Speaking Denglish: 10 cheap and authentic German experiences
Texan expat Alexandra shares her tips on how to stretch your euros and 'do as the Germans do' to discover a cheap and authentic Germany.
Germany is not expensive, but it's not exactly cheap either. Costs in the country fall right within the likes of western European nations, below the ranks of steep Swiss and Scandinavian prices and above that of wallet-friendly Poland and Germany's other eastern neighbours. Luckily, it's not hard to travel cheap in Germany as the county makes it easy to follow the 'when in Rome' mentality.
1. Grab breakfast at a bakery
Do as the Germans do and eat bread for breakfast (and dinner). There is a bakery on every corner offering everything from full loaves to pastries. Try out a traditional pretzel with butter (butterbrezel) or a half-loaf of roggenbrot (rye bread) or vollkorn (whole grain).
Resist the temptation of a Berliner and go for a less sweet option.
2. Do not pay more than EUR 3.30 for a half-litre of beer
If you play your cards right, you can even find 0.5L of beer for EUR 2 at a student bar. Isn’t the cheap, tasty beer half the reason why you came to Germany? Please drink responsibly by grabbing a German beer. If those foggy-looking, unfiltered Naturtrüb pilsners or heavy wheat beers intimidate you, then it's ok to grab a Beck’s. There's an exception to this rule though – Oktoberfest.
3. Hang out at a park
When the sun comes out, so do the Germans. Parks fill up with slacklines, acoustic sounds, unicycles, and flunkyball teams. Soak up some vitamin D and enjoy a perfect afternoon in Germany. Grab a picnic blanket, some local brews from the grocery store, a deck of cards, a book and relish in relaxation.
Winter Alternative: find the nearest snow hill and enjoy an an afternoon sledding.
4. Snag a cheap train ticket
Travelling by train in Germany is not cheap, particularly on the famed high-speed InterCity Express (ICE). If you do not have a rail pass, the ticket prices can cause quite the sticker shock. There are a couple of options to help avoid paying out-the-ass for a ticket on the DBahn.
Last minute train tickets from L’Tur
If you plan a trip last minute, the last minute booking agency L’Tur can be a big help. Search for your upcoming journey up to three days in advance and you may be able to purchase a ticket for EUR 26. I had to go to Düsseldorf last week. The DBahn website quoted me a EUR 130 round-trip and I bought round-trip tickets on the ICE from L’Tur for EUR 52.
Regional day tickets
The DBahn offers Länder-Tickets, which are regional tickets that allow you to travel anywhere within the state using only regional trains (no IC or ICE trains). The tickets are valid for one day and begin at EUR 22 and up to five people can travel on the ticket at once. They are a great way to get out of the city and explore nearby towns and the sprawling countryside.
If the train prices are still stinging, take to the Autobahn and ride along with a German. Mitfahrgelegenheit (and other online services) provide options for drivers to list empty seats in their car when driving from point A to point B. The driver sets the price and you meet them at a local pick-up point. While this concept might seem outrageous, it is a tried-and-true service and certainly a cheap way to get around Germany. The drivers and riders both need profiles to use the website and payments are made in person. Plus, it’s a great way to spend some time with a German citizen and get some insider facts and tips.
6. Go for a hike
Germans love hiking, particularly in their Jack Wolfskin (not cheap) outdoor clothing. Germany is well-known for its forests (ie. The Black Forest or Schwarzwald). Some 31 percent of the country is covered by forests and it is one of the few countries whose forests are actually increasing thanks to its renowned and inspiring reforestation efforts.
7. Ride a bike around town
Biking is a popular form of transportation throughout the country. Bike lanes make for safe commutes. It's not merely a sunny day activity but rather a serious means of transportation. If you’re in a German city, you can get anywhere you need with a bike, perhaps even faster than with public transit options. Enjoy experiencing the city like a local and beware to follow the traffic laws and stop at pedestrian walks because jaywalking is frowned up in Germany.
8. Grab a meal at a döner kebab shop
The Turkish influence in Germany is strong. In the 1960s, many Turkish people were invited to Germany to help aid a shortage of labourers rebuilding the country after WWII. Turks comprise 4–5 percent of the German population and Turkish food adorns every city street. The most well-known of them is the doner kebab (or shawarma in Arabic, gyro in Greek). Döner comes stuffed inside a pita bread or wrapped in a large, flat unleavened bread (yufka). The traditional toppings include red cabbage, lettuce, tomato, onion, crushed red chilies and yoghurt sauce. Döner kebab yielded EUR 3.5 billion in sales in 2011, how’s that for popularity?
One döner will cost you EUR 4 and will stuff you silly.
Vorglühen is the German word for pre-party or pre-game. As in any other country, you can save some serious money by getting your buzz on at home first. Buying alcohol in Germany is particularly cheap. At the local discount supermarkets, you can buy a 0.7L of vodka for EUR 5 (hangover included), a 0.5L beer for EUR 0.50, and a 1L half-decent bottle of wine for EUR 3.50.
10. Stop by the supermarket
Venturing into local supermarkets is one of my favourite things to do in new countries. The supermarkets really give you a good grab bag of local culture from the people around you and the food selection. Many supermarkets in Germany have little to-go salads and packages to quickly snack on. Asparagus season is also a very special time in Germany, especially if they are white and phallic.
Large 1.5L bottles of water cost less than 20 cents at a German supermarket, so by no means should you ever purchase one from anywhere else. Beware of purchasing mineral or sprudelwasser, if you don't want bubbles. The medium also has bubbles, but less. For you still water drinkers, look for stilles on the label. Plastic bottles in Germany come with a Pfand, or deposit, of up to 25 cents that is charged with your purchase. You can return them to the store for a refund or donate them to a local homeless person.
The German deli counter will surely draw at least one, “What the?” out of anyone.
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