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Questions about Germany.

Hello,
I am still trying to decide where to go this summer and Germany is a possibility but I have never been there (have traveled extensively through other parts of Europe) and I have some questions before I commit:

I do not speak German. I do speak English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese - will I be OK communicating?

I like to visit a country or city chronologically (quirk of mine). If you were visiting Germany chronologically from most ancient sites through the Cold War, where would you go and what would you do?

I prefer public transport whereever possible, but will trains get expensive for a party of six (four kids in that group)?

I prefer to be right in a city or in a village where I can walk everywhere - which cities/villages are most interesting as a pedestrian.

If I stay in Berlin, will that give me easy access to such things as visiting the castles on the romantic road or going to Munich?

My children enjoy museums, historical sites and parks. We would love both history and art museums and are studying about both WWI and WWII. Please let me know of particular WWI and WWII sites you would recommend.

Thank you in advance for your answers. Money is tight but we want to keep traveling with our kids and showing them the world so I want to make something happen this summer but need to be smart about it and narrow down what we can do. We will probably do a home exchange in order to cut out that cost.

Is Germany the right place for us to go? Maybe your answers will help us decide.

We have already taken the kids to Beijing, Paris/other parts of France, around all of the USA, and Canada. Now I am just rambling. Sorry.

I look forward to your replies!

Cecily

Posted by
5966 posts

"I do not speak German. I do speak English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese - will I be OK communicating?"

The English will help a lot. It's widely spoken. The other languages won't.

"I like to visit a country or city chronologically (quirk of mine). If you were visiting Germany chronologically from most ancient sites through the Cold War, where would you go and what would you do?"

Trier has strong Roman roots. Berlin is of course very important today. You can work on the in-between stuff.

"I prefer public transport whereever possible, but will trains get expensive for a party of six (four kids in that group)?"

You'll do well with regional daypasses for groups called "Länder Tickets":

www.bahn.de/international/view/en/prices/germany/laender_tickets.shtml

or the "Happy weekend" tickets (similar, good on Sat or Sun for the whole country.)

"I prefer to be right in a city or in a village where I can walk everywhere - which cities/villages are most interesting as a pedestrian."

Almost anywhere in Germany is pedestrian oriented. There's no better place for walking.

"If I stay in Berlin, will that give me easy access to such things as visiting the castles on the romantic road or going to Munich?"

Your German geography needs some propping up. Get a guidebook and map and start looking at the distances involved.

"My children enjoy museums, historical sites and parks. We would love both history and art museums and are studying about both WWI and WWII. Please let me know of particular WWI and WWII sites you would recommend."

One of the best areas for this is the Rhine Valley - a UNESCO World Heritage site. Medieval castles abound. Remagen's WW II museum is great. Nearby Trier on the Mosel River is a Roman treasure trove, and Cochem is great too.

www.bruecke-remagen.de

www.burg-eltz.de

www.marksburg.de

www.burg-cochem.de/e_frame.html

www.mosel-reisefuehrer.de/moselhighengl/moselhighlightsengl.html

Posted by
143 posts

I didn't realize that sharing my preference for chronological travel would be so provocative!

We went to Beijing and saw the sites in chrono order.

In Paris we did the same. We traveled through point of France following history's order as well.

I am NOT saying that I have to hit every point of history!

If I am in an area, I do try to visit the sites in that order because it helps us to understand its development. If I can do day trips in that order as well I do.

There is nothing wrong with trying to travel this way - for goodness sake, you could just offer your favorite ancient, medieval, renaissance, early modernn, and modern locations in Germany - or a particular city in Germany - and keep the "comments" about my preference to yourself!

I always wonder at people taking issue with others on sites like these. If I see someone asking a question on any board and can help with an answer, I just answer. If I do not want to answer, I don't.

And regarding the search, I am searching. I am reading through. I am trying to figure it out. I came here to ask my specific questions as it is a Travelers Helpline and open board for us to ask questions! Again, if you have something to share, share it.

I do appreaciate the above links and will look at them. Thank you.

One more thing, like I said, I am trying to show my kids the world. As a busy mom on a tight budget trying to scrimp so that I can do this, I think that people on this board would think it a good thing to answer questions. I do not have a ton of time to do research and thought I could get some direction here.

Yes, maybe I should go to another country like Austria. That is a helpful comment (if not said so nicely). I welcome all helpful recommendations, even about considering a different place.

Yes, I have to look at Germany's geography more closely (again, not said nicely) and will get a map. Like I said, I just started to thinking about this and hoped for direction.

Posted by
12040 posts

I don't think the others found the chronological tour idea provocative, but what they were saying is that for Germany, it just isn't practical. You would have to criss-cross back and forth over very large areas of land. Plus, Germany doesn't really have anything approaching a single chronological history until the 19th century. You'd be following a nearly endless jumble of inter-connecting narratives.

Traces of WWI are rare in Germany, as none of the war was fought within Germany's current borders. As for WWII and the Third Reich, little remains intact, but the indirect evidence is everywhere (re-built cities, the autobahn, monuments to Nazi victims, the wreckage of the Nuremburg rally stadium, a few wrecked concentration camps). If I remember correctly, only one building in Munich constructed during the Nazi era remains intact today.

Posted by
8505 posts

Well, if you want to go way back, the Neanderthal digs are right around the Köln area. Celtic digs are all over the place. There is a quite large find near Giessen with a huge burial mound from a chieftan including the site of a large avenue that would have streched across the countryside and they have found a lot of artifacts in the Frankfurt city forest of all places (10,000 acres). They also have some finds dating back to 4000 BC that they found when they were digging up the city. The Romans were all over the place and almost every city has some ruins.(especially baths!) There is a rebuilt Roman fort called the Saalburg up near Bad Homburg which is great for kids to visit. It is the only one in existence. The Romans had a 650 km defense line along the Taunus mountains and left a lot of artifacts and ruins behind.

Frankfurt has the foundations of its first church dating from 680 and just goes on from there. Aachen was home to Charlegmagne, but he spent a bit of time in lots of places during the late 700's, early 800's. The middle ages saw a lot of growth all over Germany, with lots of wonderful towns left today to visit and all of them would have had walls and moats at one time. Quite a few will still have the walls. There are beautiful cathedrals in many towns that date back 800 to 1000 years. Mainz has a really beautiful one as does Köln of course. But almost every town has a beautiful church or two or three to its name. You can hardly go wrong visiting anywhere.

For more modern history, yeah, I would go to Berlin. It is exciting for the kids. You can visit Potsdam and the gorgeous palace there and you can also visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. There are also the visits to the Wall remnants and former DDR.

English is fine, but as with any foreign country visit, it is always nice to learn some of the language so you can be polite.

Posted by
386 posts

Cecily,
can I chime in too? I take absolutely no offense at your way of travel, if it works for you, so be it :-))
I can't help but agree with several posters here that in Germany, and in Austria as well (even though you could start out with Hallstadt and the Bronze Age), and most certainly find mediaval cities like Rothenburg or Zwettl for example), it would be very challenging to line up historical sights on a linear timeline. You are most likely to encounter layers of history wherever you travel. With a few exceptions most cities and towns are an ecclectic mix of architectural styles and mirrors of history.
You might like the Wachau, my home region, also considered the cradle of history of Austria. Here you will find everything from ice-age finds (Venus of Willendorf, etc) to Roman settlements and medieval towns like Dürnstein. Vienna is only an hour away by train, and a trip to Hallstadt in the Lakes Region about three hours. With careful planning and research you could make it work for you.
If it is that important to you, then Austria might be a better choice for you, simply because it is so much smaller than Germany.
Just food for thought.

Posted by
143 posts

Thank you Jo and Corinna. These are very helpful/interesting posts and I will use them to flesh out what is best for us.

Best,

Cecily

Posted by
8505 posts

Oh, just to throw this in, the train from Berlin to Munich takes almost 7 hours. If you want to to do this, I would break it into 2 seperate travel days, stopping somewhere in between. Hey, how about Frankfurt!!!! (I have become overly passionate about my adopted hometown)

Posted by
588 posts

Cecily, I think your idea of traveling chronologically through a country is an interesting and very unique concept. All of us have some type of travel quirk if we really think about it. There are castle people, pub people (yep try out every one in a city/country or try a different local brew). Some people only rent cars and avoid public transportation. I actually belong to a club in the US called the Extra Mile Club --- we can out of way to visit every county or country equivalent in the US. I have been to 49 of the 50 states but have a long way to go to reach 3,130+ counties. The motto is of the club is "the shortest distance between two points is no fun". Zig-zagging across a state or country is an adventure. Stick with your plan --- it is a hobby and the kids will have cherished memories.

Posted by
588 posts

Actually, the more I think about this, I really think it is cool concept of travel. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_German_history for a German History timeline and use it as a base for research. Half the fun of a trip is planning. As mentioned by others, Trier and Berlin are givens. After WW II, Munich was rebuilt in the old style while Frankfurt is a completely modern city. Rothenberg and castles are a must (Berg Etz or Neuschwanstein along with castle ruins like Rheinfel Castle in St. Goar). I would also suggest Dresden, Koln's cathedral, and a concentration camp. You have a lot of research to do but this is really an opportunity to teach history and geography to your children. Good luck and have fun!

Posted by
1411 posts

Depending on which periods of history, I think that it might be easier to peal off layers of history in the Rhine/Mosel region than in Munich or Berlin, where so much has been destroyed and rebuilt.

Trier is only one of former Roman settlements of the area. Tiny Bacharach was an economic center in the middle ages. There are many castles in the area that held historical significance from the early middle ages to the times of Napoleon. Mainz and Frankfurt are modern cities built on ancient foundations with many archeological finds and museums to prove it.

Rivers were the highways of Europe until fairly modern times. The Rhine is one of the prime ones.

Berlin and Munich were founded in the 12 century, not old by German standards. They came into prominence much later. Great cities never-the-less.

I also loved the Danube Valley mentioned for Austria. Like the Rhine, everything is close together minimizing the time and funds required for transportation.

Both areas are quite attractive to the eye.

Posted by
18690 posts

On the European continent, except for the small language groups like Dutch and Danish, a larger proportion of German speakers (just over 50%) speak English than other major language groups (Fr, It, Es). However, these tend to be concentrated in business and tourism centers. If you get out in the country, it is possible to not find many English speakers. As long as you stay in big cities and in touristy areas, you should be fine.

As previously mentioned, up to five adults (or two parents and all their children under 15) can travel all day long in one German state, or Land, with a Länder ticket, such as the €28 Bayern-Ticket in Bavaria. If you stay in Munich, getting to Hitler's Eagles' Nest, in Berchtesgaden, or Neuschwanstein, in Hohenschwangau, is quite economical. (BTW, in chronological order, Neuschwanstein comes quite late, having been built at the same time as the Eifel Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge.) For an earlier castle, you might try Burghausen (it was in existence in 1290 A.D.). And, Rothenburg was a thriving trade center around the 14th century. There are ruins of older castles outside of Reutte im Tirol (Austria) and Pfronten.

Posted by
62 posts

I would recommend DK Germany book. They have a section on history in chronological order. It would be a start.

Posted by
143 posts

Thanks again for all of the great leads and encouraging posts. I will research all of these and see where they lead us.

To answer Harry, I have done both. You can see either a city or region in chronological order if you have enough time and can move about a bit.

Paris and the rest of France were very easy to see this way and it made a huge impact (in terms of understanding) for my children. We visited Roman ruins first then moved on to Medieval sites, etc. The history "sticks" this way and they LOVE history. A place may not have "all" of times in history available but you can still take what points in history are represented and see those in order.

Anyway, something to think about when next planning your travels.

Posted by
1717 posts

Hello Cecily. You said six people will travel together, in the summer, and your "money is tight". I recommend travelling in Austria. Places are close together in Austria. Overnight accomodations in Austria can be inexpensive. In the summer of 2009, I guess you will pay 1.50 U.S. Dollars (plus bank fees) for each Euro that you receive. There are plenty of historical places in Austria. Vienna was the home of an Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and of Emporers of Austria, and of rulers of the Austro - Hungarian Empire. A big Medieval castle is on top of the hill at Salzburg. Hallstadt is one of the oldest towns in Europe. The oldest piece of European art was found at Willendorf. A museum is there. The original art item (25,000 years old) is in the Natural History Museum in Vienna. King Richard the LionHearted of England was imprisoned in a castle at Durnstein (at the Danube river). And visit the opulent Benediktinerstift Abbey at Melk. The building that exists there now is of 18th century Baroque style. Monks of Saint Benedict lived and worked there for 900 years. Napolean Bonaparte made his headquarters there in 1805 and 1809. In 1938 the Germans occupied most of the Abbey building. Portrait paintings of every Emporer of Austria are on the walls of the emperial corridor in the abbey building. If you will be at Innsbruck, you could go to Reutte. (Rick Steves likes to have overnight accomodation there). From Reutte, hop across the border to Germany to visit Neuschwanstein (King Ludwig's castle). A boat ride on the Danube river, from Krems to Melk, is pleasant. In Vienna, the Schonbrunn Palace is the most beautiful palace in Europe. Ride in a cable gondola on the Dachstein mountain, starting at Obertraun (near Hallstatt), to the summit of Krippenstein (6,600 feet above sea level). Austrian people are generally more mellow and relaxed than German people. I liked the sound of the spoken German language in Austria, more than in Germany.

Posted by
850 posts

A few WWII sites that may be of interest to you.
If you start in Trier, Germany's oldest city, you could travel a short distance to Hamm, Luxembourg and visit the American Cemetery where General George Patton is buried. The majority of the over 5,000 buried there were killed during the battle of the bulge.
Munich has a number of interesting WWII sites. Hitler's 1923 failed beer hall putsch which began from the Burgerbraukeller and ended on the streets of Munich with 16 of his men being killed. This led to Hitler's arrest and while in prison at that time he wrote Mein Kampf. The Burgerbraukeller is gone but the famous Hofbrauhaus where Hitler gave one of his first speeches is still there. There is a Third Reich walking tour mentioned in RS book you can take. The Dachau concentration camp is nearby.
Bertchesgaden and the Obersalzburg would be a good place to visit. Considered by some to be the cradle of the Third Reich since Hitler got his inspiration from his mountain home, the Berghof, which no longer stands. The Eagles Nest high above the Berghof was built for his 50th birthday and is worth a visit.
Nurmeburg, where the Nazi rallies were held is another WWII site of interest. The stadium still stands although not quite like it was during the height of the Nazi rallies. The Congress Hall, a short walk from Zeppelin field is still there. It is the largest remaining structure of the Nazi regime even though it was never completed. They do have a documentation center with photos and the story of how the Nazi's seized power and the damage to the German cities and the trial and punishment of the Nazi war criminals.
Many other WWII sites. Some have mentioned already.

Posted by
143 posts

Ron, This is a great post. Thank you! One question: Which cities in Austria would be the best home bases to travel to all of these sites? Cecily

Posted by
12077 posts

It's easier to see a city chronologically than a region. You would end up spending too much valuable time backtracking to see historic Germany in Chronological order. In European cities, chronology starts in the center and works out. It also starts below ground and works up (Rome, York, Bath and Cathedrals are examples).

Berlin isn't close to Munich, at least not in the sense of a day-trip.

Walking is never a problem, cities were built when walking was the main form of transportation (unless you could afford a horse).

Speaking English is fine. It's rare for me to find a German who doesn't know at least some English. It's not a bad idea to learn some basic polite words before you go.

I find using the train in Germany works really well for one or two people. If you have four or more a rental or lease is likely to be the more economical option. Parking and driving in Germany is similar to the US. I've done it a number of times with no problem (just stay out of the fast lane on the Autobahn). Now that I have a GPS, however, I can't imagine traveling without it.

For Roman history Trier and Koln are good bets. For Martin Luther and the reformation, I liked Hamburg but there are other a lot of choices. For medieval history, the Rhine and the Romantic Road are good choices. For Viking History, you need to go North along the Oxenweg (a Viking trade route). There is a great place not far from Schlesswig (I can't recall the name but it's probably too far out of the way). WW II history could be along the Rhine, in Munich (early), Berlin (late) or a visit to a concentration camp.

Posted by
18690 posts

Germany tries, like most of Europe, to teach English to its school children. It doesn't always "stick"; I have encountered many high school aged students in Germany who can't communicate in English, but then half of all American high school student "take" a foreign language but how many of them can really speak it, either. You can lead a horse to water....

But, the Germans that retain English five, ten, or more years out of school are the ones who need to use it in work, either business or in tourism. I've met many German adults who told me they learned English in school, haven't used it since, and don't remember anything.

Posted by
18690 posts

In Berchtesgaden, at the foot of Kehlstein mountain, where the Eagles' Nest is, is the Kokumentation Center, which has exhibits about how Nazi-ism developed in Germany. You can also tour the remains of the SS bunkers that were there in Obersalzberg, where the top Nazis had their vacation homes.

Posted by
1411 posts

"Travelling in Austria is less expensive than travelling in Germany."

That is true when comparing like travel on ICE or IC trains because distances are less.

Germany can be much cheaper if you travel on local trains largely within a German State (Land) using Länder tickets that Lee mentioned. You can cover the whole state of Bavaria with a group Bayern-Ticket (up to 5 people)at 28 euros and a Bayern-Single at 20 euros. That fare covers the whole day, in all directions.

There are similar group tickets in the Rheinland-Pfalz Land (Rhein/Mosel area), and even further discount tickets within local travel districts. The same is true for other states.

Austria does offer family discounts but I think with less savings for 6 people:

http://www.oebb.at/pv/en/Travelling_cheaper/Families/index.jsp

Perhaps someone from Austria can offer more information.

To get the best rates, it does take a bit of research once you settle on where you would like to visit.

Regards, Gary

Posted by
1411 posts

For research purposes:

German trains:

http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en

Austrian Trains:

http://www.oebb.at/

Unless someone steps forward here with knowledge of the Austrian train service, I might address train questions to the Tripadvisor Austrian Forum. There are several local experts there that seem to know the train system well.

Lee above has a good working knowledge of the German train system.

Regards, Gary

Posted by
1717 posts

I think Cecily decided to go to Austria.

Posted by
386 posts

Cecily,
if you have any questions about Austrian rail travel (ÖBB) please PM me!
The offers change weekly, and I am more than glad to steer you into the right direction.
I travel back and forth between Austria & Germany quite a bit, since my sister is married into Bavaria, and while it is true that one thing is cheaper here, and another more expensive there,
the differences are negligible!
I wouldn't worry about it much!
One thing I WILL say:
the ÖBB, the Austrian Railway, is more dependable than DBB (German Railway)! But even that is minor, both systems operate highly efficient (with only occasional glitches, no comparison to USA, or say, rural Italy!
with warm greetigs,
Corinna
one of those Austrians ;-))