urlaub auf dem Bauernhof und Landtourismus in Deutschland. The movement is especially strong in Niedersachsen under the banner of AG Urlaub & Freizeit auf dem Lande, whose listings can be reached through the Landsichten home page. A further group of 140 Niedersachsen listings is at the webpage www.bauernhofferien.de.
So-called hay hotels – basically barn accommodation for those packing a sleeping bag – are being promoted as budget accommodation. A night with basic breakfast can be under €20, below even hostel dormitories.
For most travellers in Germany the only problems with communications will be about making choices.
The international dialling code for Germany is 49. When calling abroad from Germany, dial 00 at the beginning. Cities and towns have area codes, which start with a zero (omitted in international calls) and can be separated from the subscriber number by insertion in parentheses or by a hyphen or virgule (slash). Even when the call is local, mobile (cellular) phone users must always dial the area code. Numbers with prefixes in the 0800 group (including 0801) are toll-free for diallers, but might not be accessible from public phones. Some may not be accessible from mobiles, to others the dialler may pay a small surcharge (such as 19 euro cents per minute).
German telephone numbers can be confusing as they can be displayed in various ways, often grouping figures with seemingly meaningless hyphens. But usually a single hyphen near the end of the number will indicate that the last digits are an extension line from a switchboard number. In these cases it is best to dial all the digits and, if frustrated, try again using a zero instead of the suffix after the hyphen – this might prove to be the switchboard. If all else fails there is an English directory assistance number (tel 11837). For police emergencies dial 110 anywhere, for other emergencies 112.
The searchable Germany-wide telephone directory at www.dastelefonbuch.de translates well in web browsers (except wer/was ‘who/what’ and wo ‘where’).
Deutsche Telekom’s public telephones, marked in pink, accept coins or, more commonly, special phone cards. Occasional marked phones accept credit cards. Telekom phone cards for up to €20 are sold at Telekom T-Punkte shops, post offices or press outlets. Prepaid cards using access numbers and PIN codes are also sold by the several private providers. All calls are charged by the minute but charges are lower at night after 18.00. Travellers who expect to make regular international calls should investigate prepaid international cards, which can last for one to three months. There will be savings, but the different scales and charging methods are difficult to compare.
Public phones do not return change, even if there is no connection, but the available balance remains. So on hanging up callers (when seeking accommodation, for instance) should be prepared to use the balance on the next call as necessary.
The international service offered by www.callthrough.net requires a long code for the relevant rate, then the international number, followed by a hash. The savings on the cost per second can be considerable and no registration is required but the service works best for German subscriber numbers – charges for public telephones or mobile phone calls will be added. The charges will come back via the provider.
For Skype calls see the Skype section below.
Some of these codes will be six digits, which leads to some very long phone numbers because the tally of digits in phone numbers grows to cover the increasing mass of subscribers. Here is a short guide to Raven Guides destinations and other tourist centres:
Aachen 0241, Amberg 09621, Augsburg 0821
Bamberg 0951, Berlin 030, Bonn 0228, Bremen 0421 Cochem 02671, Cologne 0221
Dinkelsbühl 09851, Dortmund 0231, Dresden 0351, Düsseldorf 0211
Erfurt 0361 Frankfurt am Main 069, Füssen 08362 Görlitz 03581, Goslar 05321 Hamburg 040, Hannover 0511, Heidelberg 06221
Koblenz 0261 Leipzig 0341, Lübeck 0451, Ludwigsburg 07141, Lutherstadt Wittenberg 03491
Magdeburg 0391, Mainz 06131, Mannheim 0621, Meissen 03521, Munich 089
Passau 0851, Potsdam 0331 Quedlinburg 03946 Regensburg 0941, Rostock 0381, Rothenburg ob der Tauber 09861
Schwerin 0385, Stralsund 03831, Stuttgart 0711
Weimar 03643, Wernigerode 03943, Wismar 03841, Worms 06241, Würzburg 0931 Xanten 02801
Mobile communications is a complex area in the age of commercial providers and the choices can be bewildering. This starts with the basic matter of whether the mobile phone will work in Europe.
Germany’s cellular phone network is GSM-based. CDMA phones or dual-band GSM phones in North American use can only work on German networks if they are unlocked and appropriate SIM cards can be inserted. Dual-band GSM phones will not function on European networks in their North American configuration as frequencies are incompatible, while tri-band phones will be limited in their usefulness. A good summary of the basics for travellers, with FAQs, is posted at the Ekit site www.ekit.com/ekit/MobileInfo/Guide#sim.
Buying a prepaid German mobile phone (Mobiltelefon or, more usually, Handy) for use through the local call providers is an option for regular users. The main providers, Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.de), Vodaphone (www.vodafone.de), O2 (www.o2online.de) and E-Plus (www.eplus.de) have language on their homepages that translates well in browsers, though terms and conditions take some navigating. ACN Mobile (www.acnmobile.de) has an English option on its Germany site.
Network coverage and reception on so-called D-networks (such as T-Mobile and Vodafone) is regarded by many users as wider than on E-networks (O2 and E-Plus), although users of the E-networks can be switched to D-network providers as necessary.
Ortel Mobile (www.ortelmobile.de) offers SIM cards for travellers in Germany and operates a fully functional English site, as well as delivery to home countries. The call rate to German networks is 9 euro cents per minute (standard cost in many providers’ offers). Cards are offered at €9.90 for 30 days with up to 400 minutes’ use to networks in Germany and 17 other European countries. For the same price and period 1Gb internet mobile downloads are available. Vouchers bought at German outlets can be used for top-ups. The website has other options to investigate.
Otherwise, phone service providers in the home country might offer options. But mobile phone users are advised always to have a full and clear idea of the cost of using their devices on international networks – and dialling home.
German mobile phone numbers have either four-digit or five-digit network prefixes.
For prepaid calls using Skype credit, early 2017 charges (add tax) to the UK or Ireland were 1.7 euro cents per minute (plus up to 6.6 cents connection fee for pay-as-you-go calls) but 7.4 cents per minute to mobile networks. Premium rates are higher. Calls cost 1.7 cents per minute to all phones in the US (including Alaska and Hawaii, plus 3.6 cents pay-as-you-go connection) and 2.2 cents per minute to Canada (plus 3.6 cents connection). Calls to Australia cost 1.7 cents with 3.6 cents connection (7.6 cents to mobiles with 6.6 cents connection). Calls to New Zealand are 1.7 cents per minutes to landline numbers (connection 3.6 cents), 7.4 cents to mobiles (connection 6.6 cents).
The 1.7 cent base rate applies for Malaysia and Singapore (plus pay-as-you-go connection fee of 3.6 cents), to Malaysian mobiles 4.5 cents per minute (plus 6.6 cents connection for Malaysia, 3.6 cents for Singapore). Fees to India, including mobiles, are 1.1 cents per minute (plus 3.6 cents connection fee). Calls to landlines in South Africa are 3.3 cents per minute, 5.6 cents to mobiles (all connections 6.6 cents).
SMS charges to all these countries range from 6.2 to 9.3 cents. All fees are rounded up to the next full minute and purchased credit is taxed at the VAT rate (minimum 15%) for EU countries. Full details and updated fees are at www.skype.com.
Free wi-fi hotspots are not as common in Germany as most Western countries. The national broadcaster Deutsche Welle put the total figure for public hotspots at 15,000. This is because of legislation that makes wi-fi providers such as cafes responsible for any illegal online activity by hotspot users – in a country where online piracy is heavily sanctioned by law.
The situation is improving, but a recent article put the number of people per wi-fi hotspot at well over 5000 – more than twice as many as the US.
The obvious spots to connect are still the coffee and hamburger chains. Independent local cafes often make a feature of free WLAN access and accept the risk.
Berlin's government has widened its free hotspot network to about 100 sites around the city and Potsdam (see Information in the Berlin city guide).
The searchable website www.hotspot-locations.de lists more than 6500 registered wireless hotspots in Germany, more than for any other European country. For just over 10% of these there is no cost for access. The site’s listings allow filtering by location (maps provided) or type and searches for free spots only. They cover more than 130 listed Berlin hotspots.
But www.freie-hotspots.de, listing only cost-free hotspots, finds more than 300 for Berlin, almost 100 for Hamburg and 130 for Munich – though covering select locations only. Again, there are maps, although translation of all details into English is ongoing. Cafes are the usual venues. Alternatively, users can find currently available hotspots with the Hotspotfinder app downloadable free at the App Store or from GooglePlay.
Internet cafes exist, but establishments offering web access are likely to be businesses attached to call shops or offering international cash transfers. A few may even be online betting centres (Casinos) equipped with gaming machines.
Finding accommodation with free or cheap access is important. Some establishments advertising internet access offer only a chance to sit at a linked PC or access from a lobby or common room. Not all major hotel chains have free WLAN room access, but many independent hotels offer it. Networks such as German Hotspot (germanhotspot.de) sometimes provide networks to accommodation houses, requiring a straightforward and free account registration from users. Big hotel chains sometimes provide branded networks for guests' use. Reception desks will provide instructions at check-in or take guests through the sign-up procedures, which can vary considerably.
For users on the move, marked first-class railway carriages with wireless-enabled hotspots are part of some Deutsche Bahn main-line ICE trains (such as Hamburg-Frankfurt-Stuttgart-Munich, Frankfurt-Cologne-Düsseldorf-Essen and Mannheim-Freiburg) and IC Buses. But this is a Deutsche Telekom facility for which users must create a HotSpot account. This can be done online and on the spot at www.hotspot.de.
The service is free for first-class ICE passengers. Second-class passengers will face the account charges – €4.95 for 24 hours, €19.95 for a week, €29.95 for 30 days. Travellers who are already Telekom subscribers can connect for 9 cents per minute. There are no download restrictions. The wireless-capable network is being extended over the next few years.
DB lounges also provide access at about 20 main railway stations and 30 minutes of free HotSpot access is available at more than 120 stations. For details in English visit www.bahn.de.
Some long-distance bus companies also provide on-board wi-fi access (see Transport - National & Regional).
Most Deutsche Post outlets are now agencies handling basic postal transactions, part of businesses with stationery supplies, newspapers and magazines or lotto outlets (this is true of main rail stations). The post offices listed for Raven Guides destinations (see the Quick Guides sections) are almost exclusively full post offices (and recognisable by their status as Postbank Finanzcenters). These are open M-F 8-18 or 9-18, Sa 9-12 or 9-13. As well as stamps (Briefmarken), packaging supplies are available. Ordinary stamps are also dispensed by yellow coin-operated vending machines where stamps can be selected by buttons on the right.
Poste restante items (Postlagernde Briefe) are claimable at central post offices on production of identification.
German street addresses give the street name first, followed by the house or building number. The postal code (Postleitzahl or PLZ) comes next, a five-figure number sometimes given with the prefix D- (Deutschland) – unnecessary for internal mail and redundant for mail sent internationally and addressed to the country. Then comes the city or town name. A post office box is called Postfach.
An address will usually read like this (in the case of the Canadian embassy):
Embassy of Canada
Leipziger Platz 17,
The Postleitzahl is used for many purposes and online searches for all sorts of online services usually require it. They can be searched at the Deutsche Post website www.deutschepost.de/de.html using the PLZ search (‘Postleitzahl finden’) link at the centre of the homepage on scrolling down. A summary of all services and postal specifications is included on the site, where there are links to a cost calculator. All this reads quite well, for the most part, in a browser translation.
Deutsche Post postage charges for a letter (Brief) or postcard (Postkarte) in Germany are: postcard €0.45, standard letter (up to 20 grams) €0.70, letter up to 50g €0.85.
The international rate for a postcard or standard letter is €0.90, for a letter 21-50g €1.50. But the ‘letter’ category can be quite large, including packages 51-500g (€3.70), 501-1000g (€7) and 1001-2000g (€17). Books and magazines can be sent a little cheaper by specifying economy post. Letter categories also have size restrictions that could push postage into a higher cost bracket.
Delivery times by air mail (Luftpost) will vary but Deutsche Post claims average delivery windows as follows: Australia 4-7 days, Canada 3-7 days, India 4-7 days, Ireland 2-4 days, Malaysia 4-6 days, New Zealand 4-8 days, Singapore 3-5 days, South Africa 5-8 days, US 3-6 days. Actual delivery times to destination can be longer.
Air mail packages cost a good deal more than economy post (which has delivery times in weeks). Package postal costs can be calculated at the Deutsche Post website by size and weight. Package postage or delivery is made possible through the international delivery arm DHL.
Valuable packages are worth registering, which means the sender gets a shipment receipt. Items sent through Deutsche Post or DHL can be tracked by sender or receiver with the shipment number (Sendungsnummer) on the receipt. This can be typed in at the inquiry window at the link www.deutschepost.de/sendung/simpleQuery.html.
The package may be valuable enough to consider postal insurance, although this may not be cheap. Inquire when posting about whether insurance is available to the destination country and the costs and benefits. Again, a shipment number will be provided for each insured item (Wertbrief).
German cities come in cheaper for cost of living than the great English-speaking capitals and about the middle of the European cost scale but will probably be more expensive than many parts of the US.
According to the collaborative website www.expatistan.com, the overall cost of living in Berlin is 45% cheaper overall than New York city and 30% cheaper than Los Angeles, but 6% cheaper than St Louis. It is 34% cheaper than London, 25% cheaper than Paris, 20 per cent cheaper than Amsterdam, comparable overall with Rome, 21% more expensive than Moscow, 57% more expensive than Prague and 62% more expensive than Warsaw.
The Expatistan site allows costs for basic items to be compared between international cities based on data supplied by users. Expatistan reveals Berlin as 74% more expensive than Mumbai, 89% more expensive than Bangalore, 41% more expensive than Cape Town, 35% more expensive than Johannesburg and 55% more expensive than Kuala Lumpur, 30% cheaper than Singapore, 28% cheaper than Melbourne, 28% cheaper than Auckland, 27% cheaper than Dublin, 5% cheaper than Birmingham and 19% cheaper than Toronto. These figures (January 2017) fluctuate with exchange rates.
Early in 2017, the Expatistan main international ranking list included the German cities Düsseldorf (No.69 most expensive, indexed at 175), Munich (No.73, index 172), Frankfurt am Main (No.80, index 168), Hamburg (No.82, index 167), and Berlin (No.104, index 157). Compared with Berlin, overall costs in Stuttgart were comparable, Cologne came in 3% cheaper, Nuremberg 6% cheaper, Bremen 13% cheaper and Dresden 15% cheaper.
As a guide the consulting firms Mercer and ECA, the bank UBS and The Economist regularly issue comparative lists of expensive cities for expatriate employees, but the results can vary widely. According to the Mercer 2016 list, the following cities ranked in the top 160 for cost in 2014: Hong Kong (No.1), Singapore (4), New York (11), London (17), Tel Aviv (19), San Francisco (26), Los Angeles (27), Chicago (34), Washington DC (38), Sydney (42), Miami (45), Boston MA and Dublin (47), Perth (69), Melbourne (71), Munich (77), Mumbai (82), Seattle (83), Frankfurt (88), Brisbane and Birmingham (96), Canberra and Auckland (98), Berlin (100), Adelaide (102), Düsseldorf (107), Hamburg (113), Glasgow (119), Wellington (123), Stuttgart (129), Vancouver (142), Toronto (143), Kuala Lumpur (151), Montreal (155), Nuremberg (160), Leipzig (165), Bangalore (180), Johannesburg (205), Cape Town (208).
Elsewhere, it seems agreed that Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf are the most expensive overall of the big German tourist destinations and that Hamburg is somewhat dearer than Berlin. At the next level are Berlin, Cologne, Nuremberg and Bremen. Where Berlin comes in highest is in transport, while Munich seems most expensive for food and (along with Düsseldorf) for clothes. Other cost of living estimates for Germany are offered at www.numbeo.com.
The EU consumption tax (in Germany Umsatzsteuer, usually referred to as Mehrwertsteuer) upper rate of 19% is levied on all purchases except food and common items such as urban transit, newspapers and accommodation, all of which attract 7%. Residents from outside the EU can reclaim tax paid on receipted purchases from the trader if the goods are presented when departing from the EU – but this must be within three months of purchase.
Buyers intending to claim must have the trader endorse and sign refund documents at the time of purchase. Not all traders take part in the refund scheme, but those who do should display the tax-free sign. If not, travellers should check with the trader before buying (for details on claiming refunds on departure see In Customs).
A main course in a modest restaurant, with a glass of wine or beer, usually costs €15-23 and meals like this are easy to find in any city. Children by law may consume beer or wine from age 14 under parental supervision (spirits from age 18).Eating and drinking is inexpensive in Germany, in spite of value-added taxes. It's a matter Germans take seriously and more than a million are employed in the catering sector. For typically German tastes see the Cuisine section in the Travel Experiences chapter.
The usual signs to look for are 'Restaurant', 'Gaststätte' and 'Gasthof' (sometimes 'Bistro'), although many cafes will offer meals, especially light or late breakfasts. Many restaurants will be open for lunch, but most cafes will be closed for dinner.
Dinner in a modest restaurant, usually with a glass of wine or beer, can cost €12-20 and meals like this are easy to find in any city. Children by law may consume beer or wine from age 14 under parental supervision (spirits from age 18).
German standard fare is still prevalent but the trend is away from traditionally heavy, rich food. Vegetarians have an easier time than once would have been the case, with vegetarian food bars and occasional restaurants springing up and vegetarian dishes appearing on most restaurant menus. Vegans will find travel more challenging but big cities will offer options and even suitable fast foods are available.
Tipping will generally be a matter of rounding up the bill and tips can be paid to the service staff. Somewhere between 5% and 10% is a reasonable guide. Cash is preferred by most German small businesses, but leading credit cards are usually acceptable.
For filling meals with variety in the cities, seek out the cafeterias in main shopping malls and department stores. A fairly appetising cafeteria lunch on the upper floor of a shopping centre comes very affordably (this is also the case in many major railway stations) and is especially welcome for families managing costs. Motorists will find cafeterias or restaurants at autobahn petrol stations and large museums will often have a canteen or cafe where light meals cost very little.
At university campuses the cafeteria is the Mensa, still state-subsidised and very inexpensive but rather better than a canteen. Here salad and other vegetarian offerings are standard. In many cases anyone can eat there but students will need their ID to get the full savings. The system works well in Berlin, where menus are posted online in English, and can easily be used by travellers. Users will have to buy the local stored-value card to pay in most Mensas – this can be bought cheaply on site and topped up from machines. Mensas will not be open weekends or (in most cases) for dinner.
Breakfast cafes are part of urban culture and the all-day breakfast is a Berlin tradition. Coffee and a snack is a much-loved custom that travellers happily endorse and for many will become a light lunch.
The bakery (Bäckerei, sometimes Backhaus) is a cheap and popular snack or lunch stop. Bakeries offer an authentically German experience on a budget, such as delicatessen meats or schnitzels in a roll, as well as some salads. The Le Crobag, Yorma’s and Kamps chains, often positioned for bustling traffic at city rail stations, offer a range of rolls and sandwiches, pastries and salads with coffee (there are many similar branded outlets). Often these are open until late.
Aside from hamburger chains, the bakeries, the classic German street food of sausage (Wurst) and Turkish food (generally at kebab bars) are among the least expensive options, even if many of the latter enjoy serving their meat with chips (fries).
Also on a budget are more than 300 Nordsee seafood restaurants, where fast or freshly prepared sit-down meals, soups and salads can be had for less than €10. A store list and a survey of dishes are online at www.international.nordsee.com/en.
The German grocery-supermarket chains Aldi, Penny, Lidl and Netto Marken-Discount are inexpensive but accessible sources of budget food and sundry items for youth hostel travellers or families using apartment accommodation. All are widely represented in big cities (but closed Sundays). They also tend to be much cheaper than specialist liquor stores or cellars for wines, beers and some spirits.
The trend to brand an organic food store (Biomarkt) has gathered pace and such stores, generally small, are increasingly common in the bigger cities. Weekly organic markets are now established in parts of Berlin. The usual descriptive word for organic foods in German (biologisch) can also be seen in food stores. To find fresh market produce consult the Markets sections for individual Raven Guides destinations.
Germans love bottled water and are prepared to pay a price for it but tap water is of good quality and not normally chlorinated – though some hotels might add it. No German water supplies have been fluoridated since reunification. But water should not be expected free in restaurants, and if water is requested bottled water is likely to be served – at a price. Travellers who want bottled water – and there are reputedly hundreds of brands – will find prices lower at a budget supermarket.
Always carry emergency contact information for your next-of-kin, as well as a list of medications, allergies and any illnesses.
Tap water is considered safe for drinking throughout Germany. Pay toilets are a common feature in public areas including rail stations. It is best to retain a stock of small coins to cover the cost at turnstile or door slot, which is generally in the range of 50-80 euro cents, but can be €1 for the toilets supplied at rail stations or some automated street facilities.
The following information in this section is for guidance only and is not a specialist medical text. Travellers with any concerns should always consult doctors.
Health insurance – or travel insurance with extensive emergency health coverage – is advisable for all travellers, especially those planning outdoor excursions, climbing or hiking. At hospitals and clinics, free medical care should be available to EU citizens who hold a European Health Insurance Card. Although up-front payment might be demanded of British citizens, costs can be claimed through the NHS. Other visitors will be relying on their own insurance, but in all cases receipts for treatment costs must be produced. It would be advisable for non-EU citizens to carry private or national health insurance cards that could be produced as needed, as well as proof of travel insurance.
Normal vaccinations for preventable diseases, including hepatitis B, are advisable and should take place at least a month before travel – check with your doctor. The risk of hepatitis A is considered low by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Otherwise there are no particular inoculations required or dangers associated with travelling in Germany. Vaccination for travellers considering grassland or woodland activities is possible against the rare tick-borne disease TBE (see Dangers & poisons below).
So-called German measles, also known as rubella or three-day measles, is not particularly associated with Germany – it was first described by a German physician in the 18th century. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, only 368 cases of measles were reported in Germany in 2011-12, less than one case per 200,000 people.
Marburg virus, which has as a symptom a serious haemorrhagic fever, was diagnosed in Marburg and Frankfurt in the 1960s after an industrial accident. Outbreaks since have been in Africa and the former Soviet Union.
The Apotheke (look for the large red letter ‘A’ symbol, often signposted in big cities) can offer assistance for many minor ailments. Locations of pharmacies in central areas of destinations detailed by Raven Guides can be found in the Quick Guide section for each, along with opening hours (in most cases details of a central pharmacy with long opening hours is provided).
A 24-hour service (Apotheken Notdienst) operates in cities and the duty pharmacy roster will be indicated on a list in pharmacy windows. At duty locations you will need to ring the doorbell for service, which can take place at a security window. There may be a small extra charge for this.
The duty locations can also be found online at www.apotheken.de – select the top tab 'Notdienste', type the placename into the search field 'PLZ/Ort' and a name, location (with map pin) and telephone number will appear. The search radius can be adjusted on the slide control below the search field. The site www.aponet.de/service/notdienstapotheke-finden.html allows a search by location but also shows fast links to lists for large cities. What are considered basic analgesics in many countries, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, cannot be purchased in painkilling concentrations in German pharmacies without a prescription. Codeine also requires a prescription.
Such substances can be imported for personal use (but see In Customs). Pharmacists will be able to advise on alternatives, but users of such medications should obtain prescriptions at home (strictly there is no guarantee a pharmacist would supply from a prescription made out abroad), carry a letter from a doctor stating need and consult their usual medical practitioners about medicinal options before travelling. Aspirin does not require prescription but can only be bought at a pharmacy. A co-payment of up to €10 cash should be expected for prescription medications. See also Restricted medications below.
German health care is of the first order and waiting times for treatment are usually short. Large hotels and hostels will have provision for getting rapid medical assistance. For acute cases the emergency number (tel 112) should be used.
Outpatient or casualty department (Notaufnahme) care is available at large hospitals or university clinics, where English will be widely spoken. For a hospital (Krankenhaus), look under Krankenhäuser in the telephone book or search 'Krankenhaeuser' online. Having health or travel insurance paperwork to hand makes the admission process easier but payment in cash is likely to be expected – credit cards are not generally accepted by doctors or hospitals. Contact details for hospitals with casualty departments are listed for each Raven Guides destination in the Quick Guide section.
The duty doctor (Ärtzlicher Notdienst) – for non-serious conditions and not to be confused with the ambulance – is an out-of-hours service using on-call local doctors (search 'Aertzlicher Notdienst' with location for an individual contact or local phone number). The Ärztlicher Bereitschaftsdienst is an on-call service using a national number (tel 116 117) that will provide ready access to a local duty doctor. When calling the following information must be to hand: name, present address, city and postcode, symptoms and age of patient and whether there are patient allergies or a pacemaker. Relevant insurance details will also be required. Whether a person could accompany the patient to a clinic will also be asked but a doctor's visit is also possible.
To find a local doctor (Arzt) during normal working hours, look under the plural Ärzte in the telephone book or search 'Aerzte' with the location online. Appointments are usually necessary during most local doctors' hours (generally M-Tu & Th-F 8-13, 15-18, W 8-13 – most doctors do not consult on Wednesday afternoons).
The website www.med-kolleg.de provides a way of searching in English for local or specialist doctors as well as providing overviews and links for German medical care topics.
Calls to the free common emergency number 112 will reach the ambulance (usually described as Notarzt, but sometimes Krankenwagen), which should be the first response for apparently serious medical cases. Nearest emergency phones along motorways are indicated by arrow signs at the roadside.
Dental care is high-quality but expensive. Your health or travel insurance coverage should be in good order. A dentist (Zahnarzt) is not hard to find for emergency work – consult a telephone book under 'Zahnärzte' or ask at a pharmacy – but if complicated work is contemplated it’s best to to get a written estimate (Kostenplan) to submit to the insurer first. Dentists, like doctors, need to know about existing medical conditions, allergies and current medications.
In emergency cases search 'Zahnaerztlicher Notdienst' and the location.
The only likely danger is the possibility of tick (Zecke) bite around some small towns, grasslands or woodlands in the southern parts of Germany, usually between April and October and more especially during wet summers. Ticks can pass unnoticed from grasses and shrubs to hidden or moist parts of the body to bite and feed. Some insect repellents are effective against the tick. Best prevention is by wearing light-coloured clothing (making ticks easier to spot) and the precaution of tucking trousers into socks and shirt into trousers. Hats are also worthwhile. Rolling in grasses is a risk. After visits to risk areas clothing and body should be examined for ticks.
If found biting, ticks should be removed with tweezers or pulled out directly and the bite area disinfected. Ticks can carry the serious bacterial infection Lyme disease or borreliosis (bringing a circular reddish blotch or rash around the bite after several days with fever symptoms, headache or a stiff neck) or early summer meningoencephalitis or TBE (bringing flu-like symptoms). It is best to visit a doctor or emergency department for a blood test and possible antibiotic treatment.
The emergency poison national help line is tel 19240 (dial the local area prefix first).
Travellers carrying medications for personal use should only carry what is needed for their proposed stay. Supplies for up to three months will not usually be a problem. Medications carried need to be approved by German regulators but generally medicines supplied by pharmacies in EU countries can be imported. Under the Schengen Agreement for European countries patients need to carry certification for classes of drugs or psychotropic substances, so travellers relying on certain medicines should check with their medical practitioners in advance — see also www.indro-online.de/nia.htm. Prohibitions may apply to certain high-dose vitamins, naturopathic plants or medications containing melatonin, sometimes prescribed for treating sleep disorders.
Medications containing morphine, methadone, buprenorphine and codeine are covered by German narcotics legislation and should not be imported without certification of need from a medical practitioner and proof of prescription, along with details of dosages. They will generally be admitted in the quantities necessary for a specified stay in Germany if properly labelled. Restrictions on paracetamol, and on ibuprofen in dosages above 400mg per tablet, mean prescriptions will be necessary (see above).
Travellers are liable for heavy fines for breaking import limits for Germany. Customs (Zoll) is taken seriously and certain categories of controlled items are dealt with as below.
For stays in Germany of less than 90 days over a period of six months, for the purpose of tourism, business or personal visits, travellers from EU and other Western countries do not normally require an entry visa. For stays beyond that time citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the US can apply for a residency visa or work permit. Applications for stays of longer than 90 days can be made by visitors from these countries in Germany and a temporary residency permit may be issued while such applications are processed.
Visas are issued under Europe’s Schengen Agreement on border controls and are valid in most EU countries as well as Switzerland. Visas are available at German embassies or consulates-general for €60, although there is a list of discount and waiver categories – including young children – on the foreign ministry website www.auswaertiges-amt.de, which has information in English. Visa applicants may have their fingerprints scanned.
UK and Irish citizens wanting long stays or to work in Germany are subject to EU provisions. The 2013 modification of the Schengen Agreement requires visitors to hold travel documents valid for three months after their intended departure date from Germany (most other European countries have implemented similar provisions). Under the protocols travellers holding a Schengen visa may move between signatory countries without border checks and stay for a period up to 90 days. The implications of the Brexit process for UK citizens entering Germany are expected to become clear during 2017.
Entry visas are required by citizens of Botswana, India, Jamaica and several Caribbean countries, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. A full list is at the foreign ministry website, where the provisions of the Schengen Agreement are outlined.
The 19% value-added tax (Umsatzsteuer) paid on goods at purchase can be reclaimed by mail by non-EU residents on goods produced on departure from the EU within three months. Goods for which refund documents were completed at purchase should be accompanied by purchase receipts and the refund documents (signed by the trader). Endorsed forms, stamped in Customs at time of export, can be sent by mail to the trader to claim the refund. At purchase and departure the buyer’s passport will be required.
Cash imports into Germany from outside the EU exceeding €10,000 should be declared.
Jewellery and personal valuables should not exceed €430 in value (€175 for travellers under 15 years). All firearms and ammunition must be declared, but it is best to contact a German consulate to check beforehand on prohibitions. Narcotics and all but approved small fireworks are prohibited.
Media products considered to incite racial hatred or violence or to glorify war are an issue. There is a particular sensitivity to material or symbols considered to glorify the Third Reich or the Holocaust (acknowledged works of history are quite allowable). Pornography involving violence, bestiality or child abuse is banned and possession of the last is punishable by jail. Counterfeit or pirated media will be confiscated by Customs.
Strictly, all food should be declared if there could be a hazard but snacks and most drinks should not be a problem. Limits on items for personal use include 800 cigarettes and 10 litres of strong spirits, but amounts vary depending on purchase in or outside the EU. For fuller details go to www.zoll.de/EN and full lists are at www.iatatravelcentre.com (select Germany).
Pets are loved in Germany but import is strictly controlled. Plants should be checked for restrictions before import.
Certain medicinal substances are strictly controlled, including the common painkillers paracetamol, ibuprofen and codeine (see also Health & medical care above). It is best to check before travelling and patients requiring such medications need to carry prescriptions if any of these are likely to be required. A doctor's letter stating need is also a good precaution for travellers importing such medicines. Quantities need to be proportionate to the length of stay (up to three months will not usually be a problem). Packaging should be original, German labelling requirements must be met and in some circumstances a descriptive insert in German might be demanded. The German Customs page English version (see above) includes a link to Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte page in English. Mailing of pharmaceuticals from non-EU countries to Germany is prohibited. See also Health above.
Self-service coin laundries (look for 'SB-Waschsalon', ‘Waschcenter’, sometimes 'Wäscherei') can vary considerably in price. Based on a 6kg load, most costs to wash range from €3 to €5. Add to this costs for mangling or wringing (often €0.50 to €1 where machines are provided), tumble drying (typically €0.50-1 for 10 or 15 minutes) and cups of washing powder (€0.30 to €1). Some laundries observe 'happy hours' with discounts either early in the morning or late in the evening. Most close at 22.00 or 23.00, with last wash starting one hour before closing.
Where offered, a service wash of 2-3kg can cost €20 with a 24 or 48-hour turnaround, but not all establishments will be so expensive.
The Eco-Express Waschsalon chain (www.waschsalon.de/waschsalons) is a large network mostly in the west and south of Germany, but has several laundries in Berlin and Hamburg and a handful in Dresden. Branch links cover addresses and local prices. The Schnell & Sauber chain (www.schnell-u-sauber.de) has a smaller network in the north-east, including Berlin. Branches of both chains offer free wi-fi access for customers. Occasionally establishments will offer drinks and snacks, but the standout is Berlin’s Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon (www.freddy-leck-sein-waschsalon.de) at Gotzkowskystraße 11 in Moabit in western Berlin, a favourite with expats and offering friendly multilingual service and assistance.
Costs in budget and mid-priced hotels – where laundering is offered – vary even more widely. In recent years it has been possible to have an unspecified load washed, dried (and returned in about 24 hours) for charges between €5 and €10, while other hotels will provide an itemised price list that works out much more expensively. Some pensions or guesthouses will provide access to a laundry free during stays of several days. Not all hostels offer washing facilities, though many DJH establishments do. This will be noted on the listing at the DJH website www.jugendherberge.de.
Travellers should keep in mind their home exchange rate situation relative to the euro (€), although published daily middle rates will be slightly better than the commercial exchange rates offer to travellers. Informing home banks of foreign travel will prevent instances of their blocking apparently mysterious German transactions. Make sure contact details for the home bank, as well as notification numbers for lost cards or travellers’ cheques, are kept handy and secure.
Germany uses the euro and is the leading economy of the 19-nation Eurozone.
Coins are issued separately by Eurozone member countries but have a common side showing the value of the coin. Generally there is a ‘national’ side designed by and reflecting the issuing country, but all coins irrespective of the nation of issue are legal tender throughout the Eurozone. €1 is made up of 100 euro cents – officially the terms ‘euro’ and ‘cent’ are also used in the plural in languages other than English. German prices are expressed with the comma where most English-speaking countries use the decimal point.
The coins are €2 (with a variety of commemorative obverse sides, including an ongoing series showing classic buildings of each of the federal states) and €1 (with a stylised German eagle on the obverse), 50, 20 and 10 cents (with the Brandenburger Tor shown on the obverse) and five, two and one cents (with oak leaves on the obverse). Banknotes are €500, €200 (both rare), €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5.
There are no limits on foreign currency being brought into Germany (although more than €10,000 from outside the EU should be declared in Customs). But it’s worthwhile bringing some cash euros from home. Cash (bar is the German adjective or adverb, Bargeld the usual noun) is generally the first choice for small transactions, cafes and small restaurants and some small accommodation houses also demand cash.
Germany is a world leader in foreign exchange trading, principally trading the US dollar and pound sterling. But, thanks to the euro, travellers crossing German borders won’t need to do much exchanging (Geldwechsel). Germany shares the euro with its neighbours France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Austria. Further afield, Italy, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also use the euro.
Switzerland and Liechtenstein share the Swiss franc, the Czech Republic has its koruna, Poland the zloty and Denmark the krone. Other currencies in use in northern and eastern Europe, just a train or ferry trip away, include: Sweden (krona), Norway (krone) and Hungary (forint).
The large German and international banks are well represented at and around traffic hubs and ReiseBank, specialising in exchange, usually maintains a currency booth (Wechselstube) at airports and large city rail stations, open long hours and generally seven days. However the bank’s trading spread of buy and sell rates can be very wide and it is advisable to shop around when possible, especially before exchanging large amounts.
Large city bank branches keep long weekday hours (commonly M-F 8.30-16) but can stay open to 18.00 on Thursdays, often closing early on Wednesdays or Fridays by local convention. Small branches might be open M-F 9-15.30 and it is common to close for lunch.
Banks and automatic cash machines (Geldautomat or Bankomat) are easy to find in cities – some 24-hour ATMs (or those open M-Su 5-24) will be in street locations or subway passages, shopping plazas and malls. Some banks have secure video-monitored areas for their cash machines where users can gain access by inserting recognised bank cards in the entrance slot. Cash machines, usually multilingual, are connected to Germany’s Girocard interbank network.
For MasterCard/Eurocard, Diners Club and Maestro users the Cirrus network, and for Visa the PLUS network, should provide ATM access to accounts. But, whatever your card, make sure before departure that it will be accepted at a range of German cash machines and check any limits on the size of daily withdrawals.
Somewhere, somehow, transactions cost the consumer. Bank employees often seem unsure about what costs are involved and where they are incurred. The fees encountered are of a few types: a fee for a foreign exchange transaction when cash is withdrawn at the ATM, a fee for withdrawing at a machine that is not part of a network allied to the issuing bank and a surcharge levied by the bank hosting the withdrawal. Fees to the issuing bank are commonly up to 3%, although direct withdrawals at German machines can be cheaper. Account fees charged periodically or at time of opening are a further factor. Cash advances direct from credit cards tend to be expensive and start incurring interest straightaway and, depending on the account terms, this interest can be at a higher rate than for purchases. The user cannot always expect an ATM receipt to help monitor this.
Travellers should check whether their usual bank is widely represented in Germany or has a reciprocal arrangement with a German bank for cash withdrawals. This could minimise extra bank fees on withdrawals in foreign currencies. Knowing any international bank alliance your bank might be involved in will be helpful where charges are listed at the withdrawal point, as is often the case. When an ATM withdrawal is made in foreign currency, the exchange rate used will be based on the daily wholesale or interbank currency rate – itself an advantage. But sometimes the calculated rate offered by the bank issuing the card compensates for the lack of a transparent fee. Generally, when withdrawing cash, the fewer the transactions the better.
Inquire about fees with the issuing bank, decide which banks to use and plan accordingly. To avoid frustration, plan on leaking about 5% of funds on exchange and withdrawal charges and keep the convenience value in mind.
Card carriers should ensure their PIN number will be usable in Germany. Four-digit PINs should not present a problem. Chip-and-pin cards, also called IC cards, have become the norm, though using magnetic strip cards is still possible in many places, including ATMs. The internationally recognised MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club cards are widely accepted, although Germany has enthusiastically embraced the swing to debit cards such as the Eurocheque (EC)/Maestro card (EC-Karte, see below) in shops and some restaurants. It’s best to check before offering a credit card at any business and wise to have enough cash to cover the transaction.
The advantages of a debit card, linked to the holder’s bank account, are some predictability and reducing levels of fees. Although the card should attract low fees, it is important to know what overseas charges a debit card might incur from the issuing bank or the bank hosting the withdrawal. The ideal account is operable in euros without high cost.
Slightly different from debit cards are prepaid travel money cards. Funds can be transferred to these as euros by the issuing bank at a one-time conversion cost and then withdrawn as needed at German ATMs as local currency. This removes volatility by locking in the exchange rate at the start. The up-front fee might be 1% but as always the exchange rate will be important.
Fees charged by issuing banks will vary according to law and practice in the country of issue. All cards are a little different and there is no substitute for research – determine needs before approaching banks and check with consumer organisations for independent advice. The best solution for many users is likely to be two different cards that can be chosen to suit various situations, while providing backup.
The EC-Karte is a prepaid stored-value card that can be used for cash withdrawals, instead of credit payments or at ticket or vending machines. There is a convenience benefit and small discounts can apply when buying transit tickets from machines. But the card requires age verification at issue because of its use at cigarette machines.
These have gone out of fashion for transaction purposes and at best they are a worthwhile backup to get cash at a bank branch in an emergency. Again, fees and exchange rates combine to make up the cost and these tend to be higher than for most cash withdrawals by card.
Agencies such as Western Union (www.westernunion.com) are much faster for international transfers than banks, offering online transfers, sometimes in a matter of minutes. For this the WU charges attached can be about 7% of the transfer amount and exchange rates tend to be on the low side. A direct-to-account option is available and an online calculator allows a quick estimate of the overall cost. Payouts can be handled by an accredited bank but Deutsche Post Postbank Finanzcenters, which constitute most of the Post listings of Raven Quick Guide sections for each Raven Guides destination, are useful outlets for handling these.
MoneyGram (www.moneygram.com) can offer low rates for some amounts but exchange rate fees can be added. There is a card-based option for fast delivery or a slightly cheaper US service over three business days – costs and offerings vary by country. Indian services are generally through banks or travel organisations such as Thomas Cook but in Australia service points include 7-Eleven stores. Some bank-affiliated transfers will process amounts for non-business clients for more competitive fees at interbank exchange rates but minimum amounts may apply.
Instant transfer possibilities using PayPal (www.paypal.com) are worth exploring if an email address or mobile phone number is available for the receiver. Apps are also available. Fees are up to 1% for international transfers, but currency conversion may be added. Using linked credit or debit cards attracts a flat fee plus much higher rates.
Whatever the medium, there are no limits to the amounts transferable to and from Germany, although larger sums may have to be notified to Germany’s Bundesbank and limits may apply in the other country.
Power in Germany is 220-230V AC, 50Hz. Basic appliances rated at 110V would be damaged by this and require a voltage converter for use. This can apply also to power boards. Check that high-end electronic devices have inbuilt converters that cover the necessary ratings.
Germany’s twin-prong plugs are of the so-called Europlug C and F types, CEE 7/16, rated at 2.5A and compatible throughout most of Europe. Most sockets are of the standard continental European type with spring clips and without switch but occasional sockets only allow a smaller, unearthed plug. Either way US, UK, Indian, Australian, New Zealand, Irish and South African travellers will require adapters.
Public holidays can be national or regional but most are recognised under state law. They will generally close banks, post offices and most shops and businesses where observed, as well as some attractions, though restaurants will most often remain open. Transport arrangements might also vary on some of these days. When planning for the days listed below double check with tourist information offices and read timetables carefully for exceptions. Generally opening times at attractions follow the principle of using Sunday hours on public holidays.
Many festival days are drawn from the Lutheran or Catholic calendars and accordingly can vary in observance in various parts of the country.
New Year’s Day (Neujahrstag, national) – January 1. New Year’s Eve (Silvester, see below) is party time.
Epiphany (Epiphanie, Ephiphanias or Heilige Drei Könige, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt) – January 6
Shrove or Pancake Tuesday (Fastnacht, Fasching or Karneval) – not strictly a public holiday, this late February festival, before Ash Wednesday and the fast of Lent, brings Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) night parades and events that affect normal business and access in many cities. This is especially so in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn and Aachen and other parts of Nordrhein-Westfalen, as well as Mainz and parts of Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemburg. It also closes many public monuments and museums. Restaurants may serve fish on Ash Wednesday.
Good Friday (Karfreitag, national) – Businesses closed.
Easter Sunday (Ostern, national) – Businesses closed.
Easter Monday (Ostermontag, national) – Businesses closed.
Labour Day (Tag der Arbeit or Maifeiertag, national) – May 1, combining the traditional May feast with the international celebration of labour and its parades.
Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt, national) – The Thursday 39 days after Easter Sunday.
Pentecost or Whitsunday (Pfingsten, national) – Seven weeks after Easter Sunday.
Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag, national) – 50 days after Easter Sunday.
Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland, parts of Saxony and Thuringia) – Thursday, 60 days after Easter Sunday.
Peace of Augsburg (Augsburger Friedensfest, Augsburg) – August 8. Oddly this remembrance of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia is gazetted only for the Bavarian city.
Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt, Saarland, parts of Bavaria) – August 15.
Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit, national) – October 3, commemorating the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany.
Reformation Day (Reformationstag, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Mecklenburg-Pomerania) – October 31.
All Saints’ Day (Allerheiligen, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz and Saarland) – November 1.
Day of Prayer and Repentance (Buß- und Bettag, Saxony) – The third, or occasionally fourth Wednesday of November.
Remembrance or Eternity Sunday (Ewigkeitssonntag or Totensonntag, except Hamburg) is the last Sunday before Advent, closing some attractions or Christmas markets on the grounds of traditional prohibitions against public music.
Christmas Eve (Weihnachtsabend or Heiligabend), not a true public holiday, closes many museums and other attractions – December 24.
Christmas Day (Weihnachten, national) – December 25.
Boxing Day or St Stephen (Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag or Stephanstag, national) – December 26.
New Year's Eve (Silvester), not a true public holiday, nonetheless closes many museums and other attractions – December 31.
Travellers are subject to local laws, of which ignorance may not be taken as an excuse for infringements. Common sense and usual Western standards are the best everyday guides to proper behaviour in Germany and vigilance the best safeguard of self and property. The only particular warning may pertain to copyright infractions and there are warnings against purchase or illegal digital download of what may be copyright material.
For current advice on travel in Germany, travellers should seek advice from their country’s government departments responsible for foreign relations. Its embassy (Botschaft) and consulates in Germany (listed below) can provide some support and advice to travellers. The US State Department advice webpage for Germany stresses German vigilance in meeting potential terrorist threats, but also points out the limitations of Europe’s Schengen open-border policy in tracking some threats.
The incidence of crime is relatively low in Germany and recent statistics have showed a decline in overall criminality. Instances of violent crime are lower still. The highest crime rates in the country are reported for Frankfurt am Main, Hannover and Berlin. Munich has one of the lowest levels reported, but overindulgence in Oktoberfest beer can lead to brawls. The most common offences to concern travellers are bike theft (car theft is also prevalent), begging or pickpocketing. But the main threat to possessions is quite likely to be other travellers.
As usual busy public places, especially transport hubs, are places to be vigilant, especially with luggage and other possessions.
The German police (Polizei) will be on the street in combinations of blue, green or khaki with dark jackets in cooler weather. Most police forces are state-based (Landespolizei) and uniforms and sleeve and cap badges vary accordingly. Their vehicles may be labelled with blue or (older) green. The universal police emergency telephone number is 110. Police will be on site at major transport hubs.
Traffic police (Verkehrspolizei) have white caps. Criminal investigation departments wear plain clothes as in most English-speaking countries. The federal police (Bundespolizei) are responsible for border security, railways (with posts at or near many major stations) as well as the coast guard (Küstenwache). Other federal agencies cover national criminal intelligence. Some large cities have a municipally based police (Stadtpolizei or Ordnungsdienst) attending to local laws. Volunteers (Sicherheitswacht or Wachpolizei), some uniformed in blue and armed, also take on neighbourhood patrols in states such as Berlin, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony and Hesse.
Police can demand identification on the spot so a passport or other proof should be carried. Keeping copies of official documents should be standard practice for travellers.
The fire brigade (Feuerwehr) can be called on the 112 free emergency number.
Embassies and consulates of a traveller’s home country will generally assist in matters of law and medical crisis, such as finding local lawyers and doctors, and with emergencies such as medical evacuation. They will assist in cases of lost travel documents and provide general advice on local conditions and practices for travel purposes. They can also assist in getting information to next of kin in case of emergency. They generally provide assistance in case of absentee voting in elections. They expect all travellers will take reasonable precautions and make prudent preparations, often including registering travel plans with the department of foreign relations.
Embassies and consulates cannot usually be expected to provide direct assistance with costs, although some might provide small loans with strict conditions in case of emergency. Direct advice on local law is not usually provided. It is best that travellers check their country’s consular charter before travelling and wise to have contact details (see below) available in case of emergency.
Embassies and consulates might be able to provide emergency help without notice but it is generally best to telephone and arrange appointments. Honorary representatives might provide only a limited range of services to citizens. Embassies and consulates can be closed on public holidays celebrated in the home country as well as local public holidays. Emergency numbers where available for use out of hours only are provided in the contact list below.
Embassy contacts & office or consular hours
Emergency telephone numbers are given for after-hours use only. For overseas numbers dial 00 then the number provided.
Australian Embassy, Berlin
Wallstraße 76, 10179 Berlin
(tel 030-880088231, fax 030-880088238, email email@example.com)
M-Th 8.30-17, F 8.30-16.15
In emergencies freecall, tel 0800-1820661
Australian Consulate-General, Frankfurt
Main Tower, 28th floor
Neue Mainzer Straße 52, 60311 Frankfurt
(tel 069-90558101, fax 069-90558119)
M-Th 9-16.30, F 9-16
Australian Honorary Consul, Munich
Pranner Straße 8, 80333 München
(tel 030-880088231, Berlin)
Tu 9-13 (appointment only)
Embassy of Canada, Berlin
Leipziger Platz 17, 10117 Berlin
(tel 030-20312470, fax 030-20312457, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
M-F 9-12, 14-16
In emergencies call collect, tel 1 613-9968885
Consulate of Canada, Munich
Tal 29, 80331 München
(tel 089-2199570, fax 089-21995757)
Consulate of Canada, Düsseldorf
Benrather Straße 8, 40213 Düsseldorf
(tel 0211-172170, fax 0211-1721771)
Embassy of India, Berlin
Tiergartenstraße 17, 10785 Berlin
(tel 030-257950, fax 030-25795620, email email@example.com)
In emergencies, tel 030-25795101
Consulate-General of India, Frankfurt
Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage 26, 60325 Frankfurt am Main
(tel 069-1530050, 069-15300510, fax 069-554125)
Consulate-General of India, Hamburg
Graumannsweg 57, 22087 Hamburg
(tel 040-338036, 040-324744, fax 040-323757)
Consulate-General of India, Munich
Widenmayerstraße 15, 80538 München
(tel 089-2102390, fax 089-21023980)
M-F 9-13, 13.30-17.30
Embassy of Ireland, Berlin
Jägerstraße 51, 10117 Berlin
(tel 030-220720, fax 030-22072299)
M-F 9.30-12.30, 14.30-16.30
In emergencies leave contact details, tel 030-220720
Honorary Consulate of Ireland, Hamburg
Feldbrunnenstraße 43, 20148 Hamburg
(tel 040-44186113, fax 040-44186551)
Honorary Consulate-General of Ireland, Munich
Denningerstraße 15, 81679 München
(tel 089-20805990, fax 089-20805989)
Honorary Consulate-General of Ireland, Frankfurt
Gräfstraße 99, 60487 Frankfurt am Main
(tel 069-977883883, fax 069-977883880)
Also honorary consuls in Cologne/Bergisch-Gladbach and Stuttgart.
Israeli Embassy in Germany, Berlin
Auguste-Viktoria-Straße 74-76, 14193 Berlin
(tel 030-89045500, fax 030-89045309)
M-Th 9.30-13, F 9.30-12.30
Embassy of Malaysia, Berlin
Klingelhöferstraße 6, 10785 Berlin
(tel 030-8857490, fax 030-88574950, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Consulate-General of Malaysia, Frankfurt
Level 18, Kastor, Platz der Einheit 1, 60327 Frankfurt am Main
(tel 069-8700370, fax 069-870037241, email email@example.com)
M-F 9-13, 14-17
Also honorary consuls in Hamburg and Stuttgart/Böblingen.
New Zealand Embassy, Berlin
Friedrichstraße 60, 10117 Berlin
(tel 030-206210, fax 030-20621114, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
M-Th 9-13, 14-17.30, F 9-16.30
New Zealand Consulate-General, Hamburg
Zürich-Haus, Domstraße 19, 20095 Hamburg
(tel 040-4425550, fax 040-44255549, email email@example.com)
Embassy of the Republic of Singapore, Berlin
Voßstraße 17, 10117 Berlin
(tel 030-2263430, fax 030-22634375, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
M-F 9-13, 13.30-17
In emergencies, tel 00149-015223412182
Consulate-General of the Republic of Singapore, Stuttgart
Badstraße 98, 71336 Waiblingen
(tel 07151-263033, fax 07151-261120, email email@example.com)
South African Embassy, Berlin
Tiergartenstraße 18, 10785 Berlin
(tel 030-220730, fax 030-22073190, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
M-F 8-12.45, 13.30-16.30
South African Consulate-General, Munich
Sendlinger-Tor-Platz 5, 80336 München
(tel 089-2311630, fax 089-23116353, email email@example.com)
Also honorary consuls in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Hannover, Bremen, Dresden, Stuttgart, Dortmund and Kiel.
British Embassy, Berlin
Wilhelmstraße 70, 10117 Berlin
(tel 030-204570, fax 030-204570594)
M-F 9-13, 14-17.30
In emergencies, tel 030-204570 www.gov.uk/government/world/germany
British Consulate-General, Munich
Möhlstraße 5, 81675 München
(tel 089-211090, fax 089-21109155)
M-Th 9-12, 13-17, F 9-12, 13-15.30
British Consulate-General, Düsseldorf
Yorckstraße 19, 40476 Düsseldorf
(tel 0211-94480, fax 0211-488190)
M-Th 8.30-17, F 8.30-16.30
British Honorary Consul, Hamburg
Neuer Jungfernstieg 20/Fehlandstraße 3
Embassy of the United States, Berlin
Pariser Platz 2, 10117 Berlin
American citizen services and mail address:
Clayallee 170, 14191 Berlin
(tel 030-830501200, fax 030-83051215, email ACSBerlin@state.gov)
Consular times M-Th 14-16 except German and US holidays and the last Thursday of each month.
In emergencies, tel 030-83050
US Consulate-General, Frankfurt
Gießener Straße 30, 60435 Frankfurt am Main
(tel 069-75350, fax 069-75352277)
US Consulate-General, Munich
Königinstraße 5, 80539 München
(tel 089-28880, fax 089-2809998)
US Consulate-General, Hamburg
Alsterufer 27, 20354 Hamburg
(tel 040-41171100, fax 040-41327933)
In emergencies, tel 040-41171300
US Consulate-General, Düsseldorf
Willi-Becker-Allee 10, 40227 Düsseldorf
(tel 0211-7888927, fax 0211-7888938)
US Consulate-General, Leipzig
Wilhelm-Seyfferth-Straße 4, 04107 Leipzig
M-F 9-17 (except US and German holidays)
Germany operates on Central European Time (CET), one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT – also referred to as Coordinated Universal Time or UTC). All Germany’s immediate neighbours share this time zone and, of the countries that can be reached by Baltic ferry, only Finland and the Baltic states (GMT+2 hours) differ.
Times in Germany are given according to the 24-hour clock. Opening hours in Raven Guides are abbreviated thus: M-F 9-17 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday), M-Sa 10 to 16.30 (10am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday), Tu-Su 17-1 (5pm to 1am Tuesday to Sunday and closing 1am Monday).
Daylight saving or summer time, which advances clocks one hour, operates half the year for the whole CET zone, beginning after midnight on the last Sunday in March and ending in Germany after midnight on the last Sunday in October.
When on CET adjust for the following world cities:
Auckland/Wellington +11 hours
Sydney/Melbourne +9 hours
Hong Kong +7 hours
Singapore/Kuala Lumpur +6 hours
New Delhi +4.5 hours
Johannesburg +1 hour
Jerusalem +1 hour
London/Dublin -1 hour
New York/Miami -6 hours
Chicago -7 hours
Los Angeles -9 hours
Germany is classified as temperate overall and humid. Packing a sweater is recommended and rain gear is essential any time of year. Weather can vary quite considerably in large cities such as Munich, so the only good advice is to be prepared. Berlin averages 106 days of rain a year.
Formally, seasons are often considered to run according to solstices and equinoxes – thus spring (Frühling) from March 21 or 22 to June 21-22, summer (Sommer) until September 21-22, autumn (Herbst) until December 22. But to most Germans winter (Winter) weather settles in during November and firm signs of spring rarely appear until mid-April. Most travellers will probably choose to visit Germany in spring or early in autumn where they can. Reasonably mild weather can be expected for walking city streets, cruising rivers and the bulk of touring activities. Summer produces hot days (all July 2010 was hot without relief) but it brings crowds of northern hemisphere tourists – as well as the Germans themselves taking the benefit of study breaks or group activities – which puts pressure on accommodation and transport.
German temperatures are given in degrees Celsius, and rainfall usually in millimetres (occasionally in litres per 100 square metres).
By March average daily maximums are up to 7-11 degrees C (44-51 deg F) in most cities, yet in 2013 frozen conditions struck northern Germany mid-month. Mid-spring is generally an enjoyable time to visit, although the warmth and reliability of weather is much greater in May than in April. April average daily maximums in northern states can be 10-11 deg C (50-52 deg F) but the rest of the country is in the 12-15 deg C (54-59 deg F) range. April minimums in most parts average 3-5 deg C (38-41 deg F). In Berlin the May average maximum is 19 deg C (66 deg F) by comparison with 13 deg (56 deg F) in April – in Dresden, Hamburg and Munich it is 18 deg C.
Summer can also be extremely warm, although July 2010, in which much of the country endured temperatures of about or above 30 deg C (86 deg F) most days, was exceptional even in the era of climate change. German buildings, especially historic buildings, tend to be heated as necessary rather than airconditioned.
Almost anywhere July average maximums are in the 21-25 deg C (70-77 deg F) range, with minimums of 12-13 deg C (54-56.5 deg F). In most places, July will be significantly wet, with more than 100mm (about four inches) of rain on average in Munich, which will average 12 rainy days. Tallies in eastern and central parts of Germany will be much lower at about 50mm.
In September, Berlin maintains a daily average maximum of 19 deg C (66 deg F) and minimums average 11 deg C (51 deg F). This range holds good in most of northern Germany and the central or southern regions are a degree or two warmer in average maximum, with minimums a degree or two cooler.
October tends to be on average about one degree warmer than April almost everywhere. In the north and parts of the east rainfall can be substantially higher, though the variation is great. Showers or heavier rain are however more likely than in spring. Schleswig-Holstein in the north gets about 90mm in an average October, compared to the more central Thuringia and Sachsen-Anhalt, where most locations get about 30mm (1.2 inches). Berlin’s average October precipitation is somewhat higher (more than 45mm or 1.8 inches) than for surrounding Brandenburg (about 35mm).
By November, average daily maximums around most of Germany are down to 7-9 deg C (45-48 deg F) and minimums are 1-3 deg C (34-38 deg F).
Winter will generally bring falls of snow – though not everywhere – and a cold not unreasonable for enjoying the Christmas festivals and markets of Nuremberg or Dresden and the skiing (for the well-prepared) at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Dresden’s daily December maximum is 4 deg C (39 deg C), minimum -1 deg C (31 deg F). On average there would be seven or eight days with snow. Nuremberg’s figures are 4 deg C and -2 deg C and the daily likelihood of snow around Christmas is 13-15%.
Average maximums in January range from 4-5 deg C (39-41 deg F) in the western half of Germany to less than 2 deg C (about 36 deg F) in the east – the north and the south (apart from the Alps) show little difference at about 2 deg C. January minimums range from just below zero (32 deg F) in the north to -5 deg C (23 deg F) in most parts of Bavaria. In Berlin, average January maximums are 3 deg C (37 deg F).