Embarking on a journey to Germany can be the adventure of a lifetime, filled with wunderbar experiences that range from sipping beers in Bavarian breweries to strolling through the streets steeped in history. But before you pack your lederhosen and map out those castles, there are a few essential nuggets of knowledge you need to clutch in your travel-savvy hands.
I’ve scoured through travel forums, pestered my German friends for insider tips, and even made a few hilarious gaffes of my own on the streets of Berlin to bring you this distilled list of must-knows. From cultural faux pas to saving some euros, this compilation hasn’t been plucked from thin air—it’s been lived, learned, and now lovingly shared.
We’re not just talking the run-of-the-mill travel tips that you’ll swipe past on your phone; oh no, we’re going deeper, unraveling the German knäckebrot of enigma, one layer at a time. This is your back pocket guide to smooth sailing—or should I say, smooth autobahning—through this country of efficiency and order, sprinkled with occasional quirky chaos.
So, let’s raise our glasses (or steins!) to being über-prepared for a jaunt in Germany, where you’ll be doing more than just saying “Prost” with the locals. Ready to have your curiosity piqued and your travel plans perfected?
Pack your sense of humor, because we’re about to get into the 12 must-know things to know before traveling to Germany.
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Things To Know Before Traveling To Germany
1. Cash is Still King
In the land of beer gardens and autobahns, don’t assume your plastic will get you everywhere. Cash is king, and this isn’t just an old adage. Despite living in the digital age, many German establishments operate on a strictly “Bargeld” basis — that’s cash to you and me. And while this situation is improving since the pandemic, you’ll still want to keep some Euros on you.
Venture into a cozy “Kneipe” (a pub) or a bustling “Weihnachtsmarkt” (Christmas market), and flashing your card might just return blank stares or a shake of the head. It’s not quaintness; it’s the way of the land. Germans trust the feel of cold, hard Euros in their hands.
So, before you zip off to the land of precision engineering and philosophical ruminations, fill your wallet with those colorful Euros. Not only will it make transactions smoother, but you’ll also blend in with the locals debating over bratwursts and sauerkraut — without the awkward, “Karte nicht akzeptiert.” That’s “card not accepted,” a phrase you definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end of.
2. Most Shops Close On A Sunday
Ah, the German Sunday – a day of rest, relaxation, and… realizing you can’t buy anything because most shops are sealed up tighter than a fresh jar of sauerkraut. Before you set your heart on a leisurely shopping spree through Berlin’s boutiques or plan to pick up souvenirs in Munich mid-Sabbath, halt dein Pferd (hold your horses)!
This weekly closure is not just a casual custom; it’s an ingrained part of German culture, rooted in both respect for a day of rest and legal regulation. So if Saturday slips away in a swirl of beer and bratwurst, you might find yourself with a pressing urge to buy something, anything, faced with closed shopfronts that won’t relent until Monday’s dawn.
Take this as a chance to embrace the German way: sleep in, enjoy a languid brunch, or explore the great outdoors. And remember, if you must shop on Sunday, your options are limited to essential services, so unless you’re in the market for a gas station souvenir or a desperate grocery dash at the train station (both these options are usually open), it’s best to plan ahead!
3. Be Quiet And Validate On Public Transportation
If you plan to traverse the land of poets and thinkers, remember that silence is golden, especially on public transport. In Germany, S-Bahn serenity and U-Bahn tranquility are cherished traditions. Passengers preserve a library-like atmosphere, where you can hear the faint rustle of a newspaper or the soft click of a smartphone screen but nary a shout nor a raucous laugh.
Validate your ticket, lest you want to waltz in the not-so-merry dance with the conductors. They lurk in the shadows, ready to leap out with their ticket scanners. Getting caught without a stamped ticket is the quickest way to turn your budget-friendly jaunt into an impromptu splurge.
Germans take their transportation rules as seriously as their beer purity laws. Failure to follow protocol might not only earn you a hefty fine but also the kind of stern looks that can curdle your Fanta. So, keep it down and stamp it up – it’s the German way!
4. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle
Germans are very environmentally conscious. Recycle wherever possible and be prepared to pay a deposit (Pfand) on bottles and cans that can be redeemed when returned to a store.
Before embarking on your Teutonic adventure, bear in mind that Germany is to recycling what Oktoberfest is to beer: utterly inseparable and taken seriously! The Germans aren’t just good at engineering cars and crafting beer—they’re maestros of waste management, too.
Check your trash – mixing up your plastics and organic waste is a faux pas that might just earn you some disapproving ‘tuts’ from the locals. Recycling bins are color-coded and everywhere, which makes it easy, but slip-ups are as conspicuous as a pair of lederhosen at a black-tie gala.
In conclusion, to blend in with the environmentally savvy Germans, study up on their recycling ways. It’s a straightforward process that’ll have you separating ‘Papier’ from ‘Restmüll’ like a pro, winning you nods of eco-friendly approval as you do your part for the planet – and for your standing with the locals. Prost to that!
5. Don’t Jaywalk
When in Germany, don’t dare dart across the streets when the pedestrian light is red; jaywalking isn’t just frowned upon, it’s akin to a public spectacle of law-breaking. The Germans have a near-reverential respect for traffic lights, treating them as commandments set in stone rather than mere suggestions.
Step off the curb on a ‘Don’t Walk’ and you’ll earn yourself the kind of tut-tutting reserved for heathens in less secular societies.
It’s not just about following rules; jaywalking in Germany could turn your holiday into an impromptu finance class as you calculate the exchange rate for your fine. Plus, you risk being publicly shamed by a chorus of ‘tsk tsk’ from orderly German pedestrians, who take rule-following more seriously than Oktoberfest. So, unless your bucket list includes ‘become an urban outcast’, wait for the green light. It’s the German way.
6. You May Need To Pay For Toilets
Before you set foot in Germany, let’s talk about a quirky yet crucial aspect of exploring the Teutonic landscape: the pay-to-pee system! Germany has a love affair with coin-operated toilets, and your bladder needs to be well-funded to keep the peace.
Venture into a German restroom, and you’ll often be greeted by a plate or a turnstile demanding a toll. Usually, it’s about 50 cents to a euro, but hey, for that price, you’re guaranteed a hygienic haven, which often comes with the bonus of an attendant who ensures all is spick and span.
So, before you chug that beer or gulp down a Schwabian pretzel, ensure your pocket jingles with some coins. Consider it an amusement park ride for your basic needs—and remember, in Germany, even nature’s call comes with a tariff!
Pro tip: keep loose change handy unless you want to partake in an impromptu “hold it” marathon.
7. You Get Your Own Duvet
When you check into a German hotel and flop onto your bed in pursuit of coziness, don’t be surprised to find that the duvet has a buddy. Indeed, the fabled single large blanket is a rare beast in these parts. Instead, prepare for the ‘great divide’—a personal duvet for each sleeper.
This quirky tradition ensures a tug-o’-war-free zone while you slumber. Sharing is not caring in the land of efficient sleep strategies, it seems. The art of blanket hogging is rendered moot, and the night transforms into a serene personal cocooning experience.
So, pack a spirit of independence along with your travel adapter, because in Germany, even your dreaming self gets a taste of personal space. Revel in the freedom of rolling, burrito-style, into your own blankety domain—just remember, your travel buddy will have their own blanketed kingdom, too.
8. Ordering Water In Restaurants…
Ah, water – the essence of life, the quencher of thirst, and in Germany, the liquid gold of dining rituals. Before you sit down at a German restaurant, be forewarned: ordering tap water might invoke looks of confusion, mild disgust, or a deep existential crisis for your server. It’s not that Germany doesn’t have excellent tap water (it’s pristine!), but the cultural norm leans heavily towards sparkling water.
And when you do muster the courage to ask for ‘Leitungswasser’ (that’s tap water, for the uninitiated), you might still face a bill for what you presumed was a complimentary refreshment. Yes, free water is not a thing here as it is in other parts of the world. Also, don’t expect ice.
Between the clinking glasses of ‘Sprudelwasser’ (sparkling water) and ‘Stilles Wasser’ (still bottled water), your humble request for tap might just be the plot twist of the evening. This is one German watering hole conundrum thirsty travelers must navigate – with humor as their trusty guide.
9. Tipping Is Not Required
Ah, the perplexing world of tipping etiquette – where the lines between generosity and obligation blur like a bad watercolor. In Germany, however, this is one cultural quirk that won’t have you fumbling with your wallet in socially awkward agony. Tipping in Deutschland is more of a genteel nod to good service rather than the mandatory practice it is in the States.
You see, in this land of efficiency and precision, service staff are paid a living wage, which means the onus to supplement income doesn’t fall on hapless customers. If your waiter zips around like a superhero or your taxi driver navigates the Autobahn with Schumacher’s precision, by all means, round up or toss in a few extra euros. But do it as a bonus, not a guilt-ridden necessity.
So, relax your tipping fingers and enjoy a slice of financial freedom; in Germany, the price you see is often the price you pay – leaving you with a bit more cash to splurge on another pretzel or that irresistible Riesling.
10. Keep To The Right…
Ah, the Autobahn, Germany’s famed highway where speed limits often seem like mere suggestions. Yet, before you channel your inner Michael Schumacher, there’s a rule of the road that’s strictly enforced: Keep to the right unless passing. Deviating from this can evoke the ire of locals faster than you can say “Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung” (that’s “speed limit” for us mere mortals).
Hogging the left lane is not just a faux pas; it’s akin to declaring, “I’m a tourist!” more effectively than any souvenir T-shirt ever could. German drivers treat the left lane as the sacred ground for passing. Treat it with respect, and you shall pass through unhindered; linger too long, and you’ll be met with flashing headlights and perhaps an educational expletive or two.
In short, the right lane is your travel buddy, and the left is that friend you visit only when necessary. Stick to this, and you’ll navigate the Autobahn like a local. Fail to do so, and you’ll stick out like a pretzel at a pasta party. So, remember: when in Germany, keep to the right on the Autobahn.
11. Bring Your Own Bags
If you plan on becoming one with the aisles of a German supermarket, remember that plastic bags are like a rare truffle pig at a hot dog stand – practically nonexistent! Germany takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. “Bring Your Own Bags” isn’t just a friendly suggestion; it’s the unspoken eleventh commandment of German shopping etiquette.
Leave behind those expectations of complimentary plastic carriers or you’ll be left juggling a six-pack of beer, a sausage the size of a submarine, and a pretzel big enough to double as a flotation device. Imagine performing a juggling act with your groceries that could earn you street performer status in Berlin!
To avoid this, pack a foldable tote or two because, in Germany, the only thing you get for free with your purchase is the opportunity to practice your stacking skills at the checkout.
12. It Can Always Rain
“It Can Always Rain” is not just a polite warning; it’s a travel mantra for those venturing into Germany. The country’s climate, as temperamental as an opera diva, ensures that at any given point, rain might be just an aria away. It doesn’t matter if you’re merrily clinking steins in Munich or tracing the Berlin Wall’s remnants; the sky above can swiftly switch from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”
This meteorological fickleness is why German fashion often boasts an unintentional accessory: the ubiquitous umbrella. Indeed, the savvy traveler will treat their umbrella like a passport—never leave your hotel without it! You might notice seasoned locals who can interpret the sky’s mood with a glance; these are the folks with rain gear perpetually at the ready.
Remember, the grass is greener in Germany for a reason. To truly embrace German culture, one must occasionally be willing to get a little wet. After all, without the rain, there’d be none of those lush landscapes or the excuse to duck into a cozy Kneipe to wait out the storm with a hearty Pilsner.
If you’ve managed to retain all twelve nuggets of wisdom for your impending Teutonic escapade, you’re almost ready to don your Lederhosen and dive schnitzel-first into the heart of Germany.
With these tips under your belt, you’re set for a German journey that’s nothing short of wunderbar.
Like a challenge? Click here and see if you can guess these 10 places in Germany.
Want to learn more about visiting Germany? Read our list of free things to do in Germany here and find all our guides to planning a trip to Germany here. Find out why Germany is super cool here and what I didn’t expect the first time I went to Germany here. If you are thinking about visiting Berlin, make sure you read this first.