On your bike
German cities are extremely bike friendly
and for the tourist this is a godsend.
It’s easy to pack in lots of sights when traveling by bike, and getting
out of the subway system and above ground will give you a whole different
perspective on your surrounds.
You’ll also realise how close some stations are to each other!
A city like Berlin has hundreds of
kilometres of bike paths as well as cycle lanes on the road or footpath.
Pedestrians and motorists are very respectful of these areas and the cyclists
on them. Bike hire is cheap and
plentiful, not least the Call A Bike program which is run by Deutsche Bahn in
seven cities and at more than 50 major train stations. Bikes can be found at the constantly
restocked bike racks around the city or tracked down with a smartphone. When you’ve found a bike, you call a
number to get a numeric code to unlock the bike. It’s a practical, efficient, cheap system.
For the more adventurous biker, there’s
also an extensive network connecting cities – and countries, such as a route
from Berlin to Copenhagen, and the German sections of the mostly complete EuroVelo
network, which criscrosses the continent.
Blown away by the North Sea
If you’re wanting to get back to nature
or relax away from the party circuit, the German coastline has plenty to offer.
The North and Baltic seas aren’t a huge drawcard for people from outside of
northern Europe, although the Germans do flock to a few popular destinations. Consequently, the coastline offers a
mix of natural tranquility and tourist-friendly amenities and sights – without
the overload of English accents.
For some real downtime, there are quiet
fishing villages like Cuxhaven. The
fresh and salty sea air is known for its health benefits and the region is
known for its wellness clinics. But
that sea air is often a strong wind, meaning strenuous sporting activity is
easily found. Islands like
Heligoland, Usedom and Rügen are tourist-oriented and each have their own
natural landmarks – and war stories.
Isolated Heligoland was torn apart by bombing, Usedom was part of the
V-rocket program and is now split between Germany and Poland, and Rügen is home
to the gigantic, never finished and now derelict Third Reich holiday resort of
The island of Sylt is something of a
German Riviera, famed for its champagne cocktails and seafood. Dominated by
beaches as far as the eye can see and houses with beautiful thatched roofs,
it’s well connected to Hamburg by train and after a day cycling around the
island you can be back in Hamburg in time to hit the clubs.
Beaches in all the wrong places
In summer, Germans love erecting kitschy
beach bars. They spring up wherever
sand is naturally found, such as Hamburg’s Strandperle, across the river from
the city’s huge dockyards. Or,
more often, they’re built where sand is not meant to be at all, such as the
Skybeach bars atop multi-level carparks in the middle of Cologne and
Because of the cold winters, Germans
really value the sunshine, and there’s not a spare deckchair in sight as the
locals enjoy the simple pleasure of an Aperol Spritz or Radler on a warm day. Beach bars aren’t just camp
curiosities, they’re genuinely full of life and warmth. They’re places where Germans go for a
little escape without leaving the city.
And they’re also generally well out of the regular tourist areas.
Oktoberfest by any other name
Oktoberfest in Munich is a huge drawcard
for tourists but some of the beer tents are more German than others. There’s a big difference in the way the
locals approach Oktoberfest than the tourists – for Bavarians it’s a
traditional day out with the family, while visiting lager louts bring a real
football hooligan vibe. Pick your
tents and the day you’re going on wisely!
Or, simply go somewhere other than
Munich. While Oktoberfest is the
biggest of the ‘volksfest’ or ‘kirmes’ that happen in Germany at the start of
Autumn, there are many alternatives.
The second biggest is the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart, which is
very similar to Oktoberfest except without the masses of English-speaking and
Italian tourists. But even a town
of less than 1000 people may have a long-held tradition of closing the streets
for a fair. There’s a real variety
in the scale, activities and ceremonial oddities – and with staggered start
dates and some festivals lasting many weeks, there’s enough time to take in a
Learn some slang
For a non-native speaker, the German
language is full of humour and wacky idioms. For example, the word for French toast is “Arme Ritter”, or “Poor
Knights”, and the equivalent of “it’s all Greek to me” is “ich verstehe nur
Bahnhof”, or “I only understand ‘train station’”. Of course, there’s slang too, and learning even a few slang words
can really help break the ice when you throw one into conversation. There’s “Alter!” for “dude!”, “kein
ding!” for “no problem!” and “geil” which these days means “cool” but actually
means “horny”. Yes, it’s a
hilarious language. There’s
variation from region to region, so to be really clever, pick up a couple of
nuggets in the local dialect. Have
fun with it! Learn more than what
the phrasebook has to offer and you’ll be surprised at how a little street talk
really helps to kickstart a chat in the pub.
Cycling in Germany - 5 Reasons to Get on your Bike
Oktoberfest Tips & Survival Guide
About the Author
From Sydney, via stints in Melbourne and London, Sebastian is currently living in Berlin. His mantras; eat, drink and dance with the locals, and say 'yes' to everything. In another life he was a journalist, but these days he works in social media. More of that on his Twitter profile at @sebastianvasta.
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