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Three great weeks in Germany

Flew Icelandair from PDX to BER in late August and MUN to PDX this week. Customs leaving and coming back were both a bit less time consuming than my past experiences. Icelandair has very, very short layovers in Iceland if you're not doing a stopover. Mine was 50 minutes on the way back and I barely made it after ending up getting randomly selected to interview with customs agent. My main beef with Icelandair is limited in-flight entertainment options and no complementary food for an international flight - not sure if other airlines are doing the same at this time? Needed to get $130 antigen COVID test before boarding the flight to Iceland (even though just for transiting through the airport) but took advantage of the free antigen testing available in Munich before boarding my flight back to US (it was never checked though you are required to sign a paper that you completed and met the testing requirements). Some folks in front of me at PDX customs did have their covid tests checked, but I didnt.

At places where it was checked - most restaurants, museums, castles/palaces, and other indoor venues - CDC vaccine card worked fine. I clipped mine to the inside of my passport ID page so it was easy to verify and took everywhere with me. Always kept it in the same pocket of my day bag so I wouldn't be prone to misplace it.

Train travel was easy, even during the 5-day DB train worker strike. Stops on my itinerary included Berlin, Hamburg, Cochem, Wurzburg, Nuremburg, Munich and Salzburg. Sticking mostly to one country made understanding the rules pretty easy, though I know rules within Germany can vary by state. I didn't notice any differences between the various German states I visited. Most everyone wore their medical masks indoors and on transit - usually one or two that didn't. Salzburg had far less mask wearing indoors. Virtually no one wears masks outdoors in all the places I went to, which was a relief to me.

Many museums, castles, etc I went to continue to offer audioguides in English and other languages, but just as many don't. Also, English language tours are much more limited, if offered at all. If the RS guidebooks notes that a museum/castle doesn't have good English displays and you find out there's no audioguide or English tour, you may not want to visit (assuming you don't speak the language). If this is a concern, you may want to check website and/or contact the place in advance. For instance, I took the a Hamburg Harbor tour specifically for the English tour, but found out they don't offer the once-a-day English tour these days (despite no info about this on their website).

Some places were probably better to visit this summer than non-pandemic summers due to capacity limits. Berg Eltz in the Moselle River valley was a great time to visit because there were fewer English-speaking tourists and our tour group was about 8-10 people, whereas the RS guidebook says these are usually much larger. Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg has significantly restricted capacity, but in my time there, I can't imagine being packed in there with any more people! The result is that some of these places can be difficult to get into without advanced reservations, but if you do that, you'll probably get a better than usual experience like I did.

Many of the best travel experiences in my humble opinion are completely unaffected by the pandemic, such as hiking through a foggy forest morning to Berg Eltz, watching the sunset and listening to the church bells from viewpoints above Salzburg, and biking along Hellbrunn Allee (and many other places in other cities). Parks are all open and being used by locals to play beach volleyball, table tennis, sunbathing, and everything else. This trip was definitely worth the extra bit of uncertainty and flexibility.

Hope this helps inform some of you considering whether to make a trip...

Posted by
6530 posts

Joe — thanks for your trip report, it seems you really had a great time !!

Posted by
768 posts

Thanks for this, Joe. I’m flying out of Munich in December. Where did you find the free covid testing? (There are four of us, and that could save some euros!)

Posted by
89 posts

Thanks for this, Joe. I’m flying out of Munich in December. Where did
you find the free covid testing? (There are four of us, and that could
save some euros!)

By December, the tests will probably not be free; the government has announced that they will start charging for tests in October.

Posted by
1780 posts

Now that "the season" is over, tourists should not expect free tests anywhere. I'm sure even locals will need to start paying, it's not a supportable model.

Posted by
4705 posts

Thanks for this, Joe. I'm still planning on Berlin in October, though also still nervous. Glad to know the CDC card was enough to get in places and avoid quarantine. I hope the weather lets me spend lots of time outdoors, but I also want to see the major museums and other indoor sights. How far ahead did you book your times for places like Reichstag and Pergamon (if you did)?

Posted by
23 posts

The Reichstag was booked for all available times each time I checked, so you may want to do a search to find out when they make more times available. I didn't try to set something up in person, but some places have those in addition to what's available online. I could've booked a private tour through a tour guide but didn't feel like $200 to go up there was money well spent when I can always do that on a future visit. Pergamon I was able to book the week of.. in fact just a couple days in advance. The Neues Museum and others were even easier to get times.

If you have flexible flight and stay accommodations like I did, you can roll with the changes pretty easily. I never booked a hotel without free cancellation options close to timing of the stay. Maybe I paid more, but most places were less than $80/night and quite comfortable and that's during the summer.

Good luck with the weather. I got rained on in Berlin and Munich at times (both times while out on a bike), but sunny and warm the vast majority of the time. And they say the Pacific Northwest is wet...

Posted by
2597 posts

Of the towns/cities you visited, what were your 3 favorites? How many nights did you stay in each place?

Posted by
2597 posts

My COVID-19 testing experience for Aug 26 - Sept 6 trip:

  1. PCR covered by my insurance through the office where I work 24 hours before departure (quick 12-hour turnaround on tests!)
  2. 15€ pre-departure rapid test at sketchy storefront testing site a few doors down from my hotel in Berlin
Posted by
23 posts

Hard to pick three.. Germany is a fantastic place to explore!
Trier and Cochem are tied but fairly different. Trier was fantastic, so much to see if you appreciate ancient history. The Roman amphitheater was so cool - I don't recall being able to go below the arena at the Roman Coliseum like I could here. I made it a day trip from Cochem but could've easily spent more time there. Cochem was actually pretty awesome once I fully explored the town (I did a couple day trips from there). I found the local castle pretty cool (RS guidebooks tend to discount rebuilt historic places, but this one was fun and scenic). Plus if you enjoy wine, the riesling is perfect. Felt very relaxing.
Salzburg was perfection. I loved the all the hiking and biking available within the city. The scenery with the mountains as a backdrop was amazing. This place felt so sophisticated, busy, and still not crowded. I found a trail that aligned with the old city walls and got to explore a lot of that and end up with a night time city lights view that took my breath away.
Munich was fantastic to experience beer gardens, chat with locals, shop, and see what a really high quality of life is like. I'm still absolutely jealous.
I feel like Berlin deserves to be on the list, but I was jet lagged and possibly didn't fully appreciate all it had to offer even with 4 nights. I didn't intend to visit Berlin on this trip, but Belgium changed their entry requirements and I wasn't about to waste days on quarantine. Berlin has enough to offer me another trip with another 4 nights or more. Such an interesting place with the remnants of the east/west divide. It has big city culture, but felt less crowded than munich - just my experience..

Posted by
2597 posts

Thanks for the additional information. Trier is on my list of places to go in Germany, but I haven't made it there yet. Aachen (in the very general area) is high on my list, too.

Salzburg is my favorite small city. There is so much to do there, and I agree, it's a regal-looking place. I'll have to look up the path that follows the old city walls -- sounds like a great activity.

Berlin is my favorite big city. I try to spend some time there every year. I've spent as many as 10 nights there at one time and keep going back for more -- 6 nights a couple of weeks ago!

Posted by
12358 posts

"Germany is a fantastic place to explore." It is, isn't it? How true !

Get off the typical tourist places, both international and US, and see what super interesting places, towns and cities are for visiting and exploring, museums, churches, cathedrals, memorials, architecture, Schloesser, rural sites, etc.

Lots of places I've been to in eastern and North Germany, always in the summer, there were no tourists, except German ones, either in German language tour groups or independent travelers. out and about and exploring just as I was.

Posted by
12358 posts

Another vote for Berlin as my favourite big city in Germany. always go back there minus one trip, whenever I am in Germany. The longest time was 14 consecutive nights staying in a Pension.

Posted by
940 posts

Now that "the season" is over, tourists should not expect free tests
anywhere. I'm sure even locals will need to start paying, it's not a
supportable model.

That's not the reasoning behind that. It's not "even locals" who will need to pay, it's locals first and foremost. No one really had tourists in mind when they made this decision.

The reasoning behind that is that by this time, everyone has had the chance to get vaccinated. There is absolutely no justification for expecting tax payers to continue paying the tests for those who refuse to get vaccinated.

Those who cannot get vaccinated due to medical issues or because they are too young will continue to get free tests.