We lived in Germany 20 years ago. This was our first trip back. Some things have changed in the last 20 years but many have not. Here are my top ten tips for traveling in Germany.
- Phone plans and data.
There are lots of prepaid SIM cards available. Don’t buy one at the airport. Go to one of the stores run by one of the carriers. Major carriers in Germany include Vodafone, O2 and Deutsche Telekom. We got a Vodafone card in a store for 18 Euros with a phone number and 6G of data. You do need ID to buy a SIM card. The card also worked in the Czech Republic. There is free Wi-Fi in many places, but a data plan is worth the money even if you are only using google maps for directions. There are Apps for everything in Germany including paying for parking and transit.
Public transit is relatively cheap in Germany and the train is an easy way to get around. You will find a Deutsche Bahn station in most towns. The ICE trains are the fast 200km/h trains (intercity express), IC trains are intercity trains which stop more regularly, and regional trains run on the smaller lines making even more stops. You can buy tickets online before your trip. Its cheaper to buy tickets further in advance but many of the cheaper tickets are not very flexible. If you book tickets from home, you probably need a printed copy of the ticket. Some tickets also include a city ticket which allows you to use local public transit to start and end a trip of over 100km.
It is definitely worth paying extra to book a seat on the train in advance. Some of the trains get very crowded and people with no booked seats can end up standing for hours. If you plan to use the train a lot it is worth looking into a multi-day rail pass. which you do need to buy before you leave home.
The big train stations will have a person to sell you a ticket some of the smaller ones only have machines.
If you do not have a booked seat most seats have a sign which says which parts of the trip they are reserved for. People do sit in seats which are reserved for other people. If the person who booked the seat shows up, they will just ask you to move. There is a Deutsche Bahn app which is quite useful.
Most places these days will take a credit card but it’s still a more cash centred society so you will need cash. The bank machine at a major bank is probably your best bet as the charges for using it will be lower and your card is more likely to work. We had no issues at Volksbank and Spakasse (a big Red S). German’s use bank transfers It’s a bit like an e-transfer only more complex. You do not want to do this if you can avoid it. Paypal may work for someone who is asking for a bank transfer.
- Shopping for Food
Every neighborhood has a bakery. They usually open early, they may also only be open in the morning, and most will be closed on Sundays. They sell bread, buns. pretzels, and various sweeter things. Most also have coffee to go. You can eat in at some, you can take out at them all. German’s buy bread daily. Its great but it does not keep so do a daily bakery run. Germany also has a number of cheap grocery chains (like food basics) they don’t have everything all the time, but they have most things, and they are the cheapest place for groceries and alcohol. Lidl and Aldi can be found in most towns. They also have a section of specials which include everything from clothes to appliances that are fun to look at and a great deal.
REWE is a more upscale national grocery chain. In rural areas you can often get excellent fresh produce from stalls along the road and most towns have a market day.
- Business hours
Even in tourist areas everything except tourist attractions and restaurants is closed on Sundays and some stores and business’s still close for lunch. Most stores close at 6pm some of the larger ones may be open until 8pm,
Museums are generally open on Sundays, but many are closed on Mondays particularly the big famous ones.
If you rent a car in Germany assume it will be standard transmission.
You cannot turn right on a red light unless there is a sign saying you can. The default non autobahn speed limit is 80km an hour outside of a town. When you enter a town there will be a yellow sign with the name of the town on it, when you pass this sign the speed limit drops to 50. When you leave the town there is a yellow sign with a line through the town name at this point the speed limit goes back up to 80. Many small towns also have areas with 30km speed limits. Germany also has many pedestrian zones. You can drive in these zones, but the following rules apply: Traffic must maintain the lowest possible speed– no more than 7 km/h. Pedestrians may use the entire street and children are permitted to play in the street. Motorists may not endanger or hinder pedestrians; when necessary, motorists must wait.
On the autobahn there is a speed limit of 130 if nothing is posted but people drive much faster than that in the fast lane. Do not drive in the fast lane if you are not driving fast! There are places where the speed limit on the autobahn goes down to 80 or less these are posted. There are lots of photo radar cameras in Germany so take care not to speed.
Some parking areas in Germany allow free parking for a limited number of hours to use these spaces you need a Parking disc which you can buy at a local store. You indicate the time you parked the car on the disk.
9. Recycling and Garbage
The Germans are serious about recycling! Almost all drink containers with the exception of wine bottles have a pfand (deposit) on them. To get your deposit back take them to the machine at a grocery store which will automatically sort them and give you a receipt you can use toward your next purchase or get refunded in cash at the check out. Large stores will also have an area past the checkout where you can take the packaging off the item you purchased and leave it for the store to deal with.
Compost, is separated and picked up with household garbage. Glass, paper, cardboard, and metal (including cans) need to be taken to a local depot you will see them in parking lots.
This is where it gets a bit tricky- the Gelber Sack (yellow bag) is for other types of packaging which were not included above, milk cartons, plastic containers, and some but not all other forms of packaging. If you actually live here these bags only get picked up once a month and if they see something which does not belong in the bag, they leave the whole bag behind, and you have a month to figure out what it was. Finally, there is restmull which is the garbage garbage.
You can usually find public bathrooms in train stations and town squares, in tourist areas and parks but expect to pay for using them, Some places have machines others have people. You need change, and the level of cleanliness is not always the same. Free bathrooms are non-existent. If you are in a restaurant or a museum, use the bathroom it may be your only free chance. Even inside an attraction you paid to enter you may have to pay to use the bathroom.