gay and lesbian travellers
In some areas of Berlin and eastern Germany 'gay-bashing' is popular with Neonazis or other gangs, so use common sense and be geared to the behavior of the locals around you: if they display homosexuality, it is safe for you; otherwise, if not better avoid it. In small towns and in the countryside, display of homosexuality is almost unknown while it may be commonplace in some areas of Berlin and other big cities.
The attitude towards gays and lesbians is rather tolerant. While many, especially the elderly, Germans inwardly still don't approve homosexuals or bisexuals, they usually suppress open utterances of homophobia. Therefore, in most cases, display of homosexuality holding hands or kissing will at most provoke stares or sometimes comments by children or elderly people but is not very likely to result in physical danger.
The international calling code for Germany is 49, and the prefix for international calls is 00; the area code prefix is 0. Some number blocks are reserved for special use: Number starting with 010xx let you choose a different phone provider see below, 0800 and 00800 are toll-free numbers, 0180 are service numbers which may or may not be more expensive than a local call. Avoid 0900 prefix numbers. These are for commercial services and usually incredibly expensive.
Mobile phone coverage on the four networks T-Mobile, Vodafone, E-Plus and o2 is excellent across the whole country. UMTS 3G data and EDGE is also available but still somewhat limited to cities and urban areas. All mobile providers use GSM technology on the 900 and 1800 MHz frequency ranges. This is different to the GSM 1900 standard used in the United States, but modern "multi-band" handsets will usually work in all GSM networks. Non-GSM phones cannot be used in Germany. If you have a GSM mobile telephone from the USA, make sure to call your provider in the USA prior to your trip and have them "unlock" your telephone handset so that you can use it with a German SIM card.
The vast majority of Germans own mobile phones called "Handys" in German, pronounced "hendy"; the disadvantage of this is that the once-common phone booths have started to disappear except at "strategical" locations such as train stations. They usually consist of a silver column with a pink top and the phone attached on the front. At some places there are still older versions consisting of a yellow cabin with a door and the telephone inside.
If you stay for a longer period of time, consider buying a prepaid phone card from one of the mobile phone companies; you won't have trouble finding a T-Mobile in a "T-Punkt", Vodafone, E-Plus or O2 store in any major shopping area.
Mobile telephony is still comparatively expensive in Germany, depending on your contract you may be charged about €0.10 to €0.40 per minute and more for international calls.
In most supermarket chains for example ALDI, there are prepaid SIM cards from their own virtual providers available. These are normally quite cheap to buy 10-20 € with 5-15 € airtime and for national calls 0.09-0.19 €/minute, but expensive for international calls around 1-2 €/min, but incoming calls are always free and SMS cost around 0.09-0.19 €. They are available at: Aldi, Penny, Plus, Tchibo, Schlecker, Rewe, Minimal, toom. A registration via Internet or expensive phone call is necessary after buying to activate the SIM card.
While international calls using the German SIM card can be expensive, there are some prepaid offers with good rates. Since the liberalization of Germany's phone market, there is a multitude of phone providers on the market. If you're calling from a private fixed line, you can usually choose from the different providers and thus from different pricing schemes by using special prefix numbers starting with 010xx with prices of 0.01 â¬ or 0.02 â¬, sometimes below 0.01 â¬ even for international calls. There's a calculator on the net (http://www.billiger-telef...) where you can compare the prices for different destinations. Hotels usually have contracts with a particular phone provider and won't let you use a different one.
Alternatively, you can also buy prepaid phone cards you can use by calling a toll free number; this is especially a good deal if you intend to make international calls. Cards' quality and prices vary wildly, however, so a good recommendation cannot be made.
Recently, phone shops have sprung up in the major cities, where you can make international calls at cheap rates. These call shops are mostly located in city areas with a high number of immigrants and are your best option to call internationally. Apart from offering calls abroad themselves they sell international calling cards for use from any phone in Germany. You can usually spot these shops by the many flags decorating their windows.
the nazi era
In the late 19th Century, Germany was arguably the most enlightened society in the world. As a mental exercise, try to think of five famous physicists, philosophers, composers or poets without mentioning a German name. This dignity and prestige faced a severe setback during the period of National Socialist rule under Hitler. Since then, the Third Reich has been a permanent scar on the German national identity, and is considered a blot on Germany's national honor and will remain so for a very long time. Every German pupil has to deal with it at about 5 different times during his or her schooling and most classes visit a concentration camp most of these sites have been transformed into memorials. Not a single day passes without educational programmes on television and radio dealing with this period of time. Growing up in Germany, whether in the GDR or West Germany, meant and still means growing up with this bitter heritage, and every German has developed her or his own way of dealing with the public guilt. For the traveler, this can mean confusion. You might come across people especially young ones eager to talk to you about Germany's troubled history, feeling the urge to convince you Germany has come a long way since then. Choose adequate places to talk about the issue and be polite about it. If you are visiting friends in Berlin, you might find it hard to keep them from constantly dragging you into one of the abundant memorials.
Humour, even made innocently, is absolutely the wrong way of approaching the matter and is insulting. Even worse, what might sound funny abroad may earn you jail time up to 3 years and a hefty fine in Germany. All Nazi-era slogans, symbols, and gestures are forbidden except for educational purposes, and even these are strongly regulated, and displaying them in public is illegal. Foreigners are not exempted from these laws. Do not even think about jokingly giving a stiff arm Nazi roman salute! For example: a German court recently had to decide if it is legal to wear a crossed out swastika to show one's opposing the ideas of national-socialism, since it still contains a forbidden symbol!
Buddhist, Jain and Hindu visitors should note that even though the swastika is not banned as a religious symbol, you might get some strange looks from the people living there if you wear the symbol, as many Germans are not aware that the swastika is also a religious symbol. You could also end up having to explain your religious situation to the German police.
Probably the best way to deal with the issue to stay relaxed about it. If your company likes to talk about German history, use the opportunity for a sincere, maybe even very personal conversation. If you want to steer clear of awkward moments, don't bring up the matter.
However, this is not the case when you ask them about the division of Germany into East and West. Communist symbols, GDR songs and other East-German related regalia are circulated freely and many are somewhat nostalgic about the country, hence the artistic and commercial movement "Ostalgie" nostalgia for the East. Just avoid bringing up the topic of the Berlin Wall impulsively, as it is still a very divisive issue.
The official language of Germany is German. The standard form of German is called "Hochdeutsch" High German. This is accent-free or better dialect-free German, the "official" form of the language. It is understood by all and spoken by almost all Germans. However, every region has its historical dialect, which might pose a challenge sometimes to those who speak even good German and even to native speakers as well. This is usually noticeable only in the south and rural areas of the north and east. Thus, when traveling in Bavaria, Saxony and Baden, you are stepping foot in places where dialect remains a strong part of the local identity. The general rule is that south of the Main River divides north Germany from the south in both language dialects and local culture.
If you intend address the person you're speaking to in German, refer to the person as "Sie" if you aren't acquainted with that person yet. "Du" can be used if both of you are already close the form of the verbs will also change.
All Germans learn English at school, so you should be able to get by with English in most places. Many people--especially in the tourism industry and higher educated persons--also speak French, Russian or Spanish, but if you can't speak German, English remains your best bet. Even if one member of the staff doesn't speak English, you are likely to find someone who does and is more than willing to help you. In the southeastern part of that area, a small Slavic community of 50,000 also speak the Sorbian language, the least spoken modern Slavic language today, but widely protected from near-extinction since 1945.
If you address a German with English, always first ask "Do you speak English?" or even better its German translation, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" as that is considered a sign of politeness.
Germans less fluent in the English language often answer questions very briefly one or two words because they feel uncertain how to create a complete English sentence. This might sometimes appear impolite but is not at all meant this way. Germans less fluent in English also often say "become" instead of "get" because the German word "bekommen" "get" is phonetically so close to "become". Since it's polite to reply "Bitte" if someone thanks you, Germans may literally translate this with "please" instead of "here you are" or "you're welcome". Another source of confusion is that Germans call mobile or cellular phones a "Handy" and many of them regard this as an English word.
Germans considering themselves fluent in the English language will often offer to speak English with you if you try to speak German with them. It's considered by most as a sign of politeness even though it might be annoying for people who want to practice German. Pointing out that you'll want to try in German is perfectly fine and most people will react very positive if you do.
It is worth noting that English is in the same language family as the German language. Hence when you read German signs, there are a good number of words that may resemble their English counterparts.
While Germany uses the 24 hour format for times, people very often use 12 hour times in conversations. There is no real suffix like "AM/PM", though you can add "vormittags" before noon and "nachmittags" after noon when it's not clear from the context. Another difference is that when saying the time is 7:30, English speakers would say "half past seven" whereas Germans say "halb acht" "half eight". In addition, Germans say two-digit numbers "backwards": instead of "twenty-two" they say "two and twenty." Numbers below 20 are said the same way as in English. This becomes especially important when you inquire for prices, although most who speak English with you should use the correct form. It is still better to double-check what is really meant.
See also German phrasebook.
General rule of thumb: be on time!
In official contexts when conducting business punctuality is seen not as a courtesy but as precondition for future relations. Most Germans arrive 5-10 min early and take this for granted from everyone. Arriving more than 2 min late to a meeting is seen as rude and will be tolerated only with unknowing strangers, unless you can give good reason in your defense i.e. being stuck in heavy traffic. It is seen as a courtesy to call the other participants if you seem to be running late. Regular delays are seen as disrespect for the other participants.
For personal relations, importance attached to punctuality may differ from individual to individual. It is still always safer to be punctual than late, but the subject may be a negotiable matter: if unsure just ask 'is punctuality important to you?'. Punctuality also depends on the milieu, in a collegiate environment, for example, it is taken much less seriously. For private invitations to a home, it may even be considered more polite to be 5-15 min late as to not embarrass the host in case not everything has been prepared.
Deutsche Post (http://www.deutschepost.com) the German postal service runs several international companies including DHL (http://www.dhl.com) and others. A standard postcard costs â¬0.45 to send within Germany and â¬0.75 everywhere else. A standard letter not weighing more than 20 grams costs â¬0.55 to send within Germany and again â¬0.75 everywhere else. Letters within Germany are mostly delivered within 1 day, allow a bit longer for Europe.
The service has been reduced in the privatization process. Due to a surge in the theft rate [especially by outsourced letter carriers and contractors] any international shipments, especially incoming, should be insured if they are valuable.
Air mail Luftpost can be as cheap as the alterative, Landweg. If you want to send packages, there are three options cheapest to most expensive-Maxibrief an oversized letter up to 2kg and L+W+H=900mm. PÃ¤ckchen is a smallup to 2kg for international, uninsured packet. Otherwise it will have to be sent under the price system of a DHL Paket.
If only books are sent, reduced rates apply BÃ¼chersendung, but expect the mail to be opened and looked at, as really only books are allowed in them.Rates for BÃ¼chersendungen vary between â¬0.45 and â¬1.40, depending on size and weight.
It is possible to drop letters and parcels at FedEx and UPS stations. Expect to queue.
behaving in public
Germany, especially urban Germany, is a rather tolerant society, and your common sense should be sufficient to keep yourself out of trouble.
Drinking in public is not forbidden and is even a common sight in the far west Cologne and the Rhine-Ruhr Area. In some larger cities such as Cologne there are local laws that in theory make drinking alcohol in public a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of tens of euros; these laws are rarely enforced against tourists, except in cases when drinking leads to rowdy behavior such laws have also been successfully challenged in court in several places. Behaving aggressively or disturbing the peace will earn you a conversation with German police officers and possibly a fine. Behave respectfully in places of worship and places that carry the dignity of the state like the numerous war and holocaust memorials, parliaments and other historical sites.
Insults against other people are prohibited by German law and, if prosecuted for it, can result in jail time and a heavy fine. It is unknown how often charges are brought, but exercise common sense in all cases.
On German beaches, it's in general okay for women to bathe topless. Full nudity is tolerated everywhere though not a frequent sight outside of the numerous nudist areas labeled "FKK" -- "Freikörperkultur", literally free body culture. These are especially common at the east German Baltic coastline, due to the high popularity of nudism in the former GDR. It's also possible to spot nudists in Berlin's public parks and in Munich's "English Garden". In most saunas nudity is compulsory and mixed sessions are common practice. One day of the week is usually only for women.
know the locals
The general rule of thumb is that wealth rises towards the south: Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg and Bavaria are the two richest states, competing with Switzerland and Austria for quality of life. A more liberal atmosphere is dominant as the traveler goes northward: Hamburg and Berlin have had homosexual mayors, bars and clubs are open all night and the density of young artists in Berlin Friedrichshain easily surpasses that of London, Paris or Manhattan. Northern Germany is in the same cultural sphere as the Netherlands and Scandinavia with even the food and architecture more pragmatic, simple and unrefined than in the traditionally Catholic south. Contrary to the general trend, Hamburg is the richest city in Germany and one of the ten richest regions in Europe even outpacing trendy Munich.
Internet cafes are common, but usually small, local businesses. You probably won't have a problem finding at least one in even smaller towns or large villages. See Online-Cafes in German (http://www.online-cafes.net/) for details.Phone shops will often offer internet access, too.
Most hotels offer internet access. Confirm with your hotel for access and rates.
In several cities, projects exist to provide free "community" hotspots for wireless networking.
See Public Spots page in German (http://mobileaccess.de/wlan/) for details.
Passenger lounges at some airports and central railway stations also provide internet access to their customers.
Public libraries often offer Internet access, however usually not free of charge. The libraries are open to the public for free, taking a book home might require you to get a customer card at a low fee, though. Note the National Library in Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin is not free.
Mobile DataSeveral pre-paid SIMs allow Internet access for a monthly flat fee, for example those available at Tchibo coffee stores o2 network, 10 â¬/month limited to 500 MB, 20 â¬/month for 5 GB or Aldi E-Plus network. A regular O2 sim card, which can be used for calls and text messages, is â¬15 and another â¬15 buys 1GB of data valid for 1 month. Vodafone offers a prepaid sim card for â¬25 which includes â¬22.5 of credit, out of which you can get 300MB of data for 2 days for â¬15 and be left with â¬7.5 of credit.
Most universities in Germany participate in eduroam (http://www.eduroam.org). If you are a student or member of a university, this service may allow you to get guest access to their wireless networks. Check with your own university for details in advance of your trip.
Avoid bringing any fireworks into Germany, especially from outside the EU. Even bringing those can be an offence. Fireworks are traditionally used on New Year's Eve. Most "proper" fireworks marked as "Klasse II" will be available at only the end of the year; they may be used by persons only over 18 on December 31 and January 1. Really small items marked as "Klasse I" may be used around the year by anyone.
Many lakes and rivers, as well as both the North Sea and Baltic Sea are generally safe for swimming. 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 power plants might cause streams you don't see from the surface 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. Take particular care of children.
If you intend to swim in 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.
If you have an non-urgent medical problem, you may choose from any local doctor. The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you usually will be able to find every discipline from Dentistry to Neurology on duty within reasonable reach. In remote regions finding a doctor might require a ride to the next town but the German infrastructure allows fast connections. GPs/family doctors will usually describe themselves as "Allgemeinmediziner" - meaning "general medician".
Pharmacies are called "Apotheke" and are marked by a big, red "A" symbol (http://commons.wikimedia....). 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. Some medication that is sometimes 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 have specially trained personnel, as it is mandatory to have a university degree in pharmaceutics to run an Apotheke in Germany. A German pharmacist is able to offer advice on medications.In Germany pharmaceuticals tend to be expensive, so it might be wise to ask the pharmacist for "Generika" generic drugs: A "Generikum" is virtually the same produce, often even produced by the same pharmaceutical trust, just lacking the well-known brand name and being considerably cheaper.
You should be aware of rabies Tollwut which has been a problem in some areas in the past, even if forestry officials combat it very seriously. 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 because the main transmitting animal is the fox.
The biggest risks hikers and camper face are two diseases transmitted by ticks. In some parts of Germany there is a low risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis; vaccination is advised if you plan out-door activities in high-risk areas. The risk of Lyme disease is higher and vaccination 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. The safest way to remove a tick is by using a credit card sized device called a "Zeckenkarte" tick card, wich you can get at most pharmacies. Other methods fingers, using glue, etc. might lead to the tick injecting even more infectious material into the wound. If in any doubt consult a doctor.
EU citizens that are members of any public health insurance can get a European Health Insurance Card (http://ec.europa.eu/socia...). The card is issued by your insurance provider and lets you use the public health care system in any EU country, including Germany.
If you're from outside the EU, or if you have a private health insurance, check if your insurance is valid in Germany. If not, get a travel health insurance for the trip - German health care is expensive.
Foreign insurance, even if it covers travel abroad, may not be accepted by local hospitals.
Prostitution is a legal business in Germany.
All larger cities have a red light district with licensed bars, go-gos, escort services and separees. Tabloids are full of ads and the internet is taking over as the main contact base. Be aware of the huge amounts of online fakes. Brothels are not necessarily easily spotted from the streets outside of redlight districts to avoid legal action by neighbours. Places best known for their redlight activities are Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Due to Germany's proximity to Eastern Europe, several cases of human trafficking and illegal immigration have taken place. Police regularly raid brothels to keep this business within its legal boundaries. In general, the police are not interested in the clients, but your identity will be checked. It is better to have a photo ID with you. Otherwise, you might be taken to the police station to check your identity.
Alcohol may be purchased by persons 16 years and older. However, distilled beverages and mixed drinks with those including the popular 'Alcopops' are available only at 18. It is not technically illegal for younger people to drink, but it is illegal to allow them to drink on premises. If the police notices underage drinking, they may pick the person up, confiscate the drinks and send the person home in the presence of an officer.
Smoking is allowed starting at age 18. Vending machines for cigarettes require a valid "proof of age", which in practice means that you need a German bank card or a European driving license to use them.
The situation on marijuana can be confusing. The Constitutional Court ruled that possession for "personal use", though still illegal, should not be prosecuted. Germany is a federal state therefore the interpretation of this ruling is up to the state authorities. In fact charges are sometimes pressed even for tiny amounts, which will cause you a lot of trouble regardless of the outcome. As a general rule the northern states tend to be more liberal while in the south especially Bavaria, even negligible amounts are considered illegal. The customs officials are also aware of the fact that you can legally buy marijuana in the Netherlands and therefore set up regular border controls also inside trains as the import is strictly prohibited.
Even if you get off the charges, the authorities may cause different problems, like revoking your drivers license and if you have more than a few grams, you will be prosecuted in any case. Also, the drugs will be confiscated in all cases.
All other recreational drugs like ecstasy are illegal and possession will lead to prosecution and at least a police record.