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German Discount Grocery Store LIDL Now Open in the USA

German Discount Grocery Store LIDL Now Open in the USA

While some American grocery stores are filing bankruptcy and closing for good, German grocery stores ALDI, and recently LIDL are trying to fill the void with their low-cost concepts. You can now get a “German Shopping Experience” before ever travelling to Germany! Several weeks ago we had our spotlight on ALDI, the German discount grocery store. Here is a link in case you missed it.

At the time of this article ALDI has over 1,600 stores in the United States and is still growing. Another German discounter named LIDL wants to be part of this too and is expected to open its first 150 stores by 2018 in the United States.

The first 9 LIDL stores in the United States opened a few days ago on June 15, 2017. Is one of them near you? Here they are:

North Carolina: Greenville, Kinston, Rocky Mount, Sanford, Winston-Salem
South Carolina: Greenville, Spartanburg
Virginia: Hampton, Virginia Beach

More stores are coming to Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 2017 and 2018.

ALDI and LIDL are both considered “discount stores”, which only stock about 1,000 products on their shelves. This low inventory means, that you will only find one package of sliced Swiss cheese, but at a lower price point. About 90% of the products sold are their own brands, which enables these discount stores to sell items at a lower price point and pass the savings on to the consumer. Also, a lot of the products are pushed into the store on pallets, which saves time compared to setting them on shelves and, again, saves the discount stores money by having less staff.

For more reading on LIDL coming to the United States, read the story by Nandita Bose for Reuters, "Germany's Lidl to price groceries up to 50 percent below U.S. rivals," or visit LIDL'S Home page.

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Your Guide to Navigating German Supermarkets

Your Guide to Navigating German Supermarkets | How German Grocery Stores Differ From American Grocery Stores

A grocery store is a grocery store, whether it is located in the United States or Germany. Yes, grocery stores in both countries sell fresh produce, bread, milk and other essentials. However, there are small differences to keep in mind before you start your shopping trip. The most convenient feature, to me is that the price that is on the tag is the final price you pay. It already includes the tax, so if you see a package of strawberries for €3.00, this will be the price you will pay at the register. Here are more helpful hints for your grocery store trip in Germany:

Why are Eggs Not Chilled?
In Germany, eggs are stored on ordinary shelves, while they are refrigerated in the United States. The simple reason: freshly laid eggs in the United States are washed for hygienic reasons before they arrive at grocery stores for sale. It is forbidden to sell eggs, that have not been washed with hot water and odorless soap in order to be germ free. In Germany it is exactly the other way round: Washed eggs are prohibited to be sold. During the washing process the natural protective layer is lost. This layer prevents bacteria and salmonella from getting into the interior of the egg. Once the protection has been washed off, eggs have to be kept in coolers.

Bring Your Own Bags
Before you head out to the store, know this: there are usually no free bags given out by German grocery stores. Germans tend to bring their own bags or folding crates (like these at The Container Store), and even pack their items themselves. If you forget your bags, you can purchase bags at the checkout register. Also, there are no packers at the end of the conveyor belt. Wal-Mart failed when they tried to introduce bagging groceries for customers in the 1990s Germany. (For more on Wal-marts in Germany, check out this article from the Huffington Post).

Store Hours & Sundays
Most grocery stores in Germany are open from 7am until 8pm. Some larger chains stay open longer, but all of them have one thing in common: closed on Sundays. This day of the week is reserved for relaxing, dining together with your family, or heading to a museum. For emergency runs on a Sunday, look for gas stations or supermarkets in a train station or at an airport. If that is too far for you, check if you can borrow some milk for your Sunday morning cereal from your neighbor.

Grocery Cart Deposits
It is very common to drive onto a grocery store parking lot in the United States and see carts scattered from customers being too lazy to return the cart to a corral. Germans came up with their own way of dealing with this. To get a grocery cart in Germany, you have to insert a €0.50 cent or €1 coin into the handle in order to release the cart. Use it for shopping in the store and later return it the same place you received it. Insert the metal plug into the back of the handle and get your coin back. This saves grocery store employees from having to collect carts and gives you some exercise.

Why is the Milk Not Being Refrigerated?
The United States had fresh milk deliveries by a milkman for decades. The milkman stopped by several days a week, took the empty milk bottles and left fresh bottles of milk at the doorstep. This milk has to be refrigerated, since it is “only” pasteurized, meaning it is heated up to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit and will be good for about 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge. Contrary to that, more than 65% of the milk in Germany is treated with Ultra-high temperature processing at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, which basically sterilizes the milk. This kind of milk can be sold non-refrigerated and has a shelf life of 6 to 9 months. You can also buy some milk from the refrigerated section in a Germany supermarket in case you want to do a taste test and compare a pasteurized and a ultra-high heated milk.

If you buy a single-use container in form of a can of soda or a water in a plastic bottle, you will pay a €0.25 deposit, which will be refunded when you bring the container back to a supermarket or shop.

Pfand Deposits on Cans & Bottles
To promote recycling, in 2003 the ever-clever, thrifty Germans implemented a container deposit legislation, also known as Pfand [pronounced pf‿ant]. If you buy a single-use container in form of a can of soda or a water in a plastic bottle, you will pay a €0.25 deposit, which will be refunded when you bring the container back to a supermarket or shop. Sometimes a real person will refund your deposit, sometimes you have to push your bottle or can into one of these deposit return machine and get a voucher printed. Either use the voucher in the store or go to the cash register to have the amount paid out to you in cash. When you throw that bottle away, you're also throwing away your €0.25. The deposit legislation does not cover containers for juice, milk-products, wine, spirits, or liquors.

Did we forget other differences that you have noticed? Let us know in the comments!

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My Favorite German Movies

My Favorite German Movies

With the rise of streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Video, it is much easier to watch foreign movies from wherever you are in the world. Years ago a list like this would have been useless, because a German DVD or videocassette would have to be mailed over the Atlantic and subtitles would have not been included. You simply had to understand the language in order to follow the movies. Today it is a simple click to activate the subtitles and immerse yourself into a movie that shows you a completely different world, with actors you might have never seen before, speaking an unknown language. Not all of the movies will be on your favorite streaming platform, due to contract expirations and renewals and most of them will be in German with English subtitles. If the movie of your choice is not streaming currently, check out Amazon or eBay for a used DVD copy.

Lastly: This is by no means a critically-acclaimed list, but rather a list of movies I have enjoyed and re-watched. The films on this list are in chronological order, sorted by the year of release from oldest to newest. I purposely did not rank them because, to me, they are impossible to rank, since each has its own subject matter and contemporary feel.

Knockin' on Heaven's Door Movie Poster | My Favorite German Movies

Knockin' on Heaven's Door (1997)
This so-called "Roadmovie" was the most successful German movie of the year 1997. The movie is about two deathly ill men, Rudi Wurlitzer (Jan Josef Liefers) and Martin Brest (Til Schweiger), who share a hospital room and neither have much time to live. Their last wish is to drive to see the sun set on the ocean. Since neither have a car, they decide to steal a Mercedes from the hospital's parking lot. What the two do not know is that a large amount of money is hidden in the trunk of the car and the money belongs to some criminals, who are now chasing them.

This movie is very entertaining with its action scenes, even though it has some very serious moments, when the two doomed actors face their deadly disease. What makes Knockin' on Heaven's Door worth seeing after all these years is the entire cast of great actors, and the fact that you see the world differently if there is nothing else to lose. Click here to see the trailer on YouTube.

Lola Rennt Movie Poster | My Favorite German Movies

Lola Rennt (1998) English Title, Run Lola Run
This fast and dynamic thriller captures the vitality of Germany in the 1990’s in an outstanding way. It starts out capturing a normal day in Berlin showing Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who moves cash for an organized car theft gang. The simple task becomes a problem, when he leaves a bag full of cash behind, unable to retrieve it himself. He calls his girlfriend Lola (Franka Potente), who will start running in order to retrieve the bag and deliver it before the deadline, which is 20 minutes away. The movie combines elements of slow motion, split-screen technology and 360 degree rotating camera angles, resulting in a firework of technical possibilities. Overall a fast-paced film with an unusual, innovative and visually capturing concept, keeping the viewers guessing, if Lola makes the right or wrong choices while she is running. Click here to see the trailer on YouTube.

Good bye, Lenin! Movie Poster | My Favorite German Movies

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
On the day of the 40th anniversary of the GDR, convinced socialist Christiane Kerner (Katrin Sass) falls into a coma after a heart attack. It overshadows the fall of the German Wall and the entry of capitalism into the socialist state, which now no longer exists. When she unexpectedly awakens from the coma, her son and daughter try to spare her weak heart by concealing their bedridden mother from the world-moving events of the last few months. They create the illusion that the GDR, at least on a small scale, survived and is still active. This, of course, involves some difficulties, from the procurement of Spreewald brand cucumbers to the songwriting of old songs. Watching the trailer might make you think that this is a comedy, which it does have jokes and funny elements to it. However, it is more of a tragicomedy, with the main focus on the changes that turn the everyday life of a young adult son Alex (Daniel Bruehl) completely upside down within a few months. In addition, the film combines a lot of archival material from the time of the German Reunion and lets the viewer feel the importance, but above all also the emotionality of this event. Click here to see the trailer on YouTube.

Das Leben der Anderen Movie Poster | My Favorite German Movies

Das Leben der Anderen (2006) English Title, The Lives Of Others
That life in the GDR was not only fun & games, should be well-known by now. The movie “Das Leben der Anderen” describes the political regime of the former GDR as a highly paranoid spy and control system, where the state stalks down into the smallest detail of the private life of its citizens, ensuring the “safety” of all its citizens. Major Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is set to spy on the popular playwright Georg Dreymann (Sebastian Koch). However, Dreymann is not subject to regular ideological scrutiny, but should be brought to his downfall in order to boost the career of a politician. What Major Wiesler did not expect, was that the observation would drastically change his point of view. Diving into “the lives of other” - their love, thoughts and daily routines - makes Wiesler aware of the poverty of his own existence and opens up a never-before-seen world. This movie is a drama with thriller qualities, which even received an Oscar as best foreign film - well deserved in my opinion. Click here to see the trailer on YouTube.

Die Welle Movie Poster | My Favorite German Movies

Die Welle (2008) English Title, The Wave
How was it possible that a whole country simply accept Nazi rule? Why did no one resist? One possible answer was an experiment conducted by the history teacher Ron Jones in 1967 in a school in Palo Alto, California. In order to demonstrate to his students the fascination of Fascism, the teacher creates a movement, whose principles are based on discipline, community, and action. Strict rules are introduced, such as a dress code for the "members" and group emblems surface all over the school, non-wave members are harassed and the whole experiment spirals out of control. This movie, based on a true story, is an exciting and serious movie about the creeping poison of extremism and intolerance. However, some scenes can be a bit graphic and violent for young viewers in your family. Click here to see the trailer on YouTube.

Fack Ju Göhte Movie Poster | My Favorite German Movies

Fack Ju Göhte (2013) English Title, Suck Me Shakespeer
The last movie on this list is a goofy comedy and was the most successful German movie of 2013. The movie starts out with Zeki Mueller (Elyas M'Barek), who, after his prison release, learns that his buried heist money on a school ground was covered up by a new high school gymnasium. His solution to get to the loot: get hired as an auxiliary teacher and drill a tunnel underneath the gymnasium. Easier said than done. The students use their cell phones in the classroom, chew gum, and lack any respect for the teacher. The movie is, of course, a bit predictable and not realistic (what teacher shoots his students with a paintball gun?), but also very amusing, universally comprehensible, colorful and yet distinctively German. Click here to see the trailer on YouTube.

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What to Consider When Renting a Car in Germany

What to Consider When Renting a Car in Germany

For exploring Germany, you have two options; public transport or renting a car. There is an abundance of different car options and rental stations, some in airports, next to train stations, and even downtown locations in large cities. No matter whether you want to rent a small car to navigate big city parking, a family car for a group of four, or a fast car to try on the Autobahn, Germany will have the car you are looking for. This article will help you navigate the process. Let’s start with some basics to help you plan.

Where to Book a Rental Car in Germany
You’re going to want to try to book online with one of these larger companies, since they have the most offices in Germany and also a large network of European offices. This will most likely get you faster service or car replacement in case there is something wrong during your rental. Booking with smaller companies like Thrifty or Dollar will make car replacements a bigger ordeal since these smaller companies only have a few offices in large cities or at large airports.

The largest car rental companies in Germany are:
• Avis (336 stations)
• Budget (300 stations)
• Enterprise (200 stations)
• Europcar (579 stations)
• Hertz (300 stations)
• Sixt (500 stations)

I would recommend making a spreadsheet so you can easily compare offers, and how much each company charges for fees, and more. If you’re still deciding whether a rental car is a good choice for your trip, you can keep train and subway ticket prices in the same spreadsheet to give you perspective before deciding.

Fees You’ll Want to Know About, and Avoid If Possible
• VAT | Value Added Tax of 19% is included in most rental quotes. This is a mandatory tax, much like the sales tax in the United States.
• Premium Station Fee | To keep fees low, try to avoid picking up your rental car from an airport or train station, as there is an additional Premium Station Fee (convenience fee) of 22-23%. This fee also applies to all extras you add to the car, like a GPS or car seats for children. The Premium Station Fee only applies for pick up. If you return the car at an airport or train station, there are no added fees. Try to avoid picking up your rental car up on a Sunday or holiday. Most non-premium rental offices are closed, leaving you with only an airport or train station pickup, guaranteeing the aforementioned additional Premium Station Fee.
• GPS Rental Fee | The cost for a GPS is usually between $5-$15 per day, which can add up if you have a car for more than a few days. If you decide to wing it without a GPS, download an offline map of the area you are traveling in via the Google Maps app on your smartphone or tablet. GPS navigation systems may only have enabled the map for the country you rent them in. If you are crossing borders, make sure to inquire about a GPS that has maps for ALL the countries you are traveling to.
• Automatic Transmission | Cars with an automatic transmission are rare and cost extra.
• One Way Rental | If you pick up your rental in Germany and return it in another country (or vice versa), there will be added charges, that can often be higher than the rental charge itself. Try to avoid crossing borders for the return of a rental car.
• Unlimited Mileage? | Depending on the provider, only a certain number of kilometers are included.
• Additional Driver | Extra drivers cost extra money, usually $5-$25 per day. Try to stick with one driver if you are trying to save money. You can ask if spouses are exempt from the additional charge.
• Punctuality is Paramount | Return the car on time, there usually is no grace period (see our article about German punctuality). Also, the billing for rental cars is per 24 hour period. Pick up the car at 1pm and return it a week later at 3pm, these two extra hours are going to cost you a full day rental fee.

Do You Need Rental Car Insurance in Germany?
No one wants to pay for it and we figure out we should have paid for it once it is too late. Boring subject, but here are some pointers regarding rental car insurance in Germany.

All German car rental companies are required to protect themselves and their customers for damage on any property and persons outside your vehicle. The portion that remains which you are responsible for is theft or damage to the rental car, which is collision (CDW) and theft insurance. This insurance ranges from $10-$40 per day and carries a high deductible of $1,000 or more. Want to avoid paying that? Here is how, and it will surprise you.

Many people do not realize that by booking a rental car with a credit card, that you may already have collision and theft insurance coverage. Most credit card agreements offer collision and theft insurance automatically with a low or zero deductible as a benefit to their customers. Before you book your rental, check out the rental car insurance coverages of the different credit cards you already have, and book the rental with the credit card that offers the best coverage. Ask your credit card provider about glass, undercarriage and interior coverage, which might not be covered.

This is also a good time to check if your credit card charges for foreign transaction fees. This can be a costly 3% premium on all purchases in Germany, so try to use a card that does not charge you foreign transaction fees. When you’ve chosen which credit card you want to use, ask for an emailed copy of the insurance certification, or log in to your account and look for it in the benefits section. Keep the document handy on your electronic device and/or printed when you approach the car rental counter, you might be asked for it.

At the rental counter, present the credit card of your choice and make sure to decline the collision/theft coverage offered by the car rental company. Don’t not sign any contract unless you are sure that you have declined their collision/theft coverage, otherwise your credit card provided coverage is invalidated! If you are unsure, you can add above your signature “I hereby decline optional CDW and theft insurance.”

And if you are looking to take a Porsche or high-end car onto the Autobahn, be advised that most high-end luxury cars need two credit cards presented and some contracts also require the purchase of an extra collision/theft insurance through the rental company only. Check your credit card provider for limits and, if you plan on renting a high end car, ask your credit card provider for extra coverage options.

Get Familiar With the Fine Print
You are entering a legal contract, so make sure you read all the fine print before clicking the Book Now button on the website. Yes, I know it is a lot of text, but you have to know the details to really have peace of mind. Invest the time now, which will hopefully mean no (costly) surprises later.

What to Bring or Ask When Picking Up a Rental Car in Germany
• Bring a copy of your car rental voucher (printed or electronic)
• Bring a copy of your car rental reservation confirmation (printed or electronic)
• Bring the credit card you booked the car with
• Decline the collision (CDW) and theft insurance (or write “I hereby decline optional CDW and theft insurance”).
• Ask for a contract copy in English, if the person at the counter does not automatically give you one.
• Check if the rental car uses regular gasoline or diesel fuel
• Record any scratches or imperfections on the car with the rental company in writing. Take detailed pictures or a video of the car at the pickup location.

Driving on the Autobahn
Germany is the only country in the world without a general speed limit on its highways, the legendary Autobahn.

Nevertheless, an advisory speed limit 130 km/h (81 mph) is agreed upon, unless otherwise posted. Driving on the Autobahn is serious business and requires your full attention at speeds well over 100 miles per hour. Abide by the general rule, that slower traffic stays to the right, the left lane is reserved for fast traffic. If you are going slow in the left lane, German drivers will flash their headlights, tailgate and honk at you… a lot.

In Case of a Car Accident in Germany
Call 112 from your cell phone, which has to be logged into a German mobile network (T-Mobile / Vodafone / EPlus / O2) in order to get an ambulance or police to record the accident or for first aid. If this is not an option, ask people around you to use their handy, which the Germans associate with a cell phone.

Do You Need an International Driving Permit in Germany?
Get an International Driving Permit (IDP) from AAA or National Auto Club (NAC), the two only licensed retail outlets for the IDP. It is not required for a car rental in Germany, but “technically” all German car rental companies “recommend” to carry an IDP, which is a translation of your regular driver’s license. Make sure to bring your driver's license along with the IDP, since the IDP only works in conjunction with your regular license.

Returning the Rental Car
• If you have to return your rental with a full gas tank (read the fine print of your contract), make sure to get gas as close to the drop-off station as possible and keep the receipt from the gas station as proof.
• Remove all personal items from the car.
• Take one final video or photos of the car in case there’s a dispute over scratches or the state the car is left in.
• Get final paperwork/breakdown of charges from the rental company.

We're working on a making this article a printable PDF checklist available for our email subscribers! Look for the announcement in the upcoming newsletters.

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The History of ALDI, the German Discount Store

The success story of ALDI started in the spring of 1913, when the baker Karl Albrecht, together with his wife Anna, opened “Albrecht” in Essen, Germany. At that time, self-service was still quite unusual and all customers were personally served by the store clerks. This is what the first storefront looked like:

The Mom and Pop Store 'Albrecht' in the German city of Essen in 1913 | Photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung.

After WWII, their sons Karl and Theo took over the store in 1945 and and expanded their family business into 100 branch stores by 1955 and over 300 by 1960. The ALDI brothers Karl and Theo are considered the inventors of the discount supermarket system in Germany and were among the richest people in the world, each valued at just under 20 billion dollars by Forbes magazine. However, both valued their privacy and declined most interviews, hence there are very few photos of the two brothers. Theo Albrecht died in 2010 due to a severe fall, and Karl passed away in 2014. Here is one of the few photos, from WirtschaftsWoche's archive:

A rare photo of Theo and Karl Albrecht from Wirtschafts Woche's archive

A Disagreement About Cigarettes
The growth of the Albrecht store empire went well until 1960, when the brothers divided the company into two geographical areas in Germany: ALDI North and ALDI South. Apparently they had a clash of opinions regarding the sale of cigarettes. The northern branches were taken over by Theo, who was the one that wanted to sell cigarettes and and the southern branches were managed by Karl Albrecht (ALDI South sells cigarettes only since 2003).

Map of Aldi North and Aldi South Territories

Times are Changing
Also in the early 1960’s, Germans started to discover supermarkets how we know them today, where you can walk in, grab what you need, pay and leave. The small service stores like the ones from the Albrecht brothers saw a decline in sales and the brothers decided in 1961 to open their own chain of supermarkets. They chose the name ALDI (ALbrecht DIscount) for their new supermarket-style stores. Their concept for their new stores was a bit different than the one of a traditional supermarket. The ALDI stores offered no duplicates of food, so for example there was only one type of orange instead of several kinds to choose from. The basic idea is to only have products in the assortment which have a high turnover rate, about 700 items per store.

ALDI is focused on staple food items and did not issue price tags on each item until the early 1990s. I still remember being at ALDI with my mother and the cashiers would manually enter each price for each item with the prices they had memorized. If they were not sure, they would ask the next cashier over, who would then yell back with the exact price. The ALDI brothers also negotiated products with well-known manufacturers, which were produced under a different name specially for ALDI. As a result, these products were not subject to price constraints and advertising costs, enabling ALDI stores to sell them favorably.

First aisle of an Aldi North in Dortmund, Germany | Photo by Kira Nerys

ALDI Today
To this day ALDI stores are rather simple when it comes to decoration and advertisements. Most items are sold directly out of the manufacturers shipping carton and all shelves carry the same orange price sticker. All employees are cross-trained to be at the cash register or re-stock items that are running low. This omission of “traditional” supermarket retail features brought the ALDI supermarkets great cost advantages over the years, at the same time enabling consumers great price advantages. Until the 1980s, ALDI had the image of a “poor people's” supermarket. Their products were regarded as qualitatively sufficient, but without prestige. Even today, poor populations are an important target group for ALDI, however many of the products marketed by ALDI have very good test results in German Consumer Reports magazines.

An important image change for ALDI came during the 1990’s, when they started their short-term weekly offers, usually as part of a theme week, for example handyman items with an assortment power drills, saws and work boots. During my high school years and the rise of personal computers, ALDI even offered the first "ALDI PC" around Christmas 1995, right when the internet started taking off and everybody got an AOL CD in the mail every other week. It was a well-equipped machine, that sold out in the first hours of the sale, based on its fair price and the fact that the German computer market was unsaturated with computers. This is a picture of the first PC’s being sold by ALDI, photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung:

ALDI PC being sold | Photo courtesy of Lebensmittel Zeitung.

2 Tips When Shopping at ALDI
Two things to keep in mind before you visit ALDI for your first time either in Germany or in the States: Customers are expected to bring their own bags from home to transport their groceries, otherwise they can purchase bags at the store for a small fee. That way ALDI cuts down on the use of plastic bags, which is good for the environment and good for their expenses.

Secondly, expect to pay a deposit if you want to use a shopping cart. Another way ALDI saves, is that customers pay a 1 Euro deposit to use a shopping cart at ALDI. "The shopping cart rental system is one of many ALDI efficiencies that enable us to keep our prices so low," the company informs on its website. "By not having to hire someone to police the shopping carts, we are able to pass the savings onto our customers." In the USA the deposit is typically a quarter.

You can see their current sales ad here.

Have you been to an ALDI store already? What do you think about them? Let us know in the comments.

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler