Germany

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Introduction to Germany

Germany wears its riches well: elegant big-city charm, small picture-postcard towns, pagan-inspired harvest festivals, a wealth of art and culture and the perennial pleasures of huge tracts of forest, delightful castles and fine wine and beer are all there for the savouring.

Deep in the heart of Europe, Germany has had a seminal impact on Continental history. From Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire to Otto von Bismarck's German Reich, Nazism and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, no other nation has moulded Europe the way Germany has - for better or worse.

Germany's reunification in 1990 was the beginning of yet another chapter in its complex history. The cultural, social and economic divide formed over 40 years of separation will take some time to bridge; nevertheless, the integration of the two Germanys is proceeding apace.

Full country name: Federal Republic of Germany

Area: 357,021 sq km

Population: 82.39 million

Capital City: Berlin

People: Predominantly Caucasian, with a significant Turkish minority. Germany has also absorbed many refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

Language: German

Religion: 34% Protestant, 34% Catholic, 4% Muslim, 28% unaffiliated or other. There are about 74,000 Jews (the pre-Holocaust figure was over half a million).

Government: Federal republic

Head of State: President Horst Köhler

Head of Government: Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

GDP: US$2.16 trillion

GDP per capita: US$26,200

Annual Growth: 2.7%

Inflation: 1%

Major Industries: Motor vehicles, engineering, chemicals, iron, steel, coal, electronics, environmental technology, food, clothing

Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. France, Netherlands, Italy, UK, Belgium/Luxembourg, ), USA, Japan

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: EU citizens can enter on an official identity card. Americans, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Japanese just need a valid passport (no visa). Unless you're a citizen of a developing country, you can probably stay up to three months.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)

Dialling Code: 49

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Germans love to party, and kick up their heels at everything from pagan harvest romps to black tie opera galas. The Winter Carnival (Fasching) season occurs throughout Germany, with big cities such as Cologne (Köln), Munich and Mainz erupting into commotion just before Ash Wednesday.

Germany's rich musical heritage is showcased in a plethora of festivals. Some towns concentrate on a particular composer, such as the Thuringian Bach Festival in March or the Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth each July, whereas others focus on a particular style. The jazz festivals in Stuttgart (April) and Berlin (November) are lively and popular. Autumn is a great time for harvest-inspired mayhem, especially in the Rhineland, where the Rhine in Flames frolics feature barges laden with fireworks. Mention must be made of Oktoberfest, Munich's annual lager frenzy, but it's a bit like being stuck in a nightmarish soccer crowd and is more an example of tourism at its lowest ebb than a display of German culture. Christmas fairs are embraced wholeheartedly by German families; they occur in Munich, Nuremberg, Lübeck, Berlin, Münster and Heidelberg, amongst other places.

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Best time to Visit

Germany is a fine destination year-round, but most people visit between May and September when sunny skies are most likely and much of life moves outdoors. Beer gardens and cafes bustle at all hours; outdoor events and festivals enliven cities and villages; and hiking, cycling and swimming are popular pursuits – at least as long as the weather plays along. Remember that rain is a possibility in any month. The flipside of summer travel is, of course, larger crowds at museums and other attractions. Accommodation needn't be hard to come by unless you're drawn to beach and mountain resorts popular with German holiday-makers.

The shoulder seasons (from March to May and from October to early November) bring fewer tourists and often surprisingly pleasant weather. In April and May, when flowers and fruit trees are in bloom, it can be mild and sunny. Indian summers that stretch well into autumn are not uncommon.

With the exception of winter sports, activities between November and early March are likely to focus more on culture and city life. In these months, skies tend to be gloomy and the mercury often drops below freezing. On the plus side, there are fewer visitors and shorter queues (except in the winter resorts). Just pack the right clothes and keep in mind that there are only six to eight hours of daylight. In December the sun (if there is any) sets around 3:30pm.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Euro

Meals

Budget: €4-8

Mid-range: €8-16

High: €16-30

Deluxe: €30+

Lodging

Budget: €15-45

Mid-range: €45-100

High: €100-200

Deluxe: €200+

It's easy to spend lots of money in Germany. If you've got some sort of rail pass and restrict yourself to cheap takeaways or prepare your own food, it's possible to get by on less than EUR50.00 a day. Those with more capacious wallets, wishing to eat at mid-range restaurants most days, to travel freely by public transport and to stay in mid-range hotels with fluffy duvets should count on dropping at least EUR100.00 a day.

At restaurants, the service charge is always included in bills and tipping isn't compulsory, though it is appreciated. Germans are used to rounding up prices as tips, but rounding up in euros can be too generous. Taxi drivers expect a small tip of around 10%.

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Attractions

Berlin

Of strategic importance since it first straddled the Spree River in the 13th century, Berlin went on to hog centre stage in the turbulent twentieth. Today the city, restored as the nation's capital, is the focus of a mammoth project of reunification and the barometer of Germany's moods.

Berlin is a veritable motherlode for lovers of art, architecture and artefacts. Its great clusters of museums will keep the most dedicated culture addict happy. The layers of the city's history, from war and violent division to imperial fancy, exist in fascinating proximity to its dynamic present.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt is often seen only as a transit hub or a business centre, but it's so much more. It boasts Germany's most spectacular skyline, mirrored in the Main River, and Europe's tallest office building. It's also the country's most international town; more than a quarter of its citizens are foreign.

Flâneurs get the best view of Frankfurt. Luckily most of its obvious attractions are located around the city centre. Invest in a 'Museumsufer' ticket (available at museums) and spend a couple of days cruising Frankfurt's galleries and museums at a fraction of their individual prices.

Lübeck

Lübeck is a glorious medieval town that's earned its place on UNESCO's World Heritage list. It's a quiet alternative to the more spectacular attractions further south. The altstadt (old town) was heavily bombed in WWII but has been sensitively rebuilt and the town's stately charm is apparent today.

Cheapish accommodation is plentiful and there is a good variety of moderately-priced restaurants. Lübeck is home to the delightful Marionettentheater (Puppet Theatre), which shouldn't be missed.

There's a stark reminder of the war inside the Marienkirche. A bombing raid brought the church bells crashing to the stone floor and the townspeople have left the bell fragments in place, with a small sign saying: 'A protest against war and violence'.

Munich

Munich, rivalled only by Berlin as Germany's most popular destination, is a city that enjoys contradicting itself. Don an ironic Lederhosen and head down to the capital of Bavaria, where cutesy folk traditions rub shoulders with BMWs, haute cuisine and high-minded sophistication.

Munich is a compact city, but you could easily spend several weeks exploring its museums, architectural treasures and idyllic surrounds. The Altstadt (old town) is a pleasure to stroll around, with its grand avenues and spacious squares that recall the glory of Bavaria's monarchy.

Rhine Valley

Here are dramatic landscapes with fertile vineyards clinging to steep hills, numerous imposing castles and dreamy wine villages. Every village has at least one wine festival per year, with the most famous being the Rhine in Flames series of festivals, when water, lighting and fireworks are combined to spectacular effect.

Weimar

Best known abroad as the birthplace of the ill-fated Weimar Republic, this small city is a cultural pilgrimage site for Germans. It was the epicentre of the country's Age of Enlightenment and home to such intellectual and creative giants as Goethe, Bach, Schiller, Liszt, Nietzsche, Kandinsky and Klee, to name a few.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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