1.Know before you go – events
Way back in 1985, I’d had my first ‘real’ job for a year. I’d spent the entire time saving up money so I could take a nine-day trip to England as soon as I had earned my five days worth of vacation (awarded after one year of service). I wanted to see some plays in the West End, (London’s theater district), and I wanted to travel north to see some of the places associated with King Richard III, whom I’d become fascinated with after readingThe Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters and The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.
I could have gone over at any time, but I was impatient and went over literally the day after I was awarded my vacation days – in May, 1985. I had a good time…up to the point when I went to Bosworth Battlefield: the place where Richard III had died and the War of the Roses had ended. Like most ancient battlefields there wasn’t much to see, just placards placed along a walking path explaining what had happened where. Interesting, but it needed imagination to hear the sound of horses’ hooves, men yelling, the sound of blade against blade. After I’d walked over the ground, I went into the gift shop to buy some souveniers. And there I saw a poster advertising the Re-enaction of The Battle of Bosworth Field, which was to take place on August 22, 1985, the 500th anniversary of his death. Hundreds of uniformed soldiers, lots of fighting, Richard’s final desperate charge on horseback that led to his death…Now that would have been something to see…and I was four months too early. If I had but known…
In this day and age of the Internet superhighway, when detailed information on any subject is just a click away, there’s no need to miss an event that you’d want to see ‘if only you’d known.’ Whatever your hobbies or interests are, start doing your research well ahead of time so that if an event is going to take place at a certain time, you’ll be able to plan accordingly.
(And there may be times that you absolutely want to avoid, such as dates for big sporting events, or big festivals which will attract more people than you might want to deal with.)
2.Know before you go – the language
Unless you have a gift for languages, you’re not going to learn enough German in less than a year or so to be fluent. Nevertheless, it’s worth your while to study the language for as long as you can – simply because it will add to your comfort level. Yes, quite a few Germans speak at least some English, but not all do, and it’s a joy to be able to read and understand phrases on buildings or posters.
At the very least, you must pick up a phrase book…and don’t wait until you need to know a phrase to start looking it up in the book. Familiarize yourself with its contents…memorize the phrases for use at hotels or in restaurants…to ask for the police or other emergency services, etc.
Think you don’t have time to listen to language CDs? Of course you do! Check out some from the library, and listen to them on the way to and from work.
Black seems to be the luggage color of choice. It looks ‘cool,’ right? It also makes everything look alike, especially if you’re just off the plane after a tiring trip and standing at the luggage carousel anxiously awaiting your bags. So instead of black, choose red or blue or green! If you must have black bags, tie bright red bows or something to the handles to easily distinguish your bags from somone else. This wll enable you to see your bags easily, and it will prevent other people from accidently making off with your bags – which has been known to happen.
Know the Airport
Depending on where you live and where in Germany you’re going, you’ probably fly into either Berliln or Frankfurt. If you’re having someone meet you – familiarize yourself with the airport. There are diagrams of the airports at their respective websites. Important: Pay attention to the steward(ess)’s spiel at the end of your trip – they’ll tell you at which carousel your luggage will be arriving. But don’t put on your headphones and tune out while you wait – five minutes later your luggage carousel location might change, and it’ll be announced over loudspeakers. Once you get your luggage you’ll go through customs. (You went through passport control first thing.) If you have nothing to declare (duty free liquor, etc.) it usually won’t take too long…you just walk through the right door. You can be met here – *or you can arrange to be met at the official Meeting Point (there’s one in each terminal – and are usually used by tour companies who want all their people to wait in one place, but you can take advantage of it too.)
You can change your dollars into euros at plentyof places here. Practically all service personnel at the Airport will speak good English, so you’ll be able to ask questions if you have to.
5.Don’t try to do too much
If you travel a great deal, you’re the best one to know how quickly you recover from jetlag. If you’re taking your first international trip, be aware that your first day in Germany will probably not be a fruitful one. Even if you can sleep on a plane, you only get a few hours shut-eye before you are wakened. So you’ll be tired. Try to schedule this day as one where you can simply relax. Try to stay awake as long as you can, at least until early evening, so that you can sleep straight through to the next morning and thus get onto German time…but again, it’s up to you to best know how your body responds.
Once you’ve recovered from the flight, don’t try to jam-pack your days. That’s the “If its Tuesday this must be Belgium” syndrome. Better to get a good look at a few things than a brief look at a lot of things that will simply blur together in your memory.
6.You’re in Germany
It’s a common point of humor – don'[t drink the water in Mexico. The same thing holds true in Germany as well. You’ll find that Germans don’t drink tap water – they drink bottled water. Follow their example.
Depending on where you are in the country, you’ll find food just like home – McDonald’s are ubiquitous, there are Pizza Huts, Kentucky Fried Chickesn and other fast-food, chain style restaurants. While its fun to go in these places and see what’s the same and what’s different…you are in Germany! Try the local food! Try the local beers – but please don’t over-indulge.
Stores are usually closed not only on Sundays, but also for a couple of hours during the middle of the day on weekdays. This includes large cities as well as the smaller towns.
Throughout Europe, the Euro is the currency of choice. You can use German Euros in France, French Euros in Germany, and so on. (The countries have their own ‘national’ design on one side, but they’re accepted everywhere.)
There is a network of highways in Germany called the autobahn…and people drive really, really fast on them. There are no speed limits. If you want to drive on the autobahn, make sure you learn the meaning of the international road signs, and make sure you know the rules of the road. Fast cars drive in the left two lanes, slower cars in the right. There is *no passing on the right hand side. Plan your journey in advance on an atlas, and make sure you know not only the name of the town you’re heading for, but also the names of surrounding towns, so that if you see highway signs listing various city names, you’ll know if you’re heading in the right direction or not.
Germany has an excellent train service, so consider going places by train.
When it’s time to go home, remember that you’ve got to get to the airport with a couple of hours to spare – so that you can go through customs, have your luggage checked, etc.
The more prepared you are for your vacation to Germany, the better you’ll enjoy it, and the more you’ll be able to remember of it as the years go by. So be prepared, do your homework, and have fun.