10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

From making sure you know about your German hotel's 'rest day' to knowing the rules of the Radweg, here are US resident Phil Schaaf's tips for a cycling vacation in Germany.

Two cyclists in Bärnau, Bavaria.
Two cyclists enjoy a ride in Bärnau, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Oberpfälzer Wald | Thomas Kujat

When Santa Fe native and author Phil Shaaf set out on a cycling trip in western Germany, he praised the stunning sights and welcoming locals (including a football team).

Here are his recommendations for exploring Germany by bike. 

1. Train…for however long you plan to ride each day, prepare for it. Your legs and lungs need to be in shape, but so does your backside, i.e. your rump needs to to adjust to the amount of riding you plan to do, even if you are on an e-Bike. It’s all about saddle time.

2. Confirm your reservations before you arrive. Also, be sure to ask about the hotel’s ‘Ruhetag,’ or rest day, as the hotel will be closed that day. If you arrive on a Ruhetag, they will put your room key in a lock box and notify you via email or text of the code to access the box. 

On a related point, Hotels are not the only establishments that might have a Ruhetag. Many restaurants, especially in small towns, will close on certain days, usually Monday or Tuesday, so don’t be surprised if you reach a town and can’t find a place serving lunch. A good practice is to carry sufficient water and a pretzel or candy bar on every ride.

READ ALSO: Riding the Radweg: A guide to touring Germany by bike

A hotel in Hamburg.

A hotel in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ulrich Perrey

3. Ask your hotel in advance about bike storage. Most places have a good spot to put bikes, but it makes sense to be certain at the time you reserve a room. You might end up storing your bike in a courtyard or hallway, but whatever the hotel recommends should be safe and secure.

4. Have a GPS programme for your route. The signage is generally good, but have a backup directional system in place on your phone and/or watch. Finally, don’t wait until you get to Germany to test out your technology. It’s best to know how everything works before you arrive. 

5. Familiarise yourself with the signs used along the “Radweg” (bike path). Oftentimes, people on bikes share the path with those on foot, but there can also be separate trails for cyclists and pedestrians. Germans follow the rules, so you should do the same while riding there.

6. If you think you hear the ring of a bell, you are not imagining it. Someone is alerting you that they intend to pass on the left. The locals won’t overdo it, so it is usually one small ring.

READ ALSO: 13 ways to have fun in Berlin for free

7. Make sure to stop, take pictures and enjoy the scenery, but don’t park your bike on the Radweg, set it aside the path and take all the time you want.

A cyclist in Hamburg.

A cyclist by the water in Hamburg. Make sure to enjoy the sights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

8. “Radler” literally translates to “cyclist,” but it’s also a mixture of beer and lemon-lime soda. Very refreshing, Radlers are an enjoyable beverage on a break or at the end of the day. 

9. Most Germans speak English. It does help, however, to know a few words in order to read signs, interpret menus and to connect with the people you meet on your trip. At a minimum, have a translation app handy for those moments when you could use a turn of local phrase.

A bottle of Radler.

Make time to enjoy a Radler (either with or without alcohol). Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Gregor Tholl

10. Covid: hotels and many eating establishments require a vaccination card, have mask protocols and will ask you to comply with contact-tracing efforts via a QR code or filling out a form with pen and paper upon entry. The best practice, therefore, is to carry your vaccination card with you at all times and to comply with the local rules.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

Member comments

  1. Good tips, i’m sure on the “most Germans speak english” comment though. After 3 years i would say for sure ‘most’ don’t.

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Why more German cities could start charging ‘tourist tax’

German cities and districts are allowed to charge guests an 'overnight tax', according to a ruling by the country's highest court.

Why more German cities could start charging 'tourist tax'

The local taxes – called Bettensteuern or bed taxes – are compatible with the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), the Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday. 

It came following complaints about collecting the tax by a handful of hotel owners in Hamburg, Bremen, and Freiburg.

They complained to the highest court in Germany – the Federal Constitutional Court – that their basic rights were violated because they had to collect the tax from their own guests on behalf of the city or district authorities. And, because the tax can only be collected from leisure travellers – and not those on business trips – the hotel operators said this involved too much admin work. 

READ ALSO: German hotels can advertise cheaper prices than, court rules

However, the court rejected the complaints. They said the hotels were not disproportionately burdened by the requirement, and that it is a reasonable obligation. 

Taxes on guests staying in overnight accommodation are also levied in around 30 other cities or districts across Germany, including Dortmund, Dresden, and Bonn.

Berlin, for instance, brought in ‘hotel occupancy tax’ in 2014. The name of the tax changes depending on the city. Cultural and tourism tax, as well as lodging, overnight, or city tax are common. 

What exactly is the tax?

The ‘bed tax’ has been in place in Germany since 2005.

It’s nicknamed that because visitors usually have to pay a certain percentage of the overnight price of accommodation per guest per night. This is normally around five percent, and it’s added automatically onto the bill. 

However, in some places a fixed amount has to be paid, like €3 per guest per night. But it can vary – in Hamburg, for example, the amount is staggered according to the price of the overnight stay. Simply, guests staying in more expensive accommodation pay more tax.

READ ALSO: How to save money on your taxes in Germany

Why was it brought in?

Hotels in Germany were relieved of paying some value added tax (VAT) several years ago. At the beginning of 2010, the tax rate dropped from 19 to 7 percent on hotels and overnight stays. So cash-strapped municipalities reacted by bringing in the overnight or ‘bed taxes’ taxes.

Due to a ruling from the Federal Administrative Court in 2012, “professionally compulsory” overnight stays are exempt from the tax everywhere. It meant that the rule only affected tourists. 

What else did the ruling say?

The constitutional court judges said it is not practical for the states to collect the money directly from guests, so it should fall on the hotel operators to do it on their behalf.

They acknowledged that it means additional work for businesses, but said these are tasks which are part of being an entrepreneur – like having registration forms filled out or paying VAT.

What does this all mean?

It could mean that cities and districts that do not yet charge an overnight tax could think about introducing it now. 

It’s also interesting that the judges did not say anything about a distinction being made between business and private travellers. It could mean that all guests will have to pay the charge in the future – not just those travelling for leisure.

People travelling on business trips in Germany can claim the tax back if they are charged it.