Here you’ll find our carefully compiled lists of the best that Germany has to offer, from castles and cathedrals to spas, restaurants, and sightseeing — and nearly everything else you’ll want to see and do.
Germany Best Dining Bets
•Die Quadriga, Berlin (tel. 030/214050): Critics hail this gastronomic wonder in the Hotel Brandenburger Hof as Berlin’s finest dining choice. Celebrated for its modern Continental cuisine, it’s where the president of Germany takes his favorite guests when he wants to “show off.” While seated in a 1904 chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, you can enjoy food that, in a word, is sublime.
•Essigbrätlein, Nürnberg (tel. 0911/225131): Food critics single this out as the best dining spot in Nürnberg, and we heartily agree. Its upscale Franconian and Continental cuisine is reason enough to visit the city.
•Weinhaus Zum Stachel, Würzburg (tel. 0931/52770): This is the oldest (ca. 1413) wine house in a town loaded with them. Food is good, portions are copious, the wine flows, and everyone has a wonderful time. This is old-time Deutschland at its most appealing.
•Tantris, Munich (tel. 089/3619590): Savvy German food critics have honored Tantris’s Hans Haas as the country’s top chef. He definitely serves some of the finest and most innovative food in Bavaria.
•Hanse Stube, Cologne (tel. 0221/2701): Located in a landmark hotel, this restaurant lies on the same square as the fabled Rhineland cathedral. French cuisine in Cologne doesn’t get any better than this — the chefs have a prodigious talent for preparing food using only the finest and freshest ingredients.
•Victorian Restaurant, Düsseldorf (tel. 0211/8655020): Regulars know what a treasure they have in this restaurant: Market-fresh ingredients and a steady hand in the kitchen produce award-winning traditional and modern food.
•Waldhotel Sonnora, outside Bernkastel-Kues (tel. 06578/406; www.hotel-sonnora.de): In the Mosel Valley, the Waldhotel Sonnora is one of the most justifiably acclaimed restaurants in the country. Be sure to make a reservation as far in advance as possible and prepare yourself for a gastronomic adventure in Continental cuisine. Herr Thieltges, the chef, told us, “We don’t just serve dishes — rather, culinary masterpieces.” We agree.
•Fischereihafen Restaurant, Altona, near Hamburg (tel. 040/381816): Patrons from Tina Turner to Helmut Kohl have pronounced the food here delightful. From a window seat, you can overlook the boats that might have hauled in your sole, eel, turbot, herring, or flounder from the seas that day.
Germany The Best Shopping
The best way to approach shopping here is to make it a part of your overall experience and not an end unto itself. Though Berlin and Munich are the major shopping centers in Germany, the rest of the country is okay — neither a shopper’s mecca nor the bargain basement of Europe. Still, you can find some good buys here, such as:
•Porcelain: For centuries, Germany has been known for the quality of its porcelain. Names such as KPM, Rosenthal, and Meissen are household words. KPM, for example, has been a Berlin tradition for more than 2 centuries.
•Toys: Nürnberg, the country’s toy center, produces some of the most imaginative playthings in the world.
•Handicrafts: In the Bavarian Alps, woodcarvers still carry on their time-honored tradition. The best place to purchase woodcarvings is in the alpine village of Oberammergau.
•Timepieces: Corny though they may be, carved Black Forest cuckoo clocks remain an enduring favorite.
•Cutlery: WMF (Württembergische-Metalwaren-Fabrik) and J. A. Henckels are two of the country’s premier producers of fine cutlery. Their knives are expensive, but longtime users say they last forever. Both WMF and Henckels stores are found all over Germany.
Germany The Best Beer Halls & Taverns
•Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig (tel. 0341/216100): The most famous tavern in eastern Germany, this is where Goethe staged the debate between Faust and Mephistopheles. The tavern dates from 1530 and has a series of murals evoking the Faust legend.
•Hofbräuhaus am Platzl, Munich (tel. 089/221676): The Hofbräuhaus is the world’s most famous beer hall and can accommodate some 4,500 beer drinkers on any given night. Music from live bands and huge mugs of beer served at wooden tables combine to produce the best of Bavarian nighttime fun.
•Zum Roten Ochsen, Heidelberg (tel. 06221/20977): Over the years, “The Red Ox” has drawn beer drinkers from Mark Twain to Bismarck. Students have been getting plastered here since 1703, and the tradition continues to this day.
•Ratskeller, Bremen (tel. 0421/321676): This is one of the most celebrated and best Ratskellers in Germany. A tradition for decades, it serves top-notch German and international food and some of the best suds along the Rhineland, as well as one of the longest lists of vintage wines from the country’s vineyards.
Germany The Best Museums
Financial prosperity, artistic flair, and academic curiosity have helped the Germans develop some of the finest museums anywhere.
•Gemäldegalerie, Berlin: This is one of Europe’s leading art museums, with a celebrated collection of works from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The cavalcade of major European masters ranges from Botticelli and Brueghel to Vermeer and Velázquez. Divided during the Cold War, the collection has been reunited in one home since 1998. The lighting and displays are better than ever.
•Pergamon Museum, Berlin: Built in 1930 on an island in the Spree, this museum contains entirely reconstructed temples from ancient Assyria, Greece, Rome, and Sumer. Don’t miss the sprawling exhibitions devoted to the ancient art of the Islamic world and the Far East.
•Zwinger, Dresden: A vast rectangular esplanade flanked with pavilions, heroic statues, formal gardens, and galleries, this museum was designed for Augustus the Strong (elector of Saxony and king of Poland), by his favorite architect, Pöppelmann (1662-1736). The destruction of the Zwinger (in the final days of World War II), one of Dresden’s most beautiful buildings, was a great loss, though its postwar reconstruction was a triumph for the East German government. Among the treasures amassed inside are paintings, 18th-century Dresden porcelain, and an ornamental collection of antique weapons.
•Deutsches Museum, Munich: Since 1925, this museum has been one of the most important showcases of science and technology in the world. Occupying an island in the Isar River, it features many hands-on and historical exhibits.
•Alte Pinakothek, Munich: This massive and symmetrical building is one of the most visible in Munich, with a wraparound garden where urbanites like to walk during lunch hour. Inside is a staggering assortment of important paintings from every era, scattered over two sprawling floors of dignified splendor.
•Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Dachau, near Munich: Heinrich Himmler first organized Dachau as a concentration camp for enemies of the Reich in 1933. An escaped inmate, Joseph Rovan, described it as “implacable, perverted, an organization that was totally murderous, a marvelous machine for the debasement and dehumanizing of man.” Today, it’s one of the most poignant museums in the world.
•Lenbachhaus, Munich: Housed in the former villa of portrait painter Franz von Lenbach, this museum has a stunning and internationally renowned collection of modern art, including the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) period, best represented by Kandinsky. It also has a rich collection of Gothic artwork.
•Gutenberg Museum, Mainz: This museum is one of the most comprehensive tributes to printing and publishing anywhere in the world. The bulky presses, on which Johannes Gutenberg used movable type (42 lines per page), and two of the earliest Bibles ever printed are the primary displays here. There’s also a historical rundown on the science and technologies that have dominated the printing industry ever since.
•Museum Ludwig, Cologne: This is the home of one of the world’s largest collections of the works of Pablo Picasso, equaled only by the Picasso museums of Barcelona and Paris. The museum’s collection was beefed up when Irene Ludwig, widow of the late German art patron Peter Ludwig, donated 774 works of Picasso’s to the museum.
•Wallraf-Richartz Museum/Foundation Corboud, Cologne: The oldest museum in Cologne presents one of Germany’s grandest collections of art, covering the 14th to the 19th centuries. The collection of Gothic works alone is one of the finest in Europe, and the galleries are a virtual encyclopedia of art, from Flemish old masters to the French Impressionists.
•Kunsthalle, Hamburg: The leading art museum in northern Germany, the Kunsthalle is one of the most important in Europe, with some 3,000 paintings in its treasure trove, along with some 400 sculptures. Some of its rare treasures date from the 14th century, including works by Bertram, the leading German master of the time. One section of the gallery also displays modern works, including pieces by such artists as Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, and Picasso.
Germany The Best Cathedrals
•Kaiserdom (Imperial Cathedral), Speyer: Partly because of their age, Romanesque churches are the most impressive symbols of early medieval Germany. This massive church, from 1030, has four bell towers, a cornerstone laid by one of Germany’s earliest kings, Konrad II, and an undeniable sense of the (anonymous) architect’s aesthetic links with the traditions of ancient Rome.
•Dom St. Peter, Worms: This church is a grand example of High Romanesque style, its oldest section dating from 1132. The Diet of Worms, held here in 1521, condemned the beliefs of the young Martin Luther and banished him to the far boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire.
•Cologne Cathedral, Cologne: Based on French Gothic models in Paris and Amiens, this cathedral was envisioned as one of the largest religious buildings in Christendom. It required 600 years to finish — work stopped for about 300 years (1560-1842), until the neo-Gothic fervor of the romantic age fueled its completion. In 1880, it was inaugurated with appropriate pomp and circumstance in the presence of the German kaiser. Today, its vast russet-colored bulk towers, above Cologne, are instantly recognizable from miles away.
•Dom (Cathedral), Aachen: Its size and the stonework dating from 1414 are deeply impressive, but even more so is the cathedral’s association with the earliest of German emperors, Charlemagne. He was crowned in an older building on this site in A.D. 800. The cathedral’s treasury contains gem-encrusted Christian artifacts from the 10th century, with heft and barbaric glitter that evoke pre-Christian Germania.
Germany The Best Castles
During the Middle Ages, Germany was divided into many intensely competitive feudal states and principalities. This unstable atmosphere encouraged the construction of fortified castles. As hostilities died down, architects began to design for comfort, style, and prestige, adding large windows, gilded stucco and plaster, frescoes, and formal gardens. As a result, Germany is full of all kinds and styles of Burg (castles) and Schloss (palaces).
•Sans Souci Palace, Potsdam: Frederick the Great’s retreat, where he came to read, listen to music, and generally renew his allegiance to the principles of the Enlightenment, is Germany’s most successful blend of landscape and architecture. The more than 120 hectares (296 acres) of intricately landscaped gardens have enough pavilions, fountains, orangeries, and heroic statues to keep a visitor intrigued for days. The palace itself is an architectural highlight, approached by a terraced staircase of sublime beauty.
•Schloss Wartburg, Eisenach: Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, this was the headquarters of the Landgraves of Thuringia, a center of patronage for the Minnesinger (troubadours) of Germany, and a place of refuge for Martin Luther, who completed his translation of the Bible within its massive walls. Wagner used it as inspiration for the setting of Tannhäuser, and Johann Sebastian Bach and Goethe both visited. Today, from its position on a rocky hilltop, it’s a regional museum.
•Residenz, Würzburg: Built between 1720 and 1744 as the official residence of the powerful bishops of Würzburg, this is one of the most massive baroque palaces in Germany. It combines a Hofkirche (chapel) with gardens, a gallery of paintings, frescoes by Tiepolo, and enough decoration to satisfy the most demanding taste for ornamentation. Also within its showrooms are a worthy collection of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts and valuable paintings from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
•Neuschwanstein, near Füssen: When the creators of California’s Disneyland needed an inspiration for their fairy-tale castle, this is the model they picked. Neuschwanstein is the most lavishly romantic (and impractical) castle in the German-speaking world. A 19th-century theatrical set designer drew it up in a neofeudal style. The man who ordered its construction was (who else?) “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
•Hohenschwangau Castle, near Füssen: It was completed in 1836 and built on the ruins of a 12th-century fortress. Its patron was the youthful prince regent, Maximilian II of Bavaria, who used it to indulge his taste for “troubadour romanticism” and the life of the English country manor.
•Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich: It was originally conceived and constructed between 1664 and 1674 as an Italian-inspired summer home for the Bavarian monarchs. Subsequent Bavarian kings added on to its structure until around 1780, by which time the building and its lavish park bore a close resemblance to the French palace at Versailles. A highlight of the interior is the green, gold, and white banqueting hall, with frescoes and ornate stucco that are among the most memorable in Bavaria.
•Schloss Linderhof, near Oberammergau: This palace was built in the 1870s as a teenage indulgence by Ludwig II. Its architects created a whimsically eclectic fantasy, inspired by Italian baroque architecture. In the surrounding park, Moorish pavilions and Mediterranean cascades appear against alpine vistas in combinations that are as startling as they are charming.
•Altes Schloss, Meersburg: Legend has it that this palace’s cornerstone was laid in 628 by Dagobert, king of the Franks. The palace remained a Catholic stronghold even during the Protestant Reformation, housing bishops who appreciated its 3m-thick (10-ft.) walls as a bulwark against the rising tempest around them. In the early 1800s, when its owners threatened to tear the palace down, a German Romantic, Baron Joseph von Lassberg, bought it and transformed it into a refuge for writers, poets, and painters. Although it remains mostly a private residence, you can visit many parts of the palace.
•Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg: This castle originated as a Gothic-Renaissance masterpiece in the 1500s and was massively expanded as rival rulers competed for control of the Rhineland. After the French sacked and burned the town and the castle in 1689, it never regained its original glory. Today, the ruins brood in dignified severity from a position on a rocky hilltop high above the student revelry and taverns of the folkloric city below.
•Burg Eltz, Moselkern, near Cochem: Its multiple turrets and towers, which rise amid a thick forest near the Mosel River, evoke the chivalry and poetry of the Middle Ages. This is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Germany.
Germany Fast Facts
Business Hours — Most banks are open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1pm and 2:30 to 4pm (Thurs to 5:30pm). Money exchanges at airports and border-crossing points are generally open daily from 6am to 10pm. Exchanges at border railroad stations are kept open for arrivals of all international trains. Most businesses are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and on Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Store hours can vary from town to town, but shops are generally open Monday to Friday 9 or 10am to 6 or 6:30pm (Thurs to 8:30pm). Saturday hours are generally from 9am to 1 or 2pm, except on the first Saturday of the month, when stores may remain open until 4pm.
Cameras & Film — Never pack film in checked bags, as the new, more powerful scanners in U.S. airports can fog it. Carry-on scanners will not damage videotape in video cameras, but the magnetic fields emitted by the walk-through security gateways and handheld inspection wands will. Digital cameras should not be affected by either scanners or magnetic fields.
Drug Laws — Penalties for illegal drug possession in Germany are severe. You could go to jail or be deported immediately.
Drugstores — Pharmaceuticals are sold at an Apotheke. For cosmetics, go to a Drogerie. German pharmacies take turns staying open nights, on Sundays, and on holidays, and each Apotheke posts a list of those that are open off-hours.
Electricity — In most places, the electricity is 230 volts AC (50 cycles). You need a transformer and a plug that fits the German socket for your U.S. appliances. Many leading hotels will supply these.
Embassies & Consulates — The following embassies and consulates are in Berlin. The embassy of the United States is in Dahlem, at Clayallee 170 (tel. 030/8329233; U-Bahn: Dahlem-Dorf), open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 3pm. The U.K. Embassy is at Wilhelmstrasse 70 (tel. 030/204570; U-Bahn: Anhalter Bahnhof), open Monday to Friday 8am to 4:30pm. The Australian Embassy is at Wallstrasse 76-79 (tel. 030/8800880; U-Bahn: Spittel-markt), open Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5pm and Friday 8:30am to 4:15pm. The Canadian Embassy is at Friedrichstrasse 95 (tel. 030/203120; U-Bahn: Friedrichstrasse), open Monday to Friday 9am to noon. The Irish Embassy is at Friedrichstrasse 200 (tel. 030/220720; U-Bahn: Uhlandstrasse), open Monday to Friday 9:30am to noon and 2:30 to 3:45pm. The New Zealand Embassy is at Friedrichstrasse 60 (tel. 030/206210; U-Bahn: Friedrichstrasse), open Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5:30pm.
Emergencies — Throughout Germany the emergency number for police is tel. 110; for fire or to call an ambulance, dial tel. 112.
Liquor Laws — As in many European countries, drinking laws are flexible, enforced only if a problem develops. Officially, you must be 18 to consume any kind of alcoholic beverage. Bars and cafes rarely request proof of age. Drinking while driving, however, is treated as a very serious offense.
Lost & Found — Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen. Your credit card company or insurer also may require that you file a police report and provide a report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa’s emergency number, outside the U.S., is tel. 410/581-3836; in Germany it’s 0800/811-8440; or you can call collect. American Express cardholders should call collect tel. 336/393-1111. MasterCard holders should call collect tel. 314/542-7111.
Identity theft and fraud are potential complications of losing your wallet, especially if you’ve lost your driver’s license along with your cash and credit cards. Notify the major credit-reporting bureaus immediately; placing a fraud alert on your records may protect you against liability for criminal activity. The three major U.S. credit-reporting agencies are Equifax (tel. 800/766-0008; www.equifax.com), Experian (tel. 888/397-3742; www.experian.com), and TransUnion (tel. 800/680-7289; www.transunion.com). Finally, if you’ve lost all forms of photo ID, call your airline and explain; they might allow you to board the plane if you have a copy of your passport or birth certificate and a copy of the police report you’ve filed. If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).
Mail — General delivery — mark it POSTE RESTANTE — can be used in any major town or city in Germany. You can pick up your mail upon presentation of a valid identity card or passport. Street mailboxes are painted yellow. It costs 1.70€ ($2.20) for the first 5 grams (about 1/5 oz.) to send an airmail letter to the United States or Canada, and 1€ ($1.30) for postcards. All letters to the U.K. cost .70€ (90¢).
Police — Throughout the country, dial tel. 110 for emergencies.
Restrooms — Use the word Toilette (pronounced twah-leh-tah). Women’s toilets are usually marked with an “F” for Frauen, and men’s toilets with an “H” for Herren. Germany, frankly, doesn’t have enough public toilets, except in transportation centers. The locals have to rely on bars, cafes, or restaurants — and using them isn’t always appreciated if you’re not a paying customer.
Safety — Germany is a reasonably safe country in which to travel, although neo-Nazi skinheads, especially in the eastern part of the country, have sometimes attacked black or Asian travelers. At night the area around large railway stations in such cities as Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg can be iffy.
Taxes — As a member of the European Union, Germany imposes a tax on most goods and services known as a value-added tax (VAT) or, in German, Mehrwertsteuer. Nearly everything is taxed at 16%, including vital necessities such as gas and luxury items such as jewelry. Food and books are taxed at 7%. VAT is included in the prices of restaurants and hotels. Goods for sale, such as cameras, also have the 16% tax already factored into the price. Stores that display a tax-free sticker will issue you a Tax-Free Shopping Check at the time of purchase. When leaving the country, have your check stamped by the German Customs Service as your proof of legal export. You can then get a cash refund at one of the Tax-Free Shopping Service offices in the major airports and many train stations, even at some of the bigger ferry terminals. Otherwise, you must send the checks to Tax-Free Shopping Service, Mengstrasse 19, D-23552 Lübeck, Germany. If you want the payment to be credited to your bankcard or your bank account, mention this. There is no airport departure tax.
Telephone — The country code for Germany is 49. To call Germany from the United States, dial the international access code 011, then 49, then the city code, then the regular phone number. Note: The phone numbers listed in this guide are to be used within Germany; when calling from abroad, omit the initial 0 in the city code.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 11837 if you’re looking for a number inside Germany, and dial tel. 11834 for numbers to all other countries.
For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 0180/200-1033.
Local and long-distance calls may be placed from all post offices and from most public telephone booths, about half of which operate with phone cards, the others with coins. Phone cards are sold at post offices and newsstands in denominations of 6€ to 25€ ($7.20-$30). Rates are measured in units rather than minutes. The farther the distance, the more units are consumed. Telephone calls made through hotel switchboards can double, triple, or even quadruple the base charges at the post office, so be alert to this before you dial. In some instances, post offices can send faxes for you, and many hotels offer Internet access — for free or for a small charge — to their guests.
German phone numbers are not standard. In some places, numbers have as few as three digits. In cities, one number may have five digits, whereas the phone next door might have nine. Germans also often hyphenate their numbers differently. But since all the area codes are the same, these various configurations should have little effect on your phone usage once you get used to the fact that numbers vary from place to place.
Be careful dialing toll-free numbers. Many companies maintain a service line beginning with 0180. However, these lines might appear to be toll free but really aren’t, costing .12€ (15¢) per minute. Other numbers that begin with 0190 carry a surcharge of 1.85€ ($2.40) per minute — or even more. Don’t be misled by calling a 1-800 number in the United States from Germany. This is not a toll-free call but costs about the same as an overseas call.
To call the U.S. or Canada from Germany, dial 01, followed by the country code (1), then the area code, and then the number. Alternatively, you can dial the various telecommunication companies in the States for cheaper rates. From Germany, the access number for AT&T is tel. 0800/8880010, for MCI tel. 0800/8888000. USA Direct can be used with all telephone cards and for collect calls. The number from Germany is tel. 013/00010. Canada Direct can be used with Bell Telephone Cards and for collect calls. This number from Germany is tel. 013/00014.
If you’re calling from a public pay phone in Germany, you must deposit the basic local rate.
Time — Germany operates on Central European time (CET), which means that the country is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST) in the United States and 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Summer daylight saving time begins in Germany in April and ends in September — there’s a slight difference in the dates from year to year — so there may be a period in early spring and in the fall when there’s a 7-hour difference between EST and CET.
Tipping — If a restaurant bill says Bedienung, that means a service charge has already been added, so just round up to the nearest euro. If not, add 10% to 15%. Round up to the nearest mark for taxis. Bellhops get 1€ ($1.30) per bag, as does the doorperson at your hotel, restaurant, or nightclub. Room-cleaning staffs get small tips in Germany, as do concierges who perform some special favors. Tip hairdressers or barbers 5% to 10%.
The major cities of Germany are some of the world’s most expensive. So if you want to see the country without breaking the bank, you may want to cut short your time in Frankfurt, Munich, or Berlin and concentrate on interesting regional capitals such as Freiburg in the Black Forest, where you can cut your travel cost by anywhere from 20% to 40%. You may also want to consider a rail pass.
Although prices in Germany are high, you generally get good value for your money. The inflation rate has remained low. Hotels are usually clean and comfortable, and restaurants generally offer good cuisine and ample portions made with quality ingredients. Trains are fast and on time, and most service personnel treat you with respect.
Many people come to Germany just for winter sports. The most expensive resorts are places like Garmisch-Partenkirchen. However, if you avoid the chic places, you can enjoy winter fun at a moderate cost. Some of the winter spots in the Bavarian Alps that haven’t been overrun by the beautiful people give you great value for your money. And prices in a village next to a resort are often 30% lower than at the resort itself.
In Germany, many prices for children (generally defined as ages 6-17) are considerably lower than for adults. And fees for children younger than 6 are often waived entirely.
The euro (€), is the single European currency of Germany and 11 other participating countries. Exchange rates of participating countries are locked into a common currency fluctuating against the dollar.
For more details on the euro, check out www.europa.eu.int/euro.
You can exchange money at your local American Express (tel. 800/807-6233; www.americanexpress.com) or Thomas Cook (tel. 800/223-7373; www.thomascook.com) office or your bank. If you’re far away from a bank with currency-exchange services, American Express offers travelers checks and foreign currency, though with a $15 order fee and additional shipping costs.
Easy Money — You’ll avoid lines at airport ATMs by exchanging at least some money — just enough to cover airport incidentals and transportation to your hotel — before you leave home. When you change money, ask for some small bills or loose change. Petty cash will come in handy for tipping and public transportation. Consider keeping the change separate from your larger bills, so that it’s readily accessible and you’ll be less of a target for theft.
The easiest way to get cash away from home is from an ATM (automated teller machine), sometimes referred to as a geldautomat. The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look at the back of your bank card to see which network you’re on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Note: Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they’re rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Note: Banks that are members of the Global ATM Alliance charge no transaction fees for cash withdrawals at other Alliance member ATMs; these include Bank of America, Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean & Mexico), Barclays (U.K. and parts of Africa), Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Spain, and Italy), and BNP Paribas (France).
Another option is the new prepaid traveler’s check cards, reloadable cards that work much like debit cards but aren’t linked to your checking account. The American Express Travelers Cheque Card, for example, requires a minimum deposit, sets a maximum balance, and has a one-time issuance fee of $15. You can withdraw money from an ATM (for a fee of $2.50 per transaction, not including bank fees), and the funds can be purchased in dollars, euros, or pounds. If you lose the card, your available funds will be refunded within 24 hours.
Credit cards are another safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs but high fees make credit-card cash advances a pricey way to get cash. Keep in mind that you’ll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time. Also, note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% “transaction fee” on all charges you incur abroad (whether you’re using the local currency or your native currency).
In Germany, American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa are commonly accepted, with the latter two cards predominating.
You can buy traveler’s checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you’ll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler’s checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233 or 800/221-7282 for cardholders — this latter number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts AmEx gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322 — AAA members can obtain Visa checks for a $9.95 fee for checks up to $1,500 at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378); and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign currency traveler’s checks, which are useful if you’re traveling to one country, or to the euro zone; they’re accepted at locations where dollar checks may not be.
If you carry traveler’s checks, keep a record of the serial numbers separate from your checks, in the event that they are stolen or lost. You’ll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Germany When to Go
The most popular tourist months are May to October, although winter travel to Germany is becoming increasingly popular, especially to the ski areas in the Bavarian Alps. Germany’s climate varies widely. In the north, winters tend to be cold and rainy; summers are most agreeable. In the south and in the Alps, it can be very cold in the winter, especially in January, and very warm in summer, but with cool, rainy days even in July and August. Spring and fall are often stretched out — in fact, we’ve enjoyed many a Bavarian-style “Indian summer” until late in October.
Public holidays are January 1 (New Year’s Day), Easter (Good Friday and Easter Monday), May 1 (Labor Day), Ascension Day (10 days before Pentecost/Whitsunday, the seventh Sun after Easter), Whitmonday (day after Pentecost/Whitsunday), October 3 (Day of German Unity), November 17 (Day of Prayer and Repentance), and December 25 and 26 (Christmas). In addition, the following holidays are observed in some German states: January 6 (Epiphany), Corpus Christi (10 days after Pentecost), August 15 (Assumption), and November 1 (All Saints’ Day).
Germany Entry Requirements & Customs
Visas are not needed by citizens of the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or the U.K. for visits of less than 3 months. You do need a valid passport unless you’re a citizen of another E.U. country (in which case you need only an identity card, though we recommend you always carry a passport anyway).
For an up-to-date country-by-country listing of passport requirements around the world, go to the “Foreign Entry Requirement” Web page of the U.S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html.
Tips on Getting Your Passport
Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). Recently, however, processing has taken longer than 3 months! And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you’ll pay a higher processing fee. When traveling, safeguard your passport in an inconspicuous, inaccessible place like a money belt and keep a copy of the critical pages with your passport number in a separate place. If you lose your passport, visit the nearest consulate of your native country as soon as possible for a replacement.
Traveling with Minors
It’s always wise to have plenty of documentation when traveling in today’s world with children. For changing details on entry requirements for children traveling abroad, keep up-to-date by going to the U.S. State Department website: http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html.
To prevent international child abduction, E.U. governments have initiated procedures at entry and exit points. These often (but not always) include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child’s travel from the parent or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, facilitates entries and exits. All children must have their own passport. To obtain a passport, the child must be present — that is, in person — at the center issuing the passport. Both parents must be present as well. If not, then a notarized statement from the parents is required.
Any questions parents or guardians might have can be answered by calling the National Passport Information Center at tel. 877/487-6868 Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm Eastern Standard Time.
What You Can Bring into Germany
You can take into Germany most personal effects and the following items duty-free: one video camera or two still cameras with 10 rolls of film each; a portable radio, a tape recorder, and a laptop PC, provided they show signs of use; 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 250 grams of tobacco; 2 liters of wine or 1 liter of liquor per person over 17 years old; fishing gear; one bicycle; skis; tennis or squash racquets; and golf clubs.
What You Can Take Home from Germany
Returning U.S. citizens who have been away for at least 48 hours can bring back, once every 30 days, $800 worth of merchandise duty-free. You’ll be charged a flat rate of 4% duty on the next $1,000 worth of purchases. Be sure to have your receipts handy. On mailed gifts, the duty-free limit is $200. With some exceptions, you cannot bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the United States. For specifics on what you can bring back, download the invaluable free pamphlet Know Before You Go online at www.cbp.gov. Or contact the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20229 (tel. 877/287-8667) and request the pamphlet.