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Basic Info

Population: 82 million

Languages: German, with most citizens at least conversant in English. Germans value languages and it is not uncommon for them to speak two or more languages. In Berlin and other main cities, Turkish is prevalent, while many citizens of the former East Germany learned Russian at school. A number of dialects are spoken around Germany including Platt, Swabian, and different forms of Franconian. People in Hamburg often complain they can’t understand the people from Bavaria.

Race: German. Post war immigration has provided Germany with a diversity of cultures, especially within major urban areas.

Religion: There are more than 160 religious communities of which Protestant and Catholic dominate. Religiosity is gaining strength again on the back of the German Pope Benedict XVI.

Government: Federal Republic, currently a coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats headed by Angela Merkel, Germany’s first female Chancellor. Had lofty ambitions of world domination and unlike other world powers, has learned that war causes more pain than joy and is far from heroic. Campaigned heavily against the war in Iraq.

Or ask the CIA for Germany Information.

Getting There and Away

The largest airport in continental Europe is in Frankfurt, where a plane takes off or lands every minute or so. A bevy of low cost airlines fly in and out of Germany including Air Berlin, Germanwings, Ryan Air and Easy Jet. Travelling by air can sometimes be considerably cheaper than travelling by train or bus. Lufthansa even introduced €99 round trip fares to compete with the bargain airlines.

The train however remains a reliable source of domestic travel, once you’ve figured out the different tickets you can buy; it’s a complicated system which rivals Trenitalia and you’ll be kicking the ticket machines for the first few days. Trains are fast, run on time, are comfortable and go to almost all points of the country.

Speed freaks can hit the Autobahn, the national highway system that has no speed limits. It can be good for hitchhiking, and most German drivers are open to those using their thumbs. Standing on the Autobahn is not allowed so the best place is at rest areas and petrol stations. German number plates are with letters (B for Berlin, F for Frankfurt) so it’s easy to guess the direction the car is travelling in.

Some hints for hitchhikers: look respectable, dress conservatively, shave (yes, girls, you too), don’t wear a hat or sunglasses, be talkative (most drivers just want company), refrain from using signs (drivers need to judge you and not the sign) and if you don’t like the looks of the driver, turn the ride down.

Visas and Overstays

German immigration has received a bad rap over the years, with many travellers harping on about typical German red tape. On the whole, customs officials are friendly, will often speak English and are quite lax about overstays, especially if it’s only a month or two. If you’re travelling within the EU, it’s quite often that there are no customs officials on the trains or at the airports. Visitors are, however, required to carry their passports at all times.

Cam Jeffery

Cam'sHis first novel, The Bicycle Teacher, is now available under the Janus Books imprint and can be ordered at www.amazon.co.uk