Questions About Germany
Questions About Germany
Odyssey Traveller specialises in crafting unforgettable experiences for mature-aged travellers, providing adventure and educational programs to small groups since 1983. Odyssey has built up a reasonable knowledge bank to answer questions about Germany that travellers are likely to ask, as they make their plans to tour independently, or with us as part of a small group tour. We hope that this list of frequently asked questions and the answers we provide will help you with planning your next holiday.
Read on, but please do not hesitate to contact us via the website, or through email or chat if you have more questions about Germany or our other tours.
Germany (official name: Federal Republic of Germany or Bundesrepublik Deutschland) is located in north-central Europe, bordering (north to west) Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The capital is Berlin.
Germany is one of Europe’s largest countries and the second most populous European state, after Russia. While various Germanic tribes has occupied the region that is now Germany since antiquity, occupying west of the Rhine River by the time of Julius Caesar, the modern German state was born only in the 19th century, when the German Empire (Second Reich) came into being under Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck.
Germany is known for its complex modern history centred around the Third Reich, its division and reunification, and the way it rose from the ashes of World War II to become Europe’s largest economy. In addition to being an economic powerhouse, it is also known for being a tourism hub: in 2019, the World Economic Forum ranked Germany third most attractive country for tourism, just behind Spain and France. From the tranquillity of the Cologne Cathedral to the frenetic energy of Oktoberfest, Germany offers diverse sights and experiences, attracting visitors from all walks of life.
When the Third Reich fell in 1945, Germany was divided into zones, each controlled by a victorious superpower. Berlin was divided into East and West Berlin. West Berlin became a state of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or West Germany) while East Berlin became the capital of the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic (GDR or DDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, East Germany). The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, sealing off all access between the two halves of the city and reinforcing the division between eastern communism and western democracy. Berlin’s status as capital of the whole of Germany was restored with the fall of the Wall and the country’s subsequent reunification in 1990.
Germany suffered from low economic growth compared to its neighbouring countries through the 90s and early 2000s after absorbing the cost of reunification in 1990. Germany was able to turn the economy around with the sacrifice of unions and work councils, who agreed to hold down wage growth and help the largely family-owned German businesses flourish. Germany also began exporting machinery, vehicles, and other products to emerging markets. The country became the largest source of imports in eastern Europe by 2003 and was looking stable by 2005, cushioning the effects of the recession that hit Europe in 2008. Read more in our article on Germany here. We also have an article on the history of Berlin.
According to the European Commission:
You must lodge the application for a Schengen visa at the Consulate of the country that you intend to visit, or – if you intend to visit more than one Schengen State, the Consulate of the country where you will spend the longest period.
If you intend to visit several Schengen States and the stays will be of equal length, you must apply at the Consulate of the country whose external borders you will cross first when entering the Schengen area.
Click here to see the list of required documents, though note that it is still advisable to check with the consulate or your tour operator as visa rules frequently change.
Whether or not you need a visa to enter Germany will depend on your citizenship. Germany is part of the Schengen area, and citizens of countries listed here do not need to obtain a visa for tourism or business prior to entering Germany and the other member countries of the Schengen area.
Please note however that the EU has recently announced a system for its border entry process to the Schengen Zone. The system is called European Travel Information and Authorisation System or ETIAS. Currently, citizens of 61 nations, including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, are permitted to enter the EU without a visa for up to 90 days of business or travel. The proposed changes will require that these citizens apply for entry authorisation before arrival to the Schengen zone. Click through to our article on ETIAS to learn more.
Germany’s currency is the Euro, which the country adopted in 1999. Its former monetary unit is the “mark”–the Deutsche Mark for West Germany (and unified Germany) and the East German Mark for East Germany. The term can be traced back to the Middle Ages as a unit of weight stamped on a lump of silver or gold. The gold mark was adopted as a unit of currency by the German empire and its territories.
German is the recognised official language, with more than 95% of the population speaking it as their first language.
The official minority languages are Danish, Frisian, Sorbian, and Romani, while Low German, Danish, North Frisian, Sater Frisian, Lower Sorbian, Upper Sorbian, and Romani are recognized as regional languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
German is also the official language in Austria, and one of three official languages in Switzerland. Germany is quite uniform as a written language, but exists in many dialects (linguists say over 200) as a spoken language. Modern “standard German” has roots in the Middle High German dialects, particularly the Middle German dialect used by Martin Luther in translating the Bible in the 16th century.
Germany has an excellent and extensive public transportation system that makes it easy for visitors to go around major cities and visit several destinations in a day. The major cities have four types of public transportation: the U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn) rapid transit system, the S-Bahn (Stadtschnellbahn, or city rapid rail), the Straßenbahn (streetcars/trams), and buses. Some cities and suburbs also have the Stadtbahn (light rail).
Visitors used to the train systems of other countries might find it strange that Germany’s S- and U-Bahn have no turnstiles. But don’t be tempted to skip buying a ticket! Plain-clothes controllers can stop anyone to check, and getting caught without a valid ticket or pass comes with a hefty fine.
Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany and is a major tourist destination, with endless places to discover. November 9, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a significant milestone, as “the Wall will have been down longer than the 28 years it stood” (Paul Sullivan on the Guardian).
Among its must-see sites is the 18th -Century Brandenburg Gate, modelled after the Propylaeum of the Acropolis in Athens, and commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II as an entrance to the boulevard Unter den Linden which led to the Prussian palace. Now hailed as a symbol of German reunification, Berlin’s remaining town gate has seen its share of historic events, from Napoleon’s army stealing the quadriga statue depicting the goddess of victory on top of the Gate, to West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walking through it to meet East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow during the Gate’s reopening in 1989.
This gate is close to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, covering 19,000 square metres. The 2,711 concrete slabs of differing heights give a sense of unease and uncertainty and offer space for visitors to contemplate the senseless violence of the Holocaust. There is an underground information centre where visitors can find information on the victims, as well as photographs, diaries, and letters.
Millions of travellers head to Munich for the famous Oktoberfest.
The world’s biggest folk and beer festival was first held in 1810 in honour of the wedding between Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (later King Ludwig I, grandfather of Ludwig II) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The festival is still held on the original meadow named after Ludwig’s bride—the Theresienwiese, or “Wiesn” for short.
Other cities in the world hold their own version of the Oktoberfest, but nothing beats the original festival in Munich, which welcomes more than six million visitors every year. The only beer served comes from Munich breweries, but there are also tents that serve wine and coffee. Those visiting with their families and children can check out the fairground attractions and live music performances.
Potsdam, near Berlin, is famous for the Sanssouci, often described as the Prussian Versailles. This ensemble of palaces and garden complexes was built under Frederick the Great (1712-1786) and expanded under Frederick William IV in the 19th century. The main focus of Sanssouci Park is the summer residence of Frederick the Great, Sanssouci Palace or Schloss Sanssouci.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sanssouci Park is undoubtedly one of most splendid places in Germany and has remained unscathed despite two World Wars. Today you can enjoy guided tours of Schloss Sanssouci, which sits atop a terraced hill overlooking the gardens, Orangeries, a small palace built to house guests, Neues Palais, the largest of the palaces built 22 years after the rococo Sanssouci Palace, and Schloss Charlottenhof, the smallest of the palaces and built in a neo-classical style. Read more in our article.
Oberammergau is located on the banks of the Ammer River at the foot of the Bavarian Alps in southern Germany. Oberammergau has been noted for its woodcarvings since the 12th century. The village is a popular tourist resort and its attractions include many ornately-painted houses and the early baroque church of St Peter and St Paul.
It is also the site of the once-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play. In about the year 1600 the people of Oberammergau performed a passion play to give thanks for their village’s deliverance from the Black Death, and vowed to repeat its performances regularly in the years to come. The actual dates of those early performances are unknown, but we do know that the play was performed in 1634. This is usually given as the date of the first performance, but the records make it clear that it was already well known, so that we can be reasonably sure that its origins go back at least to early years of the century. The villagers have been faithful to their vow, and the play has been performed every decade as far as circumstances would permit, though the text has been rewritten and the manner of performance modified by guest directors: it is very much a ‘living’ organism, and by no means a lifeless archaeological oddity.
The Oberammergau Passion Play will be performed 102 times between 16 May 2020 and 4 October 2020. The play is held in the 4,500-seater Passionstheater in Oberammergau. The theatre is partly open air. All seats are under roof cover, however, so performances are not cancelled due to rain. You can read more here.
You can check our Inclusions/Exclusions tab on any Odyssey Traveller tour to see what’s included. In our tour of Contemporary Germany & Oberammergau Passion Play 2020, we include:
- 22 nights of hotel accommodation.
- 22 breakfasts and 13 dinners.
- Transport, entrance fees and excursions as indicated.
- Applicable entry fees and services of local guides.
- Services of a group leader.
- Gratuities and necessary tips.
- Detailed tour information booklet.
We do not include:
- Return international airfares and departure taxes.
- Comprehensive travel insurance.
- Items of a personal nature such as telephone calls and laundry.
This comprehensive journey of Germany begins in Heidelberg and ventures south to the romantic Black Forest and on to Munich, capital of Bavaria. For 2020, we will also be attending the Oberammergau Passion Play.
The best time to visit Germany will depend on your planned activities. September is the time to visit for good weather and festivals (Oktoberfest in Munich during the latter half of September). Temperatures in September are a little cooler than the highs of July and August, but the weather will still be warm and sunny, making it a perfect time to visit–without the summer crowds (unless you end up at the Oktoberfest, of course). Make sure to bring a light jacket, as temperatures can dip at night.
December, despite the cold, is also popular among tourists eager to see Germany’s Christmas markets.