ATMs -- In German cities, you can easily find 24-hour ATMs in airports, train stations, and outside banks. Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and Plus (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com/atms) are the most popular networks. Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM, and that the fee can be higher for international transactions. In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. Despite the fees, ATM withdrawals are usually less costly than transactions made at Bureaux du Change and other commercial exchanges.
Business Hours -- Most banks are open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1pm and 2:30 to 4pm (Thurs to 5:30pm). Money exchanges at airports and border-crossing points are generally open daily from 6am to 10pm. Most businesses are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and on Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Store hours can vary from town to town, but shops are generally open Monday to Friday 9 or 10am to 6 or 6:30pm (Thurs to 8:30pm). Saturday hours are generally from 9am to 1 or 2pm, except on the first Saturday of the month, when stores may remain open until 4pm. In shopping malls and major shopping districts in larger cities, some stores open on Sunday from noon to 5pm.
Customs -- You can take into Germany most personal effects and the following items duty-free: one video camera or two still cameras with 10 rolls of film each; a portable radio, a tape recorder, and a laptop PC, provided they show signs of use; 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 250 grams of tobacco; 2 liters of wine or 1 liter of liquor per person 18 and over; fishing gear; one bicycle; skis; tennis or squash racquets; and golf clubs.
Returning U.S. citizens who have been away for at least 48 hours can bring back, once every 30 days, US$800 worth of merchandise duty-free. You'll be charged a flat rate of 4% duty on the next US$1,000 worth of purchases. Be sure to have your receipts handy. On mailed gifts, the duty-free limit is US$200. With some exceptions, you cannot bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the United States. For specifics on what you can bring back, download the invaluable free pamphlet Know Before You Go online at www.cbp.gov.
For a clear summary of Canadian rules, you can download the booklet I Declare at www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/publications. It is issued by Canada Border Services Agency (tel. 800/461-9999 in Canada, or 204/983-3500; www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca). Canada allows a C$750 exemption, which can be used only once a year and only after an absence of 7 days. You’re allowed to bring back duty-free one carton of cigarettes, one can of tobacco, 40 imperial ounces of liquor, and 50 cigars. In addition, you're allowed to mail gifts to Canada valued at less than C$60 a day, provided they're unsolicited and don't contain alcohol or tobacco (write on the package "Unsolicited gift, under C$60 value"). You should declare all valuables on the Y-38 form before departing Canada, including serial numbers of valuables you already own, such as expensive foreign cameras.
Disabled Travelers -- Germany is relatively hospitable for travelers with disabilities. Most large cities and many smaller ones provide elevator access to subways, ramps and lifts on buses and streetcars and at museums and other public facilities, and wheelchair-accessible taxis. The local tourist offices can issue permits for drivers to allow them access to parking areas for people with disabilities. Many hotels, especially newer ones, are equipped to meet the needs of those with disabilities, and some have specially equipped rooms for the disabled. Many restaurants, including many of the more expensive ones, are wheelchair accessible. Keep in mind, though, that throughout the country some historic sights may not be properly equipped for travelers with disabilities.
Organizations that offer assistance to travelers with disabilities include MossRehab (tel. 800/225-5667; www.mossresourcenet.org), which provides a library of accessible-travel resources online; Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH; tel. 212/447-7284; www.sath.org), which offers a wealth of travel resources for all types of disabilities and informed recommendations on destinations, access guides, travel agents, tour operators, vehicle rentals, and companion services; and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB; tel. 800/232-5463 or 212/502-7600; www.afb.org), a referral resource that provides information on traveling with Seeing Eye dogs.
Access-Able Travel Source (tel. 303/232-2979; www.access-able.com) offers a comprehensive database on travel agents from around the world with experience in accessible travel; destination-specific access information; and links to such resources as service animals, equipment rentals, and access guides. Many travel agencies offer customized tours and itineraries for travelers with disabilities. Among them are FlyingWheels Travel (tel. 888/451-5006 or 507/451-5005; www.flyingwheelstravel.com) and Accessible Journeys (tel. 800/846-4537 or 610/521-0339; www.disabilitytravel.com). The “Accessible Travel” link at Mobility-Advisor.com (www.mobility-advisor.com) offers a variety of travel resources to persons with disabilities.
Doctors -- Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883 or 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for lists of local, English-speaking doctors. You can find listings of reliable medical clinics in Germany at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
Drinking Laws -- Officially, you must be 18 to consume any kind of alcoholic beverage in Germany. Bars and cafes rarely request proof of age. Drinking while driving, however, is treated as a very serious offense.
Electricity -- In most places, the electricity is 220 volts AC (50 cycles). Much of your electronic gear (including laptops) have built-in converters but you will need a transformer for any device without one. Be sure to pack an adapter (a plug that fits the German socket). Many hotels will supply these.
Embassies & Consulates -- The following embassies and consulates are in Berlin. The embassy of the United States is at Pariser Platz 2 (tel. 030/83050; http://germany.usembassy.gov; U-Bahn: Brandenburger Tor), open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 3pm. The U.K. Embassy is at Wilhelmstrasse 70 (tel. 030/204570; http://ukingermany.fco.gov.uk/de; U-Bahn: Anhalter Bahnhof), open Monday to Friday 8am to 4:30pm. The Australian Embassy is at Wallstrasse 76–79 (tel. 030/8800880; www.germany.embassy.gov.au/beln/home.html; U-Bahn: Spittel-markt), open Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5pm and Friday 8:30am to 4:15pm. The Canadian Embassy is at Leipziger Platz 17 (tel. 030/203120; www.canadainternational.gc.ca; U-Bahn: Potsdamer Platz), open Monday to Friday 9am to noon. The Irish Embassy is at Jägerstrasse 51 (tel. 030/220720; www.embassyofireland.de; U-Bahn: Uhlandstrasse), open Monday to Friday 9:30am to noon and 2:30 to 3:45pm. The New Zealand Embassy is at Friedrichstrasse 60 (tel. 030/206210; www.nzembassy.com; U-Bahn: Friedrichstrasse), open Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5:30pm.
Emergencies -- Throughout Germany the emergency number for police is tel. 110; for fire or to call an ambulance, dial tel. 112.
Family Travel -- Admission prices for attractions throughout Germany are reduced for children ages 6 to 14. Kids younger than 6 almost always get in for free. If you’re traveling with children, always check to see whether the attraction offers a money-saving family ticket, which considerably reduces the admission price for a group of two adults and two or more children. The same is true for public transportation: Low-priced family or group tickets usually are available. On trains, children ages 6 to 11 pay half the adult fare, and children younger than 6 travel free.
Gay & Lesbian Travelers -- Germany is one of the most “developed” countries in the world when it comes to gay pride, gay culture, and gay tourism. If you are schwul (gay) or lesbisch (lesbian), you’ll find plenty to do in Deutschland. Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Cologne all have large gay communities, but gay life flourishes outside the big cities, too. A network of gay or gay-friendly restaurants, cafes, stores, bars, dance clubs, and community centers exists throughout the country, in small towns and large.
Gay and lesbian couples (or friends) qualify for family tickets on public transportation in many Germany cities. With most family, or Gruppen (group) tickets, all that matters is that two (or more) individuals travel together.
Every summer, parades and special events celebrate gay pride. Berlin holds its annual Gay & Lesbian Street Festival in mid-June, celebrates its Christopher Street Day and Parade around the third weekend in June, and stages its famous Loveparade in mid-July. Munich celebrates Christopher Street Day in mid-July. Hamburg celebrates with a Gay Pride Parade and Festival around June 8 to 10. Cologne’s Christopher Street Weekend usually is the first weekend in June. Frankfurt’s Christopher Street Weekend takes place around the third weekend in July.
Health -- Germany should not pose any major health hazards. The heavy cuisine may give some travelers mild indigestion, so you might want to pack an over-the-counter medicine and moderate your eating habits. The water is safe to drink throughout Germany; however, don’t drink from mountain streams, no matter how clear and pure the water looks, to prevent contact with giardia and other bacteria.
German medical facilities are among the best in the world. If a medical emergency arises, your hotel staff can usually put you in touch with a reliable doctor. If not, contact the American embassy or a consulate; each one maintains a list of English-speaking doctors. Medical and hospital services aren’t free, so be sure that you have appropriate insurance coverage before you travel.
Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels—otherwise they might not make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
Insurance -- For travel overseas, most U.S. health plans (including Medicare and Medicaid) do not provide coverage, and the ones that do often require you to pay for services upfront and reimburse you only after you return home.
Canadians should check with their provincial health-plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home if they are treated overseas.
Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced-cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0845/605-0707; www.ehic.org.uk). Note, however, that the EHIC covers only “necessary medical treatment”; for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company should always be sought. Call tel. 0870/033-9985 or visit www.travelinsuranceweb.com for quotes from several companies.
Internet & Wi-Fi -- Many hotels, cafes, and retailers have Wi-Fi “hot spots,” as do most libraries in Germany. Many hotels also offer in-room Wi-Fi (noted in our listings), others in the lobby and other public areas. To find cybercafes, increasingly rare, check www.cybercaptive.com and www.cybercafe.com.
Mail -- Street mailboxes are painted yellow. It costs 1.70€ for the first 5 grams (about 1/5 oz.) to send an airmail letter to the United States or Canada, and 1€ for postcards. Letters to the U.K. cost .70€.
Mobile Phones -- In Germany, a mobile phone is called a Handy (pronounced as it’s spelled). If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone, you can make and receive calls across Germany and the rest of Europe. Just call your wireless operator and ask for “international roaming” to be activated on your account. Having an unlocked phone enables you to install a cheap, prepaid SIM card (found at a local retailer) in Germany. (Show your phone to the salesperson; not all phones work on all networks.) You’ll get a local phone number and much lower calling rates.
Although you can rent a phone from any number of German sites, including kiosks at airports and at car-rental agencies, it’s often more cost-effective if you rent the phone before you leave home. Two reliable wireless rental companies are InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) and RoadPost (tel. 888-290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com).
Money & Costs -- The euro (€) is the single European currency of Germany and other participating countries. Exchange rates of participating countries are locked into a common currency fluctuating against the dollar. Prices in Germany are moderate, especially compared to those in large cities in the U.S. and Britain, and you generally get good value for your money. Travelers can expect to pay as little as 100€ or even less for a decent hotel room, 40€ for a modest dinner for two, 2.50€ for a cup of coffee, and around 8€ for admission to major galleries.
In Germany, American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa are commonly accepted, with the latter two cards predominating. Note that many banks now assess a 1% to 3% “transaction fee” on all charges you incur abroad (whether you’re using the local currency or your native currency).
Passports -- Citizens of the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. do not require visas for visits of less than 3 months.
Police -- Throughout the country, dial tel. 110 for emergencies.
Safety -- Overall, the security risk to travelers in Germany is low. Violent crime is rare, but it can occur, especially in larger cities or high-risk areas such as train stations. Most incidents of street crime consist of theft of unattended items and pickpocketing. Take the same precautions against becoming a crime victim as you would in any city.
Report the loss or theft abroad of your passport immediately to the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while in Germany, in addition to reporting to local police, contact the nearest embassy or consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff, for example, can assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you understand the local criminal-justice process and find an attorney if needed
Senior Travel -- Members of AARP (tel. 888/687-2277; www.aarp.org), may get discounts on hotels at some major international chains, and car rentals from most major firms. Anyone 50 and over can join. In general, though, travelers should not expect to find a treasure-trove of senior discounts in Germany. Even some typical at-home discounts—such as those for museum entrance fees and public transport fares—are usually not available to non-resident seniors.
Smoking -- Check before lighting up. In general, you cannot smoke in most restaurants and many bars in Germany, but these rules are in a continuous state of flux and vary by federal state—in some cases smoking is banned by law and enforced. In other cases the official law is not enforced in bars of a certain size, or after the kitchen closes at restaurants that are open late and morph into a barlike setting as the night goes on. Throughout the country, smoking is banned in all public buildings and on transport.
Taxes -- As a member of the European Union, Germany imposes a tax on most goods and services known as a value-added tax (VAT) or, in German, Mehrwertsteuer. Nearly everything is taxed at 16%, including vital necessities such as gas and luxury items such as jewelry; the tax is factored into the price. Food and books are taxed at 7%. VAT is included in the prices of restaurants and hotels. Stores that display a tax-free sticker will issue you a Tax-Free Shopping Check at the time of purchase. When leaving the country, have your check stamped by the German Customs Service as your proof of legal export. You can then get a cash refund at one of the Tax-Free Shopping Service offices in the major airports and many train stations and some of the bigger ferry terminals. Otherwise, you must send the checks to Tax-Free Shopping Service, Mengstrasse 19, 23552 Lübeck, Germany. There is no airport departure tax.
Telephones -- The country code for Germany is 49. To call Germany from the United States, dial the international access code 011, then 49, then the city code, then the regular phone number. Note: The phone numbers listed in this book are to be used within Germany; when calling from abroad, omit the initial 0 in the city code.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 11837 if you’re looking for a number inside Germany, and dial tel. 11834 for numbers to all other countries. For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 0180/200-1033.
To call the U.S. or Canada from Germany, dial 01, followed by the country code (1), then the area code, and then the number. Alternatively, you can dial the various telecommunication companies in the States for cheaper rates. From Germany, the access number for AT&T is tel. 0800/8880010, and for MCI, tel. 0800/8888000. USA Direct can be used with all telephone cards and for collect calls. The number from Germany is tel. 013/00010. Canada Direct can be used with Bell Telephone Cards and for collect calls; this number from Germany is tel. 013/00014.
Tipping -- If a restaurant bill says Bedienung, that means a service charge has already been added, so just round up to the nearest euro. If not, add 10% to 15%. Bellhops get 1€ per bag, as does the doorperson at your hotel, restaurant, or nightclub. Room-cleaning staffs get small tips in Germany, as do concierges who perform some special favors.
Toilets -- Use the word “Toilette” (pronounced twah-leh-tah). Women’s toilets are usually marked with an f for Frauen, and men’s toilets with an h for Herren. Expect to pay 1€ to use public facilities.
Visitor Information -- All cities and nearly all larger towns in Germany have tourist offices; we include these for all cities and towns we cover. The German National Tourist Board headquarters is at Beethovenstrasse 69, 60325 Frankfurt am Main (tel. 069/751903; www.germany-tourism.de or www.cometogermany.com). The website provides listings for offices abroad.