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Old 08-27-2010, 01:58 PM   #1
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Default Advice on traveling to Germany?

Looks like I'm going to be heading to Papenburg for a few weeks in October to do an installation on a cruise ship that's under construction at Meyer Werft. I know a few of you on the forum are US armed forces and have been to (or are currently in) Germany, so I'm hoping for some first-hand advice.

I've already picked up a couple of shuko adapters, so I think I'm good there. I don't plan on bringing anything that doesn't have a universal power supply.


Money: Will my Visa credit card be accepted at places such as restaurants, hardware stores, etc., or do I need to carry a large quantity of Euros? Will I be able to use my ATM card (MasterCard / Star) to obtain Euros there?


Cell phones: Mine is CDMA, so nothing doing there. If I were to pick up a disposable / prepaid phone from T-Mobile (which, I understand, would be GSM) would that work? According to T-mobile's coverage map, North America is the only continent on the planet. Or should I just pick up a handy in-country once I get there?


Luggage locks: I typically use a "TSA-compliant" lock on my toolbox when flying. Is this going to cause me any problems or delays with airport security in Germany?


The English Language: I'm an American. The only other languages I speak are C, 68k assembly, and a little Java. I realize that most Europeans are rather more versatile in this regard, but what is the proper protocol if one wishes to engage a shopkeeper, cab driver, drug dealer, etc., in a conversation in English? Is a simple "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" sufficient, or is there some more complex ritual?


Anything I forgot: ?
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Old 08-27-2010, 02:44 PM   #2
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Ensure you have enough cash for a good rental to hit the autobahn and nurburg!
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Old 08-27-2010, 03:03 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Money: Will my Visa credit card be accepted at places such as restaurants, hardware stores, etc., or do I need to carry a large quantity of Euros? Will I be able to use my ATM card (MasterCard / Star) to obtain Euros there?
I have never been to Europe, BUT...

I read travel a recent travel article which indicated it may be difficult to use American sytle credit cards in Europe (at least at non-tourist type places).

Continental Europeans use the Chip & PIN system for credit card transactions (as opposed to our Swipe & Sign method). This requires a credit card with one of those metal contact Smart Card (TM) chips on it (not RFID). Very few (if any) US issuers offer this type of card.

The advice indicated shops may not have the equipment to process your card via magnetic stripe, may not be trained how to use it or aware that it is an option, and may be apathetic about trying.

They might also be unwilling to process a transaction this way due to fear of fraud. (After all Joe you do look a Gypsy)
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Old 08-27-2010, 03:15 PM   #4
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I did a two week driving tour of germany in my VW bus last year, And went round the ring in it (28:00 lap!!), I am going back in 3 weeks in the MX5.

In the 2 weeks I was there I came across one person that didn't speak English (17yr old girl at the meat counter in a grocery store) They teach it to EVERYONE in high school and most of the music on the radio is American/British. They are all fluent to a simple giving directions sort of level. Most are completely fluent

Your ATM cards will work fine just about everywhere. European banks don't charge for ATM fee's. Using it in the shops however is a different matter. About 10 years ago they all switched to chip and pin cards. The cards all have a chip in them (like a cellphone sim card) and the customer enters a pin number rather than sign a slip (like a debit card in the states). "most" places will still take a magnetic swipe and signature, but don't count on it. Its been long enough now that all the younger employees don't remember how it used to be and will just give you a blank stare.

Pay as you go cell phone's are very common here. For the most part they are for students, the phone companies will not give you a contract until you are a working adult. What this means is that pay as you go is not the rip off it is in the states. Its only about 10% more expensive and the hardware is still very cheap. I would buy one here so it has a euro number, but that all depends on who you are going to be calling with it.

You are going to be 6 hours from the ring and if the rental co. finds out you took it on the course (they pay photographers to scout the parking lot on busy days) they will ban you for life. I know Hertz does this, not sure on the others. SOunds worth it to me, I would love to be banned for life for that.....
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Old 08-27-2010, 03:43 PM   #5
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1. DO NOT CONVERT MONEY INTO EURO before you go! You'll get screwed on the conversion both ways. And you'll be a walking cash liability.

2. credit cards (visa/mc) are accepted most places

3. your ATM with the popular logos will work at most euro banks (fees charged but the exchange rate is reasonable--better deals are had by etrade ATM card holders if you've got a high roller acct). Withdraw a couple days worth of cash each time and you wont ever be in a situation where you have to convert assloads of cash at assrape exchange rates.

4. most importantly: they wear their wedding rings on the right hand.

5. someone here's bound to have a used GSM cell phone if you absolutely need one. otherwise sign up for gmail and google voice and voip that ****. I think you need 900/1800Hz to play.

I actually have a couple unlocked GSM phones laying around that I dont use anymore if you want one cheap. eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_Ericsson_W810
You just pick up a prepaid SIM when you land and you're good to go.
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Old 08-27-2010, 03:44 PM   #6
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Don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

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Old 08-27-2010, 03:49 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by mgeoffriau View Post
Don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

When my first wife was told by our German landlord that he was in the "Battle of the Bulge" her reply was "Really?, my father was there too." Not realizing that they were shooting at each other.
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Old 08-27-2010, 04:50 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Looks like I'm going to be heading to Papenburg for a few weeks in October to do an installation on a cruise ship that's under construction at Meyer Werft. I know a few of you on the forum are US armed forces and have been to (or are currently in) Germany, so I'm hoping for some first-hand advice.
Currently living in South-west Germany, have no idea about the specific part of the country you're going to though, you're way up north from me (about ~5 hours or so)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Money: Will my Visa credit card be accepted at places such as restaurants, hardware stores, etc., or do I need to carry a large quantity of Euros? Will I be able to use my ATM card (MasterCard / Star) to obtain Euros there?
A lot of places DO NOT accept credit cards, that being said most of the bigger places do, I'd have some Euro on hand at all times but like others said DO NOT exchange for euro in the states, wait until you get here and pop your credit card in any ATM, there will be a small charge ($3-4 each time you do this) but you'll be much better off than converting a big chunk before you come over here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Cell phones: Mine is CDMA, so nothing doing there. If I were to pick up a disposable / prepaid phone from T-Mobile (which, I understand, would be GSM) would that work? According to T-mobile's coverage map, North America is the only continent on the planet. Or should I just pick up a handy in-country once I get there?
Pick up a cheap phone when you get here. I bought the phone I've got now for something like 10 euro and it's lasted me for 11 months already. Pre-paid minutes are relatively cheap as long as you aren't calling the states or anything.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Luggage locks: I typically use a "TSA-compliant" lock on my toolbox when flying. Is this going to cause me any problems or delays with airport security in Germany?
You'll be fine, the extent of German customs is "See your passport?.....Ok enjoy your stay"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
The English Language: I'm an American. The only other languages I speak are C, 68k assembly, and a little Java. I realize that most Europeans are rather more versatile in this regard, but what is the proper protocol if one wishes to engage a shopkeeper, cab driver, drug dealer, etc., in a conversation in English? Is a simple "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" sufficient, or is there some more complex ritual?
Say Hallo, most people will automatically realize you speak English and continue the conversation as such (at least that's the case in the south, the North may be different but I doubt it) "Sprechen Sie Englisch" works well too, it's usually the older folks that don't speak english well but most everyone speaks enough to get you by.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
Anything I forgot: ?
Going to have any time to travel while you're here? Feel free to shoot me a message or whatever if you have any more questions you think I may be able to help with, I'm not an expert by any means but I'm two weeks away from being here for a full year.
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Old 08-27-2010, 05:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mgeoffriau View Post
Don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.
I wasn't around during WWII, so I have nothing to say on the matter.

I think I may bring a hat with a maple leaf on it, just to be safe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by olderguy View Post
When my first wife was told by our German landlord that he was in the "Battle of the Bulge" her reply was "Really?, my father was there too." Not realizing that they were shooting at each other.
Reminds me of an old pilot's tale. (For those not familiar with the lingo, "Speedbird" is a callsign for British Airways planes used by air-traffic controllers, just as AmWest flights are called "Cactus", Virgin is "Redwood", Aer Lingus is "Shamrock", etc.) It helps if you read the parts spoken by "Ground" with a stereotypical German accent.

Allegedly the controllers at Frankfurt Airport are renowned as a short-tempered lot. They, it is alleged, not only expect one to know one's gate parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a Pan Am 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747.

Speedbird 206: "Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of active runway."

Ground: "Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven."

The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.

Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"

Speedbird 206: "Stand by, Ground, I'm looking up our gate location now."

Ground (with quite arrogant impatience): "Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?"

Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes, twice in 1944, but it was dark,... and I didn't land."


Or this exchange, alleged to have been overheard on approach to Heathrow:

Lufthansa pilot to co-pilot, forgetting that the frequency was open: "We used to come up the Thames, and turn over here for the docks...."

Unknown voice on frequency: "ACHTUNG SPITFEUR"



Quote:
Originally Posted by y8s View Post
5. someone here's bound to have a used GSM cell phone if you absolutely need one. otherwise sign up for gmail and google voice and voip that ****. I think you need 900/1800Hz to play.
Ok, Good to know.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Blaize View Post
You are going to be 6 hours from the ring and if the rental co. finds out you took it on the course (they pay photographers to scout the parking lot on busy days) they will ban you for life. I know Hertz does this, not sure on the others. SOunds worth it to me, I would love to be banned for life for that.....
I'm debating this. The ring is about four hours from where I'll be staying, so it's quite tempting. Frankly, I don't care if Europcar bans me for life, I just don't want to do anything that would result in my having to appear before a judge.

I'm also leaning towards renting something that I can't get here in the states. An Opel Corsa or a Seat Leon, for instance. Something James May would give a relatively positive review on, and the others would dismiss out of hand.
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Old 08-27-2010, 05:28 PM   #10
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you should rent the aston martin n24!



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Old 08-27-2010, 08:03 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by KPLAFIN View Post
A lot of places DO NOT accept credit cards, that being said most of the bigger places do, I'd have some Euro on hand at all times
That's fine. As long as my ATM card works, I'll just make sure I've got €100 or so on me at all times.


Quote:
Pick up a cheap phone when you get here.
Having done some further reading, I think that's what I'll do. I gather that you can pick one up at damn near any corner shop, and it's one less power adapter I'll need to have with me.

Chances are that I will be using it mainly to call stateside, but I'm not terribly concerned about the cost. As with most of my travel, this is all going on an expense report, and I'm pretty sure that Disney can afford to buy me a cell phone. I assume that "topping up" a prepaid phone can be done by purchasing a card from a local shop and then entering information from that card into the phone?



Quote:
Say Hallo, most people will automatically realize you speak English and continue the conversation as such
My primary concern is not appearing presumptuous. In Latin-American countries, for instance, English is reasonably common amongst shopkeepers and such, but simply walking up to someone and starting a conversation in English can be considered rude. It is better to ask "┐habla InglÚs?" first.




Quote:
Going to have any time to travel while you're here?
I'm not sure yet. I very much want to pop over to England for a bit if I have time, and will probably chose that over the 'Ring if I have to.


Quote:
you should rent the aston martin n24!
Yeah, that might be a bit difficult to justify.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:37 PM   #12
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If taking a credit card (Visa is more accepted) be sure to call and advise them of your trip (otherwise they cancel it).

A card with the plus system symbol is more international usage wise but will likely have fees, possibly from your bank as well.

From the American cards I've seen it's not easy to use many of them in Canada let alone Europe. American tourists I've seen have trouble if they don't bank with a major bank or have a Visa / Mastercard. Something can most often be done to meet their needs but it's often a time consuming hassle for all involved.

Travelers cheques can be cashed at banks as needed and are *essentially* insured against theft (at least ones sold in Canada).

The best part of Euro rental cars is that manual's are available.
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:38 PM   #13
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German chicks are stacked
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Old 08-27-2010, 08:57 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by inferno94 View Post
If taking a credit card (Visa is more accepted) be sure to call and advise them of your trip (otherwise they cancel it).
Yes, I travel quite a lot, mostly within the US, but occasionally to Mexico and the Caribbean, so I'm used to getting phone calls from the credit union. I'll be certain to call ahead this time.



Quote:
A card with the plus system symbol is more international usage wise but will likely have fees, possibly from your bank as well.
I have a total of three forms of plastic. A Visa debit card and a Visa credit card from one CU, and a Mastercard debit card from another CU. All three are Star / Co-Op, two are also Cirrus. No Plus.



Quote:
Travelers cheques can be cashed at banks as needed and are *essentially* insured against theft (at least ones sold in Canada).
I'm not a huge fan of traveler's cheques, or any form of check for that matter. Cumbersome and annoying.



One other question: Is it advisable / necessary to carry ones passport at all times, or should it be kept in a location such as a hotel safe?
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Old 08-27-2010, 09:16 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
I have a total of three forms of plastic. A Visa debit card and a Visa credit card from one CU, and a Mastercard debit card from another CU. All three are Star / Co-Op, two are also Cirrus. No Plus.
Not sure how international cirrus is but I understand it is about as good as interac (just check the debit terminals / atm's for symbols)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
I'm not a huge fan of traveler's cheques, or any form of check for that matter. Cumbersome and annoying.
True, I don't like them much except that the Amex ones I'm familiar with are replaced (delivered to you) immediately if lost or stolen. But I had an experience at a Michigan gas station once with the teenage attendant.

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Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
One other question: Is it advisable / necessary to carry ones passport at all times, or should it be kept in a location such as a hotel safe?
When you go into a bank you'll probably need it for ID (migrant workers do). Others have any insight on the need for a passport when touring around (your employer may know about this)?

I picture a big buy in a police type uniform demanding "Papers please!"
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Old 08-27-2010, 09:44 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
I have a total of three forms of plastic. A Visa debit card and a Visa credit card from one CU, and a Mastercard debit card from another CU. All three are Star / Co-Op, two are also Cirrus. No Plus.
You may want to provide me those numbers for safe keeping. Or your bank account and routing info. You know... So I can buy your safety if you abducted and forced into a German sex trade.
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Old 08-27-2010, 10:57 PM   #17
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BTW how does a visa/mc debit card work? Pre-paid? We have Visa gift cards that are a pre paid visa and bank issued debit cards (cheq card?). These only debit your accounts, and are id at the issuing bank.
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Old 08-27-2010, 11:06 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by inferno94 View Post
BTW how does a visa/mc debit card work?
In the US, it's the same as a cheque card. You run it through the machine and enter a PIN, and the funds come out of your checking account, rather than a line-of-credit account. They are issued by your bank (or in my case, credit union) and are administered through Visa or MC so that they are compatible with all existing POS terminals.

Used to be that whenever you used one, there was a small surcharge applied to your bill. Nowadays, that fee is no longer charged to the purchaser, I suspect it comes out of the retailer's overhead.
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Old 08-27-2010, 11:32 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Joe Perez View Post
In the US, it's the same as a cheque card. You run it through the machine and enter a PIN, and the funds come out of your checking account, rather than a line-of-credit account. They are issued by your bank (or in my case, credit union) and are administered through Visa or MC so that they are compatible with all existing POS terminals.

Used to be that whenever you used one, there was a small surcharge applied to your bill. Nowadays, that fee is no longer charged to the purchaser, I suspect it comes out of the retailer's overhead.
Makes sense, I was just doing a course on American retail banking and am still iffy on some of the different terminology.

A cheq card is a debit / bank card in Canada and the system is interac, plus, cirrus or the different banks administered. There never were fees to the consumer here, just the merchant (unless you use an atm that isn't from your bank).
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Old 08-27-2010, 11:48 PM   #20
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I've never had a problem using my ATM card to get Euros or any other currency after arrival.

Learn how to say, "Ein pils, bitte." That and another (completely useless) phrase have gotten me all around Germany.

When clinking beers, Americans usually look at the glasses. In Europe, it's considered extremely rude if you don't make eye contact as the glasses connect. So much so that they joke about it leading to "seven years of bad sex."

Don't count on good driving on the Autobahn. I've seen more "WTF?!" moves in one afternoon there than in weeks of LA commuting.
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