Germany does not feature very high on many travelers’ bucket lists. The people who do go there tend to be World War II buffs, whose visits center around Berlin. I don’t really know too many travelers who spent a week or two travelling the length of the country. As a Swedish friend said to me once, “I don’t think it would sit very well with the kids if I told them, this year we are going to Germany” 😀
Well, we decided to do exactly that. Travel the length and breadth of Germany to discover exactly what this country has to offer, apart from sausages, beer and the Oktoberfest. If you read my previous article, you know by now that I am now enthusiastically promoting travel to Germany. What’s not to like, I ask- Picturesque villages, a beautiful countryside, moody castles everywhere, a rich history, the best roads anywhere…I could go on. But I will pause here, assume you just decided to go to Germany, and tell you a few things you need to know.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED TO VISIT GERMANY
I typically answer this question with, it depends, but here, I have a more definitive answer. I think 10 to 14 days should cut it nicely.
A day or two in the Rhine valley to explore the setting of the Grimm brother fairy tales and to discover the delights of small-town life in Germany. A few more days (read one or two) driving along the romantic road, stopping in a couple of towns along the way. DO NOT MISS ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER on the romantic road. Visit the King’s castles (Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein) using Fussen as a base, and then on to Munich to discover the rich history of Bavaria. And it is Bavaria, not Germany, because a United German nation did not exist until 1871. You should complete your trip to Germany with a few days in Berlin, which is largely about WWII and what happened after. You could take a few more days in Fussen or Bavaria if you wanted to include outdoor activities or a visit to Berchtesgaden.
But this is it, really. You will have an excellent introduction to all things German with this trip I have outlined. I will definitely be posting a more detailed itinerary soon.
HOW TO DRESS
Short answer is, any way you like at all. Your only consideration should be the weather.
I went in August, the beginning of which was incredibly warm, and the end of which was definitely nippy. Whenever you go to Europe, my advice is to always carry at least some light jackets. People from tropical countries like you-know-who, do not fare well in cold weather, so it is always good to be prepared. 😛 Summer or Winter, carry an umbrella. It could rain absolutely any time in Germany, much like in London. But the showers typically don’t last longer than ten minutes, so you will be fine. In the winter, you will, of course need multiple layers of very warm clothes. I wore lots of dresses of various lengths, depending on the weather, some jeans with interesting blouses, ruffles and off-shoulder/cold shoulder tops featuring heavily in my wardrobe, dungarees and the occasional palazzo. I always carried a light shawl with me wherever I went.
I gaze upon the sweet meadows, The blazing sunrises and rapturous sunsets The deepest dark seas The widest blue skies The mysterious forests And the mighty mountains The bucolic scenes with the cows grazing by. And I wonder What am I amidst all this glory A speck of dust A drop, a thought A mere blink, Or maybe an afterthought. But I also know, Deep in my heart, I might be infinitesimal, But I am also momentous. And in a million years, I will still survive In the sigh of the breeze, In the spark of the fire, In the drops of the ocean And the leaves of the forest. And thus I'm eternal, Living not and yet forever.
There is no prudishness anywhere, no conservatism, so you can dress exactly as you like. I didn’t encounter any sites that had a dress code, not even churches, so you should mostly be fine.
The Euro is the currency to carry. I took about 500 euros as cash, and the rest in a travel card. I usually purchase my currency from the Centrum at Tidal Park. Great rates, and their customer service has gotten much better lately. Swiping your card is free, and withdrawing cash costs you 1.5 Euros per transaction this August.
How much money you need is going to largely depend on where you stay and what you eat. I am vegetarian, and found it pretty hard to find food I could enjoy, so we mostly cooked dinner in our apartment. On a typical day, lunch would cost us about fifteen euros, and eating dinner at a restaurant would cost us about 30 euros (including drinks, for two people). Many world war related sites in Germany are free, but visiting castles and palaces can be pretty expensive. I would carry 50 euros per head, per day of travel, including food, local transport and sites, assuming you visit about two sites a day. I am assuming you have already paid for your accommodation and your car booking, if you are driving.
Our 23-day trip to Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein cost us, in total, end to end INR 3.83 lakhs. This is just to give you an idea of costs. It cannot get cheaper than this, unless you stay in hostels and always cook your own food. Our style of travel is a bit of budget and a bit of luxury. We always do a road trip, never skip important sites because of costs and never miss sampling local food and drinks. But we also cook dinners in our apartment about half the time.
Germany belongs to the EU, so you need a Schengen visa for entry. Typically, based on our experience, you will get your visas in 2-3 working days. But, you should apply at least one month in advance to account for unprecedented delays. Book your tickets and accommodation before you apply for your visa. In addition to this, you will need to provide the filled in application form, a covering letter stating your intent, your bank statements for the last three months, IT returns for the last two years, marriage certificate, travel insurance (from a listed company) and a copy of your itinerary. There is a consulate in Chennai, so it’s easy for us Chennai residents. There are also consulates in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata, so if you do not have a consulate in your city, make sure you apply to the right one.
Germany is generally very safe. There was a mishap with our first hotel, where they “forgot” to leave instructions for us to retrieve keys after hours, and we slept in our car. Not the best introduction to Deutschland, I tell you. But, from doing this, I can say it is extremely safe to roam about at all times of day and night. We left our luggage in our car (locked up in the boot, not in sight) lots of times, and it was perfectly OK. We did not see any pickpocketing, although we were careful in crowded places. Just exercise the general caution you would while you are out and about, and you will be fine.
In the summer months, some of the more popular sites will be crowded. Eg., the King’s castles in Bavaria, the Residenz in Munich and towns on the Romantic road, like Rothenburg. But, this is nothing like the mad crowds you would encounter while in, say Italy. Or even in France. So, while it is smart to book in advance for some things, in most other places, you can just show up and pick up tickets. You will not have the entire place to yourself, mind you. But you will also not be battling crowds to get a single picture without people in the background. This is especially true of towns like Bacharach, which are actually quite popular with tourists. But you can always find a cozy corner for yourself.
Germany, like most European countries, has an excellent, albeit expensive, public transportation system. Trams, the subway and buses provide great connectivity within the major cities . The inter-city train network, the Deutsche Bahn is also extremely efficient. If you are staying long enough, consider getting yourself a Bahn card. This is mostly going to be useless for the ten-day trip I have outlined above. Here, the only train journey you make will be from Munich to Berlin. But the card will be very effective if you make multiple inter-city trips.
While visiting the country-side, like always, it is cheaper and much more efficient to rent a car. If you are visiting the Rhine valley, Mosel Valley or driving the Romantic road, definitely rent a car. Also, you absolutely want to experience driving in Germany; it is a pleasure not to be missed.
We picked up our SIM card at the airport, because we were driving straight from the airport to Sankt Goar, a town in the Rhine valley. We needed internet to find our way. There are several stores that will sell you SIM cards at the airport, and we got Vodafone. Honestly, we did not have a lot of choice at the airport stores. Vodafone solved the immediate requirement, and was valid throughout the Euro Zone. It cost us 40 Euros, and gave us 2 GB data and some local minutes. I don’t remember exactly how much, but we were able to talk to all our AirBnb hosts, as well as our friend in Germany for the entire 23 days.
If you are not pressed to make this purchase immediately, you have a lot more choice. Lebara was one of our top picks, actually. But whatever you do, do not use your Indian SIM card or buy a Matrix card at the airport in India. These are not the most cost-effective options for you.
BEST TIMES TO VISIT
For Germany, this is a no-brainer. The summer months, from June through August are the best times to visit. Long days, longer hours at sites, the ability to fully explore the beautiful country-side and take hikes are but some of the reasons to visit in summer.
In addition, the crowds are not bad enough to consider postponing to Fall or Winter. One of the cons is definitely higher prices during these months. If this is a huge constraint for you, consider visiting in Spring. No earlier than May, or Fall, no later than mid-October. Germany can get quite gloomy in the winter months, but has some great Christmas markets to recommend it during this time. Of course, you cannot go on hikes during this time, but then, it is time for winter sports! Either way, enjoy your visit to one of the most beautiful and orderly countries of the world. Prost!!
Side note: You might have heard that the German people are very rude, do not treat people of color very well etc. I will say that during our trip, we did meet some Germans who could easily be called rude. In fact, at the immigration counter, we were asked to produce all our documents, including individual hotel bookings and our money. This has never happened in any other Schengen country. But I also met people who walked up to us in stations and asked if we needed help with the purely German signs. We had a lady who was so outraged on our behalf when we had to sleep in our car and offered us the use of her facilities and free coffee.
So, I guess Germany is like every other country. It is populated with some lovely, helpful people, some rude people and some people in between. There is no need to read into things beyond that. 😊4