I was in Germany for 6 weeks and traveled from cities to countryside visiting Bielefeld, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Regensburg, and finally up to Berlin. After spending so much time in Deutchland, I feel like I got to know the country very well. By the end of it, I had a pretty good idea of what I absolutely adored which you can read about in my many enthusiastic posts about Germany.
There are still many positive aspects of the country I missed mentioning, such as how much I appreciate Germany’s commitment to providing free higher education to their citizens (and international students), the just amount of historical responsibility they demonstrate through the many memorials to holocaust victims found all over the country, and their high standards for education requiring even carpenters and plumbers to go to college and obtain a degree in their trade to begin work in that field.
But not everything about any country you visit is to be admired. Travel always has its ups and downs, and Germany certainly had a few downs I’d like to share. I don’t share these to ruffle any feathers. Rather, my intentions are to help other travelers prepare better for their arrival and, who knows, perhaps some of these frustrations will be alleviated the more travelers complain about it!
1. No or slow “WLAN”/Wi-Fi connections
As a blogger (and general internet-addicted American), I depend on having Wi-Fi (or WLAN, as Germans call it) on a semi-regular basis. Believe me, I love to get away and disconnect for a period of time. But it’s nice to know you can go back to being connected to the world when you want it (or need to book a hostel last minute).
That was not the case in Germany. When I wanted Wi-Fi, I had a very difficult time finding it or at least finding a fast enough connection to keep my sanity in check and be productive. Old buildings with thick walls, limited bandwidths, routers which needed restarting (or throwing out), hotspot connections for limited amounts of time (that were too slow to do anything on anyway), were all a part of my typical experience in Germany. Even the buses were terribly inconsistent. Of the four times I rode a bus, I only had Wi-Fi once and it was slow and inconsistent.
I was lucky enough to stay with family and friends for a majority of the trip so I had a home connection most of the time, but as soon as I left I had to fend for myself and it was not easy. I consider myself lucky that in Berlin there was a café on the corner with half-way decent Wi-Fi—but only after closing when nobody was using it.
Even then it cut in and out and was slow as molasses at times. I literally sat in the park next door on a damp bench many chilly autumn nights just to post this update, this one, and this one. Uncomfortable and frustrating, but also kind of funny.
The things we do for our internet connection, eh?
2. They don’t take credit cards
Debit cards, yes, but credit cards, no. As a budget traveler who earns points/miles in order to travel at low-cost, having the ability to pay for things on credit is essential. The fees for ATM withdrawals add up. This is why I have credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, but these cards were useless in Germany.
Watch out—if your debit card says “Visa” on it most merchants/servers will think it’s a credit card and refuse to swipe it. Even my German friend had to argue with them countless times to convince them it would work fine.
This was such an unusual experience for me after living in NYC for 6 years where you can buy a pack of gum with a credit card at a bodega without so much as a blink from the cashier.
3. It's not a service-oriented country
There will be no favors, no speedy service, no “the customer is always right” mentality when going to restaurants or dealing with service-providers of any sort almost anywhere. I felt like I was constantly flagging down wait staff, searching for them, or simply going without what I needed.
At one restaurant, my friend and I seriously contemplated leaving without paying the bill because from the time we received our food nearly 75 minutes (or longer) passed without ever seeing our server again. I finally gave in and went to search for her inside to get the check.
On another occasion, at a train station, I entered the building to ask the travel agent there for change because their machines only take bills/coins smaller than a 20 (or debit cards—ugh!). She was sitting across from a German couple who had just given her money to pay for transportation somewhere. My friend Dani translated for me later that they had asked her, “Do you mind just looking up on Google maps so we know exactly where we’re going?” Her response was, “I’m sorry, that’s not a part of my job title to do that.”
I approached her as she was putting their money into the register, “Could you give me change for this 20?” She said no, of course. I suppose it was not in her job title to do that either!
Neither of these were isolated incidents—I had almost the same scenarios happen on multiple occasions.
4. You'll be charged for water at restaurants
First of all, they do not serve water to you in a glass from the tap by default like most restaurants in America. If you ask for water, they will bring you sparkling water (called "classic" water). You have to ask for “stilles Wasser” (still water) to receive water without bubbles and they will probably bring it to you bottled unless you specifically ask for it from the tap. Even then, sometimes they refuse you tap water and bring it bottled or they charge you for the water from the tap anyway.
To save money, I literally would buy a beer at every meal because, most of the time, it was actually cheaper to drink beer than water. My liver was not pleased.
Overall, I had a wonderful time in Germany. As much as the things above frustrated me, I know I will visit again in the future!