Germany travel tips
Germany: the basics
Germany is in central Europe with borders measuring a total of 3757 km (2334 miles). To the north-west and to the east, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea coasts form natural borders. In the south, the country is bordered by the Alps. Germany also shares borders with many European countries such as Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Belgium as well as the Netherlands.
The official language is German, but along with High German there are also many regional dialects and languages, such as the Plattdeutsch spoken in the north of the country.
No particular vaccinations are required when visiting Germany and the standard of health care is high.
Passports are required.
Germany: geography, climate & best time to go
Germany has a varied landscape that may be divided into three main regions. In the north, the country consists of vast hilly plains, many lakes and wetlands, with the centre being rather mountainous, not exceeding an average altitude of 1500 m or 4900 ft. The highest mountains in the country, in the Bavarian Alps, are in the south.
Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze (1 962 m; 9 700 ft), is located in the only high mountain range, the Alps, near the border with Austria. The highest mountain of the middle mountains is the Feldberg in the Black Forest (1 493 m; 4 900 ft). Peaks over 1 000 m or 2,300 ft are also to be found in the Erzgebirge, Fichtelgebirge, Swabian Jura and the Hartz (the Brocken: 1,142 m; 3,750 ft). The best-known German rivers are the Rhine, the Danube, Elbe, Oder, the Weser and Ems. The longest of these rivers is the Danube, with its source in the Black Forest, flowing through Bavaria and then Austria and Central Europe before flowing into the Black Sea. With a length of 2,850 kilometers (1 770 miles), it is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga. The largest lake, Lake Constance, is situated on the borders with Switzerland and Austria and has an area of 536 sq km. There are many other lakes in Germany, especially in the north, in the Mecklenburg Lake District, where the Plauensee and Schwerinersee are among the best known.
Germany is situated in the temperate zone where extreme temperatures are rare. In the west the climate is oceanic, determined by mild winters and cool summers, with rainfall throughout the year. In the east, the climate is more continental, with cold winters and warm summers. A special feature of the Upper Rhine Valley is that it benefits from an oceanic climate in the winter and continental climate in the summer. The best time to visit Germany is from May to October when average temperatures are between 68 °F to 86 °F and nature is in full bloom, which is not to be taken lightly in a country covered up to 30% by forests.
Berlin and other tourist attractions in Germany
Since 3 October 1990 the official capital of reunified Germany is once again Berlin. Today, Berlin is comprised of 12 districts and is home to approximately 3.4 million inhabitants. Berlin has a very rich historical and cultural heritage, and forests and lakes take up 20% of the city’s area.
Since Berlin has merged from a conglomeration of villages in recent centuries, the city has no real center. However, Mitte is regarded as the historical center, as a lot of the city's important buildings are to be found here, starting with the Brandenburg Gate, filmed and caught by cameras of the whole world in November 1989 when the Wall fell, or the Reichstag, the seat of the Bundestag that was largely burned by the Nazis in 1933 and has now restored and crowned with a glass dome by the architect Norman Foster. Unter den Linden also boasts a rich variety of historic buildings including the State Opera, one of the three operas in the city; the Humboldt University; and the Dom, the imposing cathedral on the Spree. Alexanderplatz has a television tower measuring 368 meters (228 ft) with a revolving restaurant and panoramic view of the entire square in all its Soviet charm as well as the whole city. Also in Mitte is the Museum island which is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and hosts five museums: the Pergamon Museum, the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, the old National Gallery and the Bode Museum, which only recently reopened after years of restoration. The brick museum is located in Friedrichstrasse, right next to Checkpoint Charlie, and exhibits many documents and objects documenting the history of the Berlin Wall. The city was divided in two from 1961 to 1989.
The Zoological Garden is also an interesting attraction. On the Kurfürstendamm, in the midst of the many shops, stands the ruin of the Memorial Church, almost entirely destroyed by the 1943 bombing. The church now serves as a memorial to all victims of the Second World War. Behind the church is the Berlin Zoo, which is one of the largest and wealthiest zoos in the world. The Tiergarten, with its center at the Siegessäule (Victory Column) is the largest park in the city, and is now famous throughout the world due to the Love Parades. The Potsdamer Platz, which after the war was for a long time no man's land, is now a tourist magnet with its futuristic architecture and many shopping centers, cinemas and cafes.
Among the many monuments dedicated to the victims of the Nazi era, is the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of the city towards Oranienburg. The Jewish Museum in Kreuzberg, the magnificent building designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind, is also worth a visit: the museum documents the history of the Jews in Germany over the last 2000 years.
Approximately 20 km (12 miles) from Berlin is Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg. Potsdam is mainly famous for the conference that was held here by the Allies in 1945 to determine the fate of Germany. It is also the site of the Sanssouci palace and park that has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1990. The park has 2 palaces, an Orangery, a Belvedere, a Chinese house, Roman Baths and according to the fashion of the time, a number of false ancient ruins. The city itself is also worth strolling around. There are many buildings dating from the 18th century, and the atmosphere in the city is therefore timeless with an additional exotic feel in the Dutch quarter.
The Film Studio Babelsberg, the largest film studio in Germany, also makes for an interesting destination. Here such legendary films as "Metropolis" by Fritz Lang and "The Blue Angel" with Marlene Dietrich were filmed. Today 80% of all films in Germany are still produced here.
Germany has a very rich cultural heritage and many cities, buildings or regions that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as Aachen Cathedral and the city of Regensburg. But sights such as the castles in Neuschwanstein and Heidelberg and the medieval town centers of Rüdesheim am Rhein and Rothenburg are also world-famous tourist destinations. Other attractions in Germany are large buildings such as the Ulm-Münster with the highest church spire in the world (161.53 m; 528 ft) and the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt as the highest skyscraper (264 meters; 859 ft). There are also more than 6,000 museums. Amongst the biggest and most famous are the Deutsche Museum in Munich, and the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg.
Dresden, the capital of Saxony, is often referred to as the "Florence of the Elbe". It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Unfortunately, this invaluable heritage was almost entirely destroyed in 1943, when the city was bombed by the Royal Air Force, destroying one third of the city with 135 000 victims. Fortunately, the city was rebuilt to a large extent to its former splendour. The Semper Opera, for example, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful Renaissance style operas in the world, and after the war was faithfully rebuilt. The same applies to the Zwinger palace, the old residence of the kings of Saxony from the 18th century. Today the palace is home to several permanent exhibitions, such as the famous porcelain collection or the paintings of the old masters, in which works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt can be admired. In 2006, the Frauenkirche was again reopened for the public. It was built in the 18th Century, and almost completely burnt down in 1945. 45 years after its destruction, the cathedral has now once again been restored to its former glory.
The nature around Dresden is also beautiful, for example the Elbetal and Saxony Switzerland, which is also on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
One of the cities relatively spared by the Second World War is Heidelberg, which was bombed in 1944, but is still renowned for its beauty. Its castle, for example, was built in the 15th Century and has Gothic and Renaissance elements. The castle towers over the whole of the Neckartal, with breathtaking views.
Other major cities are the harbour city, Hamburg; the banking city Frankfurt am Main, Cologne and Mainz where the carnival is celebrated; Weimar as the city of Goethe and Schiller and many others.
Bavaria and other regions in Germany
Bavaria is also a very popular tourist destination with many interesting sites to discover. A visit to Bavaria could easily start in the capital, Munich. Munich is the third largest city in Germany after Berlin and Hamburg, home to approximately 1.3 million inhabitants, and is an important economic center. The city’s history is closely linked to that of National Socialism, as during the 1920s and 30s, Hitler's rise to power began here. Near Munich, the first concentration camp in Dachau was built in 1933. The concentration camp is today a memorial site. The city was bombed and after the war occupied by the Allies. Today, visitors to the city may enjoy a lively cultural scene, with many museums, the most popular of which is the German museum. The city is also a paradise for lovers of classical music as many orchestras such as the Munich Philharmonic and the Bavarian State Orchestra are based here. Throughout the year Munich is stage to festivals and celebrations, of which perhaps the most famous is the Oktoberfest, which beckons tourist from all over the world between late September and early October. Visitors to the city may also enjoy walks along the Isar or in the English Garden, which takes up an area of 3.7 km2, more than Central Park in New York. Near the city there are also several lakes, including the Ammersee. Those wishing to explore Bavaria have the opportunity of taking the Romantic Road that leads from Wurzburg to Fussen through many picturesque towns, villages and attractions of which the most famous city is Rothenburg ob der Tauber museum city, which has not changed since the Renaissance and the castle Neuschwanstein, a fantastic building structure dreamed up by Louis the second. The castle was built in the neo-Gothic style and is now the most visited castle in Germany.
Away from the romanticism in Upper Franken, Bamberg and Regensburg in Upper Palatinate are the most noteworthy tourist destinations. Both cities have been declared UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites.
Besides Bavaria the most popular resort areas in Germany are the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas as well as the hills in the Black Forest or the Sauerland. Lake Constance, the Bavarian Forest, the wine region in Franken in the south and Hartz in the center as well as the Mecklenburg Lake District in the northeast.
The North Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic, and together with the British Channel is the most densely trafficked sea area in the world. The Baltic Sea, however, is an inland sea, connected via the Skagerrak with the North Sea.
Germany also has a considerable number of islands, mostly island chains. The islands in the North Sea are divided into North Fresian (Sylt, Föhr, Amrum Pellworm and the Halligen) and East Frisian (Borkum, Helgoland) Islands and are part of the German Wadden Sea. The islands in the Baltic Sea are on the German Bodden coast; these include Rügen, Usedom, Fehmarn, Poel and Hiddensee.