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Germany Tourist Information and Tips
Germany is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; as such it replaced German marks with the euro (symbol: ˆ) in 2002. If you have marks remaining from previous trips, they can still be exchanged at certain banks: inquire first before you attempt to convert your marks.
Do not expect anybody to accept foreign currencies or to be willing to exchange currency. An exception are shops and restaurants at airports and also - more rarely - fast-food restaurants at major train stations. These will generally accept at least US dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate. If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank, where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, international airports and train stations are an exception to this rule. Swiss Franc can sometimes be accepted near the Swiss border.
German banks have agreed on a standard debit card called "Maestro card" (Formerly called "EC card") this is far more accepted as plastic payment methods than credit cards from American Express, VISA and others. Pay close attention that they support "Maestro card", because it's very common in German super markets to only accept "electronic-cash cards" (Every German "Maestro card" is a "electronic-cash card" too, but most of the foreign "Maestro card" aren't). Nevertheless, credit cards are often accepted, but to a lower extent than in other European countries or the United States. Hotels, bigger retailer, gas stations and nationwide companies accept credit cards. If you want to pay smaller amounts (less than 40 Euro) with a credit card, it is best to check in advance if credit cards will be accepted. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card or your foreign debit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that.
Unlike in some other countries, service staff is always paid by the hour (albeit not always that well). A tip is a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciate the service (e.g. slow, snippy or indifferent service) you may not tip at all.
Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip ( Trinkgeld , lit. "drink money") of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Nonetheless, service charge is already included in an item's unit price so what you see is what you pay.
Tipping in Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if eg. a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "ˆ13.50", just state "15" and he will include a tip of ˆ1.50.
Tipping in other situations (unless otherwise indicated):
- Taxi driver: 5%-10% (at least ˆ1)
- Housekeeping: ˆ1-2 per day
- Carrying luggage: ˆ1 per piece
- Public toilet attendants: ˆ0.30-0.70
German food usually sticks to its roots and a typical dish will consist of meat with some form of potatoes and gravy, accompanied by vegetables or salad. The modern German cuisine has been influenced by other European countries such as Italy and France to become a bit lighter. Dishes show a great local diversity and it might be interesting to discover those. Since most bigger employers have a canteen for their employees, you will find few sandwich shops and takeaways and eating out culture in Germany is dominated by the Gasthaus/Gasthof and Restaurants to have proper food. Putting places to eat in 6 categories gives you a hint about the budget/taste. Starting from the lower end, these are:
'Schnellimbiss' means quick snack, and is what you will see on the sign of German stalls and small shops that sell primarily sausage (Wurst) and fries (Pommes Frites). Sausages will include Bratwurst, which is fried and usually a boiled pork sausage. A very German variant is Currywurst: sausage chopped up and covered in spiced ketchup, dusted with curry powder. Beer and often harder liquor are available in most.
'Doner Kebab' is Turkish lamb or chicken stuffed into bread, similar to Greek Gyros and Arab Schawarma. Even though considered Turkish, it's actually a speciality which originated in Germany. According to its legend, it was invented by Turkish immigrants in West-Berlin during the 1970s. In fact, the 'Doner' is Germany's most beloved fast food. The sales numbers of 'Doner' exceed those of McDonald's and Burger King products by far.
Nevertheless, fast food giants like McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut are in most towns. Nordsee is a German seafood chain, they offer 'Rollmops' - soussed herrings - and many other fish and seafood snacks. However, many independent seafood snack-bars (most common along the German shores) offer slightly better and slightly cheaper seafood.
Bakeries and butchers
Germans have no tradition for sandwich shops but you will find that bakeries / butchers sell quite nice take away food and are serious competition for the fast food chains. Even the smallest bakeries will sell many sorts of bread or rolls, most of them darker (for example, using wholemeal or more rye flour) than the white bread popular around the world and definitely worth a try. Even if they don't already have it prepared, almost all butchers will prepare a sandwich for you if you ask. Some butchers even prepare meals for you. This butcher 'imbiss' is mainly popular in southern Germany, and the quality and freshness of food is usually high.
Here you will get the obvious drink. In traditional beergardens in Bavaria it is possible to bring your own food if you buy drinks. Most places will cater simple meals. A very good place for beer and bavarian food is the Biergarten of "Kloster Andechs" close to the Ammersee (round 40km south of Munich).
Probably 50% of all eating out places fall into this group. They are mainly family-run businesses that have been owned for generations comparable to taverns/pubs in the UK. You can go there simply for a drink, or to try German food (often with a local flavor). Food quality differs significantly from place to place but the staff will usually give you an indication of the standard; regulations require restaurant owners to indicate certain possibly harmful ingredients (e.g. glutamates/MSG) by footnotes - a menu containing lots of such footnotes usually indicates low quality; if a cheap "Gasthaus" / restaurant is overcrowded with Germans or Asians, this indicates at least sufficient quality (unless the crowd is caused by an organized coach excursion).
Germany has a wide range of flavors (e.g. German, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Polish, Indian, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish) and almost all styles of the world are represented.
Turkish cuisine in Germany ranges from simple "Doner" shops to mostly family-run restaurants offering a wide variation of usually very cheap (in relation to German price levels) Turkish home cooking.
You will rarely find restaurants catering for special needs within Germany (e.g. kosher restaurants are common only in cities with a notable Jewish population like Berlin), although most restaurants will prepare special meals or variants for you if they are neither relying on convenience foods only nor too fancy. Most restaurants have at least some vegetarian meals. For muslims it is recommended to stick to Turkish/Arabic restaurants. At some Turkish or Arab food stalls vegetarians might find falafel and baba ganoush to suit their tastes. For not-so-strict Jews the halal Turkish food stalls are also the best option for meat dishes.
In most restaurants in Germany you can choose your own table. You can make reservations (recommended for larger groups and haute cuisine on Saturday nights) and these are marked by reservation cards ("Reserviert"). In expensive restaurants in larger cities you will be expected to make reservations and will be seated by the staff (who will not allow you to choose your table).
Restaurants in commercial areas often offer weekday lunch specials. These are cheap (starting at ˆ5, sometimes including a beverage) options and a good way to sample local food. Specials tend to rotate on a daily or weekly basis, especially when fresh ingredients like fish are involved.
Typical dishesBavarian food on a fancy plate. Left to right: Schnitzel , pork belly ( Schweinebauch ) with red cabbage ( Rotkohl ), Wei?wurst with mashed potatoes ( Kartoffelpuree ), Bratwurst on sauerkraut
Rinderroulade mit Rotkraut und Knodeln: this dish is quite unique to Germany. Very thin sliced beef rolled around a piece of bacon and pickled cucumber until it looks like a mini barrel (5cm diameter) flavoured with tiny pieces of onion, German mustard, ground black pepper and salt. The meat is quick-fried and is then left to cook slowly for an hour, meanwhile red cabbage and potato dumplings are prepared and then the meat is removed from the frying pan and gravy is prepared in the frying pan. Knodel, Rotkraut and Rouladen are served together with the gravy in one dish.
Schnitzel mit Pommes frites: there are probably as many different variations of Schnitzel as there are restaurants in Germany. They have in common a thin slice of pork often covered in egg and bread crumbs that is fried for a short period of time and it is often served with fries (that's the Pommes frites part). Variations of this are usually served with different types of gravy: such as Zigeunerschnitzel, Zwiebelschnitzel, Holzfaller Schnitzel and Wiener Schnitzel (as the name suggests, an Austrian dish – the genuine article must be veal instead of pork, which is why most restaurants offer a Schnitzel Wiener Art , or Viennese-style schnitzel which is allowed to be pork). In the south you can often get Spatzle (pasta that Swabia is famous for) instead of fries with it. Spatzle are egg noodles typical of south Germany – most restaurants make them fresh. It is very common to find Schnitzel on the menu of a German restaurant, it might even be the most common dish in German restaurants.
Rehrucken mit Spatzle: Germany has maintained huge forests such as the famous Black Forest, Bayrischer Wald and Odenwald. In and around these areas you can enjoy the best game in Germany. Rehrucken means venison tenderloin and it is often served with freshly made noodles such as Spatzle and a very nice gravy based on a dry red wine.
Wurst “sausage”: there is no country in the world with a greater variety of sausages than Germany and it would take a while to mention them all. “Bratwurst“ is fried, other varieties such as the Bavarian “Wei?wurst“ are boiled. Here is the shortlist version: “Rote” beef sausage, “Frankfurter Wurst” boiled pork sausage made in the Frankfurt style, “Pfalzer Bratwurst” sausage made in Palatine style , “Nurnberger Bratwurst” Nuremberg sausage – the smallest of all of them, but a serious contender for the best tasting German sausage, “grobe Bratwurst”, Landjager, Thuringer Bratwurst, Currywurst, Wei?wurst ... this could go on till tomorrow. If you spot a sausage on a menu this is often a good (and sometimes the only) choice. Often served with mashed potato, fries or potato salad.
Koenigsberger Klopse : Literally "meatballs from Koenigsberg", this is a typical dish in and around Berlin. The meatballs are made out of minced pork and are cooked and served in a white sauce with capers and rice or potatoes.
Matjesbrotchen : Soussed herring or "roll mops" in a bread roll, typical street snack.
Starting from the north of Germany going south you will find a tremendous variety of food and each region sticks to it origins. The coastal regions are fond of seafood and famous dishes include “Finkenwerder Scholle”, going south to the region of Cologne you will find Sauerbraten (a roast marinated in vinegar), if made really traditionally it's from horse meat.
Labskaus (although strictly speaking not a German invention) is a dish from the north and the opinions about this dish are divided, some love it, others hate it. It is a mash of potato, beetroot juice and cured meat decorated with rollmops and/or young herring and/or a fried egg and/or sour cucumber and/or beetroot slices on top. The north is also famous for its lamb dishes , the best type of lamb probably being "Rudenlamm" (lamb from Ruden, a small island in the Baltic Sea; only a few restaurants in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania serve this), the second best type being "Salzwiesenlamm" (salt meadow lamb). The Lueneburger Heide (Lueneburg Heath) is famous not only for its heath but also for its Heidschnucken, a special breed of sheep. Be aware that a lot of restaurants import their lamb from New Zealand though because it is cheaper. Crabs and mussels are also quite common along the German coasts, especially in North Frisia.
A specialty of Hamburg is "Aalsuppe" which - despite the name (in this case "Aal" means "everything", not "eel") - originally contained almost everything - except eel (today many restaurants include eel within this soup, because the name led tourists into confusion). At the coast there's a variety of fish dishes. Beware: if a restaurant offers "Edelfischplatte", the fish may be not fresh and even (this is quite ironical) of poor quality. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that, for eating fish, you visit specialised (or quality) restaurants only . A fast-food style restaurant chain serving quality fish and other seafood at low prices all over Germany is "Nordsee", though you will rarely find authentic specialties there.
Swabia is famous for Spatzle (a kind of noodle), "Maultaschen" (noodles stuffed with spinach and mince meat, but lots of variations, even veggie ones, exist).
In Bavaria this may be Schweinshaxe mit Knodeln (pork's leg with knodel, a form of potato dumplings), "Leberkas/Fleischkase mit Kartoffelsalat" (kind of meat pie and potato salad), "Nurnberger Bratwurst" (probably smallest sausage in Germany), Wei?wurst (white sausages) and "Obatzda" (a spicy mix of several milk products).
The south is also famous for its nice tarts such as the "Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte" (tart with lots of cream and spirit made from cherries).
A delicacy in Saxony is Eierschecke , a cake made of eggs and cream similar to cheese cake.
A specialty of the East is "Soljanka" (originating from Ukraine, but probably the most common dish in the GDR), a sour soup containing vegetables and usually some kind of meat or sausages.
White “Spargel” (asparagus) floods the restaurants in April/June all over Germany and it is delicious especially in and around Baden-Baden and the small town of Schwetzingen ("The Spargel Capital"), near Heidelberg, in an area north and north-east of Hannover (Lower Saxon Asparagus Route"), as well as in the area southwest of Berlin, especially in the town Beelitz and along the Lower Rhine, especially "Walbecker Spargel" (Walbeck is a suburb of Geldern). Many vegetables can be found all around the year and the are often imported from far away. Whereas asparagus can be found only for 2 months from mid April to mid June and is best enjoyed freshly after harvest it stays nice for a couple of hours or till next day. The asparagus is treated very carefully and it is harvested before it ever is exposed to daylight and only then it remains white. When exposed to daylight it changes its color to a green and it might taste bitter. Therefore, white asparagus is considered to be better by most Germans.
The standard Spargel meal is the spargel stalks, hollandaise sauce, boiled potatoes, and some form of meat. The most common meat is ham, smoked preferred; however you will find it teamed with schnitzel (fried breaded pork), turkey, beef, or whatever is available in the kitchen.
White asparagus soup: one of the hundreds of different recipes that can be found with white asparagus is soup. Often it is made with cream and has some of the thinner asparagus pieces.
Around St. Martin's day, roasted ducks and geese ("Martinsgans") are quite common in German restaurants, usually served with "Rotkraut" (red cabbage) and "Knodeln" (potato dumplings).
Germans are very fond of their bread , which they make in many variations. This is the food that Germans tend to miss most when away from home. Most people like their bread relatively dark and dense and scorn the soft loaves sold in other countries. Bakeries will rarely provide less than twenty different sorts of bread and it's worth trying a few of them. In fact, many Germans buy their lunch or small snacks in bakeries instead of takeaways or the like. Prices for a loaf of bread will range from 0.50 ˆ to 4 ˆ, depending on the size (real specialties might cost more).
Most restaurants have one or two vegetarian dishes, but there aren't many places which are particularly aimed at vegetarian or vegan customers, except some places in big cities like Berlin. If the menu does not contain vegetarian dishes, do not hesitate to ask for. Vegetarian restaurant guides can be found at (german) or (VEBU restaurant list, the restaurants are not necessarily vegetarian in general). Be aware when ordering to ask whether the dish is suitable for vegetarians, as chicken stock and bacon cubes are a commonly "undeclared" ingredient on German menues.
However, there are usually organic food shops ("Bioladen", "Naturkostladen" or "Reformhaus") in every city, providing veg(etari)an bread, breadspreads, cheese, icecream, vegan cream topping, tofu and seitan. The diversity and quality of the products is great and you will find shop assistants that can answer special nutritional questions profoundly.
The German federal-states started banning smoking in public places and areas in early 2007, however the laws vary from state to state. Smoking is generally banned in all restaurants and cafes. Some places may provide separate smoking areas but it is best to esquire when booking. A loophole in these laws allows clubs and bars to advertise as a "Raucherclub" or "smoker's club", and therefore allow patrons to smoke, though sometimes charging an entrance fee. These establishments are often smoke-filled and extremely unpleasant. Savvy travelers ought to avoid them. Otherwise smokers should be prepared to step outside if they still want to light up. Smoking is banned on all forms of public transport including on railway platforms (except in designated smoking areas, which are clearly marked with the word "Raucherbereich" [smoking area]). The laws are strictly enforced.
Legal drinking age is 18 for spirits (drinks containing distilled alcohol) and 16 for everything else (e.g. beer and wine).
For centuries, beer-making in Bavaria has been governed by the Reinheitsgebot (purity law) that was made national policy with the unification of Germany in 1871, which states that German beer may be made only from hops, malt, yeast and water. The Reinheitsgebot has come down with the European integration, but German breweries still have to stick to it since for them, national law applies.
The domestic beer market is not dominated by one or a only a few big breweries. Even though there are some big players, the regional diversity is enormous, and there are over 1200 breweries with most of them serving only local markets. Usually bars and restaurants serve the local varieties that differ from town to town. When sitting in a German Kneipe , a local beer is always a option, and often the only option.
Specialities include Weizenbier (or Weissbier in Bavaria), a refreshing top-fermented beer which is popular in the south, Alt , a kind of dark ale that is especially popular in and around Dusseldorf, and Kolsch , a special beer brewed in Cologne. "Pils", the German name for pilsner is a light-gold colored beer that is extremely popular in Germany. There are also seasonal beers, which are made only at different times of the year (such as Bockbier in winter and Maibock in May, both containing a greater quantity of alcohol, sometimes double that of a normal Vollbier). Beer is usually served in 200 or 300ml glasses (in the northern part) or 500ml in the South. In Biergartens in Bavaria, 500ml is a small beer ("Halbe") and a liter is normal ("Ma?" pronounced "Mahss"). Except for in Irish pubs, pints or pitchers are uncommon. For Germans, a lot of foam is both a sign of freshness and quality; thus, beer is always served with a lot of head. (All glasses have volume marks for the critical souls.) Additionally, Germans are not afraid to mix beer with other drinks (though the older generation may disagree). Beer is commonly mixed with carbonated lemonade (usually at 1:1 ratio) and called a "Radler" (or cyclist so named because it is commonly associated with a refreshing drink a cyclist might enjoy in spring or summer during a cycling excursion) (or "Alsterwasser"/"Alster" in the north); "Cocktails" of Pilsener/Altbier and soft drinks like Fanta, a "Colaweizen" cola and dark wheat beer is another combination that can be found.
Pubs are open in Germany until 2 in the morning or later. Food is generally available until midnight. Germans typically go out after 8PM (popular places already fill up at 6PM).
Germans drink lots of coffee . Currently, the port of Hamburg is the world's busiest place for coffee trading. Coffee is always freshly made from ground coffee or beans - no instant. However, persons coming from countries with a great coffee tradition might find the coffee that is served in normal restaurants a bit boring. A German specialty, originating from North Frisia but nowadays also common in East Frisia, is "Pharisaer", a mixture of coffee and a spirit, usually rum, with a thick cream top. A variation of this is "Tote Tante" ( dead aunt , with coffee replaced by hot chocolate).
Over the past few years, American coffee house chain Starbucks has expanded into Germany, but mostly you will encounter "Cafes" which usually offer a large selection of cakes to go along with the coffee.
“Kirschwasser” literally means cherry water ; it certainly tastes of cherry but on the other hand it is not regular drinking water. There is a long lasting tradition in making spirits in Baden, and “Kirschwasser” is probably the flagship product and it might encourage you to taste other specialities such as Himbeergeist (from raspberry), Schlehenfeuer (flavored with sloe berries), Williamchrist (pear) and Apfelkorn (apple).
“Enzian” Bavarians like their beer as well their Enzian. A spirit high in alcohol that is best as a digestive after a hefty meal.
In North Frisia, "Kom" (caraway spirit), either pure or mixed with tea ("Teepunsch", tea punch ), is very popular.
"Eiergrog" is a hot mixture of egg liquor and rum.
Tea is also very popular, and a large choice is readily available. The region of East Frisia in particular has a long tea tradition, and is probably the only place in Germany where tea is more popular than coffee. The East Frisian tea ceremony consists of black tea served in a flat porcelain cup with special rock sugar ( Kluntje ) that is put in the cup before pouring the tea. Cream is added afterwards, but is not stirred into the tea.
Germans are just as passionate about their wines as they are about their beer. The similarities don't stop here, both products are often produced by small companies and the best wines are consumed locally and only the remaining ones are exported. The production of wine has a 2000 year old history in Germany as learned from the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier, but of course this was a roman settlement at this time. Sunshine is the limiting factor for the production of wines in Germany and therefore the wine production is limited to the south. White wine plays a main role in the wine production, but some areas produce red wines (Ahr, Baden Wurttemberg). White wines are produced from Riesling, Kerner and Muller-Thurgau grapes (there are a lot more, but to name them all would be too much), and produce generally fresh and fruity wines. German wines can be rich in acid and are quite refreshing. It is generally accepted that Riesling grapes produce the best German wines, but they demand a lot of sunshine and they grow best in very exposed areas such the Mosel, Rheingau, Bergstrasse, Kaiserstuhl and Pfalz.
The best way to learn about wines is go to the place where they are grown and taste them on the spot. This is called "Weinprobe" and is generally free of charge though in touristic areas you have to pay a small fee. Good wines usually go together with good food and therefore it is well worth it to visit some of those places.
Another nice opportunity to get a taste of local wine is the so-called Strau?enwirtschaft , Besenwirtschaft or Heckenwirtschaft . These are little "pubs" or gardens where a wine-producer sells his own wine, normally with little meals such as sandwiches or cheese and ham. Normally, they are open only in summer and autumn, and not longer than 4 months a year (due to legal regulations). As they are sometimes located in the vineyards or in some backstreets, they are not always easy to find, so you best ask a local for the next (or best) Strau?enwirtschaft he knows.
Wine producing areas are:
Ahr Ahr is the paradise of German red wines. Half of the production is dedicated to red wines and it is densely populated with “Gaststatten” and “Strausswirten”. A saying goes: Who visited the Ahr and remembers that he was there, hasn't actually been there.
Rheinhessen too is especially famous for its Riesling.
Sachsen : One of the smallest wine regions in Germany, nestled along the Elbe River near Dresden
Wurttemberg As it was mentioned before, here the rule, that the wine production is consumed by the locals, strictly applies. The wine consumption is twice as high as in the rest of Germany, regardless of whether it's red or the white wine. The specialty of the region is the red wine called Trollinger and it can be quite nice by German standards.
Saale-Unstrut : located in the state Saxonia-Anhalt at the banks of the rivers Saale and Unstrut it is most northern wine area in Europe.
Most international hotel chains have franchises in the major German cities, and a large variety of local hotels exist. All hotels in Germany are ranked by stars (1 to 5 stars). The rankings are made independently and are therefore reliable. The rate always includes VAT, is usually per room and includes in most places breakfast. Prices vary significantly by city . A cheap and convenient way to stay are Ibis Hotels, usually located near major railway stations. For people who travel by car, Etap hotels located at the outskirts of cities near autobahns offer rates that can compete with hostel prices; though those hotels are not necessarily better and they lack the individuality hostels are renowned for.