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Germany 

Stay safe

Germany is a safe country and the law is strictly enforced. There are no ghettos but certain city areas (mostly close to main train stations) should be visited with care or avoided by women traveling alone. Recent statistics show a significant drop in major crimes like murder or robbery. Pickpockets can be a problem in large cities or at events with large crowds. Big cities also have their share of beggars and punks, but they are not dangerous. Germany has one of the world's best social systems, so those asking for money may be "professional beggars" who beg for a second income.

Emergencies

The nationwide emergency number is 112 for medical emergencies and fires, while the police emergency number is 110. Even if you call the "wrong" number, your call will be forwarded to the right emergency services. These numbers can by dialed toll-free from any phone, including phone booths and mobile phones, even those without a valid SIM card. If you're reporting an emergency, the usual guidelines apply: Stay calm and state your exact location, the type of emergency and the number of persons involved. Don't hang up immediately, the operator may have further questions.

The German Polizei [8] is not corrupt and generally competent. They received special training to deal with tourists in preparation for the 2006 World Cup. Many officers speak basic English, or have colleagues who do.

There are emergency telephones interspersed along the main motorways.

Medical emergencies

All except for the smallest private hospitals (Krankenhäuser) have 24 hour emergency rooms able to cope with all kinds of medical problems, although you may have to wait if your problem is minor. The German health system allows specialists to run their own surgery so you will be able to find every discipline from Dentistry to Neurology on duty within reasonable reach from even the most remote villages.

Ambulances can be summoned via the national toll-free emergency number 112 and will help you regardless of insurance issues. The ambulance service, in contrast to the Anglo-American system, does not follow a "load and run" philosophy but uses the "Notarzt"-System: A specialised emergency physician (typically an anesthesiologist or emergency room surgeon), together with a small team of paramedics works in a full-fledged mobile intensive-care unit, trying to stabilise critically ill or wounded patients at the scene before transporting them to the emergency room. Hence, if you should be unfortunate enough to get to see them in action, do not be distressed by a delayed transport from the scene.

Pharmacies are called "Apotheke" and are marked by a big, red "A" symbol. At least one pharmacy per city or suburb will be open at all times, and pharmacies with limited hours will post the name and address of this pharmacy in the window. Be warned that a lot of medication that is freely available in other countries (e.g. Antibiotics and the "morning-after pill") needs a prescription in Germany, so you may want to check before your journey.

Racism

Germany has a reputation for racism, but actually you will not encounter more racism than in any other Western European country. Most large cities in Germany are extremely cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic with large communities of foreigners including non-whites and religious minorities. People in Germany are aware of the issue and will usually be tolerant or at least politically correct; public displays of overt anti-semitism are forbidden by strict laws. Most foreign visitors never deal with issues of open discrimination or racism. The most common forms of racism against non-white visitors include wary looks (often caused by uneasiness or insecurity), some snubbing, and at worst (very rarely) verbal insults.

In parts of the former East Germany (including the outskirts of East Berlin), the situation is different. Higher unemployment rates are a fertile ground for racist ideas, and due to the area's former isolation, its residents lack a history of peaceful and tolerant co-existence with foreigners. Consequently, there are more incidences of racist behaviour than in the West with somewhat more frequent outbursts of physical violence, although such events remain rare and out of the ordinary even there. Most incidents happen in the evening/night when groups of drunken "Nazis" look for trouble (i.e. solitary victims) downtown or near public transport stations.

Papers, please!

In cities the police and custom officers are working to control illegal immigration, mainly at construction sites and small businesses. It is considered an offence (i.e. you can be fined) if you do not carry an identification with a photograph! A driver's license is enough, though. In any case, it is a good idea to have a passport and/or visa papers with you, especially when you are obviously not German. If you don't, you could at best face a considerable delay as your story gets checked, and at worst more serious consequences. Again, remember that German police are generally very helpful, but they have heard all the stories about "I forgot my papers" before and will likely be sceptical of your explanation. If you leave your papers at the hotel, at least take a photocopy with you.

Prostitution

Prostitution is a legal business in Germany. Pimping and taking advantage of the sex workers (official term) is illegal.

All larger cities have a red light district with licenced bars, go-gos, escort services and separees. Tabloids are full with ads and the internet is taking over as the main contact base. Be aware of the huge amounts of fakes. Brothels are not necessarily easily spotted from the streets. Best known for it's red-light activities are Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne.

Due to the proximity to Eastern Europe several cases of human trafficking and illegal immigrations have taken place, and the police are doing regular raids to keep this business in its legal boundaries. In general the police is not interested in the clients but better have some ID with you.

Drugs

Be aware that--Germany being a federal state--laws may vary from state to state, getting more lenient the further north you go. In Bavaria the laws on drugs are very strict. You will get prosecuted for carrying any amount of drugs, even less than 5 grams marijuana. This traveller emerged from an overnight train to Munich to be confronted by Bavarian customs officials of some description asking for "purpose of visit, you take drugs? e.t.c"

In most Länder (states), possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana (in nothern Schleswig-Holstein the limit is 30 grams) for personal use is illegal, but it won't be prosecuted: The police will confiscate it and a formal complaint will be filed, to be dismissed for want of sufficient ground. All other recreational drugs (e.g. ecstasy) will definitely lead to prosecution and earn you at least a police record. Bringing marijuana into the country--even for personal use only--will be prosecuted as drug trafficking.

Gay and lesbian travellers

The attitude towards gays and lesbians is very tolerant particularly in the cities, most of which have vibrant scenes (especially Berlin and Cologne). The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. Only in small towns and in the countryside kissing and holding hands may provoke stares and in the worst case comments, especially from older people. In general, younger people are more tolerant. Many politicians (e.g. the Mayors of Berlin and Hamburg) and famous stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.

A law that allows gays or lesbians to marry has been recently passed.

Stay healthy

Sanitary and medical facilities in Germany are very good. The phone book lists telephone numbers for various medical services, many hotlines and services exist that are open during "off hours". Emergency services (fire brigade and ambulances) can be reached via the telephone number 112. This number works from any phone without charges, even otherwise locked cell phones. On the Autobahn, you should prefer the frequent orange emergency posts because they'll automatically transmit your exact location.

As always, check with your insurance company about coverage before traveling abroad.

Tap water is safe for consumption, in some areas it is even of very high quality, you may wish to employ caution with public sources of water (restrooms et cetera) but even these should not be harmful. Exceptions will be labeled ("Kein Trinkwasser", no drinking water).

Many lakes and rivers, as well as both the North Sea and Baltic Sea are generally safe for swimming. This depends on the locale, however. A 2006 survey by the German automobile club ADAC showed that the water at the beaches of the North and Baltic sea is in a good to very good condition with the exception of two sites near Kiel and Luebeck. Nevertheless, while there may be no life-threatening pollutants in most bodies of water, you would do very well to inform yourself about local regulations. If you intend to swim in a large river, at best do so only on official bathing locations. Keep away from structures in the river or reaching from the shore into the river, also keep out of the path of ships. Both structures and ships, even if they look harmless or far away, may create major sucks underwater. Watch your (and others') children.

If you intend to visit the North Sea, you should inform yourselves about the tide schedules and weather conditions - getting caught in a tide can be fatal, getting lost in the mist, too. There are no tides in the Baltic Sea.

Finally, while there is really no dangerous wildlife in Germany, you should be aware of rabies (Tollwut) which has been a problem in some areas in the past. If you want to go to Germany for hiking or camping, you should inform yourself about the situation at your destination and take appropriate precautions. Normally, you won't have to worry about it however. You usually need a permit to camp or make a campfire and German authorities can be quite strict about this.

The most serious risk are two diseases transmitted by ticks. In some parts of Germany there is a (low) risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis. The risk of Lyme disease is much higher, again depending on the area. Inoculation can be advisable. However, it is a good idea to wear long trousers when hiking through forests.

Respect

Behaving in public

Germany, especially urban Germany, is a rather tolerant society, and your common sense should be sufficient to keep yourself out of trouble. Drinking in public, contrary to many places in the States, is not forbidden and even a common sight in the far west (Cologne and the Rhine-Ruhr Area). Behaving aggressively or "inciting public anger", such the official term, will earn you a conversation with the notoriously friendly German police officer. Behave respectfully in places of worship and places that carry the dignity of the state (like the numerous war and holocaust memorials, parliaments and those few remaining sites worthy of being proud about).

On German beaches, it's usually okay for women to bath topless. Full nudity is tolerated everywhere though not a frequent sight outside of the numerous nudist areas (labeled "FKK" -- "Freikörperkultur", literally free body culture). These are especially common at the east German Baltic coastline, due to the high popularity of nudism in the former GDR. It's also possible to spot nudists in Berlin's public parks and in Munich's "English Garden". In most saunas nudity is compulsory and mixed sessions are common practise. One day of the week is usually only for women.

Know the Locals

While Germany is often equated with Bavaria in the American Media, not all of the country consists of stocky boys in Lederhosen, just like not every American is a Texan Cowboy. The general rule of thumb is that wealth rises towards the south (Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are the two richest states, competing at eye-level with Switzerland for quality of life) while coolness rises northbound (Hamburg and Berlin have homosexual mayors, bars and clubs are open all night and the density of young artists in Berlin Friedrichshain easily surpasses that of London, Paris or Manhattan).

1933 - 1945

In the late 19th century, Germany was arguably the most enlightened society in the world (try to think of five famous physicists, philosophers, composers or poets without mentioning a German name). This dignity was lost in its entirety, catastrophically, during the national socialist rule. Since then, the third reich is *the* central issue of the German national identity and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Every German pupil has to deal with it at about 5 different times during his schooling and most classes have to visit a concentration camp (most of these sites have been transformed into memorials). Not a single day passes without educational programmes on the public media. Growing up in Germany means growing up with this heritage, and every German hence has developed her or his own way of dealing with the public guilt. For the traveller, this means confusion all the way. You might come across people (especially young ones) eager to talk to you about Germany's history, feeling the urge to convince you Germany have gone a long way since then. On the other hand, bringing up the issue at the dinner table might lead to an awkward silence. If you are visiting friends in Berlin, you might find it hard to keep them from constantly dragging you into one of the abundant memorials. Humour, not exactly a German's strength anyway, is definitely the wrong way of approaching the matter. Worse, what might sound funny in the States may earn you jailtime in Germany. Probably the best way of dealing with the issue is being relaxed about it. If your company likes to talk about German history, use the opportunity for a sincere, maybe even very personal conversation. If you want to steer clear of awkward moments, don't bring up the matter.

WARNING: Do not under any circumstances show any swastikas or other symbolicisms of the third Reich, such as shouting "Heil Hitler" or showing the "roman salute" in public, even if it is clearly meant as a joke. It will get you in serious trouble and possibly even get you arrested. Using these signs or gestures is a criminal offence (punishable by up to 5 years prison) according to German law and it WILL be prosecuted. Denial of the Holocaust is arguably even more despiceable and will most probably not even be tolerated within otherwise friendly company.

Photography

In Germany it is illegal to film or photograph a person without consent. The exception are of course crowds, politicians, celebrities or people just happening to stand in front of something else you are taking a photo of. When in doubt, ask for permission.

Please be aware that taking pictures without permission in special situations, like bathrooms, locker rooms or swimming areas is normally forbidden. It's forbidden to take pictures of people in intimate situations.

You should not take photos of military areas either. They are enclosed and marked with "Militärischer Sicherheitsbereich"-signs (military security area). It is not explicitly forbidden but you will soon talk to some policemen, asking why you do this. 
 


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