The Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago and the country’s tourism rates have been going up ever since. Germany is dynamic, vibrant, and varied, both geographically and demographically. Multiethinic, mutilcultural, and multi-faceted, the country’s high-tech railroads and modern architecture harmoniously co-exist alongside ancient forests and medieval villages. There is truly something for everyone in Germany. Magnificent museums and galleries, jaw-dropping scenery, and outdoor sports and spas abound.
Germans are friendly and helpful people; warm and open-minded. Recent emphasis on putting more hospitableness into the hospitality industry has created a welcoming and professional service industry. It’s no surprise that Germany is rated one of the safest travel destinations in the world, as well as one of the most popular.
Getting Around Germany
Trains – Germany is a member of the European Union and the currency is the Euro. (As of November 2014, the exchange rate remained at 1.25 US dollars.) Modes of travel span the full gamut of planes, trains, boats, bikes, and busses. Germany claims one of the best public transport systems in Europe with long distance and regional train lines servicing all major and most medium-sized cities. Faster than driving a car and certainly more relaxing, the trains are reliable, frequent, and clean – but they can be pricey. Booking a week in advance will net a 40-50% discount. The Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) web site contains helpful information. The high speed, high comfort Intercity-Express (ICE) trains include a bistro on board.
Planes – Fares can be surprisingly affordable if booked at least two weeks in advance. Daily routes on budget airlines Air Berlin and Hapag-Lloyd Express can be found for $38 USD. Lufthansa, the national carrier, offers the largest number of flights at reasonable rates with hourly departures between the most popular cities.
Lodging – Germany has a large assortment of accommodation options for all budgets including hotels, inns, and hostels. The German hotel industry rates every property with a star system. One star denotes a basic room and five stars indicate luxury. Regardless of rating, rooms are notoriously clean and comfortable. All hotels usually provide a buffet breakfast included in the room price.
For a more romantic and memorable night’s sleep, many of the country’s centuries old castles operate as hotels with reasonable nightly rates from $100-$150 USD. Another creative alternative is to book a farmstay. Rent a private former farm or country house or work on a producing farm or winery and receive a room in exchange. Farmstays are usually located in charming rural regions conducive to self-guided cycling and walking tours.
The Fairy-Tale Road – Rent a car and chase down childhood dreams. The 370-mile area between Frankfurt and Hamburg is where the brothers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm traveled in the early 19th century to gather local folklore tales. Meander through gnarled forests and medieval villages with cobblestone streets keeping one eye out for the Big Bad Wolf.
The Romantic Road – This 220-mile route rambles through much of Bavaria at the foot of the Alps and winds through many idyllic towns. Neuschwanstein, near Füssen is the fairy-tale castle that inspired Walt Disney. Built in the second half of the 19th century by King Ludwig II, the architecture and scenery are romantic beyond words. Another must-stop town along the Romantic Road is Rothenburg, a still-intact medieval walled city.
Bavaria – “The Texas of Germany” is the country’s largest region. Known for the most majestic mountains in Germany, gifted craftsmen, and welcoming locals, the Alpine resorts and villages are not just for winter skiing. Munich is one of Germany’s most expensive cities and its autobahns lead directly to the Bavarian Alps. No visit to Munich is complete without a stop at the Hofbräuhaus beer hall, if only to witness 4,500 beer drinkers sitting at the wooden tables on any given night.
Cologne – The Rhineland’s largest and most important city, Cologne sits smack on the banks of the river making it the perfect base camp for exploring the Rhineland. Cologne’s crowning glory is the Gothic wonder, Dom Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Germany and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Museum Ludwig houses one of the world’s largest collections of Pablo Picasso paintings.
The Black Forest – About 90 miles long and 25 miles wide, this pine-and-spruce-filled forest runs parallel to the Rhine with Switzerland to the south, France to the west, and Lake Constance to the east. High peaks and several beautiful lakes make this a favorite nature retreat for the country’s residents; perhaps Germany’s answer to Yosemite.
Mosel Valley – One of the best spots in Germany to rent a bike and cycle past thousands of acres of Germany’s most famous vineyards. The Mosel River is a left tributary of the Rhine and an ideal place for a boat cruise. On the left bank of the Mosel is the storybook medieval town of Cochem with the towering castle built in 1027. Regional fare, Mosel wine, and quaint inns on cobblestone streets provide a less commercial alternative than the Rhine region for overnight stays.
How to Travel Cheaply in Germany
Stay in a pension, a room in a house that includes breakfast with a night’s sleep. Some hotels discount rooms that share a common bathroom.
Patronize food vendors and beer halls. A wholesome, hearty German meal plus a beer is approximately $15 USD in a hall. Kiosks and international street vendors are plentiful. The sausage is filler-free, the beer water pure, and Germans shun genetically modified foods. Quality and quantity!
Rent a bike for about $20 USD per day and ride along the Rhine or through the vineyards in Mosel. Pack a picnic with delicacies from one of the many outdoor markets.
Take the Royal Castle Walk for mind-blowing panoramas. In Cochem, a 15-minute walk from the town’s marketplace leads to Cochem Castle with staggering 365 degree views.
Many galleries and museums offer free admission and tours. Two notables include Dachau Concentration Camp’s main exhibition. “Path of the Prisoners” focuses on the fate of the prisoners at the Nazi camp on the outskirts of Munich. The prisoners’ personal histories in and (sometimes) out of the camp are plotted using firsthand accounts, drawings, and biographies. The BMW Welt Museum is a futuristic, architecturally stunning showroom with BMW models of past, present, and future to ogle.