In Germany there is no shortage of high-quality travel information in English. Tourism is an important and well organised industry, standing next to the marketing of congress and trade fair opportunities.
Most of Germany’s city tourist information centres stand with the world’s best in service, resources, co-ordination and location. Visitors can step out of main rail or bus stations and be within five minutes of all the information and professional advice necessary to enjoy their experience. Sometimes there are information kiosks in stations, supported by the central office. Big cities have multiple sites, though all are not necessarily open at once. Almost everyone speaks English well.
Free guides are plentiful in English and translations are generally of reasonable standard. Maps are excellent and, though not always available free, will rarely cost more than €1.50.
Tourist services are supported by detailed and user-friendly information websites, but the English versions of tourist office websites (or transport sites) do not always have identical scope and detail. Sometimes the tourist information component is incorporated in the local civic site.
Germany – The travel destination, the brand for the national tourist board Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus, is responsible for international marketing. Its website www.germany.travel/en/index.html can provide some thematic ideas.
Tourist offices in the biggest cities are generally open seven days, M-F 9 or 10-18 (between April and October this can extend to 20.00) and until 17.00 Saturdays. Sunday hours can be shorter (often 10-16) and secondary offices might be closed. Public holidays will affect opening hours.
A booking service for hotels or other rooms (Zimmervermittlung) will usually be provided, though not necessarily from the same desk or for the same hours. Sometimes there will also be information or ticket sales for entertainments and events. Official guided tours (or tour guides) can usually be arranged and booked.
Here are the official sites for key destinations:
Bonn: www.bonn.de (click on the tab 'Tourismus' and select English)
Görlitz: www.goerlitz-tourist.de (use browser translations)
Lutherstadt Wittenberg: lutherstadt-wittenberg.de/en/service/tourist-information
Meissen: www.stadt-meissen.de/index-eng.html (click on the Tourism tab)
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: www.rothenburg.de/welcome/welcome-to-rothenburg
Xanten: www.xanten.de/de/tix/besucherinformation (use browser translations)
State tourist authorities or associations give an overview of the attractions available and their websites and literature can assist in the discovery of the most appealing destinations or activities. As separate states Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen (including Bremerhaven) have their own organisations and sites. Packages and options can be examined and more information or booking pages are linked, although advertising material is included in some sites. In some cases there are pages for individual cities and towns.
The state organisations and their URLs are listed below:
As separate states Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen (including Bremerhaven) have their own organisations and sites (see above).
The state organisations and their URLs are listed below:
Baden-Württemberg: Tourismus Marketing Gmbh Baden-Württemberg www.tourism-bw.com
Bayern/Bavaria: Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH www.bavaria.by
Brandenburg: Tourism Marketing Brandenburg GmbH www.brandenburg-tourism.com
Hesse: Hessen Agentur GmbH www.hessen-tourismus.de/en/home
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: Tourismusverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern eV www.off-to-mv.com/en
Niedersachsen: TourismusMarketing Niedersachsen GmbH www.niedersachsen-tourism.com
Nordrhein-Westfalen: Tourismus NRW eV www.nrw-tourism.com
Rheinland-Pfalz: Rheinland-Pfalz Tourismus GmbH www.romantic-germany.info
Saarland: Tourismus Zentrale Saarland GmbH www.visitsaarland.co.uk
Sachsen-Anhalt: Investitions- und Marketinggesellschaft Sachsen-Anhalt mbH www.saxony-anhalt-tourism.eu
Saxony/Sachsen: Tourismus Marketing Gesellschaft Sachsen mbH www.sachsen-tourismus.de/en
Schleswig-Holstein: Tourismus-Agentur Schleswig-Holstein GmbH www.sh-tourismus.de/en
Thuringia/Thüringen: Thüringer Tourismus GmbH www.visit-thuringia.com
Travellers can afford to ignore pure souvenir shops in their search for the background story. Outside the hours of services, cathedrals and large churches are attuned to tourist needs and information sheets or inexpensive booklet guides in translation are available – look for the recent and detailed Verlag Schnell & Steiner, DKV Kunstführer or Schöning Verlag guides (€2-4). Some churches offer daily tours but visitor services vary and much of the staffing will be by volunteers.
Museum shops are among the best places to browse for literature and reputable book shops are easy to find in the city hubs. The travel literature sections of German bookshops are notable for their wide selections and English editions are often included.
At sites such as castles or palaces, there is usually good information in English – perhaps a whole shop – along with the inevitable postcards and souvenirs.
Historic Highlights of Germany is a tourist marketing initiative by a group of 17 historic cities. The website offers good short guides to each city or thematic options for travellers. Visit www.historicgermany.travel. A similar site is available at matadornetwork.com/read/travel-guide-germanys-historic-cities.
For an excellent online guide with lots of German destinations, including pictures, and locally based tips including the top activities and sights, visit www.tourism.de.
German street addresses give the street name first, followed by the house or building number. The pattern of street numbers will generally be odd numbers on one side and even on the other, but there are many exceptions and in parts of Berlin it is possible to find an odd street number where an even one would be expected – Kantstraße numbers sequentially up one side then down the other so that No.148 is more or less opposite No.20. In Berlin, too, as with other cities in the former GDR, some street names have changed in the past 20 years, which can add to confusion if old maps are used. If using traditional hard-copy maps, it is better by far for travellers to seek recent editions.
The 1:200,000 scale AA Road Atlas Germany is available for purchase online but its A3 format big brother, superbly detailed at 1:150,000 scale, is now scarce. Seek out the German edition, ADAC MaxiAtlas Deutschland 2017/2018. A Germany 2016 road atlas including adjacent countries at 1:300,000 is available from Michelin.
Motorists can go to www.theaa.com for a route planner for point-to-point journeys including map and directions with distances and approximate travel times. Times over longer distances assume motorway or freeway (Autobahn) travel.
Excellent foldout city and 1:150,000 regional maps are available from the German publisher Falk, generally including street or placename registers. Falk City Plans are among the best of the type, including public transport routes (although these can become outdated quickly). Freytag & Berndt offers 1:20,000 plans of main cities and inexpensive 1:10,000 thematic pocket tourist maps of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Regensburg and Nuremberg.
Among regional maps Marco Polo Mairs (1:200,000) and Kümmerley+Frey (1:275,000) are high-quality – K+F is particularly strong in outdoor activity maps. Falk, AA and Marco Polo publish Germany foldout road maps at 1:800,000 or 1:900,000.
The Austrian publisher Freytag & Berndt is a leading purveyor of general and outdoor activity maps but has German stores only in Nuremberg and Regensburg. However its online store, www.freytag-berndt.at, has an English-language version.
The general bookstore chains Hugendubel and Thalia have excellent map selections among their ranges of guidebooks and other travel literature.
Google’s maps and satellite photos, including Google Earth, cover Germany intensively and can provide detailed directions, distances and guides to travel times for routes. But Google's Street View function is limited to some major cities – the result of a long public controversy over privacy provisions and extensive opting out.
Google street views are available for Berlin (but not Potsdam), Hamburg, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn, Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, Bremen, Hannover, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg, Mannheim, Bielefeld and areas of the Ruhr industrial region including Duisburg, Dortmund, Essen and Wuppertal. Not all inner-city thoroughfares are covered, though sometimes Panoramio street images (contributed and sometimes unreliable in terms of map placement) can be used. Many of the existing Street View images are now outdated, sometimes going back to 2008, and have been blurred in the interests of privacy or in cases of significant changes to the streetscape.
Bing Maps offers wide coverage in maps and aerial images but visuals from its Streetside coverage were disabled indefinitely in 2012. Its Bird's Eye feature however offers useful views when zoomed. The detailed maps of Here.com (wego.here.com) are especially good for street numbers but do not offer street-level images.
The website www.stadtplan.de has detailed maps with an excellent point-to-point function that will provide directions in English along with a way marker line and interim distances.
The online maps of www.hot-map.com include dozens of excellent maps of German cities, most based at 1:20,000, and a wide range of 1:100,000 regional maps covering the country. This range takes a little getting used to but can be extremely useful for the traveller, motorists in particular. A range of detailed directions or distances for point-to-point travel can be extracted for journeys over hundreds of kilometres. There is also a handful of thematic maps, such as Frankfurt airport or part of the line of the Berlin Wall.
There are sites covering German life and culture in English, and sites in German with English versions, that offer useful cultural perspectives.
Sites in German sometimes translate reasonably well in browsers or using translation programs or functions. Google Chrome has the advantage of automatically seeking out suitable versions for users in English-speaking countries while allowing the option of automatically translating German sites – click “Translate this page” to the right of the URL after any search. An easy view of original text is available by clicking at top right or (on a PC) by hovering a mouse over text sections. Google Translate (translate.google.com) allows travellers (or armchair travellers) to translate blocks of pasted text at will and is especially easy to use when bookmarked in the browser. Google Toolbar also offers translation options (though not always speedy) and a Google Translator addon can be downloaded for Mozilla Firefox.
Microsoft Edge supports the free, downloadable Microsoft Translator tool, using 60 languages. The app automatically detects foreign languages and offers the translation option at top right. A toggle option between languages is available next to the favourites icon.
Note that when searching German words or names with mutated (Umlaut) vowels (ä, ö, ü) it is usual to type 'e' directly after the base vowel (for Würzburg, type 'Wuerzburg'). Where words or names use the character 'ß', type 'ss' (for Hauptstraße, type 'Hauptstrasse'). This will usually be the case where URLs include such names.
Two German websites offer multiple links to explore individual interests. Goethe-Institut, Germany’s worldwide cultural organisation and German language teacher, devotes its site, www.goethe.de, to all its work as well as articles on aspects of life, society, the arts and politics. The Deutsche Welle site www.dw.de has much general information in English (and about 30 other languages) including travel articles, the arts and culture, as well as resources for learning German.
The practical business of living in Germany, including housing, employment, education and networking, is covered by two European online networks with associated online newsletters. The Spanish-based international site Just Landed, which covers more than 50 countries, has a German page, www.justlanded.com/english/Germany. Basic articles are backed up by an online forum with tips from expats in response to queries, although there are some personal notices and the services section is largely business-based.
Expatica.com is a Netherlands-based enterprise covering 11 countries with a Germany page, www.expatica.com/de. Useful guides and articles on practical matters with links are included but it is best to note the date on the information and sometimes it will be advisable to check further. Again, there is advertising material on the site.
The Local, www.thelocal.de, is a Berlin-based expat site offering news (much with a lifestyle flavour) and links including noticeboards, job ads and blogging. Its Toytown Germany partner site, www.toytowngermany.com, is a networking and chat forum offering advice, opinions and reviews on all manner of topics. There is a searchable resource for the forum as well as lists by region.
For students the Deutsches Studentenwerk site www.internationale-studierende.de (translate to English near top right) can offer tips about studying in Germany and a guide to the range of student services.
Deutschland.de, www.deutschland.de, is a Frankfurt-based online magazine about German politics, business, culture and environmental concerns. There is a related blog, Facebook site and RSS feeds. The related Young Germany site, www.young-germany.de, is about youth lifestyles including education and career opportunities, events, arts, language learning and social media networking.
It is not hard to find news in English while on the road in Germany, and some of it comes from German sources.
Newspapers with an international profile – and these are by and large UK or US mastheads – are not difficult to find in big cities at major transport hubs, especially rail stations, large bookshops or other press outlets. Expect a markup on prices. The New York Times International Edition newsstand price in Germany is €3.20. For a guide to online editions see below.
Papers in German are available free in first-class carriages of Deutsche Bahn main-line trains.
In big cities most hotels offer pay TV services and the normal fare of BBC World, CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg makes it easy to stay in touch 24 hours. But this is not normal in budget accommodation such as pensions and youth hostels, although some of these may offer communal rooms with TV access.
For news on Germany, Deutsche Welle's www.dw.de is the leading news site offering English material in depth with breaking news and background stories. Business, culture, science and sports are covered. DW also offers an international perspective for travellers wanting to check the latest.
The Local, www.thelocal.de, is an expat site offering news with other links. Deutschland.de, www.deutschland.de, is an online magazine about aspects of public life in Germany and its place in the world. For more about these see the Websites section.
The site of the German news magazine Der Spiegel has an English version at www.spiegel.de/international, with German news as well as German views on world news. Der Spiegel in English is also available as an iPhone app. Major German daily papers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Welt, the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bild and Berliner Zeitung don’t have English material on their websites. Die Zeit offers some articles online (search ‘articles in English’ at www.zeit.de).
Free website content will suffice for travellers wanting world headlines. A few sites, such as www.guardian.co.uk, offer a wide coverage of international events. But to keep in close touch with home over several weeks or months, consider an online subscription with a favourite news source for tablet or mobile devices. There are also news alert services that are a regular feature offered by larger outlets.
The International New York Times free website material and global digital edition front-page views are available with the New York Times at international.nytimes.com.
Deutsche Welle's The Journal, a version of the daily news TV program Das Journal, is accessible in many countries but the online stream is also easy to find at the media centre. Video and audio streams and podcasts for many programs are available. DW sends news and current affairs programs in English through its international radio network.