Germany wears its riches well: elegant big-city charm, small picture-postcard towns, pagan-inspired harvest festivals, a wealth of art and culture and the perennial pleasures of huge tracts of forest, delightful castles and fine wine and beer are all there for the savouring. Read more...
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Cities and Destinations in Germany
Germany wears its riches well: elegant big-city charm, small picture-postcard towns, pagan-inspired harvest festivals, a wealth of art and culture and the perennial pleasures of huge tracts of forest, delightful castles and fine wine and beer are all there for the savouring.
Germany is a federal republic consisting of 16 states (called Bundesländer or, shortened to, Länder in German). Grouped roughly by geography, these are:
Generally, all non-EU nationals will need a passport for entry. The notable exception regards authorized members of the U.S. military, who only need to possess a copy of their duty orders and their ID card to be authorized entry. The passport requirement applies to spouses and dependents of military personnel.
Germany is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in Germany too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or Germany have special treaties. Inquire at your travel agent, call the local consulate or embassy of Germany or see the Entry Requirements of Germany's Federal Foreign Office.
As of May 2004 only the citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into Germany. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work in Germany:Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela
Keep in mind that the counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving Germany for another Schengen country, or vice-versa.
Also, there are no border controls between Germany and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated.
There are a number of ways to get into Germany. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
The most important airports are Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf. Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg have some relevance to international travellers as well.Frankfurt is Germany's main hub and one of Europe's four major hubs, and the destination of most intercontinental flights. Munich is a secondary hub. Travellers can easily fly in from most places of the world and then connect with Germany's biggest and most respected airline Lufthansa http://www.lufthansa.com.
Some German airports are connected to the InterCityExpress and other rail lines. The others all feature some sort of connection to the nearest rail station as well as public transport to the central station of the respective cities. Passengers travelling from Frankfurt Airport have the option to check in their luggage in Cologne or Stuttgart train stations and connect to the airport by ICE.
Germany is one of Europe's budget airline capitals. There are budget flights to almost every city in Europe from Germany. Thus, a person seeking a budget flight, should first check with the nearest airport. Examples of budget airline hubs are Berlin Schönefeld and Dortmund for easyJet. Germanwings http://www.germanwings.com and tuifly (formerly Hapag-Lloyd-Express and HapagFly), Air Berlin (icnluding DBA) and WizzAir offer budget flights from many assorted airports across Germany and EuropeRyanair flights from London to Berlin Schoenefeld, Altenburg (Leipzig), Lübeck (near to Hamburg), Weeze (near Duesseldorf) and from some other European destinations to Frankfurt/Hahn (Attention: Hahn is about 120km from Frankfurt!). Flying can be the cheapest way to get to Germany, especially if the flights are book well in advance. A sample airfare on AirBerlin from Münster/Osnabrück to Vienna, Austria is €29 one-way including an onboard meal and all taxes, only if booked far in advance.
Regular train services connect Germany with all neighbouring countries. Almost all neighbouring countries (especially Switzerland, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Austria ) and even some non-neighbouring countries (e. g. Italy ) are quite well connected with EuroCity trains. They are a little bit slower than the European high speed trains but reach nevertheless up to 200 km/h. They are a worthwhile way to travel-not only for budget travellers (although budget airlines might be cheaper) or landscape viewers (especially the Rhine valley lines).
There are also several European high speed trains to cross into or get out of Germany:The Thalys http://www.thalys.de/ brings you from Cologne (Köln) to Paris in approximately four hours and to Brussels in about two hours.The ICE brings you at 330 km/h top speed from Frankfurt (3h 15), Cologne (2h 30) or Düsseldorf (2h 15) to Amsterdam. The train journey from Frankfurt to Paris using the ICE will take about four hours; going from Hamburg to Paris can take eight and a half hours. There is also an ICE line from Frankfurt to Brussels via Cologne.Between Stuttgart and Milan (via Zurich)the Cisalpino offers several connections and is at the moment the only direct trans alpine train connection.
Standard rail fares are quite high and in 2005 Deutsche Bahn introduced discount return tickets. You must buy them three or seven days in advance (e. g. on-line and print your ticket at home). Further reductions are available for groups of two (!) or more persons. These tickets are only valid on specific trains and times. From time to time there are further discount offers for single rides.The Bahncard (see Train Fares) is a discount card for the standard fare. If your travel starts or ends in Germany you are still eligible for a reduction on the whole journey!
Another option for cheap rail travel are the so-called Ländertickets and the Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket. The most well-known of these Ländertickets is the Bayern-Ticket. Ländertickets and the Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket allow unlimited travel on regional trains for the day and region of validity. Most Ländertickets are available in two versions: Single or Normal. Normal tickets are designed for a group of up to 5 people. Single tickets are cheaper, but they allow only one person to travel. The Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket is valid for all of Germany, the Ländertickets are usually only valid in the Land that they are sold in. (Bayern-Ticket is only valid in Bavaria, but Sachsen-Ticket is valid in Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt.) Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket can only be used on Saturday or Sunday from midnight to 2 am the next day, Ländertickets are valid during the week from 9 am on and on Saturdays and Sundays from midnight on. With Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket it is possible to travel in a group of 5 people from Amsterdam to Berlin for less than 14 EUR one-way per person when the normal train fare is 100 EUR. If you arrive at a train station early on a Saturday or Sunday, you might be invited to join a group travelling on Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket or look for fellow travellers yourself.
Deutsche Bahn is the major German railway corporation. Click on Int. Guests to see the site in several languages. If you plan to travel a lot by train, you should consider buying a German rail pass, which might be cheaper to buy via travel-agencies outside of the country. It allows unlimited travels on the validity dates.
Some international ferry services exist, notably to Scandinavia. An incomplete list of connections follows:
From Rodby, Denmark to Puttgarden From Gedser, Denmark to Rostock From Trelleborg, Sweden to Rostock, Travemuende and Sassnitz From Malmo, Sweden to Travemuende From Gothenburg, Sweden to Kiel From Oslo, Norway to Kiel From Helsinki, Finland to Rostock and Travemuende From Rømø, Denmark to List ( Sylt )
From Świnoujście (passenger ferries only)
From Kaliningrad, Russia to Sassnitz and Lübeck From Saint Petersburg (Russia) Saint Petersburg, Russia to Kiel, Sassnitz and Lübeck
From Klaipeda, Lithuania to Kiel From Liepaja, Latvia to Rostock From Riga, Latvia to Lübeck
From Basel by Rhein-Schifffahrt down the Rhein river.
Germany has a world-famous network of excellent roads and Autobahn (motorway) with no toll or fees for cars (trucks have to pay), but gasoline prices are kept high by taxation. In May 2008 prices float around 1, 50 € per litre. At petrol stations you'll have the choice between Diesel, Benzin (unleaded gasoline), Super and SuperPlus (high octane). Also LPG (Liquid petroleum gas) is available with not so much problems on Highways. Here and there you might find Erdgas, too; this is compressed natural gas not gasoline. In Germany, you may first fill up your tank and pay afterwards (only if the petrol station is staffed, of course).
Car rentals are available in most cities, and one-way rentals (within Germany) are generally permitted with the larger chains without an additional fee. When renting a car, be aware that most cars in Germany have manual gearbox (stick-shift), so you might want to ask for a car with an automatic gearbox if that's what you're used to.
Another great way to get around without your own car is using one of the popular car pool services. You can arrange many connections over their respecive websites if you speak some German or have a friend that can help you out. Making contact is free of charge and getting a lift is often the cheapest way to get around. The two most popular hosts are Mitfahrgelegenheit and Mitfahrzentrale, for second one you have to pay an extra charge. If you have your own car, taking other people is also a great way of saving money and protecting the environment.
You may not turn right on red traffic lights except if there is a small green arrow sign affixed to the traffic light. In that case you may carefully turn right, however you must still stop and make sure that there is no traffic or pedestrians approaching.
In many areas traffic lights are not hung over the intersection, but instead placed at the corners. You shouldn't creep into the intersection or else you won't be able to see the lights change. Yellow lights are considerably shorter in duration than in those in the US and Canada, and are also used as a warning that the light is about to turn green.
Watch out for cyclists on sidewalk lanes, sometimes they are allowed to use the wrong direction lane. If a road crosses a bicycle lane (Radweg) it might have a red color where it interjects with the bicycle lane or other special markings, if that´s the case cyclists have right of way. If in doubt or there are no markings, its still a good idea to give right of way.
The police will show blinking signs reading Polizei Halt (police, stop) if they want to stop you. Stay calm and friendly, hand over the driving license and car papers (if you rent a car, you will have a copy of the rental contract) when you are asked to. In most cases that is all that happens and if you respect traffic signs and speed limits it is very unlikely that you get stopped at all.
The police may routine check vehicle drivers for alcohol; controls will be especially heavy at national holidays or close to mass events where people may consume alcohol. It's illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.05% (0.5‰ (permille)). Even below that limit you may face severe fines if you seem unfit to drive. The limit is zero for people under 21 and those who have their license for less than two years.
Speed limits are the following in Germany (unless otherwise shown):
max. 5 km/h on Spielstraßen (marked by a blue/white sign showing playing kids)max. 30 km/h in most residential areas within cities (marked with a sign 30-Zone Wohngebiet, 20-Zone and 10-Zone also exist)max. 50 km/h inside towns and cities (including Kraftfahrtstraßen (marked by a sign showing a white car on a blue ground)max. 100 km/h outside towns and citiesThere is no constant general speed limit on the Autobahn or on Kraftfahrstraßen if there is any kind of barrier between two or more lanes of different direction. However, it is not an entirely unrestricted roadway as there are sections that are periodically or permanently assigned lower rates of speed. The recommended maximum speed on the Autobahn is 130 km/h and if you drive on the Autobahn for your first time and are not yet used to the usual heavy traffic you should not exceed that speed. In addition, if you are legally travelling in excess of 130 km/h and are involved in an accident you can still be held liable for part or all of the damages, regardless of fault on your part.
Vehicles with a maximum speed of less than 60 km/h are not allowed on the Autobahn or Kraftfahrstraßen.
Since may 2007 new rules about particulate matter (dust pollution) have been introduce. All cars driving into a Umweltzone (polution-free zone) need a special vignette (Feinstaubplakette) according to their pollution category. Signs at the start of polution-free zones will show wich vignette is needed to be allowed to enter (green, yellow, or red), and which cars are not allowed to enter. If a car does not have a vignette at all, its not allowed to enter a polution-free zone. If you rent a car make sure to ask if it has a Feinstaubplakette.
For an overview of traffic signs and regulations in Germany, see this site.
Using the Autobahn
German drivers tend to drive faster and more aggressively than you might be used to, especially on the parts of the highway system without speed limit, which is taken literally.Always have a look over your shoulder when changing lanes. Especially motorbikes may seem to appear out of nowhere within a second.
You must use the right lane if it's free, even if everybody seems to prefer the left and middle lanes (where they exist). You may stay on the left/middle lane if there are occasional slow vehicles on the right.
Road signs on the Autobahn show possible destinations (mostly city names). They do not show the direction of the road (e.g. east/west), like in some other countries.
Overtaking the right lane is not allowed and can be dangerous as other drivers may not expect it. You must always pass vehicles on the left side, except in a traffic jam (note that passing on the right is allowed on other streets within city limits).
Never ever reverse on a highway when you missed an exit. Go to the next exit and make a U-turn.
Autobahns have an emergency lane where you're can stop only in case of a breakdown. For everything else, always use the frequent service areas, it is illegal and dangerous to stop there for other reasons. Running out of fuel on the Autobahn may also incur a small fine if the police happens to notice you. If you have to stop you must set up your warning triangle triangle. The emergency lane is a dangerous place-you should leave your vehicle and stay off the street until help arrives!
Arrows on the small posts along the Autobahn will guide you to the next orange emergency phone. These will automatically connect you free of charge with an emergency call center which will help you get the police, an ambulance or just a mechanic. These phones should be the preferred choice over using your mobile since they transmit your exact location.
In some areas emergency tracks are used as extra lanes in times of heavy traffic. But this is always announced by electronic light signs.
In case of a breakdown you may also call the ADAC, by members the world's largest automobile club. The number is +49 180 2222222 from fixed lines and 22 22 22 from mobile phones regardless of network. On the Autobahn, the ADAC must always come to you free of charge. In other situations, there may be costs involved if you're not a member. If you're a member of a foreign AA or automobile club, you may want to check if the ADAC honours your membership.
Germany has a dense railway system (at least in comparison with the United States), which reaches almost every part of the country. Unless you travel by car, the train will be your major mode of transportation. Crossing Germany from Munich in the south to Hamburg in the north will take only 6 hours at best. Driving by car would take around 8 hours.
The majority of the trains are operated by Deutsche Bahn ( German Rail ) http://www.bahn.de, the national railway company. Although privatisation occured a few years ago, all the shares are still held by the German government, though DB are planning to sell off the shares to private investors in the near future. The trains are usually reliable (delays of more than 10 minutes are rather uncommon), and a comfortable and safe way of travel. If not otherwise indicated, the information in this section is about DB-run trains.
There are some independent railway companies which run regional trains or aim at specific target markets, like business travellers.
All major cities are linked by ICE (InterCity Express) and regular InterCity trains. The ICE are high speed trains, reaching top speeds of 330km/h; and even though they rarely cruise at such high speeds travel is faster than by car and quite comfortable. Be sure to get a reservation-it's not mandatory, but you may end up standing or sitting on the floor without one. Reservations are a MUST on Fridays and even Sundays because this is the main travel time for commuters returning home or to work for the weekend. Even first class will be very full on these days.
ICE trains have high standards of comfort. Before booking a first class ticket, bear in mind that the quality of second class on ICE trains is equivalent or even superior to first class in many other countries' intercity trains, which is also reflected in the price. The main difference between the two classes is the seat width (3 abreast in first and 4 abreast in second class).
The high speed ICE is the most expensive option, of course. On the major lines, an ICE or IC train will run each hour or so during the day. There are also EuroCity (EC) trains, which connect the larger European cities. For inner-Germany travel, these are virtually identical to the regular ICs.
German Rail Passes provide unlimited transportation on all Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) trains and are easy to use for foreign visitors. In the off season reservations even on ICE trains are usually not necessary, particularly in first class. This allows travelers to simply show up at the train station and take the next train.Mainly all conductors (at least every main conductor, called the Zugchef (Train Boss)) speak good English.
There are also long distance trains operated by other companies than Deutsche Bahn, usually running over secondary routes. These are usually quite comfortable (although not as comfortable as ICE) and sometimes cheaper, but most of them stop at almost every station en-route. The SchönesWochenende-Ticket ( HappyWeekend ) allows to travel on most of them (and on almost all means of short distance public transport) on Saturday or Sunday, the most notable exception being the InterConnex lines. Beware that travelling e.g. from Hamburg to Munich via short distance public transport, which is mandatory for SchönesWochenende, would require around 5 transfers and take around 12 hours!
If you are required to travel a long distance by train, one option is to buy a ticket on a sleeper train. You will miss seeing the beautiful German landscape and scenery, but this option allows you to sleep in a bed while traveling. Americans might want to try this, if only because it is an experience most Americans have never had.
Online information and bookings
All information and an online timetable for the Deutsche Bahn (as well as for almost any other public transport providers in Germany and many trains throughout Europe) are available from the Deutsche Bahn homepage at http://www.bahn.de/international/view/en/ (English). The address for timetable inquiries and online ticket sales is http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en (English).
Most important is to first distinguish between long distance and local trains. The problem is: if you ride between stations inside a tariff union, it is a local connection, if at least one is outside, it is a long distance connection, even if it is exactly the same train!Especially in local transport systems choosing the correct ticket and finding the procedure to trick the machine into selling it to you might appear to be a bit difficult. Feel free to ask some other traveller to help you. Travelling within a tariff union, you usually need only one ticket for your whole journey (there may be exceptions, e.g. historic, touristic or long distance trains or certain local or express bus lines).
Ticket machines come in three types. Local transport ticket machines are usually yellow, white / grey or orange, regional (up to 100 km) and long distance tickets are available from red and blue machines.
When to go
Germany is a very safe country and the law is strictly enforced. There are no ghettos but certain city areas should be visited with care. Recent statistics show a significant drop in major crimes like murder or robbery. Pickpockets can be a problem in large cities or at events with large crowds. Big cities also have their share of beggars and punks, but they are not dangerous. Germany has one of the world's best social systems, at least keeping its inhabitants alive, so those asking for money are usually in need for various individual reasons or as a lifestyle choice. It is not illegal to give money to them, but keep in mind that nobody has to starve in Germany.
The nationwide emergency number, as in all other EU countries, is 112 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1-1-2. It is used for medical emergencies and fires, while the police emergency number remains 110. Even if you call the wrong number, your call will be forwarded to the right emergency services. These numbers can be dialed toll-free from any phone, including phone booths and mobile phones, even those without a valid SIM card. If you're reporting an emergency, the usual guidelines apply: Stay calm and state your exact location, the type of emergency and the number of persons involved. Don't ever hang up, the operator will terminate the call if all his questions about the emergency are answered.
The German Polizei http://www.polizei.de is enforcing law very strict (they do not have to prosecute every misdemeanor, so talking to them in a friendly and careful way might help. ..). They received special training to deal with tourists in preparation for the 2006 World Cup. Many officers speak basic English, or have colleagues who do.
Currently state police is changing the uniform colour from green to dark blue. The German police is organised by the states therefore every state has it's own plan when the new blue coloured uniforms are introduced. This results in a mixture of old green and new blue uniforms for the next couple years. The federal police (airports, train stations, border crossings etc.) has already changed to blue and customs will keep their green uniforms. This does not affect the law enforcement or police work and is only a nuisance for travellers which may encounter officers with different uniforms!
There are emergency telephones interspersed along the main motorways.
All except for the smallest private hospitals (Krankenhäuser) have 24 hour emergency rooms able to cope with all kinds of medical problems, although you may have to wait if your problem is minor (in this case, the word minor is used in a very extensive sense). The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you will be able to find every discipline from Dentistry to Neurology on duty within reasonable reach from even the most remote villages.
Ambulances can be summoned via the national toll-free emergency number 112 and will help you regardless of insurance issues. The ambulance service, in contrast to the Anglo-American system, does not follow a load and run philosophy but uses the Notarzt-System: A specialised emergency physician (typically an anesthesiologist or emergency room surgeon), together with a small team of paramedics works in a full-fledged mobile intensive-care unit, trying to stabilise critically ill or wounded patients at the scene before transporting them to the emergency room. Hence, if you should be unfortunate enough to get to see them in action, do not be distressed by a delayed transport from the scene.
Pharmacies are called Apotheke and are marked by a big, red A symbol http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Pharmacy_Germany.jpg. At least one pharmacy in the area will be open at all times (usually a different one every day), and all pharmacies will post the name and address of the pharmacy-on-duty in the window. Be warned that a lot of medication that is freely available in other countries (e.g. Antibiotics and the morning-after pill ) needs a prescription in Germany, so you may want to check before your journey. The staff of an Apotheke always consists of specially trained personnel, as it is mandatory to have a university degree in pharmaceutics to run an Apotheke in Germany. So, a German pharmacist is able to assist your medical needs in a highly professionalised way like in other countries only a doctor could do.
Racism is not as bad as many foreign people think, having in mind the Nazi era. Actually, you will encounter less racism than in most other western countries. Most large cities in Germany are extremely cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic with large communities of foreigners including non-whites and religious minorities. People in Germany are aware of the issue and will usually be tolerant or at least politically correct; public displays of overt antisemitism are forbidden by strict laws. Most foreign visitors never deal with issues of open discrimination or racism. The most common forms of racism against non-white visitors include wary looks (often caused by uneasiness or insecurity), some snubbing, and at worst (very rarely) verbal insults.
In parts of the former East Germany (including the outskirts of East Berlin), the situation is different. Higher unemployment rates and the desperation caused thereby are fertile grounds for racist ideas; consequently, there are more incidences of racist behavior than in the West with somewhat more frequent outbursts of physical violence, although such events remain rare and out of the ordinary even there. Most incidents happen in the evening/night when groups of drunken Neo-Nazis look for trouble (i.e. solitary victims) downtown or near public transport stations. It is however unlikely that 'white' tourists to get in trouble with this bunch of people. In the Ruhr area, also suffering from unemployment, a similar development has been observed recently.
Be aware that cities like Berlin, Hamburg, München and Köln are inhabited by significant numbers of Turkish and Arab minority groups. Usually each city has a least two or three districts that are heavily populated by these groups (for example in Berlin it is the districts Wedding, Neukölln and Kreuzberg) and especially at night, some of the (often poor and unemployed) youths in these areas tend to look for trouble. As a “white” tourist it is recommended not to go in these areas at night, as these youths can easily be provoked and sometimes will attack you without any provocation at all. (The provocation might be that you are white, or gay, or rich, or Christian, or look like a tourist, or that you speak English and might be identified as Americans, who are not popular among Turkish and Arab immigrants)However, this is a problem that will usually occur only at night and on weekend nights in particular. Dangerous areas in these specific districts are typically subway stations. Be aware that even subway stations with surveillance cameras (CCTV) are not automaticaly safe.
In cities the police and custom officers are working to control illegal immigration, mainly at construction sites and small businesses. It is a good idea to have a passport and/or visa papers with you, especially when you are obviously not German. If you don't, you could at best face a considerable delay as your story gets checked, and at worst more serious consequences. Again, remember that German police are generally very helpful, but they have heard all the stories about I forgot my papers before and will likely be skeptical of your explanation. If you leave your papers at the hotel, at least take a photocopy with you.
Prostitution is a legal business in Germany. Pimping and taking advantage of the sex workers (official term) is illegal.
All larger cities have a red light district with licensed bars, go-gos, escort services and separees. Tabloids are full with ads and the internet is taking over as the main contact base. Be aware of the huge amounts of fakes. Brothels are not necessarily easily spotted from the streets. Best known for it's red-light activities are Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Due to the proximity to Eastern Europe several cases of human trafficking and illegal immigrations have taken place, and the police regular raids brothels to keep this business in its legal boundaries. In general the police aren't interested in the clients but you must have a photo ID with you. Otherwise you might be taken to the police station to check you identity.
Be aware that--Germany being a federal state--laws may vary from state to state, getting more lenient the further north you go. In Bavaria the laws on drugs are very strict. You will get prosecuted for carrying any amount of drugs, even less than 5 grams marijuana. This traveller emerged from an overnight train to Munich to be confronted by Bavarian customs officials of some description asking for purpose of visit, you take drugs? e.t.c
In most Länder (states), possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana (in northern Schleswig-Holstein the limit is 30 grams) for personal use is illegal, but it won't be prosecuted: The police will confiscate it and a formal complaint will be filed, to be dismissed for want of sufficient ground. All other recreational drugs (e.g. ecstasy) will definitely lead to prosecution and earn you at least a police record. Bringing marijuana into the country--even for personal use only--will be prosecuted as drug trafficking.
Germany has very strict laws against knives. Carrying a knife which is legal elsewhere may be a criminal offense in Germany.
Protection of minors (Jugendschutz)
Germany has a strict Jugendschutzgesetz (= protection of minors), regulating what people under a certain age can and can't do.
Age of majority: 18Legal drinking age: 16 for wine and beer, 18 for everything elseLegal age for buying and smoking tobacco products: 18; despite their ubiquity, cigarette machines will only operate if a German bank card with a chip is inserted as proof of age; ask nearby locals nicely if they could unlock the machine for you, otherwise buy cigarettes in shops.Those under 16 are not allowed into bars and restaurants unaccompanied, except to consume one meal or non-alcoholic drink; those under 18 must leave by midnightThose under 16 are not allowed into discos and dance events; those under 18 must leave by midnight.Those under 16 must leave movie theaters before 10 p.m., those under 18 before 11 p.m. (this is in addtion to the movie ratings below)
Buying computer games and movies, watching a movie at the cinema
Computergames and movies have age classifications on little logos somewhere on product saying: USK (for computer games) or FSK (for DVD, VHS movies and at the cinema) The most common age classifications are:
Ohne Altersbeschränkung (no restriction)ab 6 (age 6 and older)ab 12 (age 12 and older)ab 16 (age 16 and older)ab 18 / keine Jugendfreigabe (age 18 and older / not for minors)
You might be asked for photo identification proving your age (e.g. a passport) when buying age-restricted products, or at the cinema.
Sanitary and medical facilities in Germany are excellent. The phone book lists telephone numbers for various medical services, many hotlines and services exist that are open during off hours. Emergency services (fire brigade and ambulances) can be reached via the telephone number 112. This number works from any phone without charges, even otherwise locked cell phones. On the Autobahn, you should prefer the frequent orange emergency posts because they'll automatically transmit your exact location.
As always, check with your insurance company about coverage before traveling abroad.
Tap water is safe for consumption, in some areas it is even of very high quality, you may wish to employ caution with public sources of water (restrooms et cetera) but even these should not be harmful. Exceptions will be labeled (Kein Trinkwasser, no drinking water).
Many lakes and rivers, as well as both the North Sea and Baltic Sea are generally safe for swimming. This depends on the locale, however. A 2006 survey by the German automobile club ADAC showed that the water at the beaches of the North and Baltic sea is in a good to very good condition with the exception of two sites near Kiel and Lübeck. Nevertheless, while there may be no life-threatening pollutants in most bodies of water, you would do very well to inform yourself about local regulations. If you intend to swim in a large river, at best do so only on official bathing locations. Keep away from structures in the river or reaching from the shore into the river, also keep out of the path of ships. Both structures and ships, even if they look harmless or far away, may create major sucks underwater. Watch your (and others') children.
If you intend to visit the North Sea, you should inform yourselves about the tide schedules and weather conditions-getting caught in a tide can be fatal, getting lost in the mist, too. Hiking in the Wattenmeer without a local guide is extremely dangerous, so keep out if you do not really know your way around. There are no tides in the Baltic Sea.
Finally, while there is really no dangerous wildlife in Germany, you should be aware of rabies (Tollwut) which has been a problem in some areas in the past. If you want to go to Germany for hiking or camping, you should inform yourself about the situation at your destination and take appropriate precautions. Normally, you won't have to worry about it however. You usually need a permit to camp or make a campfire and German authorities can be quite strict about this.
The most serious risk are two diseases transmitted by ticks. In some parts of Germany there is a (low) risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis; an inoculation is advised if you plan out-door activities in high-risk areas. The risk of Lyme disease is much higher, and inoculation is not available. Therefore, you should try to prevent tick-bites by wearing long trousers and appropriate shoes. Chemical repellents can also be effective. You should also check for ticks afterwards, since the risk of transmission is lower if the tick is removed early. If in any doubt consult a doctor, especially in high-risk areas.
Germany's hill-and-trough history kicked in early: from the time that everyone's favourite fossils, the Neanderthals, left their jaw-jutting remains in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, this joint has been in the thick of it. All of Europe's great empires got their paws into Germany, but none was ever able to count all its inhabitants as faithful subjects. Different pockets of fierce resistance met the Roman legions (50 BC to the 5th century AD), the Frankish conqueror, Charlemagne (up to the early 9th century), and Otto the Great's Holy Roman Empire (from late in the 10th century). By the time the house of Habsburg, ruling from Vienna, took control in the 13th century it was little more than a conglomerate of German-speaking states run by parochial princes.
The Habsburgs muddled on until the devastating Thirty Years War (1618-48), sparked by ongoing religious and nationalist conflicts. Europe had been simmering ever since 1517 when Martin Luther tacked 95 suggestions for improved service to his local church door in Wittenberg. It took a bloody good stoush to settle everyone down and secure the rights of both Protestants and Catholics. Germany lost a third of its population in the process. Local princes assumed complete sovereignty over a patchwork of some 300 states, which made it all too easy for Napoleon to come along in the early 19th century and start adding them to his scrapbook. The French never quite managed to subdue Prussia, which became the centre of German resistance. It was Prussia that led the 1813 war that put an end to Napoleon's German aspirations in a decisive battle at Leipzig. In 1866 Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia, annexed most of Germany, consolidating his position as the biggest wig in Europe with a resounding victory over France in 1871. The Prussian king, Wilhelm I, was instated as Kaiser and a united Germany hit the world stage for the first time.
Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck in 1890, lingered long enough to lead Germany into WWI, then snuck off to Holland in 1918 when he realised the war wasn't going to end in a ticker-tape parade. Germany struggled with civil unrest and a disastrous peace, uniting only in dislike of the reigning Weimar Republic. Then came Adolf Hitler, an Austrian drifter and German army veteran who was able to turn general disaffection into a focused lunacy. In 1933 his National Socialist German Worker's (or Nazi) Party assumed brutal and absolute authority over Germany. Extravagant military spending and blasé border bending gave way to outright aggression, WWII, and the unrivalled horror of the Holocaust. Even the Germans were surprised by the success of their initial invasions, but by 1943 a litany of heavy losses set the tone for the sluggish march to 1945's unconditional surrender.
Postwar Germany, its cities largely rubble, was divided up between the Allies, with Britain, France and the USA consolidating the western portion into the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet zone transmogrifying into the communist German Democratic Republic. This formula for division was repeated in Berlin. West Germany received massive injections of US capital, attracting many workers from the miserable economic conditions in the East until some bright Communist spark had the idea of building a wall around West Berlin and sealing the rest of the border. The Cold War's icy eye focused on Berlin. Over the next 25 years West Germany became one of the world's most prosperous nations while its communist Siamese sibling suffered. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe has no more potent symbol than the opening of the Berlin frontier in 1989-one of world history's better parties.
Helmut Kohl's era as chancellor, marked by the reunification of Germany, came to an end in 1998 when a 'red-green' coalition of Social Democrats and Greens took office under Gerhard Schroeder. In 2005 Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat at the head of a 'grand coalition' with the Social Democrats, became the first woman, the first East German and the first scientist to serve as chancellor.
Although the euphoria of reunification has subsided and there is some resentment and disaffection from both sides, Germany is working towards true unity in typically sedulous fashion. In the 1900s Germany absorbed the majority of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and these and other immigrants have recently been the targets of racist attacks. However, the extreme right wing, although insidious and occasionally violent, is politically weak. Germany suffers from high unemployment, structural problems in the economy and fierce competition in world markets but at least so far social dislocation has been minimal. In recent years, the economic and social integration of Germany's large Turkish minority has been the subject of public debate.
For most Germans the highlight of 2006 was the FIFA Football World Cup held throughout the country, with the final (won by Italy's Azzurri)held in Berlin. Although the home side failed to win the trophy the event was hugely successful and almost totally trouble-free.