Wilkommen! Planning Your Trip to Germany
Copyright © 1998 Jennifer McCay. All rights reserved.
Perhaps when you think of Germany, you picture a scene of magnificent snow-capped mountains. Across a small winding road you see a small flock of sheep wander by, the shepherd trailing behind in his lederhosen and gartered socks, a feathered cap on his head, while a castle, centuries old, lurks on the skyline. For thousands of people the name of the country alone conjures images of bratwurst, beer, sauerkraut, cathedrals and things best described as "quaint." Or maybe you think of sophisticated electronics, fast cars and highways with no speed limits. Do these images sound a bit too good to be true? Perhaps. Do the contrasting scenes appear to be mutually exclusive? Probably. But Germany has all of those things and many more, and is a great place to spend a few days, weeks, or even months if you have the time (and some extra cash) to spare. Before jetting off to Germany, head to cyberspace to learn about this beautiful country and plan your vacation.
Where should you get started if you'd like to make such a trip? Searching online for a few reliable sources on German travel, I found a site that should be your first stop when beginning to plan (or even consider) a trip to Germany. TheGermany Tourism Web page impressed me with its information, layout and general helpfulness to the cause. Quick to load and easy to use, this site allows you to explore travel options ranging from a trip for teenagers to an educational stay, to a romantic rendezvous for you and that special someone, and anything else in between.
If you already know a little about Germany and would like to know more about a particular region, the "Regions" page tells you about everything from Lüneburger Heath to Berchtesgadenland, and any other area you can think of. Are you more inclined to visit particular cities than general areas? Use the search page to find that place your long-lost relatives are from, or the city from which your neighbor recently returned. The only catch to the city search is that you have to know something about Germany's cities to find what you're looking for.
So how can you decide which cities to investigate? Using Yahoo as my guide, I selected German cities under the travel destinations menu and pulled up an enormous list of locales ranging from small town to capital city, and everything in between. Because the list is so long, it is not helpful for anything other than the opportunity for beginners to familiarize themselves with names of German towns. However, if you're already a German geography pro, this list will be a tremendous help. Just click on the appropriate city or town name, and information will be at your fingertips.
This led to my next attempt on Yahoo, this time to all the online information on Germany in general, which pulls up a menu of everything from personal Web sites to official travel pages for particular cities and regions.German Yellow-Net has a clickable map that might make your choice of destinations easier to make, as well as a list of helpful travel phrases for travelers who don't speak German. Another invaluable way to get an overview of Germany's various states, regions and cities is to purchase a travel guide, easily found at online bookstores such as Amazon andBarnes & Noble. Foreign language travel dictionaries can be bought from the same sites, and are essential if you meander out of the major tourist areas.
Yahoo led me to another helpful link, theLonely Planet's German Travel Page. From facts about the country as a whole to discussion of German artists and writers such as Dürer, Goethe and Brecht, Lonely Planet's insightful take on Germany is a must-see before traveling overseas. The discussion of German history is both succinctly written and fun for trivia fans who don't already know, for example, that the Neanderthals, predecessors to modern humans, lived, breathed and died close to Düsseldorf in the Neander Valley, or need reminding that Martin Luther caused a huge commotion in the Catholic church in Wittenberg in the early sixteenth century. Lonely Planet features many other destinations besides Germany, and should be on your list of top travel sites on the Web.
More like an excerpt from an encyclopedia than a tourist-oriented Web site, the Free University of Berlin's Germany site gives all the factual and statistical information about the country that you'll probably ever need or want to know. Though there are no fancy graphics and you'll find little of a commercial nature on the page, you can learn fascinating facts here, including geographical specifics, information on German life expectancy and political parties, the mention that Germany is slightly smaller than Montana (but has a population of more than 81 million), and a note that there are 660 airports of varying sizes in the country. Perhaps more relevant to your travel needs, the page also has phone numbers and location information for the German embassy and consulates in the U.S., in case you need information on visas, customs information, etc., as well as U.S. embassy and consulate information for your time abroad.
Another site to make sure you hit is Fodor's, the cyberspace collection of most of their high-quality travel guides, which has specific hotel, restaurant and destination information for several German locations. A quick click of the mouse will get you to Preview Travel's airline ticket price information so you can find out just how much that plane ticket will cost. Consult this site whenever you plan a trip, not just for German travel.
A Tale of Two Cities
To evaluate the accuracy and helpfulness of the information I found online about specific cities, I looked at sites dedicated to Berlin, Germany's capital, and Hamburg, my current home, the two largest cities in the country, and cities I am personally quite acquainted with.
The main Berlin home page will help even more experienced European travelers. It provides access to local transportation routes, special events and a rundown on the city's latest construction sites. (Since the German reunification, Berlin is a city under construction and is reputed to be the biggest construction site in European history. Imagine a crane or two - or twenty - in every direction for miles.) On the "Events" page, you can choose what types of cultural events you'd like to view information on, ranging from opera to ballet, to jazz concerts. Even sports are included. A word of warning: don't expect this page to have all the information you need to travel there. Some of the links can be accessed in German only. For a better sense of must-see attractions in Berlin, go back to Germany Tourism and select "Berlin" in the city menu. The main Hamburg home page is helpful as well, but has only a limited amount of information for English speakers. Once again, a look at Germany Tourism gives you a better look at this port city.
Castles, Architecture and Beautiful Views
If it's castles you intend to see while abroad, don't miss the Rheinland Pfalz (Rhineland Palatinate) home page. Just select a castle from the menu on the left side of the screen and wait for the enlarged picture and detailed information to pop up. The pictures load remarkably quickly (even with slower modems), and are worth any wait you might experience.
The Castles of Germany, produced by Media Specialties, pictures a wide assortment of castles from those along the Rhine River (some of which are duplicated on the Rheinland Pfalz Web site) to Heidelberg's castle, to King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein. The information collected on this site comprises pictures of each castle, and historical information on the castle itself and individuals who were involved in the castle's history. Beautiful photography, combined with easy-to-use menus, make this site invaluable for deciding which castles to visit. This is another page in which the graphics load quickly and reveal breathtaking sites.
One last site featuring photography is Frau Richardson's German Page, which has shots of sites from Berlin to Regensburg. Though you won't find any explanation of historical significance or other information on the sites shown in the photographs, you can get a good sense of the types of buildings Germany has to offer.
Beer and Wine
Should your desire to go to Germany hinge on your love of good beer, visit the Research and Teaching Institute of Brewing (VLB) in Berlin, where you can link to German brewery home pages (a note on the VLB site warns that most of the sites are available in German only), brewing journals and international sites about brewing, among other beer topics. Keep in mind that there's more to Germany than just good beer, however. The land along the Rhine River has many miles of vineyards, most of which produce very high-quality wines, both red and white. Check out German Wine for tips on types of grapes, growing and harvesting seasons, and anything else you could possibly imagine about German wine.
So where do you want to go on your German vacation? Bavaria? Berlin? Bremen perhaps? Wherever you decide to go, you can be sure to have fun and see something you never thought you would, whether a tiny farm village, a highway along a river almost literally covered in castles, or a big city. Just explore the Web first, and take your pick.
Jennifer McCay is an American freelance writer working out of Hamburg, Germany. She is currently finishing an M.A. in English, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.