Hi! I recently read a thread about French customs to follow in order to be polite and "fit in" which was very interesting and helpful. We will be spending the majority of our vacation in Germany, particularly near Kaiserslautern. I was wondering if anyone had some more of these kind of tips to follow for German customs. We aren't really doing a lot of sight seeing, in the sense of going to museums or castles, etc. Our goal for the trip (our travels in general) is to see the sights. We want to meet people and just see how lives are the same and different compared with our own, so we definitely want to know what to do to make others at ease and want to meet us as much as we want to meet them. This brings up a second question. Is it possible to still have a kind of vacation where you just show up? If we hear of something cool to see once we are there, can we go see it even if we didn't buy the tickets in advance since we didn't know it existed yet? I think I have this old-time idea in my head of a trip to Europe where we just kind of stumble upon things to do and people. But does that not happen anymore(if it ever did)?
We do the stumbling along, bumbling along type of travel with some planning about where we want to stumble and bumble along. Get a good guide book and do some planning on your own. We have tickets for where we want to fly to and from where we want to bfly back from as well as reservations for our first and last hotel. Everything else is made up on the go. We have a list of places and dates that we use as a template for what we want to do and what we want to see. If you travel by train you should try to buy your tickets seventy-two hours before you use them. That will give you a good discount. You might get a larger discount by buying tickets before you leave but it is not necessary. Show an interest in people and your interest will be returned. People often sense we need help and give it. They will to you too. The guide book we use for Germany is Rough Guide Germany.
I think in Germany as elsewhere, if you are respectful of people, they will be respectful of you. The German culture is more formal than ours. But the German people are friendly and helpful. We've had total strangers come up and start talking to us, sometimes in German and sometimes in English when they hear us speaking English. As to your other question, spur of the moment traveling can work depending on the time of year you are traveling and where you are traveling. The major tourist cities/sights will be crowded so it would be hard to just "show up" and not expect to have to wait. But if you travel to the smaller, of the beaten path towns that we love, you might find you are the only Americans there!
Thank you both for your responses! I am glad we can still have a more spur of the moment kind of trip. We have a basic idea of what cities we want to go to, but are open to not going to them if we hear of something else or stay in a city longer if we are enjoying it. Thanks again!
In Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, you greet people when you walk into their shop. " Guten Tag" or " Guten Abend"' or in Bavaria, "Grüss Gott!". Also learn please and thank you. I have been scolded once in Germany. It was for passing too quickly (on the sidewalk) an older woman walking with a cane. She complained that we were rude, (which I understood as I speak some German). I stopped and apologized, she smiled, and we walked beside her for a block or so, then said good-bye. Lesson learned.
As far as traveling on the fly goes, how easy it is depends on several things. 1. What time of year? If it is the height of tourist season you may have to make do with what others didn't want and/or higher prices. 2. How many people are traveling? If one or two it is easier. If three, then it is a little harder. Four or more would be really hard without advance searching and reservations I think. It's not like here where you get a room with a couple of beds and cram as many as you want in a room. In Europe it is per person generally. 3. How are you traveling? If by car you will have more flexibility. If by train you will have to schlep your bags around while you are searching for a place. You can check with TI's when you arrive somewhere to ask about help getting a room.
Andrea, we are going this July 11-Aug 1. Our groups consists of myself, my husband and our 7-year old daughter. When we are in Kaiserslautern we will actually be staying with a friend. Originally, we were going to be borrowing her car, but that isn't going to work anymore, so we will most likely be renting one from a place she has used with other guests. I am totally fine with not being able to get inside of places. For example, if we make it to Amsterdam, which is one of our plans as we are flying home from Brussels, I plan to walk by the Van Gogh Musuem and take a picture for my cousin but not actually go in because I like Van Gogh but not that much. If we are mainly based out of Kaiserslautern and then plan a couple of days in advance to go to another city and book a hotel room, that should work (she asks with a hopeful face)? For example, at some point we want to go to Munich but we don't know which days yet because it depends on the schedule of our host and what else we can get ourselves up to. But if we decide Monday to go to Munich on Thursday, other then paying more than if we planned it out months ago, will there be big problems?
As long as you can find a triple room you shouldn't have problems. With a car it gives you the ability to expand the area you can stay in. Are you planning to rent a car in one country and return it in another? If so, be aware that a hefty drop fee will be involved, and you might not find out about it until the time you return your car.
"If we hear of something cool to see once we are there, can we go see it even if we didn't buy the tickets in advance since we didn't know it existed yet?" There's only one site of which I'm aware that you would need to reserve in advanced in the entire country, and that's the Reichstag in Berlin. Even probably the single most popular attraction in the country, the castles near Füssen, as long as you don't arrive too late in the day, you can just show up and buy tickets.
If you are walking on a broad sidewalk and it is 2 different colors, that means one of the sections, the one nearest the street, is for bikes. Even if there are no bikes on the sidewalk, some old lady will still scold you. They get upset if you walk on red too, as one is supposed to set a good example for the kids. If you are walking on a street that has trams, make sure you aren't walking right on the edge of the street. The trams are quiet, and you don't want to get hit in the head with the mirror or accidentally fall into the street when they startle you with their bells. In Bavaria, you say Grüss Gott, everywhere else, you say Guten Tag, Guten Morgen, Guten Abend. Some areas say Moin, Moin in the morning. When leaving you can either say Aufwiedersehen or Tschüss. At meals, say Guten Apetit to your dining companions. Don't drink until everyone has their drink. Look people in the eye when you clink glasses.
"We aren't really doing a lot of sight seeing, in the sense of going to museums or castles, etc. Our goal for the trip (our travels in general) is to see the sights. We want to meet people and just see how lives are the same and different compared with our own, so we definitely want to know what to do to make others at ease and want to meet us as much as we want to meet them." Getting to know strangers isn't all that easy. Germans tend not to strike up conversations with strangers - not really a "code of silence", but a respectful approach that allows others their personal space. So really, you sort of have to NOT fit in - be different, and break the ice with them - and you'll usually find them interested in at least a brief chat. To break the ice, it helps to have something to talk about - so maybe you should go see some sights, hit some festivals, and use the local trains - most people enjoy sharing a few details of their trip and asking you about yours, then the conversation can evolve from there. Get a local "VRN" train daypass for 3 (23€) and take a trip to Heidelberg, or pretty Ladenburg north of there, and see who you can talk to on the way. Wine festivals are good for this too. K'lautern is near some excellent wine regions. There's a wine fest in Mußbach, a suburb of Neustadt, east of Kaiserslautern, on July 12-14, with music on Sunday. It's called the Eselshautfest. Wine and food at the fest are local products only - and I'll bet the locals would want to tell you all about them. Another option is a farm stay for 2-3 days. Some farm-innkeepers make it a real experience.
Russ - Thanks for all your information. My husband will love the wine fest! We do plan to travel out of Kaiserslautern and visit by train or car the places around there like Heidelberg, Trier, and Metz. Then at some point we want to go Munich and possibly Paris. However, we might just stay closer to Kaiserslautern if we are enjoying ourselves and finding things to do.
I, too, like to meet people on our trips to Europe. I've found that trains are an excellent place to do so, especially if you can think of a legitimate question that you could ask someone sitting nearby. We've also met people by asking them to take our picture and then going from there. Complimenting a child or a dog also works. One day in Luxembourg we were on a bus and the man sitting in the seat facing us had on a Chicago Bears cap. I asked him if he was a Bears fan, and that got the ball rolling. Of course, it's easier if you know at least a few phrases in German. If you don't know any German, your hosts can probably help you learn things like how to say, "Excuse me," or "Do you speak English" in German. Enjoy your trip.
Russ mentioned the Deutsche Weinstraße. I'll add that if you're traveling in early September, check out the Bad Dürkheim Wurstfest. Despite the name, wine is the main focus here. Imagine Oktoberfest with wine instead of beer and without all the annoying fratboy types.
Emily - some little things: Don't lick postage stamps at the post office, they have little wet sponges there for that purpose. In shops, they may not want to take or put change (especially coins) directly into your hand. They may have a little flat dish on the counter for that purpose. In small shops, they want to serve you, not have you pull things off the shelf and mess up their careful displays.
At breakfast, cut the breakfast rolls (brotchen or semmeln) in half, don't tear them. All things I've been corrected on. PS You didn't ask but I don't think Munich is worth the trip from where you will be, unless there is a specific museum you want to see.
During the summer it seems that there is always a festival somewhere....a Sunday drive in the country...get up and do a Volksmarch...a day at the town pool. Opportunities are endless and yes you can "just show up" in a lot of cases and snag a room for the night and enjoy the atmosphere. While its gotten alot of press and "travel coverage" we took off for the OLD DOCTOR'S HOUSE B&Band had a pleasant/laid back weekend in a small town. Bear in mind that in Kaiserslautern you are in one of the largest concentrations of Americans outside the United States and that has its pluses and minuses, so ranging a little further out will help achieving your "old time idea" of just stumbling on some good times. Good luck.
Thanks Jeff! Our friend actually teaches for the Department of Defense, which is why we are able to visit her and stay on our trip for so long. We definitely plan to get out of Kaiserslautern and see the countryside. We just want to use it as a home base for part of our trip. Particularly with our daughter, who will need at least one "stay in pajamas" day. So we would rather do that at our friends house then at a hotel. Everyone's suggestions have been very helpful and we are getting more excited by the day to just get the trip started! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply!