What makes Germany a unique country to travel to?
Germany is a modern and stable democracy. Tourist facilities are highly developed. In larger towns, many people can communicate in English.
Violent crime is rare in Germany, but can occur, especially in larger cities or high-risk areas such as on large metropolitan subway systems and in train stations, primarily during late night or early morning hours. There have been several reports of aggravated assault against U.S. citizens in higher-risk urban areas. However, most incidents of street crime involve the theft of unattended items and pick pocketing. Take the same precautions that you would in any large city.
Don't buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal to bring back into the United States, but by purchasing them you could also be breaking local law.
While traveling in Germany, you are subject to its laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. While you are overseas, U.S. laws do not apply, and if you do something illegal in your host country, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not, as criminal penalties vary from country to country. There are also some things that may be legal where you are traveling, but illegal in the United States; for example, if you engage in sexual conduct with children or use or disseminate child pornography in a foreign country, you can be prosecuted in the United States.
The Embassy has learned of some incidents of German lawyers, working on behalf of media companies, aggressively identifying individuals who are illegally downloading copyrighted content and then billing those people 1000 Euros or more per incident. If these cases are brought to court, German courts will likely rule in favor of the companies. You are strongly advised not to download media content except from reputable legal sites.
Arrest Notifications in Germany: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country that is not the case in Germany. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained.
However, the German taught in school and used in the media is often not the German spoken daily. Various dialects have a strong influence in most areas. English is widely understood and many Germans from the former East Germany speak Russian.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Germany has good medical care and facilities. If you are not a resident of Germany, doctors and hospitals may expect immediate payment in cash. Most doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies do not accept credit cards.
Due to Germany's strict customs regulations, generally you are not allowed to receive prescription medication by mail without special permission. During your trip, you should only carry the amount you plan to use.
Safety and Security
German authorities are vigilant in combating terrorism and other threats to security. Authorities have uncovered and disrupted several extremist plots including some targeting U.S. interests. The most recent deadly attack occurred in March 2011, when two U.S. Airmen were killed and two others wounded when a lone Islamic extremist opened fire on them at the Frankfurt International Airport. Like other countries in the Schengen area, Germany's open borders with its European neighbors limit its ability to track suspect individuals entering and exiting the country with anonymity.
Germany's robust democracy is often expressed in large, public demonstrations on a variety of political and economic issues. Such demonstrations are common on politically significant holidays, such as German Labor Day on May 1, and during international summits hosted in Germany. In order to stage a demonstration, groups must obtain prior police approval, and police routinely oversee participants and passersby. Nonetheless, these demonstrations can attract counter-demonstrations and have the potential to turn violent. Avoid areas around protests and demonstrations and check local media for updates on the situation and traffic advisories.
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when congregating in areas known as expatriate hangouts such as restaurants, bars, and discos frequented by high numbers of resident U.S. citizens and/or U.S. citizen tourists. In addition, hooligans, most often drunken "skinheads," have been known to harass or even attack people whom they believe to be foreigners or members of rival groups. On occasion, German police reported assaults which appeared to have been motivated by racial reasons, and U.S. citizens have reported that they were assaulted for racial reasons or because they appeared "foreign."
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
In Germany, road conditions can be significantly different from those in the United States. If you hold a valid U.S. driver's license, you can drive in Germany for up to six months without acquiring a German driver's license. Drivers should be aware that traffic signs in Germany differ from those in the United States, and it is important to be familiar with road signage prior to driving. Basic information about road signs in Germany is available here.
German road conditions in general are excellent, although you should exercise caution while traveling on older roads in eastern Germany. Contrary to popular belief, there are posted speed limits on large stretches of the highway, or Autobahn, mostly when traveling through urban areas or when the road has many curves. The high speed permitted on the Autobahn, adverse weather conditions, and unfamiliar road markings can pose significant hazards. Driver error is a leading cause of accidents involving U.S. citizen motorists in Germany.
Bicycles are another cause of mishaps. Many German streets and sidewalks have dedicated bike lanes. Whether you are driving or walking, be aware that bicycles have priority use of these lanes. If you are walking, watch for bicyclists before crossing or stepping into bike lanes. Bicyclists also have priority over cars when turning onto side streets. If you are driving, check whether a bicyclist is approaching from either direction before attempting to enter side streets, even when the light is in your favor. If you are turning into a side street and hit a bicyclist using a marked bike lane, you will be held responsible for any injury or damage caused.
Driver right-of-way rules are different from the United States. Unless you are traveling on a priority road, vehicles coming from the right have the right-of-way. It is generally illegal in Germany to pass vehicles on the right.
The threshold for determining whether a person has been driving under the influence of alcohol is lower than in the United States. Under German law it is illegal to operate a vehicle if the blood level is 0.5 per mill or higher. The law imposes a penalty and the withdrawal of the driver's license for specified periods of time depending upon the gravity of each violation.
It is illegal to use your cell phone while driving in Germany.