So You Want To Visit Germany

I posted a while back about Dining Out In Germany, and I realized recently that whenever someone I know visits Germany, there’s a bunch more stuff that I tell them.  As I prepare to head back to the US this week for my first visit home in over a year, I have some observations from my first year here that I think might help an American visitor to Deutschland.

The Bathrooms Are Different.

Not the plumbing.  A toilet is a toilet is a toilet.  The basic size and shape are pretty much the same.   The differences are in other areas.  Here’s what I know:

  • There are almost always stairs to reach the loo.  I’ve been in perhaps three restaurants in all of Germany that didn’t involve a quest down three flights of stairs to reach the bathroom.  I’m pretty sure I saw the guy from Pitfall in one of them.
  • The labels are a little different.  This stands to reason, since it’s not English, but if you don’t know that Damen is Ladies and Herren is Gentlemen, your first trip past that door can be mildly embarrassing.   Sometimes the doors just say H and D, which is even less help if you don’t know the labels ahead of time.  At least the little silhouettes that some places use on their doors are pretty universal.
  • When traveling, hold on to your fifty cent and one Euro (1 €) coins for your bathroom needs.  Europe is very fond of the pay toilet.   Restaurants and airports and trains usually have cost-free restrooms, but pay-to-pee is the norm in lots of other places.  In some train stations, there’s a chain of attended restrooms called McClean which has very nice, well maintained restrooms for a per-use fee.  There are also street level restrooms in many cities that involve fees to get in.  Sometimes there’s a coin plate near the door as if to suggest that a donation would be a good idea.
  • Don’t be surprised if a restroom attendant of a different gender than your own comes in to clean the place, especially in train stations.

Getting Around An Unfamiliar City.

Most cities around Germany have a nice public transit system.  If you’re lucky enough to be in a larger city like Berlin or Frankfurt, you might even have a variety of modes to choose from. Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Nuremberg all have underground metro systems, referred to as U-Bahns or Untergrundbahn.  Most cities have a form of S-Bahns, or Stadt-Bahn.  This is just a basic above-ground rail system with trains tying locations together.  Some places have Straßenbahn, or streetcars. And of course they all have bus lines.

In most instances, your best value is going to be a Tagesticket or day ticket.  These are typically good for use on all the forms of public transit in a city, so you can hop between them.  For example, to get from the Berlin HBF to my favorite hotel in Berlin, you need to take the S-Bahn (S5, S7, or S75) to Alexanderplatz, then switch to the U-Bahn (U8) to go one more stop.  Every Bahn station will have kiosks where you can buy tickets for the local transit system, and a full day of unlimited rides is generally more cost effective unless you’re only planning on one or two journeys.

Here Are A Few Words You Might Need To Know.

  • Entschuldigung – Apology/excuse me.  You’ll hear this when someone wants to get past you in a hallway, for example.
  • Ist hier frei? – Is this seat open?  Useful in crowded trains and restaurants.  German pronounciation note:  ‘frei’ is pronounced like fry.
  • Geöffnet – Open.  If a bar or restaurant has this word in front, you can go in.
  • Geschlossen – Closed.
  • 24 Uhr or 24 Stunden – 24 hour.
  • Tankstelle – Gas station.  If you’re driving, you’ll need to know this one.
  • Apotheke – Drug store.  If you need aspirin, paracetamol, cold medicine, skin lotion, or pretty much anything you would get in a pharmacy back home, this is where you’re going to find it.   Unlike the US, aspirin and other pharmaceuticals are generally not available in other types of stores- you’ll have to find an Apotheke.
  • Eingang/Ausgang and Einfahrt/Ausfahrt– These are entrances and exits.  When you’re on foot, eingang means entrance and ausgang means exit.  When the suffix -fahrt is attached, it refers to cars.  This leads to one of my favorite jokes, “Ausfahrt must be the largest city in Germany- there are signs for it all over the Autobahn!”
  • Besucher – This means visitor.  Some form of this word usually appears on visitor’s entrances.
  • Einbahnstraße – One way street.  I thought these were all pointing to a specific highway for my first two months in Germany, and I couldn’t figure out why they all seemed to be pointing in different directions.  I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed.

7 thoughts on “So You Want To Visit Germany

  1. mandie

    You forgot to mention the ‘shelf’ found in many German toilets. Always a bit of a shock, I’ve found (And I’ve been living here for nearly 3 years!)


    1. I get asked about the hideous German shelf toilets frequently; I should have mentioned them. I’ve really only seem them in older hotels though. They’re just so squicky. Eeeeeeew.


      1. Jutta

        Hi Steven, I am German and had to google “shelf” in a toilet context. I myself have a bookshelf even in the bathroom, so the “eew” comment from a book lover like you came as a bit of a surprise to me.

        Thx for offering me an outsider’s view on the topic – I always thought that though the “lay-to-display”-style toilet that my parents insisted on having installed in their bathroom at every renovation didn’t go well with the bookworm’s attitude of taking the word “restroom” literally. Else, I never gave it a second thought. It’s just “normal” when you are raised here, and I can tell you, as a former child, and now a mother of four, that children (and old people – see my parents) LOVE to inspect their digestion product, and HATE the splash from abyss that always comes with the toilets that you refer to as “normal” (unless you stick to the TP-float idea, which comes handy in both cases).

        If you or your readers want to, uh, dig deeper into the subject, I highly recommend this article:
        I have never seen any yellow plastic urinal sculptures in a German town, and rarely a birthday calendar in a bathroom, but else, the Dutch and the German have very much in common when it comes to toilet culture.

        Suspecting I have lived up to the cliché of Germans being very open about some topics the USAnians consider taboo, I send you kind regards from Augsburg!



  2. Cara

    So interesting! Also, “When the suffix -fahrt is attached” made me laugh because, y’know, farts. As a suffix. lawwwwwwwwllllllllll. I hope you have a fun visit back in the states! 😀


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