Anyone have experience/suggestions regarding traveling in Germany away from the cities, tourists, castles, etc.? During my next trip to Germany (summer 2010), I would like to travel to a few smaller towns where English is not widely spoken. Any suggestions regarding destinations and how best to travel away from the crowds would be most appreciated. I have been studying the language for a couple of years and would like to use it during the trip.
Hello Rick, how about going North, which RS totally ignores. There are some beautiful places and full of history too. But first try to read some guide books. If you like some info please contact me. Karin
"... traveling in Germany away from ... tourists"
The problem with that is that tourists go where there are interesting things to see, so, for the most part, if you want to see interesting things, you have to go where the tourist go.
Basically, if you want to get away from English speakers, don't go anywhere that Rick suggests.
However, there are places in Germany frequented by German tourists but virtually unknown to Americans, places where most Americans would not be comfortable because "everyone" doesn't speak English (maybe they're deaf).
One of these places is the Harz Mountains, in northern Germany. I was there in November, and, except for the manager of the hotel, who spoke fluent English (the only way the hotel could have a 3-star rating) only one other person who I encountered in five days spoke any English to me. The Harz is interesting for old towns with Fachwerk buildings (Goslar and Wernigerode and others) and the Brocken, the highest mountain in No. Germany, scene of Göthe's Walpurgisnacht.
Another place is the Illertal in the Oberallgäu. It has the ski town of Oberstdorf and the beautiful Kleinwalsertal, actually a part of the Austrian Tirol. I stayed farther down the river, in Fischen, and, except for the Pension owner, who spoke English fluently, I never heard any English.
Lastly, although it doesn't have any particularly important tourist sites, is the No. Schwarzwald (Alpirsbach, Freudenstadt, Bad Herrenalb, Bad Wildbad (home of an exquisite Spa), and Calw (hometown of Herman "Steppenwolf" Hesse). I've hardly heard any English in any of these places.
These places might not be the famous tourist attractions, but they are nice places to just hang out and practice your German.
If you speak German to people, you will usually be answered in the same. On a recent trip to the Rhein/Mosel I used my poor Deutsch in Bacharach, St. Goar and Trier. I do not remember anyone switching back into English. That has been the trend of recent trips.
I think that the secret, if you wish to call it so, is that I am a cheapskate and tend to look for lower priced rooms in small hotels. I would guess that private rooms renters would be even less inclined to use English.
Other places where the hotel personnel spoke no English to me: Aschaffenburg, Würzburg and Ansbach.
Not everyone in very touristy places speak English. I went to wash clothes in Rothenburg, a tourist highspot, and the caretaker asked me if I spoke Deutsch. He laughed when I said a little; all Americans say the same according to him. We exchanged stories (auf deutsch) about where we had lived in Germany for about 10 minutes. (I caught most of it.)
I have never had a person in a Kaufhaus switch into English if I asked a question in German.
I would not be afraid to see a few sights. You will be given ample opportunity to speak German if that is your wish. Just start talking.
Anywhere in the former East Germany, like small towns around Leipzig, would be good, too. Buy another guidebook that covers all of Germany, like the Let's Go books, and see what you find. Many times they'll mention areas that are frequented by Germans on vacations but are hardly ever visited by Americans.
In the summer, go North. Schlesswig and Kiel are really worth visiting and you will most likely be one of very few Americans in the area (none with Rick Steves guideboos). The whole area is beautiful.
As you get to the former East, English is less frequently used.
Here is an interesting website that presents the natural wonders of Germany. They are trying to get Germans to vote on their favorites, but in the meantime, I saw all kinds of places that I think are probably completely off the regular tourist radar. Though a good portion of this website is in German and only a small part is in English, I think once you go to the individual websites for each, they will most likely be in English. I just found this today, so haven't had time to explore it, but it looks wonderful.
I was in Bamberg in May and encountered no English speaking tourists but many German toursits. Regensburg had a few English speaking tourists, but no where compared to what I saw in Rothenburg and the Rhine area. Loved Bamberg and Regensburg.
Great site Jo,
A few more to add to my must see list.
Having lived in Germany for the year, one thing I like is that really there are so many different smaller places that are quite picturesque, but not really touristy. Just rolling past places on the train, you can sometimes see very traditional German looking towns which are just normal places. For example, I was around Schwäbisch Hall recently which is in the middle of nowhere but a little jewel of a town. So, you can probably easily choose a city at random and make the most of a smaller place which might not have as much bang for your buck but could still offer a good experience if you choose to have that attitude about it.
I might suggest some places in Thüringen, like Erfurt, Eisenach, and Weimar (touristy, but probably more Germans). Some smaller northern Franconian/Bavarian cities like Bamberg, Coburg, or Bayreuth are also not too far away. Up north I've only been to Münster so I can't really say anything about any other place up there.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is very touristy. Also, if you want to go big city route, a city like Munich has a lot of tourists, however, it's also easy to go into other parts of the city away from the main Altstadt sights.
Rick, I was stationed in Germany in the late 1980s. The most memerable times were in the small towns and rural areas. I went back in 2008 and used a simple trick to experience the small towns and rural routes again. The GPS in my rental had a function that allowed you to "avoid interstates". That function will keep you away from interstates and most major cities. Pick a destination city, then hit the "avoid" button and enjoy!
Trains aren't just for tourists, Germans use them to to go from the city out to the local festivals. It is very easy to get to small, out of the way towns with public transportation. Remember too, if you are driving, you can't imbibe at the local wine fest, or castle festival.
Rick, you might keep in mind that summer is school vacation time and the Germans are on the road en masse. The vacations are around 5-6 weeks long and differ in each state, to stagger the traffic. You can look up the various states' school vacations on the internet (Schulferien). I visited the island of Ruegen for the first time a couple of years ago (largest German island, on the Baltic (Ostsee). We were there in late May, the weather was warm, the hotel prices were pre-season with a full breakfast included, it was not crowded at all and very picturesque. On the way there and back we stopped in several beautiful small cities (Stralsund, Luebeck)and had lunch/afternoon coffee/ice cream in outdoor cafes. We had a rental car (with air conditioning) and parking was not difficult. We took a boat tour around the island and I heard no English spoken at all. Should you be a train buff, Ruegen has a miniature train (narrow gauge railroad?) with several stations on the island. There are many lakes between Berlin and the Baltic (Mecklenburger Seenplatte) but no real resort areas that I know of, even though I believe the region is getting popular with West Germans. If you can read some German, you might consider buying a German Baedeker via German Amazon (if you can't find one on the American site), for all of Germany (Baedeker Allianz Reisefuehrer Deutschland); I'm still using mine from the year 2000. By the way, I also visited the Lake Constance (Bodensee) area and loved it. Saw no American tourists in Konstanz in early spring.
Thanks, all, for your responses. I think the strategy I'll follow will be to just rent a car and (with a map and a GPS) start driving. Like others have written, if it shows up in a travel guide, it's going to attract foreign visitors. So we just have to explore and discover our own "secret" places.
For example, last year on a business trip I went to Backnang and stayed at a resort called Hotel Sonnenhof in the nearby village of Kleinaspach. This place is really out in the sticks and I enjoyed my time there (very peaceful). I haven't seen this place show up in any travel guides, and now that I think about it, it seemed to be mostly visited by Germans. On the Saturday night I was there it was overrun by what appeared to be local couples out for weekly night out on the town.
The other great experience while I was there was the Backnanger Strassenfest, the town's annual fair. German bands (playing both modern and oom-pah-pah), food vendors, and of course beer. All locals, as far as I could tell. So I might try to pick a town having their fair during my visit.
I've concluded that while use of the public transportation system (trains, buses) might give me closer contact with the locals, I just won't be able to efficiently get to small towns and villages.
Bis bald, Rick
"I've concluded that while use of the public transportation system (trains, buses) might give me closer contact with the locals, I just won't be able to efficiently get to small towns and villages."
I can't believe you can really think that. I have traveled all over Germany, in lots of small towns and villages, using only public transportation (trains, buses), and I have never had any problem getting to where I want to go.
School Holidays website to bookmark for future travel plans.
Definitely North and East. The areas don't appear in Rick's books at all. Also plenty of romantic and picturesque little towns South of Stuttgart, like Esslingen, Tübingen etc. Highlights in the North-East: Waren at Lake Müritz (you can daytrip the entire Mecklenburger Lake District from there), then Ahlbeck on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom (you can daytrip into Poland from there and see Peenemünde, the original Cape Caneveral). Then visit the island of Rügen, Germany's largest island. Bad Doberan, Bad Kühlungsborn, Heiligendamm are also quite worthwhile, so is the city of Schwerin with their downtown water chateau. You can end the trip in Lübeck or Hamburg (at least worth 3 days)...
20 miles from Bingen am Rhein is Bad Kreuznach a small not tiny town on the Nahe river 25 miles up the Nahe is Idar Oberstein with a hidden chapel in a rock and at one time famous for Jewelery making . I am sure any one that has lived in Germany will have there own special spots . I lived and have returned 25 times so i know this area is special . should want more info E mail me i will give you my Phone #