To visit Germany for up to three months, all you need is a passport. For more information, contact the German Information Center, 871 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017; (212) 610-9800.
German-American groups generally have plentiful information on travel in the homeland. Among the major organizations: United German-American Committee of the USA, 583 Broadway, Westwood, NJ 07675, (201) 664-2400; German-American National Congress, 4740 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60625. (773) 275-1100. For general travel information, contact the German National Tourist Office, 122 E. 42nd St., 52nd floor, New York, NY 10017, (212) 661-7200.
Germany's climate is neither Minnesota cold nor Miami warm. Temperatures range from 20 to 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) in January and hover in the 60s and 70s in July. There's some rain and snow, but nothing in excess.
If you're anti-crowd, don't visit Germany in June, July or August. That's the height of tourist season. The weather, though, is plenty cooperative in May, September and October. Of course, true crowd-o-phobes should steer clear of a certain meadow in Munich between the last Saturday in September and first Sunday in October (Sept. 18-Oct. 3, 2000). Munich Oktoberfest attracts 6 million beer-worshiping visitors a year.
Germany's national airline is Lufthansa, and nearly all international flights arrive in Frankfurt. Despite its size, the airport is surprisingly easy to navigate, with signs in eight languages as well as many currency exchanges and tourist information counters.
Among the best deals in Germany is traveling the countryside via tour bus. You can book trips on the German Touring Company's Europabus system rather inexpensively. Among the routes: Bavarian Alps, Allgau Alps and a "Castle Route."
The German Federal Railway runs on time and it's speedy, clean and moderately priced. A smart option is buying a Eurail Pass before you leave home. While in Germany, you can buy a Wünder card and pay about $150 for nine days of unlimited travel. The card includes free bicycle rental, too: You can pick up and leave bikes anywhere at 400 train stations across the country.
If you need to brag that you drove on the Autobahn, apply for an international driving permitbefore you leave homefrom AAA or another driving club. (Germany has among the cheapest car-rental rates in Europe.) Before you road-trip, though, get maps and guidebooks from the Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club or Automobilclub von Deutschland. Both Web sites are in German, but the clubs have offices all over Germany.
Germany is among the 11 European countries in the process of converting to the euro. Deutschmarks are still accepted, but the local currency is expected to be phased out by 2002. You'll notice smiley-face signs in many German shop windows that say, "We accept payment in euros." Traveler's checks are easy to cash, especially in larger cities, and you'll see ATMs everywhere.
Don't plan to souvenir shop on Sundays, as most stores are closed. In smaller towns, many shops close for lunch from 1 to 3 p.m. You'll notice a 15 percent value-added tax (VAT) built into the price of nearly everything you buy in Germany. Ask shopkeepers for forms to apply for partial refunds for non-residents. It's a hassle, but you may consider it worth the trouble.