Concluding our series on how other nationalities conduct their holidays, our expat expert assesses the Germans. Previous articles have looked at French, American, Japanese and Italian travellers.
Where they go
Everywhere. According to a pre-Covid report by the country’s largest travel association, the Deutscher ReiseVerband, Germans are the “world’s travel champions” – they spend more per capita on foreign travel than any other nation, collectively taking more than 70 million holidays, and travel far and wide in search of sun, high culture and hiking opportunities. They also enjoy camping and cruises, and go for cultural city breaks as much as activity holidays.
In short, you can’t escape them. Any lover of the Mediterranean already knows this thanks to the infamous German holiday habit of getting to the beach early and claiming all the best sun loungers by indiscreetly placing their beach towels on them (see below) – usually leaving waves of furious (and often hungover and late) Brits in their wake.
So where do they like to go? Well the last couple of years, with Covid prompting more domestic travel, the beach towns, fishing villages and islands dotted along Germany’s North and Baltic coasts have come into their own. But traditionally, the most popular summer destinations for Germans are Turkey (Istanbul, Side, Antalya), Greece (Crete, Rhodes, Kos), the southern coasts of France and Italy, and Croatia – but especially Spain. In particular they love the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca (Malaga, Marbella and Alicante), and the Balearic and Canary Islands, where the German love of hiking can often also be indulged.
That’s right, Germans love getting up a mountain and also deep into a forest. There are plenty of options for those activities closer to home, most notably in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Austria, though you’ll find plenty of Germans hiking, cycling, climbing – and being culture vultures – all over the globe from New Zealand and North and South America to the Middle East and Africa.
As Nigel Richardson, a regular contributor to Telegraph Travel, observed: “Whenever you think you’ve reached somewhere few people have been, and are feeling smug about it, a campervan will appear and eight Germans will spill out, looking as if they’ve been to a million such places.”
How they behave
Clearly the German lounging on the Costas is going to cut a very different figure to the one marvelling at the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna, but as someone who for years ran a B&B in Cornwall, Gill Charlton, Telegraph Travel’s consumer champion, has had the chance to observe the German holidaymaker at close quarters.
“They speak good English, never complain about the weather, take their shoes off to go upstairs, and have a holiday action plan that usually involves a lot of walking and drinking British beer (always in moderation),” she says. “Apart from the odd moan if there’s no ham and cheese on the breakfast table, they are ‘model guests’, though they can lack a certain levity and sense of humour.”
Punctuality, bluntness, and an almost religious adherence on rules and regulations are all standard German behavioral clichés of course, both at home and abroad. They’re indicative of the seriousness with which Germans tend to approach everything, and their risk-averse nature also makes them lean towards pre-booked package holidays and all-inclusive trips – even younger Germans (between 14 and 29) enjoying organized travelling, according to recent polls.
Andrew Eames, the man behind the website germanyiswunderbar.com, agreed. “They take their holidays very seriously. In fact, they take them so seriously it is hard to tell if they are actually having fun,” he said. “And they like the detail. If an itinerary says the transfer from the airport includes cold towels, soft drinks and snacks, then they will insist on cold towels, soft drinks and snacks… even if it means not noticing what’s out of the window.”
What they wear
If the mood takes them, nothing at all. A 2014 poll suggested that Germans are the most likely to go naked on the beach, with 28 per cent admitting stripping down to their birthday suit, compared with just 12 per cent of Britons (the Japanese came bottom, as it were, with just two per cent).
Back in the textile world, items popular with German travellers tend towards the practical, including stout Birkenstock sandals (particularly more stylish modern forms), zip-off trousers and Jack Wolfskin jackets (practical, but with a bit of panache). You can still spot the odd sock-and-sandal wearer on the beaches, though any Berliner under 25 will be pretty much dressed entirely in black.
Older Germans embarking on cruises dress rather more smartly. On board the MS Deutschland, travel writer Peter Hughes observed: “The Germans all wore clothes suited to an activity far smarter than the one in which they were engaged. Men wore ties on the promenade deck.”
What of the towels on the sun loungers?
The so-called ‘sunbed wars’ between Germans and British holidaymakers made the international press in the noughties. Despite all the war-era references, it was mostly tongue-in-cheek on both sides, though even Germans themselves acknowledge it happens. Back in 2005, Ralf Höcker, a German solicitor, admitted that “the stereotype is true – German
people do reserve all the loungers.”
“There is a certain type of German tourist who does it,” he added. “The same type who when they are on the beach build a little wall… to protect their spot.”
He also confirmed the cunning deployment of towels is not backed up by law. “British tourists would be quite within their legal rights to ignore the reservation implied by the towels if there is nobody there,” he said.
Dining and drinking habits
At the risk of dredging up another well-worn cliché, Germans have hearty appetites and like to eat punctually: 12.30pm for lunch, 7pm for dinner. Indeed, the breakfast buffet is often the most important criteria for many German travellers. And drinking? Yes, Germans like their beer, and wine, and Sekt (fizz) and Schnapps, but while you will inevitably find some drunken ones around, they tend to drink sensibly and sociably.
How to get along with them
Like a lot of northern European cultures, Germans don’t tend to go around smiling and nodding to everyone for the sake of being friendly. This doesn’t necessarily indicate any kind of rudeness however; once you start chatting, they can be very forthcoming and warm, and usually very sincere – if, yes, occasionally blunt. Indeed, in many ways the British and the Germans are actually very similar, and you’ll probably find it’s not that difficult to strike up a conversation once you’ve broken the ice – particularly as so many speak such good English.