Joseph Rosendo, consulting editor on Where to Go When: The Best Destinations All Year Round and host of the PBS show Travelscope, answered your questions on Germany for the holidays.
Joseph Rosendo: Gutten Tag! Good Day. Joseph Rosendo here, the host of Travelscope Television and the Consultant Editor for DK Eyewitness Travel Guides' Where To Go When book. I'm thankful and grateful to have the opportunity to help you prospective travelers to Germany. I want to give you my best shot at answering your specific questions, but there are many answers to any travel question and if it's nuts and bolts you're looking for I'd reccommend a good travel guidebook -- today I'm going to try and capture in my comments the essence of why you should travel to Germany -- or anywhere -- and how to get the best out of the experience. It's what we do on the televison and in the book -- so let's get started.
Gadsden, Ala.: I would like to visit Munich, Landshut, and other sites in Bavaria. Is it possible and would it be enjoyable to visit in January? My other possible date is June. What are the problems and your best advice about when to go?
Joseph Rosendo: In my opinion, whenever you go you will find something enjoyable to experience. Of course, Germany in June is a bit more comfortable and exciting than it is in January for most people. Although since there is no bad weather just bad clothes if you wanted to go to Gartmish-Partenkirchen -- also in Bavaria -- it would be wonderful in January if you are a skiier. It's the site of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games so there would be plenty of skiing and other wintry activities available for you there. So as you see where to go when also depends on what you are going for -- Skiing -- head to the mountains in January -- taking in the midnight sun head for Finland in June. Problems with June travel is the everyone else in America is traveling in Europe at that time too -- so you'll have plenty of company and the prices will be higher than at other times of year -- Europe is already expensive due to the weak dollar. Problems for January -- the weather may be -- it could be too cold or not cold enough -- if you want to ski you want snow -- so no snow would be a drag. But once again whenever you go you'll have a great time.
Ridgewood, NJ: I would like to visit Germany for the christmas holiday. I'm not much of a city girl and enjoy experiencing a destination like a local, rather than visiting all the "must see" tourist spots. I like castles and culture, and while I wouldn't mind some time visiting the markets in a city, I'd like to experience something a little less urban as well. where to begin? And of the big cities (Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, etc.) which is the "best"?
Joseph Rosendo: Germany for Christmas is wonderful. Starting early in December and running 24th throughout most of Germany the Christmas markets abound. The Christmas markets can be in the large cities like Hamburg, but also small villages like Celle. I'm speaking about Northern Germany because that's where I traveled for one of our PBS television shows that will be airing next year entitled: The Christmas Markets of Germany. There are more than 2,500 Christmas Markets in Germany. We visited the markets of Hamburg, Bremen, Celle and Lubeck -- each had its particular flavor. Yet, although the Christmas Markets offer plenty of great things to buy in hundreds of stalls and stands the real plus is the they are an opportunity to rub shoulders with the locals. The difference between Christmas in Germany and in the United States is that people go to the Christmas Markets to be with people -- not just to shop. So there is food, drink (gluhwein) and the companionship of friends -- and, get this, strangers.
Petoskey, Mich.: I am planning to travel to Munich the first week in December. I will be traveling with my sister. I am 47 and she is 41. We will fly from Detroit leaving Dec 1 and returning Dec 7. She has some work meetings, but I am free the entire time. Are there day trips that I should consider? What are the best holiday markets? My sister and I rarely travel together due to the fact we both have children, husbands and jobs. I'd love to do something really special to celebrate this opportunity. Thanks, Melanie
Joseph Rosendo: Just taking the trip together is already special. Although sometimes travel is a make or break experience for people. It's a real test for relationships. I would always take my serious girlfriends on the road. It was a good place to see how we did together -- for better or for worse. You should try not to let the business aspect of this journey interfere with giving you both some time to experience Munich together. And take your time -- don't rush it. If you feel you do not have time to catch your breath -- you probably don't. The joy of European travel is in the small moments, the quiet moments when you and the place can get to know each other. Munich is in the heart of Bavaria and Bavaria is noted for being the fun loving capital of Germany. Most everyone speaks English so you will be able to travel throughout the city and visit the city's different attractions for the most part without any language barrier. If you speak German all the better -- if you don't, learn a few words. Gutten Tag. Bitte (please) Danke (Thanks). People love to know you care enough to try. You are only going to be in Munich for five days...so I wouldn't set your sights to much further than the city itself. It has much to offer. Be sure to put a city tour in your plans so you can get a good overview of the city and then decide what you want to go back to on your own. Munich is noted as the city of Oktoberfest so no doubt you will want to visit a few of the famous beer halls. No matter what the season they will still be festive. Munich also has one of the largest Christmas Markets in Germany so you can shop, sup and sample to your hearts content. Of course if you want details line up of the cities attractions pick up a good guidebook like DK's Germany guide and Top 10 Guide for Munich.
Kansas City, Kans.: Always homeschooled and traveled in October. Now that my oldest son is in school we have to arrange our vacations around his schedule. We would like to go to Germany and spend a few days on the Rhine then on to Munich. What would be the best time to go? March during his spring break or August before school starts? Kids are 13 and 15 years old.
Joseph Rosendo: In keeping with Where To Go When's emphasis if you are going to Germany in Sept/October you will be there for Oktoberfest -- and although Munich is famous for its Oktoberfest -- you won't miss it in the other cities in Germany. It's everywhere so you won't be able to miss it and since it seems to me you are interested in local celebrations attending Oktoberfest celebrations in the smaller towns of Germany is an excellent idea and it saves you from the wild and crazy tourists that you will no doubt run into in Munich. In fact, I'd wager if you want to meet a lot of American tourists Oktoberfest in Munich is a good time and place to go. Regarding your accommodations: Throughout Germany and Austria you will see signs outside of accommodations reading "Zimmer Frei" --basically that means there is a room for rent. This room for rent could be in a hotel, inn or in a person's home. It's the latter that you are looking for. It is the equivalent of our Bed and Breakfast although in some situations it may be just one room and that room could be the family's guest bedroom, their child's vacant room, even their "best" room, etc. The rooms are usually less expensive than a hotel, the service excellent and cozy, the rooms stunning and the people lovely. You really get a family experience. I love to find these places when I travel -- and the best ones I've found were when I had rented or leased a car and was just wandering through the small roads in the countryside. I enjoy them, I recommend them, but, then that's our goal at Travelscope and DK -- introducing people to people. As a traveler, I would try to do anything that would give me the opportunity to capture a sense of the people -- and staying in a "Zimmer Frei" and, as well as, taking the train, traveling by car where you can stop where you wish or staying in accommodations -- like hostels -- where you can meet other travelers are all good ideas. For information on individual farm stay or hostel opportunities contact the German Tourist Office -- they have an office in New York and Los Angeles -- try 800-651-7010.
Fort Smith, Ark.: Do you have lodging recommendations in Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Two stars? I'm departing Oct. 3, 2007. Thank you.
Joseph Rosendo: No exact recommendations per se¿..I recommend DK's Germany Guide and Top 10 Guides for a list of accommodations that best fit your budget and interest. When I was in Rothenburg we ended staying at a room that the Gasthaus that we had dinner in had available. It was a magical time -- just before the Christmas season and all the shops had specialty items for the holidays, the locals were in a great mood -- no longer overwhelmed since the summer hoards of tourists had left. We wandered the town and surrounding countryside (don't forget the surrounding countryside not all the nice things about Rothenburg are inside the town walls). We stopped for dinner and a local beer in a Gasthaus located within a stone's throw from the Medieval walls and had a wonderful time speaking with the folks and otherwise taking in the spirit of the place -- off season. It was getting late and we had a choice to take the train back to the city where we had our hotel room or ask about accommodations in town... We decided to stay. We asked the people in the pub and they conferenced among themselves and came up with a place nearby. It was on the second floor of a house and out our window we could see the top of the wall. In fact we could almost reach out and touch it. It was one of those unexpected, unplanned travel experiences that happen all the time -- if you are open to them. So I would say get the guidebooks, book a place if you must, but don't let that limit you going and staying there -- you may come up with something better once you are there then even the guidebook found.
Kodiak, Alaska: We (two adults and one 7 year old) are headed to Germany in Sept/Oct 2008. We are flying in and out of Frankfurt and will be traveling to Heilbronn, Nurenburg, & Bad Tolz/Lenngries before heading to Czech. Any suggestions on farm-stays in the Lenngries area? Suggestions about farm-stays in general? Any thoughts on "family rooms" that some of the international youth hostels offer? Pros and cons of using a rail pass vs. buying separate tickets for each leg? Thanks, Natasha
Joseph Rosendo: Sorry, but I kinda mess up here. I mixed up the answer for your questions with the Kansas City question before -- so let me use your question to answer that question and you can find the answer to your question under hers above. Sorry, I'm more of a broadcaster/writer than a computer fan. I would add to your question though that a rail pass is always better than a separate ticket valuewise...but it depends on how much traveling by rail you will be doing and the pass itself...there are so many options these days.
Now back to the questions from Kansas, MO:
March will be cheaper than August and in Europe these days that is really something to take into consideration. I just returned from Spain and it costs $1.40 to buy one Euro. And, in any case, Germany is not a cheap destination in normal times. The weather is better in August and your cruise/trip down the Rhine will be more comfortable. March can be cold and much of Northern Europe can be shrouded in clouds in the Spring. Actually, from my experience (things may have changed with Global Warming) Spring doesn't really come to Northern Europe until May. On the other hand, remember August is still the major month for vacations in Europe so expect to compete for space, etc. with European tourists as well as foreign ones like you and your family. So if you are a gambler (and what traveler is not) you may want to risk March, but to be safe August should be smooth sailing.
Bountiful, Utah: My wife and I have been considering a trip to Germany for a while now. I think a fun time to go would be during the Octoberfest season, but we do not drink alcohol so I'm not sure if this would be a good idea. Will there be plenty of things to see and do that don't involve drinking a lot of beer? Also, is the crowd going to be reasonable or are they going to be a rowdy bunch of mostly drunk people? Thank you.
Joseph Rosendo: Hmmm. If you can experience Oktoberfest as a cultural event I guarantee you some great people watching. Yet Oktoberfest is a celebration of the harvest and in this case the celebration comes with a lot of beverages being consumed. You can expect the crowd to be joyous (I don't want to call the rowdy out of hand) and many of them will be intoxicated. Your greatest chance of running into Girls and Guys gone Wild will be in Munich -- that is why I recommend taking in the Oktoberfest celebrations in the smaller towns. Of course, there will be plenty of things to see and do -- culture, history, a myriad of activities depending on where you are -- and it's up to you whether they involved drinking or not. You're not obligated to drink. Don't forget about fall foliage -- that happens in Germany as well. It's beautiful along the rivers. October is a wonderful time to be in Germany -- less people, a festive atmosphere and beauty everywhere. And even in the biggest beer halls in Munich you can get soft drinks.
Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hi Joseph! Where should I spend actual Christmas Eve & Day? I was thinking of Rothenburg, but will it be too small of a town? Would Munich be better with more restaurant & sightseeing opportunities? I'm looking for the ultimate German Christmas experience!
Joseph Rosendo: Rothenburg has everything you need for the day. It will offer a lot of the German Christmas experience as far as what we dream about Christmas -- visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads -- but remember the ultimate German Christmas experience is intermingling with the people and their life and their celebration of Christmas and the larger the city the more people and the more opportunities to have good experiences with the people and their celebration. In Hamburg there are six Christmas Markets throughout the city, everywhere you go there are food and drink stalls and goods galore -- there are parades and music everywhere -- so yes, the larger the city the more opportunities you have to join the local celebration. Just keep in mind that in travel (and I propose life) "The guy who gets the most toys doesn't win, it's the guy or gal who gets the most experiences."
Downingtown, Pa.: We'll be going to Germany in late April/ early May 2008. Considering the loss in dollar value, what are some good values in Germany for that time of year? Are there any particular locations or activities we should consider? We are an active married couple around 50. We'll be traveling from Philadelphia to Munich, visiting a friend who lives in Munich and also traveling to Switzerland to visit a friend. We'll have about 10-12 days for the trip.
Joseph Rosendo: Food is still a good value in Europe. Value for dollar is still the name of the game throughout the continent. You can eat reasonably and well wherever you are. Try the local specialties -- they are always the best value and most fun. Another money saving tip: Many of the cities have Welcome Cards -- or whatever they may call them -- which are cards that you pay a set price for and they give you discount (if not free) admissions to museums and attractions, discounts on accommodations and other travel necessities. Public transportation is usually always included and you can buy the cards for 1 -- 3 -- 7 or more days. This is the best and cheapest way to get the most out of your city experiences. Just visit the tourism offices in each town (addresses in your guidebooks) or information can be obtained at airports, train stations, etc. You may be able to purchase the cards ahead of time. The German Tourist Office would have the answers to those questions. Zimmer Freis, public transportation, small cafes, free days at museums are all additional good money saving ideas. Regarding Switzerland: You may be surprised, but because of the value of the Euro, Switzerland is now less expensive than some of its neighbors. They are still on the Swiss Franc.
Baltimore, Md.: We are two couples (age 30-40ish) headed to the Black Forest for about 4 days next week. We'd like to go on some nice walks, eat some nice (but not expensive) food, and stay in some cute (but, again, not expensive) inns. Can you give recommendations? Are there any sights we shouldn't miss?
Joseph Rosendo: The Black Forest region of Germany is beautiful and great cuisine abounds. There is nice food throughout the area -- the best is expensive and the best is there. I ate in three Michelin star restaurants in one day there -- a one, two and three star. It was an overload -- on both my body and my pocketbook -- hey, but what the heck. Once again -- look for the Zimmer Frei signs in the villages, but the don't expect things to be cheap. The Black Forest is a huge tourist destination for Germans. But walks are cheap and each village tourist office will be happy to direct you to the ones surrounding their town. Any hotel and inn will gladly show the path and the paths often lead to or pass other inns and Gasthauses where you can refresh yourself along the way. It's the perfect place to have a wonderful lunch/picnic with great views surrounding you. I love this part of Germany.
Moorhead, Minn.: My son is doing a study-abroad semester in Freiburg and I will be going to meet him in Germany, arriving 19 Dec. and departing the morning of 27 Dec. I will be flying RT Frankfurt and immediately take a train to Freiburg to meet up with him. We need to be in Clausthal-Zellerfeld on the 24 & 25th of Dec. This is my first trip to Germany and I would like to visit a Christmas market and want the trip to be fun for my 22 year old son...any ideas of where to visit and where to stay over? Great places for food and local beer? Are the Christmas markets in Cologne nicer than in Frankfurt? Any "don't miss" spots or a recommended route to take from Freiburg in Bavaria to CZ? Thanks for your help. Cindy
Joseph Rosendo: Freiburg is a fun town...a university town so definitely filled with the young and the young at heart. Best is a funny word. What is best to you is not necessarily the best for me and in every circumstance there is a bit of "best" about everywhere you go. On Travelscope and in Where To Go When we've tried to capture the best of the destinations featured. Generally Cologne is a nicer town that Frankfurt which is very business oriented -- (in fact, the Germans call it Bankfurt), and I would assume the Christmas Markets there in the shawdow of the great catherdral would be wonderful. I was in Cologne for Carnival, but not for the Christmas markets. If you're after a more homespun, local esperience I would head to the smaller towns of Germany. Celle and Lubeck in the North, Erfurt in the Thuringia forest, Esslingen on the River Neckar and Bad Muenster am Stein-Ebernburg outside of the "Big" town of Frankfurt. As far as big cities go, Berlin is an exciting town with its combination of old and new. Remember it was divided in two until the '90s. So you can still get a flavor of the East while the West is about as American as you would like. Munich is the heart of Bavaria and the Christmas Markets of Bavaria are some of the liveliest. Here are some of the highlights: Colburg has a candlelight parade on December 1st; Bamberg's Nativity Trail has 34 nativity scenes from around the world,; Nuremberg -- famous for its grilled sausages, gingerbread, fruit loaf (think a fine tasting fruit cake) -- is the place to sample the goodies from the stalls¿.it's hard to do wrong. For details on all of the markets of Germany go to cometogermany.com. They can also tell you if the Rhine Cruises are still operating during the winter months...that's an easy way to experience castles and culture. Remember its up to you to reach out and meet the locals and at the Christmas markets you will have plenty of opportunity -- all you have to say is "Guten Tag." (Good Day).
Joseph Rosendo: Thank you for joining me today. I really enjoyed chating with you. Sorry, I didn't have time to reach everyone. If you'd like to email me personally you can do so on my website travelscope.net. I look forward to seeing you on Travelscope Television which is airing on your public television station and in the pages of DK Eyewitness Travel's Where To Go When book. Auf Wiedersehen.