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Surfing in Munich

Germany is a place I know pretty well, probably the best outside of places which I’ve traveled. My fascination goes all the way back to college when I was required to take a language class. Having already taken Spanish my entire teenage life, I figured it was time for something new. I embarked on learning German and the decided to minor in what the university dubbed, “Germanic Studies”. A couple years in I felt kind of dumb for not having visited the place so I bought a ticket to Berlin.img_2033

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Bridges in Bamberg

I can tell you this, Germany has been viewed as Europe’s great agitator for most of the last century, but If you look past the place or try to generalize the people, even one bit, you’ll be very mistaken. In my travels, I have never come across a place as contrasting as Germany. From the alternative art culture of Berlin, to the Bavarian State in which Munich resides, every turn in Germany will surprise you. The first time I went to Germany I fell in love with the country.

It’s one country that I keep going back to. Rich with history and people to match, every visit is exciting. Germany is a big place and the people have big hearts, and even bigger dreams. The country is constantly at the forefront of technology, ideals, and even in time of recent need, Europe’s savior — its bank account and its haven for those in need. Sure the media likes to put the problems with immigrant assimilation at the top of their news spread, but if you take a look with you own eyes, you’re going to love what you’ll find.

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Brandenburg Gate – Berlin


ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

  • Germany is on the Euro, and is one of the great powerhouses on the currency and is pretty easy to convert between the USD and the Pound. You’re also looking at a country that’s very technologically advanced so ATM’s are readily available and will probably offer the most favorable exchange rates, minus your bank’s fees if you have any. Most restaurants and stores will take credit card (chip enabled) although some smaller stores and most street vendors will not. Because the street food in Germany is the way to go, you’re going to want cash.
  • German’s speak German, whaaaaaaaaat… but something to keep in mind is that Germany has a diverse population of internationals, especially in the cities. There are many people from places like Turkey, and Eastern Europe that are struggling to learn German, just like you and may not be able to communicate with you easily. Today English is taught as a second language in schools, and some of the older population might be familiar with it, especially if they are from a region that was occupied, post war. That said. Never expect someone to know your language, and if you are hoping to converse in English, start with “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”. The basics of German are really fun to learn and I highly encourage you to learn them. Locals will love that you’re trying.
  • Germany is safe in general, especially in the countryside. Cities in general are safe, but keep your wits about you on public transit and in crowded tourist areas. Also try to avoid people talking loud or aggressive outside night clubs or bars. Police are very helpful in Germany and seem to keep a decent eye on things, despite their intimidating presence. Prostitution is legal, so don’t be shocked if you’re out at night in Berlin and see prostitutes waiting in the open. Also, be very away of where you are walking in the cities. Bikes have their own land and can be very aggressive, even though the technically don’t have the right of way.
  • Football (soccer) is very popular and has a passionate supporter culture. With that, avoid wearing jersey’s unless you’re traveling with a team’s supporters. This is especially in regard to the team Bayern Munich. These guys are the Yankees of the German Budesliga and are pretty much universally disliked outside of Bavaria. That said, attending a home match as an outsider can be incredible. I was in Munich the night they won the Champions League in 2013 and the city turned into the biggest party I’ve ever seen.
  • Tipping 5-10 percent is a very good tip, and rounding up a euro or to usually does the trick. German restaurant workers are paid by the hour so tipping is mainly used for showing the amount you liked the service (unlike in the U.S. where not tipping is taboo). If you felt the service was slow and you needs not fully met, no tip is acceptable. Like in other Germanic countries, when paying the bill you can indicate the tip in the total price you want to pay. For example. You offer a €20 for a €13 tab. You say “fünfzehn Euro” — which means “fifteen”.
  • Politically, one could say that the German’s are finally getting back on their feet. There is a very complex mix of emotions regarding the 19th century and what it means to be German. Because of what some would say as guilt, others as a collective need to be part of Europe as a whole, the Germans have put themselves at the forefront of European politics and trying to lead in “togetherness”. People who want to view the Germans as a image of their past are ignorant in the same way that those who view Americans only for the trail of tears and the murder of the Native Americans. Acting like someone you meet on the street is in some way responsible for such horrible events is uncalled for and downright rude. The Germans are fantastic people and possibly some of the people I’ve enjoyed meeting the most. That said, it’s probably best to avoid this area of history in conversation, unless you are good friends.
  • Drinking in Public is legal and perfectly acceptable. Drinking on public transit, especially in a glass bottle is forbidden and taboo. You don’t want to be that drunk foreigner who everyone is staring at. For cheap beer, I’d head to the nearest convenience store, where beers are sold by the bottle and most places will even open it for you. Beer on the go. That said, be sure to not be drunk and disorderly as that is certainly against the law.

COSTS / SAVING MONEY

  • Overall, Germany is fairly affordable and pretty middle of the line when it comes to Europe. especially when it comes to lodging. If you’re into hostels, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, and Frankfurt all have you covered with a surplus so it keeps the prices down. In general, the further east in Germany, the slightly lower prices you will find, although this doesn’t always hold up.
  • Street food/ fast food is by far the way to go for cheap food while in Germany. There are a variety of options, from Turkish doner kabob stalls to currywürst walk-ins (A north German specialty) Germany has you covered when it comes to discount options. Although options in the cities seem to be all over, I’d head closer the the train or transit centers for the sure bet. Watch where the locals go, as some times it might seem like there are too many options.
  • Check out the free tours. Pretty much every German city has them and they include the main highlights and inside information as to how the locals live. Some tours will require you to have a transit/metro pass so come prepared. Also, although these tours are “free”, be sure to tip your guide as that’s how they earn their living. If you’re in a large group, 5-10 Euros will do.
  • Public transportation in Germany is fairly inexpensive and just like the Germans, very efficient. Some cities include lines that are both above and below ground so make sure to look up where you’re going.
  • City passes exist and can be a great value. The Berlin Pass, Frankfurt Card, and the Citytourcard of Munich all have value and if you are seeing enough of the sights included, or at a discount, they can definitely be worth it.
  • Bring your own food to bier gardens in Bavaria. Some will allow this as long as you’re buying drinks, just ask your server. This rule mainly only applies to Bavaria though, as up North, this would be very rude.