I'm going to Germany

My cousin and I are going to explore Germany. We arrive in Frankfurt on a Saturday. We’ll get a Eurorail pass and go from there. We will leave Hanover the following Saturday. We’re scheduled to leave in about a month (beginning of Nov.)

I’ve never travelled outside the U.S. except Canada. I don’t speak German and I don’t think what I remember of my High School French will help much. I’ve been looking at some sites on the net for common German words and phrases.

I’ve heard that you get a much better response in any foreign country if you make an attempt to speak the language. Any suggestions on what/how to learn German?

Any suggestions on what to see or where to visit? Any comments on customs or culture will also be appreciated.

Yes. Don’t try to cover the entire Continent in three weeks. Stay in one place and learn about it. Find a nice pub and go there every single day. Make friends. Don’t feel the need to go to every German town before your ticket runs out. German towns are all the same. The people are all the same too.

Here’s a quick German lesson:

“Ein grosses bier, bitte.”

Followed by:

“Noch ein, bitte.”

Repeat as necessary. It’ll get you a LONG way.

  • PW

I was just in Bavaria last month, and although I think my high school German is still pretty good I often found that people would answer my questions in English! I think people do appreciate it if you make some effort to actually speak German, but you may want to cut the chase and find out if the person you’re dealing with is one of Germany’s many fluent English speakers. So “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” is a good one to know.

“Ein Karte, bitte” (“One ticket, please”) is also useful. If you’ve got a student ID, ask for the “Student Karte” (or “Studentin Karte”, if you’re a girl), that will often save you a Euro or two. When travelling you may want to ask for round-trip ticket, that’s a “Ruckfahrkarte”. “Wieviel?” (vee-feel) means “How much?”, although it’s better if you can manage a whole sentence like “Wieviel fur ein Studentin Karte, bitte?” You may want to practice German numbers so you’ll be able to understand how much things cost and what platform (“Gleis”) your train is leaving from.

I don’t know if this holds true in the rest of Germany, but in Bavaria at least you are expected to seat yourself in restaurants. I never got used to this. I always wound up standing in the door like a big foreign idiot until I could catch a waiter’s attention and ask permission to sit down. Oh yeah, don’t expect a free glass of water. If you want a drink, you’re paying for it. No free refills on soft drinks, either. That’s part of the reason why so many people go for beer – you really do get more value for your money that way. I just carried a water bottle with me, but I’m cheap.

You absolutely must see the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. Well, I think so anyway.

But seriously, I spent just over a week in Germany a few years ago. I went with my brother and a co-worker of his, and we hit Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, and finally Munich. All of which I would recommend. One comment on customs … keep your hands above the table when seated at a restaurant. It is apparently bad manners to have your hands in your lap/under the table. A server in Heidelberg refused to serve my brother until he brought his hands from under the table.

Try to learn as much German as you can if you want to really get into the culture, but don’t fret about it too much. If you make an attempt and appear to be struggling, we found that many Germans will appreciate the gesture, but will switch to speaking English to help you out.


resist the urge to walk up to the hottest chick in the pub and say “Geben mir einen Küss.” :wink:

In train stations, bus stations, shopping centres, etc., the “eingang” is the entrance and the “ausgang” is the exit. “Wo ist der klos” translates roughly to “where’s the bathroom,” I think.

Check out the Deutsches Museum of science in Munich if you can. It’s relatively cheap, you get a nice 150-page booklet with the price of admission, and you can peruse something like eighty-thousand square metres worth of exhibits on cars, railroads, sub-atomic particles, shipbuilding, medicine, the ozone layer, and so on. I spent four hours there one blisteringly hot summer afternoon and saw less than one-third of the place. It’s even got real locomotives from the turn of the century. Incredibly cool facility.

Oh, and order the dark beers. Mmmmm…

<Basil Fawlty>

Whatever you do, don’t mention the war!

</Basil Fawlty>

Well, of course you need to visit Berlin. There is enough history and culture here to easily keep you occupied for weeks. Hard to make specific recommendations without knowing your interests, though. Are you interested in art? Architecture? Nightlife?

I find Frankfurt to be fairly characterless, and Stuttgart generally has a reputation for being wealthy and pretty but dull (I haven’t been there but I know a disproportionate number of Stuttgart expats here in Berlin). I would advise you to spend a couple days in Dresden if you get a chance; it’s another very historical city and I think it’s important to spend some time in the former DDR if you really want to get a well-rounded picture of Germany today.

I am not sure whether Palewriter was being sarcastic, but German towns and people vary a lot between regions (and particularly between East and West–the gap may be shrinking but at a very slow rate). Bavarians are quite different from Saxonians and so on, and there is really nowhere on Earth which is quite like Berlin.

One cultural irritant I would like to mention is the “pfand” which you will pay anytime you buy drinks in plastic bottles or cans from a shop (even from gas stations). It is usually 15 or 25 cents on top of the price of the drink, and to get it back you need to return the container to the same location with your receipt. Of course you aren’t forced to recycle but it’s something to keep in mind if you are on a budget.

I don’t know if you smoke, but it seems nearly every German does so if you go out to bars or nightclubs you can expect to hear “Hast du feuer?” (got a light?) on a very regular basis.

My German is still far from fluent, but I picked up a lot simply from listening to German music and looking at newspapers and magazines. The vocabulary will not be that difficult to an English speaker; the grammar is another story.

Stuttgart is actually quite nice. Frankfurt I didn’t like - I found it too American.

My favourite thing about Germany was the pizza. No shit, it’s REALLY good.

Compared to Irish pizza, or on its own merits ? Might make a bit of a difference :stuck_out_tongue:

It will probably be cold, and much of Germany is outdoors. (That sounds snarky as I read it but you’ll learn that it’s true). So dress warmly. It may be a bit early for it, but check if there are any Christmas markets (maybe Kristkindelmarkt (sp?)), particularly the one in Nürnberg (Nuremburg - English spelling). Gluhwein (hot mulled wine) is one of the winter outdoor market specialties. Not all German towns are alike, although many are similar. Try the bier in each town, and find your favorite. If you don’t like beer then consider a different destination. Hanover is not inexpensive, I wouldn’t stay there for more than a day if you’re on any kind of a budget. Frankfurt is probably the most American feeling city. Meet German people, eschew the tendency to hang with Americans or other expats you might meet.

I second visiting Berlin…huge city, but with lots of parks and rivers and lakes. Plenty to do by day, and a wild, non-stop night life as well. Plus there are some really good youth hostels that even have their own bars in the hotels.

Yes, try your German…learn to count at least to ten.

“Toll” is kinda Berlin slang for great, fantastic, wonderful.

“Geil” means horny, sexy, super-cool.

Contrary to poplular belief, not all Germans speak English. Actually, the vast majority don’t. Of course, those who work in the service industry (hotels/restaurants/bars etc.) probably speak it better than most.

However, if you speak slowly and use simple English words, most might be able to at least understand what you are trying to say.

And try not to talk loudly…it is one thing Americans seem to do in Europe - “Marge! Check out these postcards!” screamed across the street. I never even noticed it myself until I lived there…seems like American tourists are the loudest screamers travelling the earth!

But go have fun! You are going to love everything (except the weather)! And be sure to check out the local department stores…you won’t believe how cheap European designer clothes are there! And the bakeries alone are enough to make getting up in the morning worthwhile!

Find a cybercafe along the way and fill us in how your trip is going!

You can live off the Schnell Imbiss food stands on the street, IMO. Brats and beer are the watchwords.

I would get a copy of “German in 10 Minutes a Day”. These books are excellent at getting you to functional language in a short time, contain phrases, flash cards, etc. Buy a pocket English-German dictionary. Sometimes a one-word question is all you need…“Hospital?”

Try to make it to Bavaria in the south, if at all possible. The “Crazy Ludwig” castles are worth the trip, and Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest has some spectacular views. They also have the best beer down there. Cross the border into Salzburg, Austria and visit the castle and the many churches.

Get a small phrasebook that will fit in your pocket. I got the Berlitz version and before I went (or during the long plane ride) flipped through it and tabbed the sections with phrases I thought I would need the most. Yes, it is slightly compulsive, but it sure makes things easier when you don’t have to flip through the entire book to find a single phrase.

Since you’re flying into Frankfurt, consider spending a day or 2 in the Rhine Valley. I am not sure how the trains would work (we drove), but the areas around Berg Eltz and Bacharach were wonderful.

In the cities, enough people will speak English that you’ll probably get around OK, but don’t count on it in the more remote areas or with older folks. But the ones in the service/tourism industry, ones you’re likely to encounter, will probably speak enough. Learn 5 verbs (to want, to buy, etc.) and phrases like where (Wo) or how (Wie). You can point our the nouns or specific phrases in the phrasebooks.

ATMs have English options! No worries there.

In the train stations, look for windows that have an “English” sign on top. Oh, and if you want a non-smoking train seat, specify that you want a non-smoking car, not just seats in the non-smoking section in a smoking car. We did not know there was a difference and paid the price during a very long 6 hour train ride.

If you have time, venture into Bavaria as others have suggested. It’s a beautiful part of Europe.

If you’re not into beer, try the lemon spritzer/beer combination, the name of which escapes me. Sorry. I think it’s a Bavarian local speciality.

We used Rick Steve’s Germany/Austria/Czech Republic tourbook. Yes, everyone will probably be carrying a copy and it highlights spots where everyone else will be (because they all have the same book) but we found it useful and easy to carry.

er… not quite. A German would understand “Where is the dumpling/the lump?”. Better to ask “Wo ist die Toilette?” (Tooahlettey). When speaking English better ask for “the toilet” as the “bathroom” euphemism isn’t widely understood. Toilet doors are variously marked “WC”, “00”, with male/female stick figures, with cutesy symbols of boys/girls peeing or “Herren”/“Männer”/“Damen”/“Frauen” (gentlemen/men/ladies/women, respectively)

Bitte (please) and Danke (thank you) will go a long way. English is spoken by most educated people, at least those aged, say, forty and below (an educated seventy year old German might have learned Latin, Greek and French instead…). Pronounciation, though, is usually either excruciatingly bad or British. Rudimentary French will be much less use than native English.

If you travel by train it might be a good idea to eschew suitcases and tote a big backpack. More practical for entering/exiting the train and for walking around the city centre without needing a taxi at once.

A railway timetable database is available at bahn.de. Long-distance trains are most crowded Friday to Sunday, of course - you might prefer to take out a seat reservation on these days, available at the Reisezentrum (ticket office) in the station, as is on request a printout of your rail itinerary for a given connection.

Cities I’d recommend to visit:

Hamburg: city with a long mercantile/maritime tradion. Good walks are the port (station Lanungsbrücken, best walk along the harbour promenade and take a one to two hour boat trip through the port, and also along the Alster lake.

One of the older, smaller North German cities such as Lübeck, Celle, Hameln (Hamelin) or Goslar. Nice historic parts of town.

Hannover: doesn’t have a touristy reputation (more known for its large pedestrinanized centre dedicated to the shopping deities) but a walk along the Maschsee is lovely. Good to live in with its large parks and city forest.

Stuttgart: big but more provincial in outlook.

Munich: overrated IMO

Towns on Lake Constance, such as Konstanz or Friedrichshafen.
When exploring a city, Bratwurst, Currywurst or Döner from a stand or hole in the wall are much preferable as fast food to McDonalds’ offerings.

If you eat in a restaurant you mostly seat yourself. In the more down-to-earth classes of restaurant, when it’s crowded it is not bad manners to ask if you may share some other party’s table, and then respecting the other party’s privacy if they don’t indicate they like to talk.

The big problem in most German restaurants is: when you have ordered and eaten, the waiter won’t present the bill unasked or otherwise indicate that you should leave. In the evening they will be perfectly content to let you linger for hours and hours after your meal (because that’s what many Germans do after their meal, with the occasional refill…). If you do want to leave in short order this might be a problem. Don’t be shy - signal the waiter energetically or even walk up to him/her.

Anyway, you will be very welcome. Please don’t misunderstand our not smiling at you - we Germans may look a morose lot sometimes but that’s not to be taken personally, it’s just that we only smile if we are really happy rather than by default.

I was in Germany earlier this year, I was in Munich, Ulm and Cologne, Ulm was the highlight, big enuogh to have everything but not a “big city” in the U.S. sense of the term (it was charming and pretty with friendly people who ALL spoke English).

Note: when you buy bottled water (and you will):
“still” means uncarbonated or “no gas” (non sparkling), buy an extra bottle and carry it ALWAYS and use a public toilet just for the novelty (they are simplt too cool!)

I would reccomend:
The pretzel dough rolls sold all over from street bakery outlets (I don’t know the proper term but they are EVERYWHERE!).
Have a “Radler” (about half pilsner beer and half Sprite, it’s better than it sounds).
Have a Gammon (Shrimp) sandwich (boiled shrimp, sliced Cucumbers and 1000 island dressing on a baguette yummy!.
Try every beer you can, there are some AMAZING local brews out there (I discovered Schneider Weisse original in Ulm and I drink a LOT of it now).

Have fun, I am jealous!, I want to go back.


In terms of cheap eating, as Chefguy mentioned “Imbiss” means something like “Fast food” or “Snacks”. You can buy a pretzel (Brezel), sausages, drinks, etc., at these places.

The German fast food chain Nordsee seemed to have pretty decent stuff. You can get fish and chips there as well as various fish sandwiches and even a box of fried calamari. I just got some chips since I’m not a big fish fan, but the rest of their offerings certainly looked (and smelled!) much tastier than your typical McFish junk.

Oh, fair warning, you may have to pay to use public toilets! Some are free, but others cost up to 50 cents.

I went to Germany this summer. I had a number of very surreal experiences there, and all in all had a very good time. I speak very little German, and due to a Jewish grandmother have often been told that I “look very Jewish”. I went to Berlin and Munich over a week-and-a-half.

Great Things About Germany

  1. Very cool and accessible night-life
  2. Everybody owns a dog
  3. Most people enjoy the outdoors
  4. Popular and innovative festivals
  5. Good beer; the Radler is good too
  6. Great sausages, everywhere
  7. Pretzels covered in poppy seeds (mohnbretzen?)
  8. Good transportation
  9. Hot, forward women
  10. A general appreciation for good music and culture
  11. Very clean hostel facilities
  12. Neat museums

Less great things about Germany

  1. Expensive transport
  2. People can be quite dogmatic/officious
  3. Many towns very similar (like England)
  4. Don’t like the Weisswurst.

Had a very good time, all in all, and will certainly be going back to Berlin.

Wow! Thanks a lot everyone. I knew I could count on the SDMB.

I sent my cousin a link to this thread, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

Great, I’ll try to be on my best behavior and I’ll end up being ignored and considered gauche.

I like museums… I’m just wondering what it will be like when I don’t understand most of any audio or written display.

Thanks Shib that was the best laugh I’ve had all day. Once I thought about it, I think I understand what you mean but it was hilarious when I first read it. (btw, I thought snarky was more along the lines of snide than clueless. Anyone care to add to my knowledge of cyber english?)

I can already count to four. I used to be able to count to ten when I was a child but I’ll have to learn again.

Don’t worry. I can be forceful and loud when necessary but in general I’m a pretty quiet and unassuming guy.

I googled this and it looks great. One trip to the bookstore scheduled for tomorrow.

Sorry, I wanted to mention everyone but it’s taking too long to put this post together. :wink:

Question about the bier. Warm or cold? (Okay, warm to an American palate. Usually that would be room temp.)

How do you say cyber cafe or internet access in German? (if you can add phonetic spelling too that would help)

Just for the record, I’m a 42 year old male. While I won’t be throwing money around I won’t be watching every penny. I like museums, more science and technical than art but both are good. The castles and churches sound interesting too. But that sounds so limited. I know when I visit other states/cities, walking down the street can be an adventure, so any suggestions are appreciated.

Thanks again.

<----hoping to go to stuttgart this fall

Concerning the beer: I understand that when you get it, it’s cold (or at least cool.) But Germans get the reputation for drinking warm, flat beer because it ends up that way after spending an hour on it, as tschild alluded to.

How do you say cyber cafe or internet access in German? (if you can add phonetic spelling too that would help)

a cyber cafe would be an “internet cafe” in Germany.

I would also recommend visiting Cologne - a vibrant city at the Rhine, and Hamburg of course (as I moved there 2 Years ago because IMHO it is the coolest German city - the local beer in Hamburg sucks though)