A BACKPACKER’S GUIDE TO GERMANY
A BACKPACKER’S GUIDE TO GERMANY
Ja, das ist gut! Germany, big, historically bad, now very good Germany. The powerhouse of Europe and the most populous member-state of the European Union, Germany is a heavy hitter in world politics. But we don’t come to Germany for the politics, we’re here for the forests and villages, the mountains and the autobahns. We come to Germany for the nightlife and the very hearty food, for the German sense of humour (weird!) and the beer, of course, always for the beer.
Germany is a country that’s often under-explored by backpackers. Sure, the Oktoberfest is on everybody’s bucketlist, and rightfully so, but what about Springfest? What about the Bavarian countryside outside Munich, or the thriving Berlin art scene and squat houses, techno parties and cheap kebabs? Is a trip to Germany complete without a sunny afternoon spent in a park in Cologne, or Hamburg, drinking beer, taking ecstasy and joining the Germans while they cook on portable BBQs and play frisbee? Probably, but in any case, there’s so much to see and do in Germany beyond the famous beerfest.
Facts About Germany
Germany’s Population: 82.67 million
Tourists to Germany in a year: 79.7 million
Germany’s biggest cities: Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne, Nuremberg, Dresden
Languages spoken in Germany: German, believe it or not, but German is a dialect-rich language, so maybe someone from Munich will be somewhat incomprehensible to someone from Frankfurt. There is also a very large Turkish immigrant community in Germany, so in the cities Turkish is widely spoken.
Average wage in Germany: €2155 a month
Price of things in Germany: litre of beer €10, pretzel €4, pornographic magazine €6, pack of cigarettes €6, kebab €2
Times things happen in Germany: breakfast is in the morning, lunch goes down between 12-2 and dinner between 6-7. Clubs are dead before around 2am, so there’s that too.
Average summer high temperature in Germany: Berlin 24°C, Hamburg 22°C, Munich 23°C, Frankfurt 25°C, Cologne 24°C, Nuremberg 24°C, Dresden 24°C
Average winter low temperature in Germany: Berlin -2°C, Hamburg -1°C, Munich -4°C, Frankfurt -1°C, Cologne -1°C, Nuremberg -3°C, Dresden -2°C
Festivals In Germany
You can’t go past the beerfests, those celebrations of the amber ale that involve huge drinking tents, people dancing on tables, giant hunks of meat, lederhosen and dirndls, with carnival rides making Munich’s Oktoberfest basically Disneyland for adults. But if you can’t make it for Oktoberfest, which actually mostly takes place in September, then why not give Springfest a swing, basically the same festival as it’s famous Autumn sibling, just with a fraction of the attendees (like a million, as opposed to millions), and held in warmer, spring weather.
Transportation In Germany
Car rental in Germany: if you’re going to hire a car anywhere, Germany is the place. You ever heard of the autobahn? Well if you haven’t, the autobahn is Germany’s highway network and it links all the cities, regions, smaller towns, but the thing that’s fantastic about the autobahn is that many stretches of road have no speed limit. Yep, for vast swathes of the German road system you can drive as fast as you damn well please. So make sure you’re prepared to hire a car when you’re here.
Flying in Germany: there are plenty of airports in Germany, and due to their love for heading south for the sun, also a lot of budget airlines operating. In addition to Ryanair and Easyjet, Germany also has homegrown budget carriers like Germanwings, TUIfly, Air Berlin and Condor. While the autobahn is great and fun, sometimes your best option is to fly.
Train travel in Germany: the train system in Germany is just as efficient as you’d expect it to be and competitively fast alongside the autobahn. In Germany you’ll be riding on the Bahn’s rails, and you can also use their website to plan your Eurail travels across the continent, if you plan on getting a pass.
Campervan hire Germany: this is the place to hire a campervan in Europe, because Germans are absolutely mad for this type of travel. Sure, you won’t go as fast on the autobahn, but most German cities and towns have designated areas to park, or campsites to stay in with showers, etc. Indie Campers and Wicked Campers are both great companies for backpackers, if you decide that hiring a camping car makes sense for your trip to Germany.
Bus travel in Germany: Ewww, but if you’ve got to do it, it’s fine to do it. The bus is cheaper than the train, and the buses take advantage of the autobahn, so they don’t exactly drag along. Popular bus companies include Flixbus, Deinbus, Eurolines and Postbus. To compare fares of the different bus companies, as well as with train and airline options, use an aggregating website like GoEuro.
Ridesharing in Germany: now this is a great way for you to travel between cities in fast cars, with locals, seeing the cities whizz by you at ground level, without you having to be behind the wheel. German drivers are much better at driving 200kms/h than we are, and also by using the ridesharing system you’ll be splitting the cost between a bunch of people, so it’s super cheap! Check out services like BlaBlaCar and Carpoolworld.
Accommodation In Germany
Couchsurfing in Germany: Germany is probably the best place to couchsurf, as it just seems like such a German thing. There’s plenty of space in Germany and outside of Berlin pretty much everyone has their own flats, plus they’re big travel nerds so they’d be very happy to house foreigners and show them around. Only problem is that they might be pretty weird, but that’s ok, it’s a cultural thing, get into it.
Sleeping in your car in Germany: definitely doable in almost all places, but like always you run the risk of being bothered by the police if you stay in the big cities. Just make sure that you park your car legally and don’t make a scene with rubbish and getting changed in the street, etc.
Camping in Germany: the Germans love a good campground, even in the big cities. The campgrounds are big, with great amenities, linked to tourist attractions and the city centre by public transport and often have bars and restaurants on site. If you’ve got camping gear, there are websites that will link you up with campsites no matter where you are.
Hostels in Germany: there’s a great selection of hostels in Germany and they’re reasonably priced too, except for in Munich during Oktoberfest. Some hostels might cater for workers or students, so make sure you do your research and make sure the hostel is right for you. Check the reviews and get the best price on websites like hostelworld.com.
Hotels in Germany: plenty of hotels in Germany and they are reasonably priced outside the busiest times. This could be a great place to treat yourself, but if you’re planning on going to clubs make sure you don’t have to check out the next day — German clubs go all night and some of the next day. Best to party until check in time and then spend maximum time in your hotel recovering. You don’t want to come down from a German techno party in a shared dorm, or sleeping in your car. Check the booking websites when you’re planning on a rager.
Airbnb in Germany: they’re cracking down in Berlin due to tourists and hipsters flooding inner city areas and forcing rents up for the locals. Airbnb remains a good option elsewhere, particularly if you’re in the market for a castle.
Food And Drink In Germany
Food in Germany
Ooh she’s a hearty cuisine. While not renowned for it, Germany has some great comfort food, lots of meat and bread, potatoes, plenty of sausages and cabbage all delivered in huge servings. It sometimes seems like German food was invented to accompany beer, big servings of dense and rich food intended to sit in your belly and absorb all the beer you’ll doubtlessly be inhaling. It’s often said that being at Oktoberfest makes you feel like an ancient barbarian chief, drinking huge goblets of beer while ripping into meat served on the bone, whole chickens, pretzels as big as your head and the occasional radish to get your daily vegetable count up. Sure there are healthy options in Germany, but if you’re only here for a short time don’t waste stomach space on them. Go big, go meaty, go heart attack.
Famous German foods: ok here we go. When you are in Germany you absolutely have to try and authentic local schnitzel, in chicken or veal, and some bratwurst, or currywurst, or liverwurst, or any of the wursts, which are sausages and are most definitely not the worst. Then there are the stews, known as eintopf, or one pot, which is where meat and vegetables are introduced to sauce and flame and left to get delicious together, or the various noodle dishes that are anything with spaetzle in the name, and often served as an accompaniment to the meat dishes. Other sides are the sauerkrauts, pickled cabbages, and knoedel, or potato dumplings. At the Oktoberfest no drinking session is complete without ripping through a schweinshaxe, or big fat pork knuckle with the most amazing gravy dripping off it, or a hendl, which is just a roast chicken, but it’s how they do it, oh boy it’s tasty, or this full list of Oktoberfest treats.
Breakfast in Germany: the Germans enjoy a full frühstück of bread, jams, and a selection of cheeses and meats, sliced and sausages. It’s a fuller, heavier breakfast than elsewhere in Europe, so if a hotel or hostel offers a free breakfast take it, because you know it’ll keep you going for a while.
Lunch in Germany: by the time mittagessen rolls around the Germans are ready for what is traditionally the most important meal in their day. Modern Germans are pretty work oriented and so they will save the big, extravagant lunches for weekends and special occasions. When they do go for it, however, Germans will eat meat with lunch, usually pork or chicken, but often deer or boar, or even trout, accompanied by potatoes cooked any number of ways, because they love potatoes, pickled cabbage and probably finished with a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest cake.
Dinner in Germany: traditionally a smaller meal than lunch, the abendbrot generally consists of bread with a great selection of sliced meats, sausages, pickles and mustard, washed down with a beer. Basically, the Germans like to finish the day’s eating how they started it, beer included in some cases.
Vegetarian eating in Germany: seems pretty meat heavy, huh? But there are plenty of vegetables available in Germany, and lentil soup is popular all over, just make sure that it wasn’t flavoured with pork bones. The cheese and pasta dishes will work too, so long as the cheese wasn’t prepared with rennet, if you’re a strict vegetarian. Then there are always the rostis, potato pancake hash brown things that are good when you’re all sauerkraut and cheese’d out.
Drinks in Germany: well they do kaffee and fruchtsaft and mineralwasser and milch, but you really didn’t come to Germany to sample their coffee, fruit juice, mineral water or milk, now did you?
Beers in Germany: this is the good stuff. So German beers are some of the best in the world with the tradition dating back at least 500 years BC, and really picking up steam with the 12th century monks who became experts at brewing and consuming amber ale. In 1516 the reinheitsgebot was signed, which basically forbids anything be put in beer but water, barley, hops and yeast. This law is still obeyed today, with some exceptions made for brewers who want to add malt, which goes to show just how serious Germans are about their beer. When you’re in Germany you’ll find great beers everywhere that adhere to the purity laws and come with a big kick, but if you’re going to try anything you have to try one of the Oktoberfest beers, either Paulaner, Augustiner-Brau, Lowenbrau, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Spatenbräu and Hoffbrau. These are the only beers you can drink at the Oktoberfest and they will brew special batches just for the festival. German beer types include, pilsner and helles for the lagers, and the darker, hoppier bocks.
Wine in Germany: not really renowned for its wines, particularly given the fame the beers enjoy, but most people have heard of, if not sipped on, a reisling, which come from the Rhine region in west Germany. There are other regions that produce wine around Germany, but really this is riesling land.
Stronger drinks in Germany: the Germans haven’t shied away from the stronger stuff, making various types of schnaps either obstler, which are the fruit schnapps, or krauterlikor which are herbal schnapps often used by maniac Germans for health reasons and include the world (in)famous Jagermeister.
General Advice For Germany
Scams and dangers in Germany: there is less petty crime and scamming in Germany than there are in other parts of Europe, but that’s not to say that you don’t have to be vigilant in the bigger cities and around tourist sites. Like always, do everything you can to avoid being robbed.
There is sometimes violence around football matches and a rise of the far right in certain areas that has resulted in anti-immigrant protests and counter-protests. If you see large groups of thickset men getting agitated, get out of there. German police are no joke and will break up troubles with force, even if you are in the way.
There were reports of assaults against women in crowded places, that were overemphasised by individuals with anti-immigrant political agendas. Germany is very safe, including for women travelling alone. Like always, keep your wits about you and steer clear of dangerous areas, where possible.
Terrorism in Germany: is on the increase in recent years. There have been random attacks, sometimes attributed to refugees and sometimes not, that don’t seem to be very organised or sophisticated. Like all terrorism it’s random and unavoidable and we don’t recommend that you change any travel plans because of it. Europe is overwhelmingly a safe continent and Germany has to be one of its safest countries.
Driving in Germany: well this is the land that spawned BMW, Mercedes and Audi, so you can imagine that driving here is a treat. The autobahn, while not entirely speed limit free, does have vast areas where you can drive as fast as you please. When driving in Germany you have to strictly observe the “stay right unless you’re overtaking” rule, because there is always someone faster than you on the autobahn. It is not uncommon to be driving at 150kms/h and have someone fly past you, going at least 200kms/h, only to see someone whizz past them going heck knows how fast. Also, ausfahrt isn’t a hilarious place name, but means exit in German. If you’re planning on driving in Germany, and you should, make sure you plan for it.
Best way to access and use money in Germany: using the ATM is the way to access your cash, but make sure you use the major banks, not the smaller, private machines in train stations or convenience stores, as they will hit you with extra fees. the best way is to pull out money from ATMs as you need it. Check with your home bank for the best way to use your money abroad, as you bank may have agreements with German banks to make witthdrawals even cheaper. Other than that just follow your Europe-wide best practices for using Money.
Mobile plans in Germany: if Germany is your first stop in Europe you can pick up a SIM card there and use it all over Europe, now that the EU has scrapped roaming charges. You will need a passport to buy a prepaid SIM. Keep an eye out for Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and O2, as they’re the biggest carriers with the most coverage. As always, take care to find the best mobile deal for you.
Places to visit in Germany
There’s so much more to Germany than Oktoberfest and the big cities, but they are great places to start your adventures in Deutschland.
When you’re in Bavaria you should start with Munich, especially during Oktoberfest or Springfest, but don’t worry if you’re there at a different time of year as all the Oktoberfest beer brewers have beer houses open all year, where you can get the food and the huge beers and the festive experience. Outside of Munich you will find gorgeous villages, the Neuschwanstein castle, the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle, and the beginnings of the Alps.
Berlin is the capital and centre of Germany’s artist and hipster scenes, featuring all-weekend techno clubs, the Berlin Wall, plenty of kebab shops, squat houses converted into art collectives, extremely cheap beers, Cold War history, the chance to spot Angela Merkel in her natural habitat and plenty of street art.
Dresden is the coolest city in the former East, a gorgeous city completely reconstructed after one of the most horrific bombing raids of the Second World War. Modern Dresden is an edgy city full of punks, goths, metalheads, skinheads and rockers. Good fun, if not a little scary.
Cologne home to th famous cathedral, plenty of parks, and an amazing carnival celebratio, Cologne is an oft overlooked city in Germany’s milder south west and worthy of an addition to any teutonic itinerary.