Language Skills to Tipping: Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Germany with Wolters World

Hallo, Deutschlerner. I’m headed back to Germany for the first time since 2018! So I thought it would be a good idea to share some travel tips for those of you who are also planning on stopping by Germany this summer. 

Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Germany with @woltersworld - German Travel Tips

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

How much German do you need to know before going to Germany?

The first question that is commonly asked by those traveling to Germany is “how much German should I know before I go?” My answer has always been “as much as you can”. If you have 3 months before your trip, learn 3 months worth of German. You might not be able to converse about international politics, but at least you can order food and ask for directions in German. My friend and verified travel expert, Mark Wolters from the YouTube channel Wolters World had this to say about the topic. 

Mark: I’m sure I don’t need to tell this to people who are watching a YouTube channel that’s about learning German… don’t forget to learn a few words because that “danke” you know “thank” you and “bitte” “please” will go a long way. Germans do appreciate when you do try. Now they’ll switch to English so it’s gonna be hard for you to actually practice your German when you go there. They’ll just go I can speak English, but just knowing a few things even the danke, ja, nein, just the basics will go a long way to make your trip to Germany even more enjoyable. So have fun and I’ll send it back to my buddy.

Bikes and Crosswalks

If you are walking on a sidewalk in Germany, be cognizant of the side of the sidewalk you are on. There is usually one side for bikes and another for walkers. German bikers can be strangely aggressive. I have an almost PTSD reaction to anyone with a bell on their bike, because of all of the times I have made this mistake. My daughter’s bike has a bell on it and I flinch every time she rings that bell. When you hear the bell, it is probably because you are on the wrong side of the sidewalk. If you don’t heed the warning of the bell, you might get a “Haaalllooo, Fahrradweg!” Or if you still don’t get the hint or you didn’t move fast enough, I have had bikers brush past me with little to no distance between us as they whiz by. 

Don’t be surprised if some Oma yells at you when you try to cross a street either outside of a crosswalk or when the Ampelmännchen is red. I have had someone physically reach out and restrain me when I tried to cross on a red Ampelmännchen. They didn’t put me in a chokehold or anything. It was more like a “back of the hand on my chest” kind of thing, but it did take me off guard. 

Do you need a VISA to go to Germany?

There have been a lot of questions from my in-person students about the changes for VISA regulations for Americans traveling to Germany. This change goes into effect in 2024, so for this summer, you won’t need a VISA as an American traveling to Germany. If you are watching this video in 2024, however, first of all, welcome future person, but also you will need to apply for ETIAS authorization. Technically it is not a VISA, but this is what people keep calling it on the internet. You can do it electronically and I have a link in the description that explains all of the details about it. Long story short, for now a passport is enough to get into Germany and stay up to 90 days. Starting in 2024, you will have to apply for permission to go to Germany and then you can stay for up to 90 days total over a 180 day period. 

Click here to read all of the regulation changes for 2024.

Tipping in Germany

Next up is all about tipping in Germany. Do you tip? If so, when? Whom do you tip? How much do you tip? All of the questions. Well, try not to overthink it. There are a few categories into which I would classify the people that do get tips in Germany. The first category are the waitstaff. Your waiters and waitresses. In the USA it is common to leave relatively large tips of 15-20% or even more. This is definitely not the case in Germany. 

My general rule of thumb is to simply round up to the closest Euro and maybe add an extra Euro. Let’s say my bill is 18.24€. I would hand the waiter a 20€ bill and say “Stimmt so.” which is basically like “keep the change”. This gives them a tip of 1.76€, which in the USA is a terrible tip, but in Germany, this is pretty standard. The main difference is that in the USA, it is legal to pay waitstaff less than minimum wage and have their tips make up the difference in pay. In Germany, this is not the case. The waitstaff are paid a decent wage and any tips are simply a bonus on top of that. 

A few sidenotes about this: If you are paying with a card, it is still preferred that you pay the tip with cash. Don’t just leave the cash on the table and walk off, as is common in the USA. Hand the money to the waiter or waitress. If your bill is not close to a denomination of any paper money, but you still want to leave a small tip, you can tell the waiter or waitress to make change for a different amount. Let’s say your bill is 16.35€. You can tell them “achtzehn Euro” and hand them a 20€ bill. The waiter or waitress will then come back with 2€ and keep the other Euro and 65 cents as their tip. 

Tips for Tour Guides?

The second group of people to tip are tour guides. If you are participating in a group with one of the “Free” tours, you definitely need to tip, as this is how the tour guide makes any money. I generally tip anywhere from 2€ to 5€ depending on the quality and length of the tour. If you paid for the tour already, technically there is no need to tip the guide, but I still do it. Generally, I tip 1€ – 3€ for these types of tours. 

The bottom line is this: Don’t overthink tipping. If you think a service was good, give a tip. If you don’t want to give a tip, don’t. Unless the employee’s entire paycheck depends on the patrons tipping, tipping isn’t necessary. A few Euros here or there, however, will go a long way. 

Public Transportation in Germany

While traveling in the USA, it is incredibly common to rent a car and drive everywhere you need to go. That’s because public transportation by and large in the United States is atrocious. In Germany this is the opposite. With very few exceptions, you should be able to get anywhere you want to go within Germany with a train or a bus. 

If you are staying in Munich for a couple of days, for example, get a day pass that is valid on all of the trains in Munich. Then you can go wherever without worrying about whether or not your ticket is valid in that area. If you are in a large group, check out the deals for groups, because those can be great. Just keep in mind that the group has to be together where the ticket is. If your group splits up, you have to have a ticket to ride the train legally. Also, don’t forget, no matter what kind of ticket you have, you need to validate it before you get on the train. There are little stamp stations all around to get this done, but it is a common mistake by travelers. 

My buddy Mark has a few tips about train travel, too. 

Public Transit Tips from Wolters World

Mark: A few words of wisdom before you go. Number one, expect craziness in the train stations because the super cheap tickets that you can go all over Germany on the regional trains is back this summer and Germans will take advantage of that and you as a tourist can take advantage of it too. Like $52 (49 Euros) will get you pretty much unlimited train travel not on all the trains but a lot of the trains so take advantage of that, but do know that those trains to popular destinations on the weekends will be full full full full.

Mark: Another tip I have for you is if you don’t want to deal with that, don’t forget to book a seat reservation and take one of the fast trains, the ICE trains, they’ll get you you a lot faster than Regional trains, they’re a lot more comfortable and you can get a seat reservation. Those seat reservations, they are only a few Euros, so a few dollars, for the peace of mind. I do have a tip for you, don’t be surprised if somebody’s sitting in your seat. Even if it says reserved above that, have your ticket ready and say “Hey, look I have my ticket. That’s my seat reservation. Up and out.” They’ll get up and get out. If you have any problems, don’t be afraid to go talk to the conductor, because you don’t need to sit on the floor by the door, you paid for that seat and it’s cheap so get those.

Safety and Family Friendliness in Germany

Next up we have safety and family friendliness. Germany is incredibly safe in comparison to the USA. Chances of you falling victim to some violent encounter in Germany is basically zero. There are a few things you should be aware of, however. Pickpockets are a thing, especially in crowded areas. A good rule of thumb is, when you go into a crowded area, make sure your wallet is in your front pocket and you put your hand over the pocket. If you are a purse carrier, you should keep the purse in front of you and keep a hand on it while in crowded areas. 

Beggars

Besides pickpockets, you should also be cautious of anyone asking for money. This is true of any country. If someone comes up to you asking for spare change, you can give them money, but keep in mind there are those who make a living off of begging for change on the street in Germany. Some of them are just scamming you and taking your money. Some could legitimately use the extra change to help them out of a tough spot. A lot of caution should be taken in these situations, however. When you pull out your wallet to give them some money, it is incredibly easy to just reach out and yoink. 

Public Nudity

A word of caution to families bringing kids to Germany, a lot of the public parks are clothing optional. Don’t be surprised if you walk through Tiergarten in Berlin and see a sunbather letting the sun shine where the sun doesn’t usually shine. Other than the public nudity, Germany is very family friendly. There are laws in place in Germany that prevent kids from being exposed to anything untoward. I would have no problems taking my children to Germany and letting them have a lot of autonomy. 

Can you bring your American cell phone to Germany?

Something to consider in Germany is the use of your cell phone. You can pick up a pay-as-you-go kind of phone in Germany and I know a lot of people who do this. You can also likely bring your cell phone with you from home. There are a few considerations that go with that, however. I use Google Fi, which works in over a hundred countries. I just have to pay a slightly higher amount for the time I am in Germany and I am good to go. If you are on Verizon or T-Mobile or some other carrier, the easiest way to figure out this process is to call the company. They likely have a process for this. Just know that you probably can’t just go to Germany and use your phone from your home country. Check with your carrier first. 

How much money should you bring with you?

This answer has changed recently. Mark has a pretty good tip about this. 

Mark: Hey, do I need to take a lot of cash when I go to Germany? No. You do not need to take a lot of cash, when you go to Germany. You don’t need to take a lot of cash out. I know Germany used to be very much a “cash is king” society and in some ways it still is, but in general the tap to pay stuff is all over the place. Since COVID, you know, the credit card machines are all over. You’ll be okay, but I will tell you this, don’t expect your Discover and American Express to work at a lot of places. Big international stores like H&M or Zara or going to the big, you know, department stores. They’ll take your American Express and Discover, but normal shops your Visa and MasterCard are what you are going to need. Also don’t forget to let your credit card company and your phone company know that you’re gonna be traveling, so they don’t cancel your card, while you’re gone or you forget to get a data plan when you go travel. You’ll be wanting to send all those beautiful pictures of Germany. It’s going to cost you money and if you don’t have a data plan on your phone, it’s going to cost even more. Don’t forget to sign up for one before you go travel.

So, yeah. Germany used to be very cash oriented, but COVID kind of pushed them towards cards. This is definitely true in bigger cities, but if you are going to a local cafe in a small village, don’t expect to be able to pay with a card there. Lots of smaller places don’t want to use cards, as the card companies charge them a fee for each transaction and that can get very expensive for a business owner. You will also need cash for those tips I mentioned earlier in the video. 

What’s your daily budget for Germany?

Back to the question of “how much money do you need?” I usually budget for about 30 Euros per day. This covers 3 meals and an ice cream each day. I usually have a bit left over from that, which I roll into my souvenir fund. If you like to eat at fancier restaurants than I do, 30 Euros will not be enough. Most meals at the Hofbräuhaus and the Rathaus in Munich are going to cost you more than 20 Euros on their own. If you are a beer drinker, that will get more expensive in a hurry. 

You can always stop by a German bank and use their ATM to get more cash, but keep in mind that your bank as well as the bank in Germany are going to charge you a fee. Plus you have to worry about the exchange rate, which may be better or worse for you depending on the day. I generally come to Germany with the amount of cash I plan to use for the entire trip, but you have tons of options for this nowadays so you don’t have to travel with that much cash. 

How to keep your cash safe in Germany

If you are traveling with that much cash, how do you keep it safe? Most hotels will have a safe in the room. Put the majority of your money in there. Keep maybe 50 Euros on you at any given time, so you can spring for that souvenir if you want. While traveling between cities, I put my money in my luggage that never leaves my side and I bury it relatively deep in the suitcase to make it harder to access. 

Coins in Germany

You will need coins more than you likely think. First of all, Euros come in paper money starting at 5 Euros, but coins are used for 1 and 2 Euro denominations. This means if you are an American, when you are paying for things and you are used to coins being mostly useless, you may be in the habit of simply paying with the paper money. If you do this, you will end up with a bag full of coins, which may be worth a large amount of money and most banks won’t take them as an exchange in the USA when you try to exchange those extra Euros for US Dollars. 

Paying for the Toilet

The other thing to keep coins for is the bathroom. While restrooms are free in restaurants and a few other places, by and large you will have to pay to use a public restroom in Germany. This can range from 50 cents to a Euro or more depending on the place. In train stations you will often find that when you purchase something at one of the stores in the train station, they will give you a voucher to use the restroom without paying extra. Long story short, keep some coins on you at all times, in case you need to use a restroom. 

Sunday Funday? Not in Germany

One more thing about money in Germany. If you are trying to do something on Sunday in Germany, make sure that something isn’t shopping. Almost everything in Germany comes to a screeching halt on Sunday. Restaurants, museums and some tourist spots may be open, but every shopping mall, Kaufhaus and Einkaufszentrum will be closed. I usually use Sundays for my travel days. If I need to go from one city to another, I do it on Sunday. 6 hours on a train isn’t bad, if you know that you aren’t missing out on much, because everything is closed. If you are making plans on a Sunday, make sure to search beforehand to make sure what you want to do is open on Sunday. 

Shocking Things About German Restaurants

While in restaurants in Germany, my students are often shocked by several things. First, free refills on drinks are not a thing. If you order a Coke and you drink it before your food arrives, you will have to pay for another one if you want more to drink. You also usually have to pay for water in German restaurants and it will likely have bubbles in it, as Germans really like their Mineralwasser, which is generally carbonated. If you don’t want carbonated water, ask for a Stilles Wasser. Again, no free refills. You will pay for multiple waters, if you need a refill in most instances. I have found a lucky few German restaurants that will bring a pitcher or large bottle of water for the table, but those are few and far between. One other mild annoyance for Americans is that Germans don’t put ice in their drinks. If you order a coke, you will just get a glass with coke in it. No ice. 

Another thing that surprises many Americans is the phrase “Ist hier noch frei?” This is used to ask if the speaker can sit in that open chair at your table. This means, if you are a party of 2 at a table for four, two other people might walk up and ask “Ist hier noch frei?” If you say yes, they will sit at your table and join you. They likely won’t interact with you after this initial question, but it is a bit odd the first time it happens to you. 

Do you need a converter while in Germany?

It used to be imperative that you bring a converter with you when you go to Germany, as the electricity in Germany is not the same as the USA. If you didn’t have a converter, it would fry your electronic devices. I fried a laptop, because I didn’t use the right settings on my converter back in 2009 while in Berlin. 

That said, this isn’t really a thing most of the time nowadays. Most modern cell phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices have the built-in ability to switch between the two electricity systems. This isn’t always the case, however, so be sure to check with your individual device. If you are using something like a hair dryer, it probably won’t work well on the German system without a converter. 

Of course, to be on the safe side, you could always just bring a converter, but it is a lot cheaper to buy an adapter. An adapter simply changes the round plugs of the German system into the slotted plugs of the USA without changing the electricity that flows through it. A converter changes both. 

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

Scroll to Top