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Can you do Germany without a tour - and speaking no German?


Jun 14th, 2004, 08:10 PM
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Can you do Germany without a tour - and speaking no German?

I'm beginning to look at what we should do next year for our "big" vacation. I'm kind of hit a wall with locations.

Is Germany easily visited by yourself - with no outside help I mean - and speaking no German?

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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:21 PM
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Absolutely on Germany. I spent a month driving thru Bavaria and almost all contacts spoke English. What a beautiful country. All I booked ahead was the first 2 nights and the last night - this was in late September/early October. If you'd like my trip report to give you some ideas, please e-mail me at [email protected].
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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:24 PM
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Get a book. Buy a CD. Learn a few words and phrases, starting with "please" and "thank you." You'll be fine. I've been all over Germany since 1963 with very little of the language, but a willing attitude.
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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:29 PM
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Definitely! Germany is easy and most Germans are friendly and helpful. Since you have a year to prepare, you have an opportunity to learn some basic German.

For Bavarian itineraries, type <Wes Fowler> into the search box at the top of the page. Wonderful information will appear from the archives.

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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:29 PM
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My eye doctor said he always traveled in Germany because everyone spoke English. We drove over for a few days from France a year ago and discovered "everyone" does not speak English, but enough do to make your trip easy enough. If the person you approach doesn't speak English, (s)he will find someone who does.

We had no problems but we do know the hello, good-bye, thank you, please, good morning, etc. in German. The CD idea is excellent. It also helps in reading road signs if you've at least seen a bit of the language and are used to it. If you're driving, you should learn traffic signs before you go. They are usually on any map or AAA can get them for you.
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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:32 PM
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We've been to Germany several times but knew virtually no German the first trip. You will pick up some words with ease; a good suggestion was offered above: learn a few words: please, thank you, help, yes, no and do you speak english. I was mistaken for a german shopper in one store on my first busines trip. I was so flustered when she asked if I spoke english, that I replied, nein (no) - the shop keeper proceeded to speak to me in German then and it was very funny. Many of the words will have similarities to english - strasse is street, apothecary (or something like it is the pharmacy). You'll be fine.
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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:43 PM
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Ah! That makes me feel so much better.

If we were to spend eight days or so, would you say split them between Berlin and Frankfurt?
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Jun 14th, 2004, 08:59 PM
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I'll be the contrarian here on language - - but first things first: on destinations. I have never actually been to Frankfurt (excluding a plane connection there), and it seems like almost all the "veteran Germany travelers" here (maybe I am one; maybe not; seven trips in northeast, northwest; southeast and southwest) have a similar experience - - nothing to see or do in Frankfurt.

I think the attraction in Germany has far less to with its cities, and much more to do with its small towns and countryside (for what it's worth, I think this about France also). True Munich has a lot to see and do, and Berlin is as alive and vibrant as New York, Paris or Sydney.

But I have enjoyed Weimar and Oberkirch and Aachen and Ulm and Landshut, for the gemuetlichkeit that is inversely proportional to their population.

And - - so now I will get back to the language issue (and again, I think I feel this way about other countries as well) - - to go to Germany and not try to arrive without some working appreciation of how the language sounds, a few hundred words of vocabulary, and enough familiarity to work with a phrase book and/or dictionary is to miss so much of what the country has to offer.

You say next year - - as in next summer? - - 52 weeks away?

Make this a year-long adventure; even 10 words a week would be a terrific foundation and will add so much to your trip.

Today would be a good day to start.

Best wishes,

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Jun 14th, 2004, 09:12 PM
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Yes, I mean about a year away. My fiance lived in Weisbaden (I think I butchered the spelling - hopefully not too bad) so she knows German (her father was a Lt. Col. in the US Army).

We would of course learn basic phrases, but not fluid in the language.

Would it be easy to navigate a car in the country (not get lost, etc.)? I prefer not to worry about my own vehicle and rely on trains, public transit where at all possible.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 04:23 AM
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You do not tell us anything about your interests so to suggest that you might enjoy this or that place while knowing virtually nothing about you..well..pretention comes to mind.

Anyway, in terms of cities, there is a LOT to see and do in Berlin and definitely more so of historical and artistic significance than in Frankfurt (the one you are speaking of vs. the one on the Oder).

If you wanted to see two cities that are quite different but also worth seeing I would suggest Berlin and Munich.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 04:30 AM
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We planned our trip to Munich and along the Rhine Valley without the help of a travel agent, and had a wonderful time. We booked "pensions", rented a car and mapped our route all on the internet. As to the language barrier ( we spoke no german) there was never a problem. The German people are wonderful and gracious and will make you feel at home.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 05:35 AM
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Yes, several times. Almost all Germans in the tourist industry understand/speak at least a little English. (I beleive all Germans are required to study English in school.)

We have only had one situation in which not speaking German was an issue - we were trapped in an automated hotel garage in which the payment machine worked differently from any I had seen before - and naturally our German was not good enough to figure out the directions. However another driver can along in a couple of minutes and showed up how to operate it.

That said - it does help to know at least the basics - which you can pick up in a couple of days with a book or tape. For example

knowing the days of the week helps you figure out what's open when and when you can park where

knowing some baasic menu terms will make it a lot easier to order exactly what you want

And many sites have limited tours in English - so call ahead to check what time they will be if you don;t want to take a German tour of a castle or church etc (many have English audio tours as well if you prefer).
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Jun 15th, 2004, 08:17 AM
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we just got back from a two week driving trip in Bavaria, and I thought it was very easy to navigate the roads. Just do a search on the internet about the autobahn and roadsigns so you can have a working knowledge of what means what. I'd suggest getting the michelin folded maps for the regions you're interested in (and not the bound spiral).

I spent some time with a German CD and with the BBC language site (the BBC site is free, so I'd go for that first). I think I could count on one hand the number of people we encountered who didn't speak *any* English.

We loved Bavaria, it's beautiful, and the people were very friendly to us. Loved Munich. have a great trip.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 08:57 AM
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I agree that most people in Germany speak at least a little English (and many speak excellent English), but as in any other country it will be appreciated if you learn a few phrases of the local language.

As for your choice of Frankfurt and Berlin: I can't think of much reason to stay in Frankfurt. You can see all there is to see there in a day. Berlin is a much more attractive city especially if your interests are history and the arts.

One poster suggested Munich and Berlin as two good, contrasting cities, and I agree. But may I also make a plea for northern Germany: Hamburg, say, or Lübeck? It's a part of Germany that's often overlooked by tourists in the stampede to reach Bavaria. I can go on about northern Germany at some length but first I think we need to know more about your interests.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 09:38 AM
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I can't contain myself. If a European or an Asian asked what to see in the US, would you suggest Philadelphia and Los Angeles? What about the Western parks? The South? New England?
It's all one's perspective, of course, but their cities >500,000 look an awful lot like our cities >500,000.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 11:24 AM
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ny traveler,

I started laughing when I read about your problem in the parking garage! We had the exact same problem in Fussen. I didn't think we were ever going to get out. My wife finally went over and figured it out. Really funny. No problem after that.


Don't worry about driving and getting lost. That is part of the fun. You will see some really quaint areas that you didn't know existed. It's not really a big deal other than being "touqed" at your wife/navigator for a few minutes. It's all part of the wonderful experience.

Personally, I would spend the entire trip in Bavaria and the Rhein. Munich is great!


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Jun 15th, 2004, 11:55 AM
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I speak no German beyond "please" and "thank you" and I have driven around the country a fair amount.

I found a book called "Signposts German" to be very useful. The authors of this book are Baer and Wightman. It it is a tutorial in interpreting the most commonly encountered signs. There are chapters on shopping, driving, hotels, etc. There is one entire section on parking. It's a fairly thin book, but it has hundreds of examples of signs.

Like some of the above posters, I once found myself in a parking garage in Germany and didn't know the procedure to get my ticket validated. When you find yourself in unfamiliar situations, the best you can do is wait and watch. Eventually, someone will come into the garage to get their car and you can watch what they do. This strategy works for all types of situations. Just be careful that you are not mistaken for a stalker.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 12:34 PM
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This particular parking payment machine was very odd. Typically you just take the stub you get when you enter the garage, put it in the machine, which then shows an amount, insert the amount and get another stub - which you use at the machine to exit the garage.

This machine would not take the first stub - so we thought either our stub or the machine was defective and were on the way back into the hotel to get a bellman to help. But another parker rescued us. It turned out that you needed to punch the info from the stub into 2 separate spots on the machine - in reverse order from the way it appeared on the stub - and then insert money to get the exit stub. Very confusing! I understand why I've never seen another one like that.
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Jun 15th, 2004, 02:27 PM
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you asked if driving is a problem. We just got back from a 2 week trip to Germany and rented a car. I was the navigator and was very impressed with how easy it was to drive. All the roads, for the most part, are well posted, as are many of the attractions, even in small towns. Get a good driving atlas. We purchased a Michelin one and were also given one at the Budget rental car office. And my husband and I agree with Rex--the villages and countryside are what make Germany so spectacular!
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Jun 15th, 2004, 03:39 PM
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Ach, the Germans and their machinen!

I'll never forget my first trip, when I got into the aft car of a tandem streetcar (no conductor). I couldn't make out the usage instructions on the ticket-punching machine, but I did manage to grasp the meaning of the words at the bottom:

10 Jahren oder 10,000 DM!

Scared blue, I rang as fast as I could so I could get into the front car and find out how much I owed before the Transitpolezei hauled me away in irons.
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