Germany is a fairly formal society; the following tips will help you avoid faux pas.
- Greetings Shake hands and say ‘Guten Morgen‘ (before noon), ‘Guten Tag‘ (between noon and 6pm) or ‘Guten Abend‘ (after 6pm). Use the formal ‘Sie‘ (you) with strangers and only switch to the informal ‘du‘ and first names if invited to do so. With friends and children, use first names and ‘du‘.
- Asking for Help Germans use the same word, ‘Entschuldigung’, to say ‘excuse me’ (to attract attention) and ‘sorry’ (to apologise).
- Eating & Drinking At the table, say ‘Guten Appetit’ before digging in. Germans hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. To signal that you have finished eating, lay your knife and fork parallel across your plate. If drinking wine, the proper toast is ‘Zum Wohl’, with beer it’s ‘Prost’.
Most large and many smaller German cities have their own airports, and numerous carriers operate domestic flights within Germany. Unless you’re flying from one end of the country to the other, say Berlin to Munich or Hamburg to Munich, planes are only marginally quicker than trains once you factor in the time it takes to get to and from airports.
Cycling is allowed on all roads and highways but not on the autobahns (motorways). Cyclists must follow the same rules of the road as cars and motorcycles. Helmets are not compulsory (not even for children), but wearing one is common sense. Dedicated bike lanes are common in bigger cities.
Local & regional
Buses are generally slower, less dependable and more polluting than trains, but in some rural areas they may be your only option for getting around without your own vehicle. This is especially true of the Harz Mountains, sections of the Bavarian Forest and the Alpine foothills. Separate bus companies, each with their own tariffs and schedules, operate in the different regions.
The route network has grown enormously in recent years, making exploring Germany by coach easy, inexpensive and popular. Buses are modern, clean, comfortable and air-conditioned. Most companies offer snacks and beverages as well as free on-board wi-fi.
Car and motocycle
German roads are excellent and motoring around the country can be a lot of fun. The country’s pride and joy is its 11,000km network of autobahns (motorways, freeways). Every 40km to 60km, you’ll find elaborate service areas with petrol stations, toilet facilities and restaurants; many are open 24 hours. In between are rest stops (Rastplatz), which usually have picnic tables and toilet facilities. Orange emergency call boxes are spaced about 2km apart.
Autobahns are supplemented by an extensive network of Bundesstrassen (secondary ‘B’ roads, highways) and smaller Landstrassen (country roads). No tolls are charged on any public roads.
Germany’s rail system is operated almost entirely by Deutsche Bahn, with a variety of train types serving just about every corner of the country. The DB website has detailed information (in English and other languages), as well as a ticket-purchasing function with detailed instructions.
There is a growing number of routes operated by private companies – such as Ostdeutsche Eisenbahn in Saxony and Bayerische Oberlandbahn in Bavaria – but integrated into the DB network.
Tickets may be bought using a credit card up to 10 minutes before departure at no surcharge. You will need to present a printout of your ticket, as well as the credit card used to buy it, to the conductor. Smartphone users can register with Deutsche Bahn and download the ticket via the free DB Navigator app.