GERMANY

TIPS & TRICKS

Emergency Phone Numbers

Ambulance (Krankenwagen) - 112

Fire Service (Feuerwehr) - 112

Police (Polizei)- 110

Calls to 112 are free of charge and can be made from a landline, pay phone or mobile phone, even without a SIM card. Dialing the number will direct you to an operator who will notify the appropriate service, typically the local Rettungsdienst or Feuerwehr. It can be used for any life-threatening situation, including serious medical problems, fire-related incidents, crimes and life-threatening situations. You can also call an ambulance or Krankenwagen through this number.

National emergency services in Germany

Germany has three primary emergency responders namely: the Emergency Medical Service (Rettungsdienst), fire service (Feuerwehr) and the police (Polizei). Emergency services are handled by the 16 German states, who assign a range of state emergency medical and rescue organizations and various private companies to act as first responders. The Rettungsdienst in Germany is also closely associated with the fire brigade with some even providing the service through certain departments.

The Landespolizei or State Police is typically tasked with emergency response and are sometimes aided by the Bundespolizei (BPOL), Germany’s Federal Police, when dealing with major disturbances or other emergencies that are out of their scope.

For urgent medical treatment, you can also immediately go to any hospital’s emergency room or accident and emergency department (A&E), which are called Notaufnahme.

Non emergency medical (doctor on call) 116  117

Air rescue (0711) 70 10 70

Nurse advice line: 00800 4759 2330

Toxic substance emergency (Federal Institute of Risk Assessment or BfR) 192 40

Lost or stolen credit cards

American Express +49 69 9797 2000

Diner’s Club: +1 303 799 1504

MasterCard: +1 636 7227 111

VISA: +1 410 581 9994

Important tips when calling German emergency services

  • State your name, telephone number, location where help is needed, the situation and if it’s still happening, how many people require help and whether there are weapons or dangerous substances involved.

  • Don’t forget the code to your parking lot or apartment building.

  • Never hang up until you are invited to do so.

  • If you have known medical problems or regularly take prescription drugs, make sure you know how to say their names in German to the operator.

  • If you have children, be prepared to cite their ages and how much they weigh (in kilograms) in case you need to call an anti-poison center or to administer medication.

  • If dealing with intoxication, make sure to inform them of what was taken and if possible, give them the rest of what was consumed.

  • While most German emergency services staff speak English, there are others. especially in more rural areas, who don’t. Members of the family should practice how to give clear indications in German of your name, address and telephone number to be better prepared for any eventuality. If you do not speak German, however, it is best to find a German-speaker whom you can trust.

Languages Spoken

The main language of Germany is German. While German is the language spoken, there are many dialects. The largest differences are between the north and south of Germany. If you can't understand someone because of the dialect, do not worry. Sometimes, even German people from the North can not understand a person from the South when speaking in a Bavarian dialect.

 

Germany is a formal and respectful country and saying a little German in a polite manner will go a long way. Many Germans will speak a little English, especially in the major cities and tourist areas but this is not to be relied upon outside the cities.

If you are traveling to smaller towns and/or want to communicate with older people, it might be helpful to learn a couple German phrases before your trip. Phrase books and phone apps come in very handy.

Remember, all road signs, shop signs and businesses are written in German, so get to know some staples like pharmacy (Apotheke) and police station (Polizeistation).

  • Hallo = Hello

  • Guten Morgen = Good Morning

  • Guten Abend = Good Evening

  • Tschüss = Bye

  • Danke = Thank You

  • Bitte = Please OR You’re Welcome

  • Entschuldigung= I’m Sorry/Excuse Me

  • Ich heiße XXX/Mein Name ist XXX = I’m called XXX/ My name is XXX

  • Ich komme aus (add country here, e.g. den USA, Kanada, Australien, Großbritannien) = I’m from (add country, e.g. USA, Canada, Australia, UK)

  • In Germany, you usually don’t have to wait to be seated – especially not in a cafe. An exception might be a fancy restaurant or if you made a reservation prior to showing up since they will have a table ready for you. If you would like to see the menu, you can say:

  • Die Karte bitte = The menu please

  • Ein Kaffee bitte = A coffee please

  • Ich hätte gerne einen Kaffee = I’d like to have a coffee

Of course, you can also substitute this word “Kaffee” with others, e.g. einen Cappuccino, einen Orangensaft (orange juice), ein Glas Wasser (a glass of water), ein Bier (a beer).

You should note that the word “einen” could change as well if you use another word instead of coffee – that is because Germany uses masculine, feminine and neutral nouns so we can’t just use “a coffee, a beer etc.” for every word. As a visitor that doesn’t speak German you shouldn’t worry about it – everyone will still know what you mean even if the “a-part” in front of the noun is not the correct form.

Before you start eating, you would say:

  • Guten Appetit = Enjoy your meal. This is something that is very common in German, but doesn’t really exist in English – so before you start eating just wish “Guten Appetit” to the people you’re with, they’ll likely do the same.

If you want to order a second beverage, you could say:

  • Noch einen Kaffee bitte = Another coffee please

  • Noch ein Bier bitte = Another beer please

When you’re done and ready to pay, say:

  • Die Rechnung bitte = The check please

Asking for Help/Clarification

  • Sprechen Sie Englisch?/ Sprichst du Englisch? = Do you speak English? (The first is the formal version, the second is the informal version)

  • Ich spreche kein Deutsch = I don’t speak German

  • Wo ist XXX? = Where is XXX? This is useful if you’re trying to find a train station, sight, specific street, etc. However, don’t expect the first person you ask to know the answer, especially in big cities.

  • Kannst du das wiederholen? = Can you repeat that?

  • Kannst du langsamer sprechen? = Can you speak slower?

  • Ich verstehe nicht = I don’t understand

When you are in Germany you might have to use some numbers. For example, if you want to order for groups (e.g. more than one beer) or when getting ice cream and you want more than just one scoop. Of course, there are many other occasions when knowing basic numbers might come in handy.

  • Eins = One

  • Zwei = Two

  • Drei = Three

  • Vier = Four

  • Fünf = Five

  • Sechs = Six

  • Sieben = Seven

  • Acht = Eight

  • Neun = Nine

  • Zehn = Ten

Common Words You’ll See Around The Cities

When you walk through German cities you’ll come across lots of German phrases on buildings or signs. These are some of the most common ones and knowing their meaning can be very helpful.

  • Eingang = Entry

  • Einfahrt = Entry (while driving)

  • Ausgang = Exit

  • Ausfahrt = Exit (while driving)

  • Drücken = Push

  • Ziehen = Pull

  • Right = Rechts

  • Left = Links

  • Straße = Street

  • Bahnhof = Train Station

  • Zentrum/Innenstadt = City Centre

  • Strand = Beach

  • Parkplatz = parking space

  • Bahn  = Train

Passport

Carry your passport with you at all times. You never know when you may be asked to show it.

You will need to show your passport when checking into a hotel.

Meeting places

If your group gets separated, set up a meeting point where you can find each other. Each train station in the major cities have a "Treffpunkt" (Meeting Place) sign. This will look like four arrows pointing to a circle in the middle.

Information center

When you arrive in a city or town, locate the Information Center. "i" These are usually located in or very near the train station. Most cities have a walking tour map plus information on things to see and do.

The 16 federal states of Germany each have their own legislation regarding smoking in public places, which range from relatively weak regulations to full smoking bans in all licensed premises, childcare facilities, schools and governmental institutions. As of July 2016, nearly 40% of the German population live in a state which bans smoking in all restaurants, pubs, cafés and nightclubs (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saarland). The other 13 states permit smoking in designated rooms or in bars with a floor area of less than 75 square meters.

There are designated smoking areas at the train stations.

Smoking
Medical

A pharmacy in Germany is called an Apotheke. Apotheken are easily identified by a large, red A on the outside of their locations. There are thousands of Apotheken in Germany and German law requires that an Apotheke be owned and operated by a pharmacist. Consequently, there are not any large drugstore chains that are found throughout countries like the USA. In fact, a “drug store” in Germany (Drogerie) sells toiletries and other consumer items, but not medicines.

All medications, including non-prescription drugs, are kept on shelves behind the counter or in large drawers behind the counter or in a back room. There is normally a selection of different types of non-medicinal health related products in the pharmacy. Included in that selection you could expect homeopathic products. Pharmacists are highly trained and will always ask if you understand the dosages regarding prescriptions. They can also offer advice on non-prescription medicines, ointments and other products that you can use to treat minor ailments. Most drugs are in packs that come in three different sizes – N1, N2 and N3. (Small, medium and large) The actual number of pills packaged depends on the medication itself. There is always a paper in the packaging that explains in detail what the medicine is designed to treat, recommended dosages, contra-indications and other important information.

A wide variety of name brand drugs as well as generic drugs are normally kept on hand. If a medicine you need is not in stock, it can usually be ordered for pick up in a few hours or the following day.

Apotheken are generally closed evenings, Saturday afternoons, Sundays and holidays. (Some may even close early on Wednesdays.) Each of them has a list on the door, though, of pharmacies that have remained open to handle emergencies.

Voltage and plugs

Germany uses a two-prong officially classified as Type C, or E/F plug with 230 Volt. This is also the kind of plug that will work in many other places in Europe. That means if you’re coming from North America or the United Kingdom, you will need an adapter for your style of plug. Most electronics you’ll be bringing along can handle a range of voltage from 110 to 240 V and it’ll say on the label.

If your electronic isn’t compatible for a 230-volt plug (most should, but check) then you’ll need BOTH a converter AND an adapter. Buying a travel adapter that handles different voltages can save you some worry. You can find one exactly like that here. It even includes USB ports for charging smaller electronics (cameras, phones, etc).

Water

One of the biggest shocks for North Americans who travel to Germany is that in restaurants, a) water isn’t free and b) fizzy, carbonated water is usually what you get by default.

In the United States, it’s common for restaurant-goers to ask for a glass of tap water. In Germany, however, requesting tap water is a big no-no. Why? The German word for tap water is “Leitungswasser,” which means plumbing water. Obviously, one doesn’t want to wash down their meal with a glass of plumbing water.

So, be sure to clarify whether you want "still" or "sparkling". The correct terms in German are "gas" or "ohne gas"; which means with gas or without gas.

Restrooms

Free public restrooms are quite rare, which means you usually will have to pay 50 cents or more to use the restroom at train stations, bus stations, shopping malls, etc.

 

Often washrooms in busy restaurants/clubs/events will have an attendant there who keeps it clean. In these cases, a tip isn’t mandatory, but heavily expected, so bring some change with you.

Currency

Germany uses the euro (EUR, €) as its only currency, along with 23 other countries that use this common European money. One euro is comprised of 100 cents.

 

The best place to get euros once you arrive in Germany is through an ATM machine. Just like in the U.S., ATMs are everywhere in Germany – airports, hotels, train stations and attached to banks and other commercial centers. Fodor's recommends ATM machines as the cheapest way to convert dollars to euros, even though most banks will charge a fee for foreign withdrawals. If you are uncomfortable using an ATM in Germany, you can go into the bank to exchange dollars, cash in traveler's checks or have a teller withdraw euros from your account. You can also find banks willing to exchange money inside post offices.

Retailers and restaurants often don't accept traveler's checks anymore, but you can exchange them for euros at most banks. Pay attention to exchange rates before you leave and after you arrive.

Phones

Phoning home and within Germany

Making a Telephone Call Within Germany

Germans answer their phone by saying their last name. Equally, as a caller you are expected to say your last name before asking to speak to someone else.

German area codes start with a 0. While making a telephone call within Germany you will need to dial the area code plus telephone number to make a national call. If you are calling someone within the same area code, you will not need to dial it.

To make a telephone call to another country from Germany, you will need the international access code of 00 plus the country code as well as the area code and telephone number. Within Europe, the 0 as the first digit of the area code must be omitted. If you are using a mobile phone, the correct way to dial an international number is with the "+" symbol in front of the country code. The USA would be "+1", while Switzerland and Germany would be "+44" and "+49" respectively.

Making a Telephone Call to Germany

Friends and family calling you here will need to dial their international access code of 00 or 011 depending on where they live, then the country code 49 for Germany. Next comes the area code without 0 and finally the telephone number.

In some cases, you will be confronted by a recorded message when making a call. Below is a list of the messages that you're most likely to hear:

  • Kein Anschluss unter dieser Number = This number is unavailable

  • Dieser Anschluss ist vorübergehend nicht erreichbar = This number is temporarily unobtainable

  • Diese Rufnummer hat sich geändert = This number has been changed

  • Bitte warten Sie, sie werden in Kürze verbunden = Please wait, you will be connected shortly

  • Bitte versuchen Sie es später noch einmal = Please try again later

Calling prefixes

For many foreigners, dialing in Germany can be confusing:

  • To call a local number within your own area, dial the number only.

  • To call to another area, dial the respective area code first. When calling from within Germany, you have to dial "0" followed by the area code (i.e. 089 for Munich). Area codes and phone numbers in Germany are variable length: the bigger the city, the shorter the area code, so that 089 is Munich, but 07252 will be a smaller town.

  • To call from abroad to a number in Germany, dial your international access number (usually 00), followed by the country code of Germany and then the area code without the 0 (i.e. 0049-89 for Munich)

  • To call abroad, dial 00 before the country code

Using your USA phone in Germany

In Germany, a mobile phone is called "ein Handy". What you really need to know is that a European “Handy” may also use different frequencies and different technical standards than those used in the US, Canada and Mexico. Many North American cell phones simply will not work in Europe. In the US, AT&T and T-Mobile USA are the only major cellular phone carriers that use the same GSM mobile phone system used all across Europe and in about 200 countries worldwide.


But if you have a so-called “world phone,” you’ll be able to use it in Europe and other overseas locations (via international roaming), no matter which carrier you use. (Even Verizon and Sprint offer world phones that will also work abroad.) That does NOT mean, however, that you have no other potential drawbacks to worry about. If you just take your US cell phone to Europe and use it as you would in North America, you could be in for some nasty (costly) surprises!

Sunday Information

In many parts of Germany, Sundays are a day of rest, which means most retail shops, supermarkets, malls, and pharmacies are closed. So, make sure you have all you need before Sunday comes. Cafes and restaurants, however, are normally open all weekend.

Food and Drink

Breakfast (Frühstück)

A typical breakfast in Germany starts off with a warm beverage such as coffee, tea or hot cocoa. Next follows bread (Brot) or bread rolls (Brötchen) with various spreads and toppings. These could include Butter (butter) or Margarine (margarine), Marmelade (jams/preserves) or Honig (honey). These are the “typical” spreads, although there are others too! Quark (a type of curd cheese), Wurst (sausage) and Käse (cheese) are also popular. A glass of juice (Saft) is also commonplace, as is a boiled egg (Ei). Cereals are also common, particularly among German youth! Müsli, which is a mixture of cereal flakes, nuts and dried fruit and other ingredients is also favored! It is mixed with Joghurt (yogurt) or Milch (milk), and is often topped with fresh fruit (Obst)! Müsli is not only delicious, but it is healthy too, making it a good alternative to sugary cereals!

With today’s busy lifestyles there is a growing trend towards eating a more simple breakfast. What does this mean? You are more likely to see young people eating cereal rather than tucking into a more hearty meal of bread, cheese and sausage. However, the traditional breakfast of fresh breads accompanied by cheese or meat is still alive and well. Particularly, this is common on the weekend when the family has more time. With a bakery (Bäckerei) on every street corner, it’s customary to buy freshly baked rolls on Saturday and Sunday. This bread is for the whole family to enjoy over a leisurely breakfast together! On weekends, some Germans also like to cook eggs. The most standard types are hartgekochtes Ei (hard-boiled egg), Spiegelei (fried egg) or Rührei (scrambled egg).

Lunch (Mittagessen)

Traditionally, German families eat their main meal during the day, between 12 and 2 p.m. However, many families now eat their hot meal in the evening. A typical lunch plate might consist of Kartoffelsalat mit Würstchen or Frikadellen. This is potato salad with sausage or meat balls for the first part. Next is Spätzle mit Geschnetzeltem (Spätzle noodles with stir-fry), Schnitzel mit Buttergemüse (Schnitzel with buttered vegetables) or Fischstäbchen mit Kartoffelpüree (Fish sticks with mashed potato). Meat is served most days, particularly pork and chicken. Vegetables are also a standard part of any Mittagessen despite common misconceptions! Typical vegetables served at lunchtime are grüne Bohnen (green beans), and Möhren (carrots). Additionally, Erbsen (peas) and Kohl (cabbage) are fan favorites. Potatoes are also a staple and come in the form of Salzkartoffel (boiled), Knödel (dumplings), Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes), Krokette (croquettes), Kartoffelpüree (mashed potatoes) and, of course, Pommes Frites (french fries)! Naturally, as popular as potatoes are, rice and noodles are also often eaten as side dishes!

Evening meal (Abendessen)

It is a light meal that is usually eaten between 6 and 9 pm. This is because German families tend to eat their main meal during the day. A typical Abendessen consists of a selection of whole grain bread, cheeses, deli meats and sausages, and mustards and pickles (gherkins are very popular). The evening meal is accompanied by a salad and/or soup, depending on the season. A glass of sparkling mineral water (Mineralwasser) or a glass of juice (Saft) is usually the beverage of choice for young people. For adults, a pint of beer or a glass of wine with this meal is typical.

Coffee and Cake (Kaffee und Kuchen)

Kaffee und Kuchen means “Coffee and Cake” and it’s very similar to the British tradition of “Teatime”. It’s a custom that brings families together to enjoy a little together and “Gemütlichkeit” (coziness). Families and friends gather together in the mid-to-late afternoon to drink coffee and enjoy a slice or two of often homemade cake. Typical cakes you might find at such a gathering include Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälderkirschtorte) and bee sting cake (Bienenstich). Other favorites are cheesecake with Quark (Käsekuchen) and fruit tarts like plum or apple tarts (Zwetschenkuchen or Apfelkuchen). When people don’t have time to bake at home, they often purchase pastries from the corner Bäckerei (bakery). These purchased goods could include Mohnstückchen, a poppy seed pastry or Apfeltasche, an apple-filled pastry pocket! The cakes and pastries are, of course, almost always accompanied by a steaming hot cup of rich German coffee. This dark coffee is typically served with cream or condensed milk. However, tea has become more popular over the past decade, particularly in Ostfriesland. Here, it has always been traditional, and a quarter of all the tea in Germany is consumed in Ostfriesland.

Fast Food

The most typical fast food eaten in Germany is similar to that eaten in America; namely, burgers, pizza and fries from well-known chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut. A more traditional choice is a Bratwurst served with a bread roll (Brötchen). Currywurst, a sliced sausage served with a curry-ketchup, and Pommes Frites (french fries), is always a great choice! This is then served either with mayonnaise, ketchup or even sometimes with both! This combination is called Pommes rot-weiss, referring to the red ketchup and the white mayonnaise. The sausages and fries can all be purchased from street stalls known as Würstchenbuden. One of the most common fast food meals has risen to such popularity that it outsells all US fast food chains in Germany combined. Döner Kebab was first introduced in Germany by Turkish immigrants, and now you can find Dönerbuden (kabob vendors) on virtually every street corner in large towns and cities! A Döner Kebab is made from thinly sliced meat (veal, lamb or poultry) cut from a rotating vertical roasting spit. The meat is served in a warm pita pocket or flatbread (Fladenbrot) with lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomatoes and a yogurt sauce (Joghurtsoße).

Dinner Table Manners

Germans tend to eat less with their fingers, so use a fork to eat your fries. Both a knife and fork are used in order to eat a sit-down meal. Do not just use your knife to cut your food and then only eat with your fork. Germans do not put their hands on their lap while they eat. In fact, Germans consider it rude to put your elbows on the table! Make sure you compliment the home-cook or chef by saying “das schmeckt (gut/lecker/wunderbar)!” This means that the food tastes good/yummy/wonderful. When eating or drinking together, wait until someone says “Guten Appetit” or wants to “anstossen“ (say “cheers”).

Manners in a Restaurant

You will typically not have to wait for a seat unless it is a particularly fancy restaurant. You can simply find a table that is free. At bars, in cafés and in informal crowded restaurants, it is perfectly OK to sit down next to strangers. Simply make sure to first ask, “Ist hier noch frei”? (Is this seat vacant?)

Don’t expect any ice cubes in your soda, you need to ask for it. There are NO free refills on drinks, and the basket of bread or pretzels on the table usually costs extra. Don’t be surprised if you are charged for what you eat! Water will not automatically be brought to your table. You have to order it, and you will be brought bottled water which you have to pay for. You will be asked if you want the water “mit oder ohne Kohlensäure” or "mit oder ohne Gas" meaning still or sparkling. If you want tap water you will have to specify that you would rather have “Leitungswasser.” Note: it is not customary to serve tap water at a restaurant in Germany.

When you cross your knife and fork on your plate, it means you are merely pausing. Laying your knife and fork side by side means you are finished, and the waiter may come and take your plate away. Doggie bags are relatively unknown, so your waiter/waitress will be surprised if you ask to take leftovers home with you. Tips are not expected to be as generous as in the US, since German wait staff are usually paid more per hour. A general rule is to round up the bill, so if your bill is, say 22.50 Euros you might give 24.00 or 25.00 Euros. A general rule of thumb is to leave about 10%.

Unlike in the US, you may find that your waiter/waitress will remain at the table while you pay. This means you need to make sure to let them know how much tip you want to leave. For example, if your bill is 15.70 Euros and you want to leave 1.30 Euros as a tip, then say “Siebzehn bitte” when handing him/her a 20 Euro note. Credit cards will be accepted in the majority of restaurants, but it is more common to pay with cash.

Beverage and portion sizes

 

Soft drinks generally are served in 0,2 and 0,3 L sizes. Beer is usually served in 0,3 (small) or 0,5 Liter sizes (large), although in some areas of Germany a 1-liter glass is "large" but not extraordinarily so. The vat-sized soft drink containers found in the U.S. are largely unknown in Germany, as is the "free refill" or bottomless cup concept, except in the venues of many American fast food chains, which have introduced this concept in Germany; so if you are handed an empty cup with your food, this means you have free refill. Coffee will in some restaurants be served either by the cup or by Kännchen (small pot - usually about 2 cups) and is always accompanied by cream and sugar. The same holds true for hot tea (where lemon is also readily available and usually served alongside without asking). Cocoa is usually a third option readily available in this manner, and is also readily available for breakfast in most places, especially if you have children in your party.

Table/cover fees

 

Bread, butter, rolls, table settings sometimes are added to the bill as a separate cover charge. This is not fraud, but customary in some areas, just as it is sometimes customary for guests staying for a longer stay and enjoying half-board or full board to reuse their cloth napkins for several meals. Please be aware that service in restaurants especially with a multiple course menu is decidedly more slow than in the United States. 

Condiments

 

In some American fast food restaurants, (for example: McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's) you must pay separately for ketchup and/or mayonnaise . Be aware that the menus at most fast food restaurants in Germany are not exactly the same as they are in the U.S. . You may also notice that a sandwich that you recognize from "back home" may taste a little different or may be smaller.

Seating/Non-Smoking Sections

 

The concept of a "host" or "hostess" is unknown in all but the most exclusive restaurants in Europe, where the Maitre d' will personally seat you. In most restaurants, just walk right in and pick the table of your choice. Please note that in most parts of Germany smoking is not allowed in public buildings and inside restaurants/cafes. However in some regions there might be so called "Raucherclubs", i.e. small pubs etc. where smoking is still allowed but you have to become a member when entering.  The caveat applies: If you don't like the place, leave and go somewhere else. Making a "big stink" about smoking only brands you as a hapless tourist and does not endear you to anyone. Note also that in many restaurants it will be customary for you to allow perfect strangers to join you if you are seated at a table larger than your party; this holds particularly true in beer gardens and vineyard restaurants. Instead of objecting, look at the practice as an opportunity to get to know locals and/or make new friends - after all, isn't that what visiting a foreign country is all about?

Stammtisch

 

Many smaller restaurants will have a table used by regulars from a company, a society etc. Such tables will usually have a "Stammtisch" label. You should not try to sit at such a table without checking with a waiter / waitress. 

Service

 

Unlike other countries, such as the USA, customer service is often not a high priority in Germany. Although Germans themselves are very friendly and hilfsbereit (helpful), people working in customer service roles can often be quite rude. Don't be personally offended if someone seems dismissive or unhelpful; it simply is not expected or demanded as much as it would be in places such as the United States. 

A Few Menu Choices

What can you expect on the menu when you go to a traditional German restaurant or pub?

More often than not, classic dishes like Wiener Schnitzel, Würstchen mit Sauerkraut, and, of course, potato-based dishes in various forms, like in Bratkartoffeln (Roasted Potatoes), Pommes Frites (French Fries), or Kartoffelauflauf (potato cassseroles).

Try Kalbshaxe (Veal Shank), Pinkel mit Grünkohl (blood sausage with kale), Leberkäse (loaf of finely minced pork sausage)  or Maultaschen (German-Style Ravioli).

Quark

Quark is like a mixture of ricotta cheese and sour cream

Potato Salad - (Kartoffelsalat)

Schweinshaxe

Schweinshaxe, in German cuisine, is a roasted ham hock (or “pork knuckle”). The ham hock is the end of the pig's leg, just above the ankle and below the meaty ham portion. 

Schweinshaxe is one of the formerly typical peasant foods, in which recipes were composed which made inexpensive cuts of meat delicious. Such inexpensive cuts usually require long periods of preparation. The meat is usually marinated for days, in the case of big cuts up to a week. The Schweinshaxe is then roasted at low temperatures, typically—depending on size—for two to three hours.

The most popular side dishes are potatoes and cabbage variations.

Potato Dishes

Dill Potatoes with quark - (Pellkartoffel mit Dill und Quark)

 

Restaurants serve boiled peeled potatoes with dill and quark. If they are tossed in butter they are also known as Schwenkkartoffeln (tossed potatoes) or Butterkartoffeln (buttered potatoes).

Duchess potatoes - (Herzoginkartoffeln)

 

A French delicacy, adopted to German taste. Made with mashed potatoes,  eggs, salt and pepper, piped into rose-leaf shapes and baked in the oven.

Farmer's Breakfast -  (Bauernfrühstück)

 

Diced potatoes with onions and ham, browned in a skillet and covered with beaten eggs.

French Fries -  (Pommes Frites)

 

French fries usually called just Pommes. In Germany, French fries are generally eaten with mayonnaise but are also eaten with ketchup like in the US. Pommes rot-weiß means fries covered in both ketchup and mayonnaise.

Fried Potatoes -  (Bratkartoffeln)

 

Bratkartoffeln are raw or cooked potatoes fried with bacon and onion, often seasoned with salt, pepper, marjoram or caraway seed. Bratkartoffeln are served as a side dish with many types of entrees and also make a good breakfast dish when served with scrambled eggs (Rühreier). They are similar to what Americans might call “home fries”.

Potato Dumplings -  (Kartoffelknödel / Kartoffelklöße)

 

These dumplings are made with raw, grated or cooked potatoes. Some are also made with both, such as in the case of specialties such as Thüringer Klößen and Sonneberger Klößen. Kartoffelknödel are served with a variety of entrées and can also be eaten served with fruit sauce or jam.

German Spaetzle

They are tender, eggy dumplings that make a great addition to a hearty meat main dish.

Pork with red cabbage and Knödel

Knödel are boiled dumplings usually made from flour, bread or potatoes.

Leberkäse


Although the translation of this is “liver cheese” this Bavarian specialty does not contain either liver or cheese. It is a meatloaf made with lean pork and beef, onions and marjoram. Other words for Leberkäse are Fleischkäse and Fleischlaib. It is eaten warm, spread with mustard in a Semmel (bread roll) and is often topped with a fried egg and accompanied by potato salad. An American would recognize this as a thick cut of fried Bologna.

Schnitzel with potatoes and spargel


This is a generic word meaning cutlet of either veal or pork. The most famous of Schnitzel dishes is, of course, the Wiener Schnitzel. However, genuine Wiener Schnitzel is made from breaded veal cutlets and only dishes that use veal can be called Wiener Schnitzel. If pork is used, the dish must be called Schnitzel nach Wiener Art or Wiener Schnitzel vom Schwein. Wiener Schnitzel is served with a wedge of lemon, which is squeezed over the top, parsley potatoes (Petersilienkartoffeln), potato salad (Kartoffelsalat) or cucumber salad (Gurkensalat). Less traditional side dishes are rice (Reis), mashed potatoes (Kartoffelpuree), french fries (Pommes frites) and fried potatoes (Bratkartoffeln).

 

Other popular Schnitzel dishes


Jägerschnitzel – pork or veal cutlet with a cream- or tomato-based mushroom sauce
Zigeunerschnitzel – pork or veal cutlet with a tomato-mushroom sauce spiced with paprika
Cordon Bleu – pork or veal cutlet stuffed with cheese and ham
Schnitzel Holstein – served with an egg and anchovies

Pork is used more often than veal in making Schnitzel.

In Germany, Spargel is the term for asparagus, but it really is more commonly used to refer to the white variation which is so popular in Germany. White asparagus is no different than regular asparagus, expect that it is grown underground in little mounds. Therefore, no photosynthesis occurs, keeping the stalks from turning green. The white variation has a slightly milder, sweeter flavor.

Green asparagus is usually best when picked early, because it will get every woody and tough. White asparagus, on the other hand, can be grown for a while and the thickness has no impact on the tenderness…but white asparagus should always be peeled before you prepare it. Never snap white asparagus like you do the green — trim any woody ends off instead. You’ll waste far too much Spargel with the snap method.

Desserts

If you have a sweet tooth, Germany is something of a paradise. Black Forest gateau is a decadent mix of chocolate and cherries, streusel kuchen is like sublime coffee cake, or you might go for a classic Berliner (jelly doughnut)

Beer

Germany is famous for its beer, both its quality and its quantity. A German beer stein is usually at least 2 pints, so you’ll need to watch how much you drink. Centuries-old laws specify that German beer can only contain water, malt, hops, and yeast. It’s worth traveling to different regions, as each tends to have its own specialty.

Radler

The term Radler originates with a drink called Radlermass (literally “cyclist liter”) that was originally created by Innkeeper Franz Kugler in a small town named Deisenhofen, just outside Munich. During the great cycling boom of the Roaring Twenties, Kugler created a bicycle trail from Munich, through the woods, which led directly to his drinking establishment. On a beautiful June day in 1922, a reported “13,000 cyclists” crashed Kugler’s party. Fast running out of beer, he blended it 50/50 with a lemon soda he could never seem to get rid of, and the rest is history.

I am not a beer drinker but I do enjoy a Radler which is half beer and either lemonade or Sprite. In the USA, it is called a Shandy.

 

A traditional British Shandy is a mixture of beer (usually a lager) and lemon-lime soda, most commonly a 50/50 ratio.

Wine

German wine is primarily produced in the west of Germany, along the river Rhine and its tributaries, with the oldest plantations going back to the Roman era. Approximately 60 percent of the German wine production is situated in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 of the 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) for quality wine are situated. Germany has about 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres or 1,020 square kilometers) of vineyard, which is around one tenth of the vineyard surface in Spain, France or Italy. The total wine production is usually around 9 million hectoliters annually, corresponding to 1.2 billion bottles, which places Germany as the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world.White wine accounts for almost two thirds of the total production.

Paying the Bill

Tipping

Service and VAT are included in the menu price in restaurants, bars, etc. all over Germany.  Still, it is typical to "round up" the amount to some more-or-less round figure. A rule of thumb is to add 5-10%, generally ending with a full Euro amount. 

It is not typical to be given a check, then leave your money on the table.  You have to tell the amount including tip you want to pay before you pay (via cash or credit card).

 

Credit Cards 

While Germany is a leader in many areas of technology, it is decidedly not so in credit card acceptance. When eating out, visiting any store or trying to pay for just about anything, don't be surprised if the response to your credit card is "Nein."  Most Germans still settle in cash or rely on debit cards called "EC" or "electronic cash" cards which are not logo-bearing and do not work like credit cards. While some hotels, restaurants and other venues will take credit cards, by far the majority do not. When shopping or consuming anything, it's always wise to ask in advance, otherwise you'll be expected to pay in cash. Personal checks are no longer used in Germany (having been replaced by EC cards), and Traveler's Checks often carry a substantial "service charge" for cashing them.

Splitting a Check 

This custom is not uncommon. Simply tell the waiter/waitress when paying what you are paying for, she/he will readily add up your amounts and present you with a personal total, which you should round up, as explained above. The waiter/waitress is likely to come up at the end of the meal and ask "All together?" or, in German"Zusammen?"

Planning

There are many websites that have information on how to plan for your trip to and around Germany. I do not have a favorite. We have too many family friends whom give us suggestions.

 

Two sites that I sometimes refer to:

The German National Tourist Board  Well, it is from the national government.

Frommer's Germany   It is cheaper than purchasing their book.

Don't plan every single day before you arrive in Germany. There are many things to see and do. Take your time, look at the weather and then plan your day. Relax and have fun! Consider a home base and take day trips from there.

Be punctual

Being on time for social and business appointments is part of German etiquette. There is no thing as being "fashionably late".

City Card

City cards open doors to you everywhere. Bought for an affordable price they often let you use public transportation and give you reduced entrance fees for many sights and museums. In 2019, German Rail Pass (GRP) holders receive free City Cards / City Passes and much more in member cities - *please note that restrictions apply. Cities may have their own cards. Check the tourist information center or your hotel.

Traveling by car

If you’re planning on renting a car, you should know that most Germans drive a stick shift so this is the default car you can find at rental agencies. If you only know how to drive an automatic, you should make sure that this is what you get when you rent a car online.

In Germany, you drive on the same side of the road as in the USA or Canada.

Since there is no speed limit at some parts of the Autobahn (or if there is a speed limit, it is often times still higher than in North America), this can cause real problems and does lead to unnecessary accidents. So please be aware of this when driving in Germany.

Driving in Germany is regulated by the Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung (road traffic regulations, abbreviated StVO). Enforcement on the federal Autobahnen is handled by each state's Highway Patrol (Autobahnpolizei), often using unmarked police cars and motorcycles and usually equipped with video cameras, thus allowing easier enforcement of laws such as tailgating. Notable laws include the following.

  • The right lane should be used when it is free (Rechtsfahrgebot) and the left lane is generally intended only for overtaking unless traffic is too dense to justify driving only on the right lane. It is legal to give a short horn or light signal (flashing headlights or Lichthupe) in order to indicate the intention of overtaking, but a safe distance to the vehicle in front must be maintained. 

  • Penalties for tailgating were increased in May 2006 to a maximum of €375 and three months' license suspension: "drivers must keep a distance in meters that is equal to half their speed. For example, a driver going 100 km/h on the autobahn must keep a distance of at least 50 meters (165 feet)". The penalty increase followed uproar after an infamous fatal crash on Autobahn 5 in 2003.

  • In a traffic jam, drivers must form an emergency lane (Rettungsgasse) to allow emergency services to reach the scene of an accident. This improvised alley is to be created on the dividing line between the two leftmost lanes. 

  • It is unlawful to stop for any reason on the autobahn, except for emergencies and when unavoidable, like traffic jams or being involved in an accident. This includes stopping on emergency lanes. Running out of fuel is considered an avoidable occurrence, as by law there are petrol stations directly on the autobahn approximately every 50–55 km (31–34 mi). Drivers may face fines and up to six months' suspension, should it come to a stop that was deemed unnecessary by the police. In some cases (if there is a direct danger to life and limb or property e.g. cars and highway infrastructure) it may also be considered a crime and the driver could receive a prison sentence (up to 5 years).

  • Passing on the right is strictly forbidden, except when stuck in traffic jams. Up to a speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) it is permitted to pass cars on the right side if the speed difference is not greater than 20 km/h (12 mph) or the vehicle on the left lane is stationary. This is not referred to as overtaking, but driving past. Even if the car overtaken is illegally occupying the left-hand lane, it is not an acceptable excuse; in such cases, the police will routinely stop and fine both drivers. However, exceptions can and have sometimes been made.

  • During emergencies or accidents on major roads, such as the Autobahn, you can put on your emergency lights (triangle symbol) and park on either side of the roadway or in one of the parking stops. Make sure to set up your warning triangle on the road. You should only stop in an urgent situation; it’s illegal to stop in the German Autobahn unless it’s a ‘real’ emergency.

  • If you don’t have a cellphone at hand, you can use the designated orange emergency phones on the side of the highway. If there is no phone in site, look at the white kilometer stones or posts at the roadside and search for black arrows pointing in the direction of the nearest emergency telephone.

 

Canada and the USA are FAR TOO lenient on people driving slowly in the left lane. If you do that in Germany, you will honestly get yourself killed. When a car is coming from behind you doing over 110 mph/175 km, there’s no time to go “oh, better get over now”. It’s already too late. Learn how to drive and be where you’re supposed to be driving or don’t drive at all.

German police can usually be identified by their predominantly green and beige uniforms, and green and white automobiles. Most German police personnel speak English and are easy to find in busy areas like airports and train stations.

Traveling by train

You can get anywhere with the German national railway. 

I have found a wonderful tutorial if you need information on train travel. It is called " The Man in Seat 61..." A beginner's guide to Train Travel in Germany.

In Germany you can travel on a train even if all the seats are already taken. This may be the case at peak times (Friday afternoon or Sunday evening). I would recommend that you reserve a seat with your ticket.Make your journey comfortable and relaxing with a seat reservation. For long-distance trains, you can either book your reservation online directly with your ticket or separately, independently of a ticket.In Germany you can travel on a train even if all the seats are already taken. This may be the case at peak times (Friday afternoon or Sunday evening). I would recommend that you reserve a seat with your ticket.Make your journey comfortable and relaxing with a seat reservation. For long-distance trains, you can either book your reservation online directly with your ticket or separately, independently of a ticket.

When you arrive at your train track, look for the signs above your platform. This will tell you your track number, time of departure, type of train, the destination and where your first class or second class coach is located.

If you buy a single ticket for the bus, tram or train, you must validate your ticket before getting on.

If you travel on local public transport tickets you may have to validate. Depends on the city/area. There will be a notice on the ticket "Bitte entwerten" sometimes also in English "Please validate".

There is no security gate or person checking tickets as you enter the train stations. Be warned, this is not a free pass to ride the underground, as ticket checkers (wearing plain clothes) are also riding the subway and could pounce at any moment, costing you at least a €60 fine and a lot of embarrassment. Furthermore, there are endless stories of people who have diligently bought their train tickets, but alas, forgotten to validate them. Don’t forget to validate your ticket before jumping on the train! The ticket checkers pay no sympathy to that, and you will still be fined.

 

You need an appropriately zoned ticket depending on where you are traveling in the city. Generally, going farther away from the city center might see you crossing into a different zone. Always read the zonal maps in the station if you are not sure. For example, going to and from Schönefeld Airport in Berlin is a different zone to traveling within the city and requires a different ticket and price. Again, ticket checkers won’t have sympathy for the unknowing tourist, no matter how sorry you are.

Not all train doors open automatically. There might be a green button to push or a handle to pull.

Biking

Do not walk in the bike lane

In German cities, bike lanes are often on the sidewalk. They look can look like the picture below or they can be made of red bricks. Imagine the white line is an electric fence. If you stay on your side of the line, great – alles in Ordnung (everything’s ok). Should you wander into a bike lane, you will notice increasingly insistent bell-ringing; followed by a scolding.

If you’re planning to ride a bicycle, you always need to have a back and front light for safety reasons. Being caught in the dark or running red lights both result in hefty fines.

Jaywalking

Jaywalking is not done. Particularly if there are small children around to see you do it, parents will shout at you for setting a bad example. The concept of crossing against the red man is so foreign there is no good analog for jaywalking in the German language. “Of course, if you can not wait that extra minute or two, just keep an eye out for the Polizei. Protesting that you are an adult and have been crossing the street safely for your entire life will not get you out of the €5 fine or €10 fine if you cause an accident.

In this era of inclusion, Germany is following many other countries. Notice that the street signs below are two men standing together (the red walk sign) or two men walking arm-in-arm with a heart above their heads (the green walk sign).

Recycle

Recycling plastic and glass bottles is big in Germany, and when you do, you get a small refund for the deposit (Pfand) originally paid for the bottle. Check the bottle label to see if it can be recycled; an arrow usually indicates this.

Beer is 8 cents per bottle and cans are 25 cents. You can return them to any grocery store for a refund. Just put them in the machine, take the receipt and either use it as credit against something you buy or ask the cashier to give you cash. If that’s inconvenient, put the cans or bottles on top of, or beside the public garbage can. Other people collect them as a way to earn money and picking up the bottles up from around the garbage can is much safer than sticking a hand in.

If you go the Christmas markets, Oktoberfest or similar, there will usually be Pfand on your glass or mug. Just return it the stand you bought it from and your money will be returned.

Another important thing is to bring your own bags when shopping. Most people do. There are bags you can buy at the checkout, but remember to pick them up and place it is front of your purchases.

U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Germany

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