After our Nepal trip, I traveled to Germany to visit an “old” friend I hadn’t seen for 7 years & her lovely sister. This will not be in journal style, but rather more how-to style. I figure more folks I know are likely to travel to Germany…so here are some things I learned & places worth visiting! I was mostly in one particular nook in the southern part of Germany, so advice & places will reflect that. My computer will not do the thingies over the o and u…so just imagine they are included.
Basic Tips to Get You Started
1. Have a good German friend (or friends) who speak fluent English & invite you to stay with them in their cute German home. If this is not a realistic option & you are not lucky enough to have the best German friends ever…figure out a German-realistic budget for lodging. Germany is not exactly cheap & even hostel prices can be surprisingly pricey. Everything costs money in Germany. No free breakfast (10 euros, in fact), no free shuttle ride to the airport (that’ll be 3 euros), etc. So make sure to budget for that as well. There are ways to travel cheap, but that also depends on the area in Germany you plan to travel. If you know Germans, it is obviously more fun!
2. Getting Around. Train travel is popular & relatively easy to figure out…but be aware that train strikes do occur & can really screw up your plans. While I was in Germany there was a weeklong train strike! So…watch the news & consider a plan B. Also, buying train tickets in advance can be less expensive & more reliable (especially on busy weekends). Find out more about trains & purchase tickets at: www.bahn.com. Driving is apparently not a ridiculous option, although it is best to have an international driver’s license so you actually understand the road signs (though the IDL is not required). And, good luck figuring out the maps…
No, seriously. What is going on here? Part of this is France, I think.
Or you can just walk.
3. Buy a guidebook. This should be common sense. Right? Check second-hand stores first since these can be costly. That said, much older editions are quickly outdated & you obviously cannot budget with the prices stated (so plan accordingly). I bought a guidebook from Lonely Planet. As always, the “survival tip” sections are usually the most relevant. My only complaints about the “Discover Germany” book are that the book itself is heavy (clearly a negative when traveling) & the organization is a bit strange (unless you really know what you are looking for)…I would shop around for something other than this guidebook.
But walking around aimlessly through small villages with spectacular cobblestone streets is often better than the guidebook…
4. Prepare yourself for incredible hassle with incredibly cheap flights and then get over it because you got to visit GERMANY. My flight from Kathmandu to Frankfurt was $300 or so with Jet Airways via New Delhi. Let’s just say if I wasn’t an assertive person I would still be sitting in the Delhi airport with no food or water while an airport employee took off with my passport. Instead I ended up sprinting through the Duty-Free section & was the last person to board the plane.
But I made it here.
The flight back to Seattle area from Frankfurt was around $400 with Condor, which included check-in time several hours late (with updates only in German), no security guards to check bags at security, and a super delayed flight.
There was one free movie that was essentially a two and a half hour dialogue about relationships.
My Russian seatmate also handed me his passport and declaration form “because I cannot see this! So small. You fill out!”
Special gracious thanks to the angel of a man who did not charge me $50 to check my backpack (my only luggage). Right. Don’t count on that guy. Check the luggage requirements of your airline because they are as strict as the pharmacies in Germany.
5. Pharmacies in Germany. Bring your own drugs. I had a five-minute (translated) conversation (er—argument) with a pharmacist about Benadryl. I had allergies and a minor head cold & needed something to sleep. She initially lied & said Benadryl was not available & a “very dangerous” drug. Turned out they did have Benadryl in stock (locked in a back room?) & it was 10 euros for seven pills. Overdosing on Benadryl is dangerous, but one 25 mg pill to sleep? Seriously. The US is too lax about drugs, but Germany is the polar opposite. Also, nothing is available OTC in the supermarket other than vitamins. Everything requires a pricey pharmacy visit. Bring your own stash.
Or just drink beer because that doesn’t seem to be regulated.
6. Language. German is the official language of Germany. Not English. Just in case you didn’t know. So, don’t be surprised when English is not spoken even in some touristy areas. You should be just fine in the cities and very touristy areas (especially if someone is selling something). But if you plan to travel off the beaten path & into the countryside…you might want to learn a handful of German beyond “Hallo” or “Danke.” Or bring your best German friends along (which is why I only know Hallo & Danke).
But you might be able to find some English language books on a street corner…
7. People. People in the south have this reputation (even among other Germans). They are “cold” “closed off” do not smile, do not say hello, and are generally rude. Well, my good German friend “C” explained that this is just the culture & people of the south do not like superficial relationships. They don’t like small talk. If they make a friend, they have a friend for life. And, let me say–“C” has the apparent air of a “typical” southerner & she is a seriously fabulous friend. And not at all rude.
Proof that people in southern Germany can have fun.
So, even though your possibly overenthusiastic American “Wie geht es?” to people on a country road may get you only a blank stare…the people in the south can be pretty wonderful too. (I didn’t travel to the north, so I can’t comment on people there). And, P.S. I was told that wie geht es is a really American German thing to ask, unless you are a really close friend & want the truth.
8. Food. I had a bit of difficulty with the food. The baked-fresh bread is delicious, but makes frequent appearances…like at every single meal.
Potatoes, pasta, and meats…Good thing I was traveling & staying with vegetarians! But, yeah, the diet is carb heavy & add beer=digestive system meltdown (especially after eating mostly dahl bhat for a month).
Turks are the largest group of immigrants in Germany & therefore Turkish food is widely available, authentic, and mouth-watering. Italy is also not far & the pizza is outstanding. Seriously. I have never eaten such good pizza & adding corn is a new (to me) & perfect idea.
If you do love meat & potatoes, you will be just fine with German food! You will constantly be offered fresh bread, rich cake, cookies, cupcakes, pastries, and mysterious combinations of all.
My diet for two weeks.
Places in & around Tubingen
1. Schonbuch (with the thing over the o).
This is officially Schonbuch Nature Park. It is a type of game reserve with wild boars (we unfortunately did not see those), Red deer (similar to elk), a type of Bighorn Sheep, etc. It is also just a lovely space to walk through the woods, especially on a sunny spring morning. No cost for Schonbuch. Nearby, though, is the castle-converted restaurant Hohen Entringen. Grab a drink on the patio overlooking apple trees in bloom, bright yellow canola and green-checkered pastures (check opening dates for spring/summer).
2. Marchensee/Fairy Tale Lake. This is just a lovely little loop trail where you will likely see no people. You should probably bring a copy of The Hobbit. These woods are perfect for that book. There are also impeccably groomed horses being walked & vineyards on a hill. I did take photos, so I know this place is actually real. Trail starts in Pfaffingen. No cost. Likely not found in any guidebooks.
3. AM Markt in Tubingen. Quaint multi-colored German houses, curved-design narrow cobblestone streets, book shops, the Neptune Fountain, college town vibe, Turkish restaurants…Make sure to visit the iconic view of Tubingen over the bridge of the Neckar River. No cost to walk around. Ice cream shops unfortunately cost $.
The view of Tubingen.
4. Tubingen Castle & museum. Yes, the museum is inside the castle & includes a very famous and richly historical horse figurine. This piece is the oldest known figurine in the world.
The museum is in conjunction with Tubingen University, which is known for archaeological discoveries. The first half of the museum includes English descriptions, which fade to German-only in the later half. That is no matter when you are looking at figurines from 35,000 to 42,000 years ago made of mammoth ivory, Egyptian sarcophagi, faded Greek/Roman/Italian ceramics, and script on stone & broken pieces of painted bowls. 5 euros is well worth the trip!
A bit of a longer drive from Tubingen…
5. Burg Hohenzollern: Enchanting castle on the top of a steep hill.
You can walk the lovely grounds and/or pay an additional fee for a German language-only guided tour of the inside of the castle. You will be given hysterically gigantic slippers to slide through on the linoleum floors.
I do love to slide along castle floors…
The inside includes portraits of past royalty, ceilings lined with real gold, and crowns & gowns once worn by the now-dead folks in the portraits. The commentary was apparently quite dull, since my abbreviated English translation frequently included “just talking about the lineage & boring things.” There are also secret passageways and an obligatory ghost story about “The White Lady” who still haunts the castle. Basic cost 7 euros/12 euros for included tour of the inside.
6. Bad Urach Waterfall. A lovely stroll on a wide gravel path next to a mystical creek. Just don’t sprain your ankle on the slick, wet steps leading up to the falls. Minimal cost for parking only (as I recall). The train also passes nearby.
7. Blaubeuren/Blautopf (“Blue Pot” Lake). Another magical & seemingly impossibly blue lake—the color is due to the deepness & a vast cave system.
Viewing the lake itself does not cost money.
The town is another fun one to walk around & includes the Urgeschichtilches Museum (Urmu…since that first word cannot be possible) with the world’s oldest Venus figurine.
Yes, it does resemble a turkey…but it is also about 40,000 years old & a beautiful sight nonetheless.
The museum also contains the oldest bird figurine at around 38,000 years old & the oldest phallus (I didn’t have enough space on my camera for that). Cost of museum was around 5 euros?
Not a turkey.
8. Wimser Hohle. This is the deepest diving cave in all of Germany. Boat tours depend on time of year—late summer is apparently best due to lower water levels. Our tour guide with a pot-belly & suspenders initially said he would not take out another tour, but after explaining how far we drove, he reluctantly agreed.
You must duck your head & crouch on your knees in the boat to avoid getting hit in the head by the low rock in the cave. We paid 4 euros each for an only 7 minute long tour (Germany language-only). It was admittedly expensive for the short tour, but unique since nowhere else in Germany offers a boat-in-cave experience.
The restaurant nearby offers a wide selection of vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free/organic food (which is also a unique offering in Germany!)
Not for the claustrophobic.
Note: We combined the Bad Urach Waterfall, Blue Pot Lake, and Wimsener Hole sightseeing into one day. It was a jam-packed day, but totally enjoyable.
9. Vogstbaurenhof open-air museum in the Black Forest.
If you travel to the Black Forest, you should make this stop a priority. The museum includes beautiful restored/traditional Black Forest houses. The home included not only the living quarters, but also the barn & animals—all in one building. The architecture is distinctive with its overhanging straw & rye roofs & flower boxes overflowing with red geraniums.
There are also old mills for milling things like grape seed oil, & woodcarving exhibits. The price is around 8 euros, a bit more if you would like an audio tour. There are informational signs in various languages, including English.
There was also this sweet woman braiding corn husks to make shoes.
10. Triberg Wasserfalle (Waterfall, if you didn’t get that). So, a note on Triberg: Triberg is really damn touristy. The main street is lined with clock shops (another illustrious souvenir of the Black Forest).
I chopped out all the people.
The waterfall in Triberg is the highest in Germany & hidden from view in the main town. Good thing for whoever profited off that—because you will pay 4 euros just to see the waterfall! There is a longer network of hiking trails, although expect crowds galore in the immediate waterfall section.
It is quite lovely indeed.
11. Titisee Lake.
The roads around the Black Forest are lovely, especially the drive from Triberg to Titisee Lake. The landscape is quite rural with forested hills & a higher elevation road to look down on the countryside. The town of Titisee Lake (Neustadt) is also incredibly touristy with infinite souvenir buying options (in fact, if I bought you something from Germany it might have been purchased here).
We did rent a paddleboat for a reasonable fee (around 5-10 euros) for a half hour on the lake.
I so love paddleboating.
Note: We combined Vogstbaurenhof, Triberg, and Titisee sightseeing into one day. Another long day with the majority of time spent at the open-air museum.
You can also buy Black Forest cake pretty much everywhere at any of these places…
12. Rottenburg. Rottenburg is a town not far from Tubingen. This is a decent-sized town, but less geared specifically to tourism. We visited a gorgeous Catholic Cathedral called Weggental & just admired the religious paintings & statues.
There are more curved cobblestone streets, shops, and historical cathedrals. Free to walk around this lovely town.
Apparently a Mary apparition was seen here many years ago. So they have a beautiful shrine.
I seriously loved taking pictures of Rottenburg.
13. Frankfurt. To be perfectly fair, I really didn’t spend much time in Frankfurt. I basically got off the train, which is conveniently connected to the airport & got on a shuttle bus to a motel that was actually only an equivalent to a block away. So, my advice basically consists of a convenient airport hotel in Frankfurt?
Not the hotel…just the sunset in the window of a Frankfurt style building.
Hotel M is some sort of funky, sparkly German chain with square orange chairs and a 24-hour bar. It is like an ultra-modern version of the 70s without the shag carpet. I spent 4.50 euros on a generous glass of white wine & my last 3 euros on a shuttle to the airport the next morning. Cost for one night was around 50-60 euros or so, which is a decent price! You can see the airport from the hotel. So, there is that.
And then I had to leave Germany…
Saw Greenland from the plane & then eventually arrived home.
Overall…Germany is beautiful & clean & organized & history-rich & so worth visiting. Next time I’d love to bring Ryan & visit Berlin.
The biggest thanks to C & D…the most magnificent hosts & the least rude Germans of them all.