Planning a 10 day trip in June, 2014. Will use a rental car. Want to see Wittenberg, Dresden, Worms and a few other places. Will fly into Frankfurt. Are highway signs in German and English? Are there usually public parking areas available at various sites? Do most German people speak English?
I recommend that you buy or go to the library for Rick's "Germany and Switzerland" for some basic background. Really good general information, even if you have to look up this year's "opening" hours. You might consider how annoying the car can be in big cities like Dresden. I'd check whether your hotels have free (or any) parking before you an otherwise attractive place. You also have to worry about body damage when (as anywher) when you park on metered street or tiny spaces in indoor garages. Everywhere in Germany has excellent public transit, but if you stay on the outskirts you have to make sure you're near a stop.
"Want to see Wittenberg, Dresden, Worms and a few other places." Worms is your outlier here. Other than the cathedral, which is Catholic, there's not a lot to see. It may be one of the oldest cities in Germany, but most of the buildings date from after the war. Very little remains of the historic city. Are you considering Eisenach? That would seem a good fit for the theme of your trip. "Are highway signs in German and English". No. They mostly consist simply of the names of the cities and towns in your direction of travel and the route number. The only other words you generally see are things like "Ausfahrt", "Kreuz", "Dreieck" "Einbahnstraße" and "Umleitung". Everything else is a symbol. "Are there usually public parking areas available at various sites?" There might not be parking readily available adjacent the site you're trying to visit, but there's always public parking somewhere in the cities. Just look for the big blue and white "P" signs and follow the arrows. If you want the parking garage near the center of town, look for words like "Mitte", "Zentrum", "Markt", "Altstadt" or "Rathaus". Hotels may not always offer on-site parking, but if not, they usually have an arrangement with the nearest parking garage. "Do most German people speak English?" Not everyone, but just about everyone working in the tourist and hospitality industries will. English fluency tends be lower in the east.
"...and a few other places." Which places? Magdeburg? Leipzig? The chances are that in western Germany in the areas frequented by tourists you'll most likely be initially addressed in English. In the eastern part of Germany that is most likely not going to happen. You will be addressed in German first.
With nearly a year until your most interesting sounding trip, can I suggest that an online beginner or tourist German course so that you could get the basics for your trip. Especially if you vary off the beaten track you may find people with whom your basic knowledge of their language will be appreciated. Like many of the countries in Europe, a little bending to their social preferences will be very well received. It is polite to greet them in their own language and refer to people by their last name and title rather than first name. There are webpages with most or all of the German road signs - you would do well to memorize them and become familiar with the unwritten signs. For example, when you drive into a town or village with a yellow town name sign, that is an unwritten sign that you must not exceed 50 kph from that sign. If you do you may find yourself flashed by an automatic speed camera which doles out a large fine. There are a few things to learn to prepare yourself - in a later post we can tell you how to park on the street if going to smaller towns, for example - but with all this time I'm sure it will go well. Gute Reise!!
Janice, last spring my husband and I visited the general area you are describing. It is beautiful and there is plenty to see and do. But, there were a few disappointments. Because there is a Luther anniversary coming up, several of the sites that people associate with him are being spruced-up for the expected crowds and celebrations. In Wittenberg, his house is open and ready for visitors. The church where he frequently preached was open but because of major interior renovations, there was little to see. The church where he is posted the 95 Theses and where he is buried, was closed and covered over with scaffolding, fences, etc. The frustrating part was that when we researched visiting these sites, there was no warning on the internet about the renovations. If we had known, we might have allocated time a bit differently. As other posters suggested, most traffic signs in Europe utilize symbols and minimal language. With some advanced study, you can master the signage. The difficulties come with driving in cities that often have road plans from hundreds of years ago. The oldest parts of cities (where the main tourist attractions are typically found) are often either traffic-free or painfully congested. Parking is at a premium. The German rail system is modern, clean, efficient, and often deposits you within walking distance of your hotel. Unless you are traveling with a number of people (when a rental car might be less expensive), or one of them has problems with walking, I suggest using the train system. Finally, English is not as widely spoken in eastern Germany as in the rest of Germany. However, the people you encounter as a tourist are often experienced with non-German speaking visitors and generally manage to communicate. Feel free to write if you have other questions.
There is lots going on in Germany in preparation of the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the 95 theses. In 2013, the cathedral in Wittenberg was closed for repairs; you may find other sites you are interested in undergoing restoration as well. Carefully check to see what's open or partily open.
One of Rick's mantras is to "stop at the TI". Sometimes the lines are annoying and long, and sometimes the employees aren't fully informed. But the fact is that when internet sites are not d enough (post above), it's a good way to talk to someone who hears, daily, from tourists in that very town. It's helpful to have a written list of the sites that interest you, so that you can jot down (for example) the current hours and days of those sites. It's rare, but to pick an example of occasional perversity, the TI in Cologne doesn't sell the city "Museum Card", but only an inferior discount card that doesn't suit my particular needs. Only the museums included (and not every one of them) sell the card I like. Everyone has their touring interests. I hope you'll check into other things you shouldn't miss in the cities you choose to visit. For example, Dresden is a vast repository of art and decorative art. It would be a shame to skip that and only see Protestant history sites. I don't know if you want to see a sort-of "black hole" of tourist sites, but I'd mention that a fair number of Catholic churches in western Europe (particularly Benelux) are strangely low on statues. Does that count as Reformation Europe?
As a follow-up to Tim's advice regarding tourist information offices, I'd agree that stopping in each city's tourist office may be helpful. But keep in mind that in some countries, these offices do not exist solely to give free information to tourists so much as to sell them tours, housing, maps, etc. Probably a better way to learn in advance about current conditions is to utilize a travel forum such as this one. Another source of information is TripAdviser. On TripAdviser, you can also ask questions by going to the forum for the country or even the specific city where you plan to travel.
Thanks for the tips. Yes, (laughing) we do plan to see other things...not just Protestant sites. We're trying to decide if we want to do a group tour from the U.S. or go it alone. We're not really group tour types, but as we age, we're seeing the advantages. As mentioned in the above post, even if you do your homework on the web, you sometimes hit snags. This might be our only trip to Germany, and I don't want to blow it. I appreciate any and all information you can give me.
Some one else mentioned it, but Eisenach and specifically Wartburg Castle. ML had to whole up there for a few years when he was a wanted man. They still have the room preserved there where he translated the bible into German to kill time. And the good old 30 Years War is all around. Take the Night Watchmen tour in Rothenburg to learn why the town was "frozen in time". And Prague for "The Defenestration of Prague". I was there and I never did learn the location of the window where that guy got defenestered from.
I really liked Worms, and think it has enough interesting sites to keep you busy for a day. Not that into Martin, so not very familiar with all of his activities, but Worms certainly played a part in his life as well as the Reformation itself. The Dom in Worms is wonderful, as only a 1000 year old cathedral can be. Very similar in style to the Dom in Mainz. (architects didn't have a lot of varied choices back then) The Jewish history of Worms is very extensive, and the Rashi house, Synagogue, Mikvah, and the cemetery are all worth visiting. Suggest booking one of the tours on offer from the Tourist Info. The Tourist Infos in each city can be worth it or not. The ones in Frankfurt are really iffy. You can't even get a map for free. They are all about selling their own bus tours, and nothing else, and frankly never seem to have a clue about what is going on in the city. I would rely more on asking questions from the Destination Experts on Trip Advisor, to get up to date & accurate information about each of the cities you want to visit.
If you're considering an upper Rhine city, my preferences, in decreasing order, would be Speyer, Wiesbaden, Mainz, Karlsruhe, Worms, Mannheim, and Ludwigshafen in dead last place.