NEED TO KNOW
Capital City: Berlin
Population: 82.4 million
Area: 138,000 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 49
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Euro = $1.36 US Calculate Other Amounts
Germany, a member of the EU, does not require visas for citizens of the United States. A valid passport is sufficient for a three-month stay.
GOOD TO KNOW
Books and Movies
Modern German culture has produced plenty of good books and movies. Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass, Nobel Prize-winning authors of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum and The Tin Drum, respectively, are postwar Germany's greatest writers. Earlier classics include Goethe's Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther, which helped launch the Romantic movement. Fritz Lang's German movies, especially Metropolis and M, are an excellent introduction to the period between the wars, a time of great artistic production which ended in 1933. Two homegrown recent films display very different takes on life east of the wall: the feel-good comedy Goodbye Lenin and 2006's Oscar-winning surveillance drama The Lives of Others, a darker view free of nostalgia.
Specialties vary by area of the country. As a port town and neighbor of Denmark and Belgium, Hamburg's cuisine is a historical stew of influences. Today, it's hard to find a cook under 50 content to serve up platters of sausage and potatoes, and the local specialty, smoked eel, is absent from most civilized menus (a good thing). Take advantage instead of Hamburg's internationally influenced takes on northern German staples, including game and fish from the nearby North Sea. In Berlin, the traditional Prussian food is heavy and doughy and not much eaten any more; in general, restaurants serving German cuisine tend towards Alsatian or southern German. Street food stars are the uniquely weird currywurst, a bun-less hot dog smothered in curry ketchup, and döner kebab, a flatbread stuffed with lamb or chicken and salad. In East Berlin the plethora of Vietnamese joints provide the tastiest fast food in town. At the high end, a new generation of savvy young Berliners are flocking to French- and Italian-trained chefs for light, inventive takes on local classics. Don't miss out on the ubiquitous, delicious, and quite reasonably priced beer, as well as the German wines, particularly the white Rieslings and Pinot Gris from the Rhine and Moselle valleys.
Although German cities are some of the most expensive in the world, a visitor would be remiss not to take advantage of what they produce. Precision engineering is the theme here, and the endless pursuit of perfection and excellent craftsmanship guarantee superior products. Excellent knives, porcelain, crystal, musical instruments, and silver are everywhere, either made by hand in a centuries-old shop or by robot in a 21st-century plant. In Berlin, the manufacturing base left decades ago, and the void has been filled by artists and fashion designers, making it a good place to buy distinctive clothes and art. As for souvenirs, there are always Red Army caps to be bought near the old Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse.
A value-added tax (VAT) of 19 percent is added to every purchase you make in Germany, but non-EU residents can get refunds for high-ticket items upon exiting the country, with the appropriate paperwork.
Although most prices officially include service, tipping is recommended if you are happy with the service. Something like 5 to 10 percent will usually suffice. Most waiters prefer to settle the bill and tip right at the table, so be ready when the bill comes to make a quick calculation.
January: 1, New Year's Day; 6, Epiphany
February: 2, Candlemas
May: 1, May Day
October: 3, German Unity Day; 31, Reformation Day
November: 1, All Saints' Day
December: 25, Christmas Day; 26, St. Stephen's Day
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter; day after Easter, Easter Monday; sixth Thursday after Easter, Ascension; eighth Monday after Easter, Whitmonday