It seems that most Brits only tend to travel to Germany for a long weekend, or for a specific event such as the Oktoberfest or a football match. That’s certainly the case with us, as before this tour we’d only been to Germany a couple of times – a mini-break in Berlin and a weekend at the Hannover Christmas Market. I’d also been away on a business trip to Frankfurt.
Before setting out we didn’t really have any expectations for Germany. We mainly wanted to visit some of the larger cities to take in the WWII and Cold War history, and we were also keen to check out the Black Forest and the Mosel Valley.
It didn’t take long for us to become really taken with the country, and having passed through five times now we really don’t get why it isn’t a more popular holiday destination, in the same way that people spend a couple of weeks touring around France or Italy.
Here are some of our observations which might be helpful if you’re considering visiting Germany.
Having started our motorhome adventures in France and Spain, we’d quickly become accustomed to cheap or free aires, so it was a bit of a shock to find that the stellplätze with facilities – where you can dump your grey and black waste and fill up with fresh water – weren’t so cheap. However Germany is very motorhome-friendly, and the facilities are generally well maintained and reliable, so worth paying for.
Towns and cities
There are few larger towns or cities that weren’t impacted by Allied bombing in WWII. Many have been rebuilt in the traditional style, and in some cases – like Dresden and Würzburg – meticulously restored to their pre-WWII appearance, without Disney-fying it.
We both loved finding small towns and villages with half-timbered houses and loads of (usually red) geraniums in the window boxes – a really pretty sight.
The roads in Germany are toll-free and very well maintained, with few potholes to be found. This comes at a cost though, as there are roadworks almost everywhere, widening the roads as well as resurfacing them.
Road signs away from the motorways are yellow and black – just like the diversion signs in the UK – while diversion signs are black and white, so quite easy to miss. We found the diversions to be a bit of a challenge, with little prior warning – probably OK if you’re a local – and sometimes roads were just closed with no diversion at all.
It’s a pleasure to use public transport in Germany, as it’s efficient and generally inexpensive. As the railways are nationalised the ticket pricing is straightforward, and the one day travelcards – which include all modes of public transport and typically allow travel during the rush hour – are great value.
The excellent DB (Deutsch Bahn) Navigator app made it very easy to get from A to B, as it not only tells you which train, tram or bus to catch, it also gives you the platform and bus/tram stop numbers.
We did most our food shopping at Lidl, though we did use other stores too. If you want to go a bit upmarket, the Rewe supermarkets are good, and are probably most similar to Waitrose in the UK.
You get charged a ‘pfand’, or deposit, for plastic bottles and aluminium cans, and the stores usually have a couple of machines which will scan your empties and print a discount voucher to use at the till. Unfortunately you can only return Lidl empties to a Lidl store for a refund.
It was refreshing to find that shops and supermarkets are closed on Sundays, with only cafés, bars and restaurants opening up.
Carol’s favourite German shop is dm, an upmarket Superdrug, whilst mine has to be Hussel, the chocolate shop.
We found the traditional German food to be quite stodgy – large portions of meat (typically pork) with potato dumplings and sauerkraut. Whilst we enjoyed the odd meal, we couldn’t eat it too often. Instead, we found some excellent Turkish and Vietnamese restaurants.
Germany is is a wine producing nation, so it was good fun tasting the local wines.
There’s obviously a lot of history in Germany, and I was particularly interested in the WWII and Cold War history. We have visited several WWII Documentation Centres and found them to be excellent, with audio guides in English, and in each one there was easily enough content to keep us busy for half a day.
The Stasi museum in Berlin and the Stasi prison in Dresden are also definitely worth visiting if you’re into your Cold War history, as is Wünsdorf-Waldstadt (daytrip from Berlin).
I can speak a little German, enough to get by with the basics, and only had to use Google Translate the once. We found that most people in the larger cities spoke some English, but less so in the small towns and villages.
One of the things I shall miss the most about Germany is hearing people wish me ‘tschüss!’ (cheerio). The way it’s said always sounds so friendly – two syllables like a doorbell: chew-hoose. It’s the simple things!
WLAN aka WiFi
Free WLAN – the German for WiFi – is not easy to come by, as the owner of a WiFi connection is apparently legally responsible for all content downloaded, and so cafés and restaurants offering free WiFi are the exception rather than the norm, so if you need the free WiFi then it’s best to check before ordering your coffee. Many (but not all) tourist information offices have free WiFi. When we did find free WiFi, I found that it was almost always configured not to accept VPN connections.
As the UK SIM card in our MiFi box was running low on data, we did consider buying a German prepaid SIM card, but a law was recently passed where you need to have a German ID card to activate the SIM card and also submit a photo of yourself, so that wasn’t really feasible.
Germany as a holiday destination
Germany is an excellent place to travel around on holiday, and we’d definitely encourage anyone thinking about visiting to go for it, as there’s so much to see and do. For more information on the places we visited, then click on the Map link, or type Germany in the search box.
We never did manage to have black forest gateau in the Black Forest, so we’re just going to have to come back another time.