Known for its deep roots in history (spanning over 2,000 years), Germany is one place to engulf yourself in its beautiful architecture, arts, culture, and of course, its historical sites. During my short visit to Germany where I got the chance to visit both Leipzig and Berlin, I quickly learned the “laws of the land”. Where the capital of Germany, Berlin, is popular for its art scene and nightlife, Leipzig is famous for the place where world-famous German composer Johann Sebastian Bach called his home.
Since Germany is visited by many, I won’t bore you with all the travel basics, like the best time to travel, best hotels, and where to stay, etc. In this series, I will highlight the seven things you need to know before you go…the things you may not find easily in a travel guide.
No Dollars, No Cards, Just Euros Please
Credit cards are accepted everywhere, right? Well, maybe. But when you visit Germany I would recommend you have some alternatives. Cash is definitely king there and I was constantly reminded of this during my stay. Yes, you can get away with using your Visa, Mastercard, or American Express in some taxis, restaurants, and larger stores, but most small businesses don’t have card machines. It’s a must that you have cash on hand so visiting an ATM before you head out for the day is your best bet.
Tips are Optional, For Real
Technically, there is no need to tip your waiter after enjoying a great meal. Whereas in the U.S., your waiter may give you a really ugly look on your way out the door for leaving a shabby tip — because in America it is expected regardless if your service is crappy or spectacular. In Germany, it’s the opposite. The waiters there are paid a reasonable wage and tips are looked at as more of a bonus versus an actual portion of their take home pay. Note: Although I would always leave a tip anyway (and suggest you do the same), if you are paying with a card, the tip should be included in your total before final payment is made. The whole “write your tip in on the tip line” doesn’t really work at all from my experience.
No Uber? Say What!?
There is no Uber? What! Yes, that is the same thing I said. Uber has become the primary way to get around in many cities — but not so much in Germany. You’ll be lucky to find any (my hotel said they were 3 in Leipzig) and many areas have banned them altogether. Aside from all the walking I did, a bike would be the next best thing. And if you decide to travel longer distances, opt for a taxi or take an intercity train. My ride on the ICE train between Leipzig and Berlin was a little over an hour and the chocolates in first class were worth the trip all by themselves.
Tap Water, Who?
So, sparkling water is a thing in Germany. Yep. You won’t be served tap water (restaurants typically do not serve “free” water) and if you don’t specify up front, you won’t get still water either. Carbonated water is the default selection in Germany. Just be prepared to purchase bottled water with your meal and be clear that you would like “still”. And if you happen to enjoy ice with your drinks, you’ll need to ask for that too! Germans will not place ice in your water and if you order a cocktail, you’ll be lucky to get a single cube.
Carb Overload Is a Thing Too
I promise you this…I have never eaten so much bread in my life. In Germany, there is one thing you will always find and that is some form of bread. For breakfast. Bread. For lunch. Bread. For dinner. Bread. You get my drift. It is served with everything, so you might as well just throw your low carb diet out the window if you’re planning a trip there. It is very easy to locate a bakery too. I would say they are like Starbucks in the U.S. (on every corner) but that may be pushing it. But Germans LOVE their bread and you would too if you could enjoy it freshly made every day. Döners, pizza and pasta can be found just about everywhere as well.
Speaking English Is Not Super Popular
Yes, many Germans I came across spoke English and very well, but I can assure you it’s not their first (and maybe not even their second) choice. So, to make your life a little easier, I would recommend learning at least a few basic words. I didn’t do this and paid for it heavily with using my hands to point at things and nodding my head in agreement when I had no clue what I could have been agreeing to :). Start with the basics and that will take you a long way.
Traveling While Black in Germany
I will start off by saying this. Being an American may be noticed way before the color of your skin. After having several conversations with locals, I was able to confirm that this may actually be the case. Does racism exist? Sure. However, many of the feelings (or stereotypes) toward a person of color are most likely influenced by media and from famous folks like athletes, rappers, actors, etc. Just be mindful of misinterpreting a bad attitude from a local as being racist due to your personal experience in the U.S. In summary, I felt safe and welcomed, especially in Berlin. I blame any stares I received from the fact that I am just a beautiful black woman. 🙂
It is nothing better than being prepared for a vacation. You don’t have to pull out your day planner and schedule every hour, but you should know what to expect. Stay tuned for the next vacation destination where I give you insight on a few things you need to know before you go. Safe travels!