Germany Travel & Vacations
Berlin, though not as dominant in Germany as London in England or Paris in France, has been touted as one of the world's coolest big cities since the early 90s.
The world's most famous beer culture is centered around Southern Germany's leading city (Munich), where beer is traditionally served in 1 liter mugs; Munich is also the site of the annual Oktoberfest, Europe's most visited festival.
German cars such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen (VW) are famous internationally for their quality. This quality is matched by Germany's excellent network of roadways including the famous Autobahn network, which has many sections without speed limits and lots of speed hungry drivers on it. Germany also features an extensive network of high speed trains - the InterCityExpress (ICE).
The roots of German history and culture date back to the Germanic tribes and posterior to the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed, Germany as a single state has existed only since 1871, when a large number of previously independent German kingdoms united under Prussian leadership to form the German Empire (Deutsches Kaiserreich). The empire ended in 1918 when Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate after Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1918). The Empire was followed by the short-lived Weimar republic, which tried to establish a liberal, democratic regime. However, the young republic was plagued with massive economic problems, strong antidemocratic forces and inherent organizational problems of the Weimar constitution.
1933 witnessed the final rise to power of the nationalistic and racist National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party and its charismatic leader (Führer), Adolf Hitler, to power. Under the Nazi dictatorship, democratic institutions were dismantled and a police state installed. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped people, socialists, communists and other groups not fitting into the Nazi ideology faced persecution, and ultimately murder in concentration camps. Hitler's militaristic ambitions to create a new German Empire in central and eastern Europe led to war, successively, with Poland, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States - despite initial dazzling successes, Germany was unable to withstand the combined attacks of the Allies.
After devastating defeat in World War II (1939-1945), Berlin was divided into four sectors, controlled by the French, British, US and Soviet forces. With the beginning of the Cold War, the entire country was divided into an eastern part under Soviet control, and a western part which was controlled by the Western Allies. The western part was transformed into the Federal Republic of Germany, with Bonn as the capital. The Soviet-controlled zone became the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). Berlin had a special status, with the eastern part featuring as the capital of the GDR. The western sectors of Berlin were de facto an enclave of the Federal Republic. On August 13, 1961 the Berlin Wall was erected, and hundreds of Germans trying to escape from the communist regime were killed here in the following years.
In the late 1960s a desire to confront the Nazi past came into being. Mass protests beginning in 1968 successfully clamoured for a new Germany. Democracy, human rights and anti-fascism became fundamental values of The Federal Republic of Germany. Post-war education had helped put Germany among countries in Europe with the least number of people subscribing to Nazi ideas. Willy Brandt became chancellor in 1969. He made an important contribution towards reconciliation between Germany and the communist states
Germany was reunited in 1990 after the fall of the GDR's communist regime in 1989. The reestablished eastern states joined the Federal Republic on the 3rd of October, a day which is since celebrated as the German National Holiday (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). Together with the reunification the last post-war limitations to Germany's sovereignty were removed.
Unlike the citizens of virtually all surrounding countries, most Germans are insecure and uneasy about their cultural heritage. They feel that German culture has been deeply compromised, even tainted by the Nazis who abused it to demonstrate German superiority. As a result, in Germany it´s frequent to find people - especially young people - openly declaring that they´d rather be not German and that there are many foreign places they´d prefer to live in. Part of this attitude comes from the German self perception as being fiercely individualistic. Identifying oneself as part of a group, an idea or a religion is often seen as uncool.
This said, Germans have a strong sense of German culture and civilization as such. There´s a couple of names that you will come across over and over again: Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven, Wagner, Nietzsche, Kant, Mann, Brecht, Klee and many more are authors, composers and philosophers of the 19th and 20th century who are profoundly admired, though only a minority will actually be familiar with their works. Germans like to think that in the 19th century, Germany was the one "Land der Dichter und Denker" - the land of poets and thinkers - in the world. And to an extent there´s truth to that. Obviously, there have been significant German artists for many centuries - just think of Albrecht Dürer in the 15th and the towering figure of Johann Sebastian Bach in the 17th century. But most notably in the short timespan between the foundation of the German Empire in 1871 and its end in 1918, prolonged until 1933, Germany experienced something like a cultural outburst. It created a treasure of modern philosophy and science, understanding of the world, artistical expression in painting, sculpturing and music, literature and architecture, world-conquering products and Nobel prize-winning innovations that had no rival in its time.
While you will find that a large part of German museum buildings and its contents come from that period - an era when politicians sought to symbolically create a culturally united Germany by commissioning monumental "temples" of culture -, it´s this ideal that Germans hold the present against. And obviously, the present doesn´t fare too well with that. When asked for their favourite authors or artists, a majority of Germans will put forward names from the past, while contemporary authors and artists are often perceived as lightweight and insignificant by comparison. Not only in this respect Germans are deeply nostalgic.
Another reason for many Germans perceiving that culturally the good times are long gone might be the love/hate relationship with post-war US-American anglicized culture. You will notice how many billboards, shop windows and media spaces carry English phrases and expressions though they´re clearly not directed at foreigners. In public communications, advertising and media, English many times is preferred from German. Profoundly German companies like mobile network operator T-Mobile, part of telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, carry English claims (currently "For a better world for you"). Until recently, virtually all German pop musicians sang in English which is felt to be more modern and precise - only recently there has been a revival of German pop and rock music.
Generally, many Germans feel touched by these subjects, and addressing them will make for a lot of interesting conversation. The existence of world-class opera, theater, concert halls, museums and galleries even in smaller cities is important even to those who never attend them. Entrance to these places is often heavily subsidized and thus cheap to students, unemployed and retired persons, underlining that access to high culture is a German national concern. When meeting Germans abroad, particularly in rather tropical countries or the USA, there´s two things most of them will admit to miss, no matter if they identify with being German or not. One is the bread (see further below), and two is the ubiquitousness of refined culture.
Germany is often considered to be a rather racist country, primarily towards non-Europeans/non-whites/non-Christians. To some extent this might be true (especially in the East) but Germany's history combined with some dramatic television news in the 1990s have left a lasting impression with many people around the world. The real situation is far (!) less dramatic and of course much more complex. Note, for example, that there is no right wing party in the parliament.
In reality, however, Germans are no more racist than people in other Western industrialized countries. Most large cities in Germany are extremely cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic with large communities of foreigners including non-whites and religious minorities. People in Germany are aware of the issue and will usually be tolerant or at least politically correct. Most foreign visitors never deal with issues of open discrimination or racism. The most common forms of racism against non-white visitors here include are queer looks (often caused by uneasiness or insecurity), some snubbing and at worst (very, very rarely) verbal insults.
In some parts of the former East Germany, the situation is slightly different. Higher unemployment rates are a fertile ground for racist ideas. In addition, there has been an educational lack of peaceful, tolerant co-existence with foreigners in the GDR. Consequently, there are more incidences of racist behaviour than in the West with somewhat more frequent outbursts of physical violence, although such events remain rare and out of the ordinary even in eastern Germany. It is important to remember that Germany is in general an extremely safe country with a very low violent crime rate. When away from large crowds or tourist areas, Non-White tourists should be somewhat cautious, but a paranoid attitude would be overdoing it.
Travel information is based on work by Tom Holladn, Brendan Macpherson, Evan Prodromou, Jeff Aiken and others as well as CIA World Factbook 2002. Content is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0.
Germany is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. European visa policy will be covered in the article about the EU. In brief, a visa to any other signatory state of the Schengen Agreement is valid in Germany too. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of some selected nations with whom the European Union or Germany have special treaties. Inquire at your travel agent or call the local consulate or embassy of Germany.
As of May 2004 only the citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into Germany. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work in Germany: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela.
Also, there are no border controls between Germany and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated.
There are a number of ways to get into Germany. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.