Your comprehensive travel guide to Germany - All in one place!
History, culture, and natural beauty perhaps best describe the essence of vacationing in Germany. With its many historic cities and small towns, along with an abundance of forests and mountains, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a unique place to visit. Those wanting to sightsee or experience the arts should head to the metropolitan areas such as Munich, Frankfurt, or Hamburg, while those looking for recreational activities should visit places such as the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest, or the Rhine Valley.
Lovely old cathedrals and grand palaces are everywhere, and in the smaller towns and villages - some with their original medieval Old Towns still intact - many centuries-old traditions, including traditional Christmas markets, festivals, and fairs, continue to this day. At the cultural heart of Germany is the capital, Berlin, home to many fine museums and galleries, while nature lovers will find a world of possibilities in Germany's great outdoors.
History and Government
Germany's struggle for a unified identity has a long history marked by numerous politically and religiously motivated wars. With the intention of preventing Germany from being in command of comparable economic and military power, the allied forces divided the country into two hostile states; the parts held by the Western powers were developed into the Federal Republic of Germany, while the eastern zone occupied by the Soviets became the German Democratic Republic. Berlin, the capital and an obvious bone of contention, was divided by along the same lines.
The contest between the two states was fierce: The German Democratic Republic was forced to adopt the Communist system at odds with the national character and was never able to break free from being a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The Federal Republic considered itself to be the natural successor to the old Reich and was able to build and sustain a democratic society. Its economy boomed if only with considerable financial help from the USA.
In 1990 Germany was reunified. The unification process led to a myriad of economic, political and social problems and tensions.
The German Reichstag, almost destroyed by a fire deliberately set by Nazi troops in 1933, has been recently renovated. Its renovation began after Germany's reunion and the building is topped by a marvelous dome of glass. This dome has become an international symbol for a unified Germany.
Germany is located in Central Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, between the Netherlands and Poland, south of Denmark. Roughly the size of Montana and situated even farther north, unified Germany has an area of 356,959 square kilometers. Extending 853 kilometers from its northern border with Denmark to the Alps in the south, it is the sixth largest country in Europe. Germany measures approximately 650 kilometers from the Belgian-German border in the west to the Polish frontier in the east.
The territory of the former East Germany accounts for almost one-third of united Germany’s territory and one-fifth of its population. After a close vote, in 1993 the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, voted to transfer the capital from Bonn in the west to Berlin, a city-state in the east surrounded by the Land of Brandenburg.
Germany is the most populous European country west of Russia. Its population is 83000000. Population density is high in comparison with most other European countries, though it is exceeded by Belgium and the Netherlands. Germany has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, and its life expectancy—some 75 years for males and 80 for females—is among the world’s highest. Over the last several decades Germany has witnessed years of both positive and negative population growth. From the mid- 1970s to the mid-1980s the country’s population dropped; however, Germany experienced significant population growth—largely because of immigration—over the following decade. Thereafter the country’s population growth was slight.
Germans have made tremendous contributions to classical music, and the traditions of famous German or Austrian composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler live on today.
With their penchant for precision and engineering, it is not surprising that Germans have a strong tradition of printmaking by woodcut and engraving. There is also a strong representation of all phases of architecture — including Romanesque, Gothic, Classicist, Baroque, Rococo and Renaissance — represented in cathedrals, castles and public buildings. One well-known example of classic German art is the Brandenburg Gate, a former city gate that is now used to symbolize Berlin's unity.
Food and Drink
Germans tend to eat heavy and hearty meals that include ample portions of meat and bread. Potatoes are the staple food, and each region has its own favorite ways of preparing them. Some Germans eat potatoes with pears, bacon, and beans. Others prepare a special stew called the Pichelsteiner, made with three kinds of meat and potatoes. Germans from the capital city of Berlin eat potatoes with bacon and spicy sausage. Sauerbraten is a large roast made of pork, beef, or veal that is popular throughout Germany and is flavored in different ways depending on the region. In the Rhine River area, it is flavored with raisins but is usually cooked with a variety of savory spices and vinegar. Fruits, instead of vegetables, are often combined with meat dishes to add a sweet and sour taste to the meal.
Festivals in Germany are known to be among the loudest and largest in the world, with millions banding together to celebrate the country’s culture, beer, and food. During annual holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the cities come alive with vibrant markets, street parades, and beautiful costumes all day long.
Besides the iconic beer festival that is Oktoberfest, Germany is also known for classical music and films. The town of Bonn celebrates renowned composer Beethoven with a series of symphony concerts, exhibitions, and workshops, while Berlin hosts an international film festival with a star-studded line-up of filmmakers, actors, and producers from all over the world.
Best Time to Visit
Late spring and early autumn seem to be the best time to visit Germany. This season brings fewer crowds, lower prices, and fantastic occasions like Carnival of Cultures or Berlin Festival of Lights. The weather from June through mid-September is warmest, but it's the time with most rainfall and tourists. Two weeks of rattling Oktoberfest in autumn might be your best or worst time in Germany depending on the perception; otherwise, autumn months see lower prices and fewer tourists. Winter brings skiing and Christmas markets that will warm you up with the festive mood and mulled wine.