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10 Tips for Americans Traveling to Germany For the First Time

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So you’ve finally decided to travel to Germany! Read more about what Americans traveling to Germany for the first time should do before and during their trip.

Germany’s cultural tourism ranks first in Europe. Americans traveling to Germany for the first timewill find tons of tourist attractions which include historically significant places that belong to the World Heritage Site, fascinating natural landscapes as well as exciting metropolises.

Below are 10 tips for Americans travelling to Germany for the first time

Vaccinated people from third countries are allowed to enter Germany

US citizens and residents can travel to Germany again. You must be fully immunized with a vaccine approved in the EU or return a negative COVID-19 test (PCR and/or serology)

1. What’s the best time of the year to travel to Germany?

You will have the best time in Germany when you visit between May and September.  The reason for this is:

a. The weather

Despite the occasional showers, warm weather, and long days make these months the ideal time to explore all that Germany has to offer. The weather is usually mild and pleasant in the late spring, before average temperatures move towards the 70s and higher in JuneJuly, and August.

The German weather outlook in general:

  • The sunniest cities in Germany are not necessarily the warmest
  • Less rain does not automatically mean clear skies
  • In West Germany it is warmer than in East Germany
  • Sun worshipers, off to Saxony!
  • In NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen ) it is not that easy to get vitamin D.
  • The warm season of the year can be enjoyed particularly well on the Main
  • Although Essen counts the most rainy days by far, the wettest city is a different one

You’ll get the hottest weather in cities like Frankfurt and Offenbach, while Berlin enjoys warm—if often rainy—days in the summer.

b. Folk festivals in the Summer from 2021

Now that travel restrictions are being lifted, you will get to enjoy spending some time at the following events:

i) Hamburg: port birthday and cathedral

The summer cathedral and port birthday together attract 3.2 million visitors in normal times. In 2021, the Summer Cathedral will take place from July 30th to August 29th and the Winter Cathedral from November 5th to December 5th. The next port birthday is planned for May 6th to 8th, 2022.

ii) Kiel: Kiel Week

The largest sailing event in the world, the Kieler Woche *, is again planned for September 4 to 12, 2021. Traditional sailors, paddle steamers and motor ships welcome visitors on board. There is also a musical supporting program. The events are spread over the stage and regatta track, water and land.

iii) Paderborn: Libori

Every year at the end of July, the entire city celebrates a traditional festival, the roots of which go back to the year 836: Libori is locally considered the fifth season of the year. From July 24th to August 1st, 2021 there will be a “Libori light” with a temporary amusement park on Maspernplatz, a small pot market in the Paderquell area, a concert area and a children’s and cultural program on Franz-Stock-Platz. The celebrations of the anniversary Libori for 500 years of the fair have been postponed to July 23rd to 31st, 2022.

The following have been cancelled for 2021:

  • Herne: Cranger fair – The largest folk festival in North Rhine-Westphalia, the Cranger Kirmes, attracts around four million visitors in normal years.
  • Straubing: Gäuboden folk festival – The traditional Gäubodenvolksfest normally attracts 1.4 million visitors with seven festival tents and 130 attractions. It’s canceled for 2021.
  • Augsburg: Plärrer – The Augsburger Plärrer is more than 1000 years old and takes place every year in spring and in late summer, at the same time as the Augsburger Dult. This has been scaled back and instead a city ​​summer 2021 with decentralized offers is being planned.
  • Munich: Oktoberfest – The largest folk festival in the world and is known in Munich as the Wiesn. It’s canceled for 2021.

The following are some of the most popular cities, places to visit, and things to do in Germany!

  • Berlin – Popular in August (History, Sightseeing, Museums)
  • Hamburg – Popular in August (Harbor, Sightseeing, City Walks)
  • Munich – Popular in July (City Walks, Beer, Sightseeing)
  • Frankfurt – Popular in August (Shopping, City Walks, Old Town)
  • Cologne – Popular in August (Cathedral, Old Town, Shopping)
  • Dresden – Popular in August (Old Town, Sightseeing, History)

2. How long should you plan on staying in Germany?

The US is exempted from visa requirements. That means you can enter Germany without a visa and stay for up to 90 days. How much time do you have?

Short trip (less than 3 weeks)

So you have a bucket list of things you want to do and places to visit? Slow down.

Trying to visit everywhere in Germany you can think of in a span of a few weeks can be overwhelming, and this alongside little sleep can lead to ‘vacation burnout’. So pick a few things you want to see and do so that you will enjoy them.

Long trip (more than 3 weeks)

What do you want to experience in Germany? Write down a few things that you really want to do and see.

Some impulses: Would you rather …

  • relaxation or adventure?
  • nature and landscape or cities?
  • beaches or mountains?
  • summer or winter?
  • heat or cooler temperatures?
  • outdoor fun or wellness?
  • sport and exercise or lying on the beach?
  • luxury, comfort or budget?
  • rental car or public transport?

3. What basic German phrases should you Americans traveling to Germany for the first time learn?

a. Start with hello

Hallo! Guten Morgen! Guten Tag! Guten Abend! Hello, good morning, good afternoon and good evening! 

This is the best starting point to meet new people in Germany. Then quickly follow the Ich bin (I am) greeting and enter your name.

Some other key phrases that will be helpful in starting conversations are:

  • Wie heißen Sie? (What’s your name?)
  • Wie gehts? Wie geht es dir?(How are you?)
  • Ich komme aus? Ich bin aus …(I come from…)
  • Tschüß Tschüss!(Bye)

b. Now for shopping

When you have learned and nailed your greetings, start thinking about the different activities that you will be participating in during your trip. We’re ready to bet you’ll be doing a little shopping while you’re away!

Below are some standard German phrases that will help make your shopping experience easier and more memorable.

  • Hast du irgendwelche Souvenirs? This phrase is useful when you want to find some nice knickknacks to bring home to your family and friends.
  • Wie viel kostet das? Once you find the item and you need the price. That is, how much does it cost?

Other common shopping German phrases you may want to practice:

  • Wo sind die Toiletten, bitte? – Excuse me, where are the toilets?
  • Haben Sie das in einer kleineren / größeren Größe? Do you have this in a smaller / bigger size?
  • Wo finde ich den nächsten Geldautomaten? Where can I find the nearest ATM?
  • Kann ich mit Kreditkarte (Karte) bezahlen? Do you accept credit cards (cards)?
  • Darf ich mit Bargeld bezahlen? Can I pay in cash?

c. Asking for directions

Ahh, directions. As a tourist in a new location, you will most likely get lost every now and then and need directions. One of the most important aspects of traveling to a foreign country is making sure you get to your destination safely.

Here are some of the most common questions you might have when it comes to travel:

  • Wann fährt der nächste Bus nach …? – When is the next bus to …?
  • Wann fährt der nächste Zug nach …? – When is the next train to …?
  • Wann kommt dieser Bus an? – When does this bus arrive?
  • Wann kommt dieser Zug an? – When does this train arrive?
  • Wie viel kostet eine Fahrkarte nach …? – How much does a ticket cost to …?
  • Auf welchem Gleis fährt mein Zug? – Which platform is my train running on?

d. At the restaurant

Once you’ve figured out how to get from point A to point B, you’ve likely built up quite a bit of hunger and thirst. Let’s learn a few key German phrases to help you order in a restaurant. You will love being able to order your food like a local!

  • Die Speisekarte, bitte– The menu please
  • Ich bin Vegetarier– I am vegetarian
  • Leitungswasser– tap water
  • Suppe – Soup
  • Wein – wine
  • Darf ich bitte eine Quittung haben? – Can I have a receipt please?

e. At the hotel / Accommodation

Now that you’ve eaten your first German meal and you’ve seen some of the amazing sights Germany has to offer, it’s probably time to rest. Here are some of the most common German accommodation phrases that you might want to learn before you travel.

  • Ich würde gern ein Zimmer für ___ Nacht/Nächte/Woche(n) buchen – I would like to book a room for ___ night(s)/week(s).
  • … ein angrenzendes Badezimmer – an adjoining bathroom.
  • Sind irgendwelche Zimmer frei? – Do you have any rooms available?
  • Wieviel kostet ein Zimmer für ___ Personen? – How much is a room for ___ people?
  • Kann ich das Zimmer vorher sehen? – May I see the room first?
  • Ist Frühstück inklusive? – Is breakfast included?
  • Wo kann ich Zimmer Nummer ___ finden? – Where can I find room number ___?
  • Ich würde gern auschecken, bitte – I would like to check out, please.

f. German emergency phrases

In conclusion, let’s review some important but simple German emergency phrases so you are prepared for anything.

  • Hilfe!- Help!
  • Feuer!- Fire!
  • Ich brauche einen Arzt– I need a doctor
  • Wo ist das nächste Krankenhaus? – where is the nearest hospital?
  • Kann ich bitte Ihr Telefon benutzen? – can I please use your phoe?
  • Es ist ein Notfall – This is an emergency
  • Wie komme ich zur amerikanischen Botschaft? – How do I get to the American embassy?
  • Wie komme ich zum amerikanischen Konsulat? – How do I get to the American consulate?

German emergency numbers

  • 112 – will get you through to the fire brigade and ambulance services (but not the police!)
  • 110 – If you urgently need the police in Germany, the number you need is 110.

US embassy and Consulates:

  • U.S. Embassy Berlin – Clayallee 170, 14191 Berlin
  • U.S. Consulate General Munich – Koeniginstrasse 5. 80539 Munich
  • U.S. Consular Agent – Bremen – Flughafenallee 18, 4th Floor. 28199 Bremen
  • U.S. Consulate General Hamburg – Alsterufer 27/28. 20354 Hamburg.
  • U.S. Consulate General Leipzig – Wilhelm-Seyfferth-Str. 4, 04107 Leipzig
  • U.S. Consulate General Dusseldorf – Willi-Becker-Allee 10., 40227 Duesseldorf

4. Familiarize yourself with the COVID entry requirements for Germany

  • As of June 20th 2021, U.S. citizens and residents are permitted to enter Germany unless they have been traveling from a virus-variant area from which entry is banned. The list of virus-variant areas can be found here.
  • If you are entering Germany from a RKI-designated risk area  in the 10 days prior to entry you are required to submit a digital registration on entry . As of June 13, 2021, the United States is no longer a designated risk area.
  • If you have not been fully vaccinated, you must provide a negative COVID-19 test (PCR and/or serology) prior to entry into Germany. Both PCR and rapid antigen tests are accepted; a PCR test must have been taken less than 72 hours prior to entry to Germany, a rapid antigen test less than 48 hours prior to entry. The test must meet the criteria laid out by RKI , and travelers will not be allowed to board their flights without a negative result. 
  • If you have been fully vaccinated, the testing requirement is waived (15 days after the second shot of a two-dose vaccine or the first shot of a one-dose vaccine) with a vaccine listed here , as well as those who have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 6 months, unless they are entering from virus variant area. 
  • There are currently health screening procedures in place at German airports and other ports of entry? These could potentially including mandatory COVID-19 testing for certain certain travelers who are not flying in from the continental US

5. What are the rules on tipping in Germany?

The following are guidelines that you can use to stay on the comfortable side in Germany:

  • In restaurants, the service staff get a tip of around 10 percent of the total bill. In case the bill is in the hundreds of euros around 5 percent is sufficient.
  • The taxi driver receives a tip of 10 percent.
  • In the hotel, the porter receives 1 to 2 euros per piece of luggage, room service 2 to 5 euros and the housekeeper 1 to 2 euros per day.
  • 50 cents are appropriate for the cloakroom.
  • In the airplane you’re only guest. Most airlines’ stewardesses and stewards are therefore not allowed to accept tips.
  • Do you pay by credit card? Then you’d better give the tip in cash. In this way you avoid deductions by the credit card company, which otherwise reduce the tip.

6. Avoid the Tourist Traps as Best Possible

What exactly is a tourist trap? It is a heavily promoted attraction that draws unsuspecting tourists away from their time and money without giving insight or authenticity to the destination they are visiting.

a. Research before and after your arrival

The easiest way to avoid a tourist trap is to get the inside information about your travel destination before you arrive. If every travel guide and website has an advertisement for a specific beach restaurant, it will likely be filled with tourists and high prices.

A good rule of thumb is that if you and everyone you know have heard of a particular place, it is probably mostly tourists. When you arrive at your destination, ask the hotel concierge or other local friends where they like to eat and what they enjoy doing. You may get a tourist answer first, but try rephrasing your question. For example, you can ask: where would you go on a first date? Where do you buy birthday gifts?

b. Look for locals.

The first sign that you have fallen into a tourist trap is the lack of locals. Instead of choosing activities based on what you should be doing while on vacation, ask yourself what you want to do. Then you will find a museum, a bookstore, a concert, or a restaurant that is not advertised to trade fair visitors or sold as a package deal.

c. Ignore street vendors and advertisers.

Think of your favorite restaurant at home. Because your favorite restaurant is not a tourist trap. If an unwanted stranger insists that you eat somewhere, that person will get a cut from the restaurant. And most of the restaurants that depend on tourists don’t really care about high quality food as tourists usually don’t return for a future visit. Stick to reading restaurant reviews and asking locals where to eat before choosing a restaurant. Another good rule of thumb is to skip restaurants near major attractions.

d. Do not sleep in tourist areas.

You may end up paying a little more for transportation, but you will likely find a much better dining, shopping, and exploration scene where the locals actually hang out.

5. Pay attention to translations.

If something is offered in English, French, Spanish, and Mandarin, you can almost guarantee that it is a tourist trap. Activities and restaurants that try to target everyone usually don’t do a good job of targeting someone. Instead, look for locations that are only advertised in the local language. For example, German restaurants in Munich with German menus have a much better chance of being authentic than their multilingual counterparts.

7. When are the public and local holidays?

There are nine public holidays that are observed in all 16 federal states in Germany, including New Year’s Day, German Unity Day and Christmas Day. Bavaria has 13.

If you find yourself in Germany during any of the holidays, you are guaranteed to find completely empty cities and towns. Just like Sundays, everything shuts down.

So double check to make sure that there are no public holidays when you are travelling.

Find out the list of 2021 and 2022 public holidays in Germany here.

8. Why should you take public transportation in Germany?

Germany has one of the best public transportation systems in Germany. It makes sense to jump on the train or get a connecting bus service to smaller towns than renting a car.

Quick tips for using public transportation in Germany

  • If you are not limited to certain times of the day, it makes sense to choose train connections in the early morning or late evening hours. If you are also not tied to a specific travel day, it is worthwhile to switch to so-called off-peak times. For example, if you do not plan your trip on the day immediately before the start or end of the weekend, vacation or public holiday, the trains are usually less busy.
  • Plan trips with large luggage, bicycles or strollers in good time. If you are traveling with larger luggage, bicycles, strollers or buggies, please inform yourself about special compartments and available parking spaces before you travel.

Alternatively, you can use one of the most trusted and effective car pooling apps in Europe.

Useful app to download as soon as you land in Germany:

Deutsche Bahn app (DB Navigator)

It has a fantastic trip planner that shows you the overland and underground train connections and bus connections. If you have PayPal you can purchase the tickets directly on the app. The app functions in English, if that’s the language setting on our smartphone.

BlaBlaCar

One of the best secrets for cheap travel within Germany. You can travel from Munich to Berlin for as little as 20€ because it’s a car pooling option.

9. Plan on slowing down during your holiday

You can go from Munich to Berlin or Munich to Hamburg in a few hours. That does no mean just you should jam pack your holiday with tons of trips. Enjoy your time. Plan on doing what locals do on weekends. Especially now with the COVID restrictions being lifted … A hike? A walk in the park? Austria is under 2 hours from Munich. The temptation is there to hop on the train and go start exploring Austria. Slow down and enjoy what Germany has to offer!

10. What about personal and health safety in Germany?

Personal safety in Germany

Germany is a safe country compared to other European countries.

Emergency telephones on the roadside, public places or train stations are not only intended for accidents. But also for all other emergency situations. For example, when you feel uncomfortable or when you observe something that does not sound like a good idea. In this case, press the “SOS” on the column and you can call for help.

Social distancing and a mask, unless otherwise told

Unless otherwise indicated, you need to have K95 masks for public transportation and keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters from other people. Medical mouth and nose protection is mandatory for guests and crew in all indoor areas, except in restaurants and bars on the square, in the gym, during sports courses and of course in the cabin. In the outdoor areas, mouth and nose protection only applies if the minimum distance of 1.5 meters cannot be maintained. 

  • Social distancing is still practiced in Germany – As on land, also on board: Please keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters from other people, when doing sports please keep 2 meters
  • K95 masks are still required – Plan on wearing a K95 mask during arrival and departure, at check-ins, and supermarkets

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Expaturm aims to help educate Expats in Germany on key issues that they will have to deal with while living in Germany by providing everything you need to know about Banking, Healthcare, Lifestyle, and Housing in Germany
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