Planning a photo trip to Germany? After three years of living in Germany and visiting countless cities in the country, I have a handful of tips for you. No, they are not about the best shooting locations and what photographic gear to pack. They are more of a practical nature.
#1 SIM cards
If you expect to get a local SIM card when you arrive in Germany, you might want to reconsider. Buying a SIM card or a mobile plan in Germany is not particularly straightforward. And even if you have time and energy (and the necessary papers) to go through the process, you’ll most likely end up paying through the nose.
#2 Public transport
Most German cities have excellent public transportation. On a short trip, it’s worth buying a one-day or three-day ticket that gives you access to all public means of transportation: buses, trams, and metro (U-Bahn). Use the latter only if you want to save time. Otherwise, use buses and trams to see the city. Usually, when the time allows, I do a bus/tram/U-Bahn roulette: I jump on a random bus or tram and get off when I see an interesting area worth exploring.
#3 Transport cards around the country
If you plan to travel around Germany, the train is your best option. Trains in Germany are great — both high-speed ICE trains and regional ones. For those staying in Germany for more than a year and planning to travel often, consider buying a BahnCard 25 or BahnCard 50. These cards give you a 25% and 50% discount on train tickets respectively. ICE train tickets tend to be rather expensive, and you can save quite a bit by opting for a BahnCard. Keep in mind, though, that unless you cancel the card three months prior to the expiration date, it will be automatically renewed for another 12 months.
#4 Transport cards in the city
Different states in Germany offer train ticket options worth investigating. In Bavaria, for example, you can buy a so-called Bayern-Ticket. For €25 (or €31 for two persons), you can travel freely within Bavaria for 24 hours. This ticket is not valid for ICE trains, though.
If you get peckish or downright hungry when you are out taking photos, a bakery is the best place to get food. Most bakeries in Germany serve not only cakes and pastries, but also salads, sandwiches, and even complete breakfasts. Speaking of which, breakfasts in German hotels are usually very good, but they tend to be rather pricey. So before you book a hotel with breakfast, check whether there is a bakery nearby. There, you can get a solid breakfast for less.
Keep in mind that pretty much everything is closed in Germany on Sundays, with the exception of bakeries, restaurants, and stores at train stations. So if you need to buy a spare battery, a storage card, or anything else, it’s better to do it before Sunday.
#7 Taking photos in public
When it comes to photographing, you should know that privacy is a big thing in Germany, and a person with a camera often attracts attention. If you see a Privat Grundstück (Private property) sign (and you’ll see them practically everywhere), and you choose to wield your camera, prepare to be confronted either by a concerned citizen or questioned by a curious by-passer. Speaking English in these situations in the best course of action for two reasons: it throws the person confronting you off their game, and it immediately signals that you are a (possibly clueless) foreigner. In many situations, having a small discrete camera like Sony RX100-series can help you avoid attention and undesired interactions.
#8 When asked to stop taking photos – don’t argue
Security staff in buildings and everywhere else usually don’t mess around. Be prepared to be asked not to take photos and leave the area altogether. In my experience, security people in Germany are mostly polite but firm. Shooting indoors is not a good idea, unless you ask for permission first.
#9 Have your passport on you
In Germany, you are required by law to have a picture ID on you at all times. For most non-German residents and tourists (photographers included) this means having your passport on you. At train stations and airports, the police have the right to ask you for your ID and search your bags without giving you a reason. To be fair, this never happened to me, but the law is the law.
#10 Prepare to be stared at
Finally, not exactly a useful tip, but something worth mentioning anyway: the German stare. Yes, there is such a thing. The Germans do stare, if they, for whatever reason, find you stare-worthy. It may be your camera, your appearance, your language, or something else. In any case, don’t freak out if you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of a prolonged stare. Take it as a compliment that the owner of the unwavering gaze finds you interesting.
About the Author
Dmitri Popov is an amateur photographer and an all-around tech guy from Fürth, Germany. You can see more of his photography, as well as his apps, books and musing over at Tokyo Made. This article was also published here and shared with permission.
[Photo by Camilla Bundgaard on Unsplash]