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So I have finally shed off my laziness to share my experiences (with photos) of Germany. I really wanted to write about my previous visit in 2009 as well, but that kept getting put off till my memories faded to the extent that I couldn't get myself to share my thoughts in detail.
However, I decided that on this occasion that it would be better if I did in fact write a bit, simply as a way to bring back memories and to serve as a personal reference. I hope you find it entertaining (and hopefully) informative to some extent. I'll also be updating this post with more photos as and when I upload them.
Actually being the second visit, it's not so much a first for me, but the biggest noticeable factor is the weather.
If you've just arrived from the tropics, it can seem like you're stepping into a refrigerator the moment you step out of the closeted atmosphere of the airport. Even though it feels bearable at first, it's quite deceptive if you're not used to temperatures as low as 10 or 12 degrees. Best option is to always have protective clothing when you step out - even the locals cover up in the cold.
Weather aside, the orderliness and quiet of Germany after the hectic hustle-bustle of India is definitely a welcome relief! I am not the most experienced traveller around, but I would suggest that Germany is one of the quieter countries you'll be visiting - especially outside the cities.
Places we saw
The State of Baden-Württemberg. It is one of the tourist hubs of Europe, thanks mainly to its hot springs and baths, the Black Forest and the Swabian Alp. This region is known for its lovely lakes and castles too. Stuttgart is the transportation and industrial hub of this region and from there you can catch trains or flights to many parts of Germany and Europe too.
We visited quite a few places including Heidelberg, Ludwigsburg, Freiburg, Munich (in the neighbouring State of Bavaria) and Pforzheim. The castle in Heidelberg is definitely worth a visit as the view of the old town is magnificent. Pforzheim is known for its cuckoo clocks (produced in the Black Forest region). Munich (around 2 hours from Stuttgart by rail) is a lovely historical city, but it's not easy to see the whole place in a short time. The 1 hour hop-on hop-off bus ride is a tourist friendly option to get a feel of the city.
The countryside around here is beautiful. The place we stayed in (a village near Stuttgart) was scenic, picturesque and serene. This area is full of hilly wine-gardens and a great place to stay and relax in.
For the average tourist, trains are the best way to get around Germany, no question. We purchased individual Euro rail-passes for Germany and it's quite cheap, considering that you can travel on any number of trains (within a fixed number of days in a one-month period) including the high-speed ICE trains (inter-city express).
For the most part, express trains are punctual. Regional trains (IR and IRE) are not quite so punctual. Travelling for prolonged periods in trains can become quickly boring if you're not into watching the lovely landscapes roll by you so I would suggest some reading material if you are so inclined. Catering is available in long-distance ICE trains, but it is quite expensive to buy food or drink on board. Most of the time we carried our food with us when travelling. Subway is an option in most main stations.
My own impression is that Germans are quite a friendly and out-going people, but seem to be somewhat reserved towards foreigners. Maybe the language barrier is an issue as English is not all that common and many Germans speak only rudimentary English. However their friendliness is obvious. They make an attempt to speak English if you seek help and a surprising number of passing strangers do tend to greet you (Hallo or Guten Morgen).
Tourist offices and (Deutsche Bahn) railway service counters are generally places where you will find English-speaking officials to guide you. They are usually near the main railway station of the city/town. More than anything, as a tourist, you can easily manage to get around in Germany without knowing the language, but you'll soon pick up the commonly used words and phrases, especially road signs and railway signs.
It's a comfortable place for tourists. Big cities might not be as friendly as the surrounding suburbs or countryside though.
Food and Drink
For vegetarians (and teetotalers) food options are quite limited in Germany, but luckily if you are in a position to cook your own food (as we were) raw materials are available in plenty. Basmati rice of various types are available in the local supermarkets. There are a good selection of vegetables too. Indian spices are trickier though, but we found a good South Asian store (near the Stuttgart railway station) where spices and pulses of different kinds are sold.
Germany IS the place for bread. Breads of a large number of varieties abound in most stores and supermarkets. And hard breads are fibrous and very good indeed!
Fruit lovers will also find plenty of options. Wholesome fruit juices of different kinds are available everywhere. Even organic fruits and vegetables are available (locally grown and slightly more expensive). High quality milk and curd with varying levels of fat is available everywhere too.
However the local cuisine is mainly non-vegetarian. Germany is famous for its sausages, beer and wine. So if you're a wine or beer lover Germany is the place for you!
Germany is a great tourist destination, but it's not as touristy as neighbouring Switzerland is. However, this country has a rich history and tradition and from what I saw, the countryside around South Germany is rich in natural beauty (if not as spectacular as Switzerland).
It's easy to get around, but unless you're a lone backpacker you need a place to stay put so that you can plan to visit most of the places around that region. Avoiding long train journeys (night trains, while available are not cheap and require reservation if you need a decent sleeping berth, so they are best avoided. Even with a rail pass you will use up a couple of days instead of a single day) can save you time to actually see places. Driving around in a car is NOT an option if you are not thoroughly familiar with the vast maze of Germany's road and driving regulations and hiring local taxis can become very expensive. Visiting places which are further away than 2 hours by rail requires planning in advance.
On the whole, though it can be slightly expensive I highly recommend a visit to Germany, the heart of Europe. Learning a smattering of German is highly recommended though not necessary. Germans love it if you can speak their language (even if only a few words! ) and might take extra steps to help you out if you need it.
Posted on Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 11:00 IST (last updated: Wed, Nov 10, 2010 @ 12:16 IST)