The standards of German hotels, down to the humblest inn, are very high. You can nearly always expect courteous and polite service and clean and comfortable rooms. In addition to hotels proper, the country has numerous Gasthöfe or Gasthäuser (country inns that serve food and also have rooms). At the lowest end of the scale are Fremdenzimmer, meaning simply "rooms," normally in private houses. Look for the sign reading "Zimmer frei" (room available) or "zu vermieten" (to rent) on a green background; a red sign reading "besetzt" means there are no vacancies.
If you are looking for a very down-to-earth experience, try an Urlaub auf dem Bauernhof, a farm that has rooms for travelers. This can be especially exciting for children. You can also opt to stay at a winery's Winzerhof.
Room rates are by no means inflexible and depend very much on supply and demand. You can save money by inquiring about deals: many resort hotels offer substantial discounts in winter, for example. Likewise, many $$$$ and $$$ hotels in cities cut their prices dramatically on weekends and when business is quiet. Major events like Munich's Oktoberfest and the Frankfurt Book Fair will drive prices through the roof.
Tourist offices will make bookings for a nominal fee, but they may have difficulty doing so after 4 pm in high season and on weekends, so don't wait until too late in the day to begin looking for your accommodations. If you do get stuck, ask someone—like a mail carrier, police officer, or waiter, for example—for directions to a house renting a Fremdenzimmer or to a Gasthof.
Most hotels and other lodgings require you to give your credit-card details before they will confirm your reservation. If you don't feel comfortable emailing this information, ask if you can fax it (some places even prefer faxes). However you book, get confirmation in writing and have a copy of it handy when you check in.
Be sure you understand the hotel's cancellation policy. Some places allow you to cancel without any kind of penalty—even if you prepaid to secure a discounted rate—if you cancel at least 24 hours in advance. Others require you to cancel a week in advance or penalize you the cost of one night. Small inns and B&Bs are most likely to require you to cancel far in advance. Most hotels allow children under a certain age to stay in their parents' room at no extra charge, but others charge for them as extra adults; find out the cutoff age for discounts.
Apartment and House Rentals
If you are staying in one region, renting an apartment is an affordable alternative to a hotel or B&B. Ferienwohnungen, or vacation apartments, are especially popular in more rural areas. They range from simple rooms with just the basics to luxury apartments with all the trimmings. Some even include breakfast. It may seem low tech, but the best way to find an apartment is through the local tourist office or the website of the town or village where you would like to stay. Be aware, though, that in some cities like Berlin there are draconian rules limiting vacation apartments (which are seen as accelerating gentrification).
At Home Abroad. 212/421–9165; www.athomeabroadinc.com.
Barclay International Group. 516/364–0064; 800/845–6636; www.barclayweb.com.
Home Away. 512/493–0382; www.homeaway.com.
Interhome. 954/791–8282; 800/882–6864; www.interhomeusa.com.
Suzanne B. Cohen & Associates. 207/200–2255; www.villaeurope.com.
Vacation Home Rentals Worldwide. 201/767–9393; 800/633–3284; www.vhrww.com.
Villanet. 206/417–3444; 800/964–1891; www.vhrww.com.
Villas & Apartments Abroad. 212/213–6435; 800/433–3020; www.vaanyc.com.
Villas International. 415/499–9490; 800/221–2260; www.villasintl.com.
Villas of Distinction. 707/778–1800; 800/289–0900; www.villasofdistinction.com.
Wimco. 800/449–1553; www.wimco.com.
B&Bs remain one of the most popular options for traveling in Germany. They are often inexpensive, although the price depends on the amenities. For breakfast, expect some muesli, cheese, cold cuts, jam, butter, and hard-boiled eggs at the very least. Some B&Bs also supply lunch baskets if you intend to go hiking, or arrange an evening meal for a very affordable price.
Bed & Breakfast.com. 512/322–2710; 800/462–2632; www.bedandbreakfast.com.
Bed & Breakfast Inns Online. 615/868–1946; 800/215–7365; www.bbonline.com.
BnB Finder.com. 212/432–7693; 888/469–6663; www.bnbfinder.com.
Staying in a historic castle, or Schloss, is a great experience. The simpler ones may lack character, but most combine four-star luxury with antique furnishings, four-poster beds, and a baronial atmosphere. Some offer all the facilities of a resort. Euro-Connection can advise you on castle-hotel packages, including four- to six-night tours.
Euro-Connection. 800/645–3876; www.euro-connection.com.
Almost every regional tourist office has a brochure listing farms that offer bed-and-breakfasts, apartments, and entire farmhouses to rent (Ferienhöfe). The German Agricultural Association provides an illustrated brochure, Urlaub auf dem Bauernhof (Vacation Down on the Farm), that covers more than 2,000 inspected and graded farms, from the Alps to the North Sea. It costs €9.90 and is also sold in bookstores.
German Agricultural Association
DLG Reisedienst, Agratour. 069/247–880; www.landtourismus.de.
With a direct home exchange you stay in someone else's home while they stay in yours. Some outfits also deal with vacation homes, so you're not actually staying in someone's full-time residence, just their vacant weekend place.
Home Exchange.com. $150 for a one-year online listing. 800/877–8723; www.homeexchange.com.
HomeLink International. €120 yearly for Web membership. 800/638–3841; www.homelink.org.
Intervac U.S.. $99 for annual membership. 800/756–4663; us.intervac-homeexchange.com.
Germany's more than 600 Jugendherbergen (youth hostels) are among the most efficient and up-to-date in Europe. The DJH Service GmbH provides a complete list of hostels it represents, but remember that there are also scores of independent hostels. Hostels must be reserved well in advance for midsummer, especially in eastern Germany. Note that weekends and holidays can mean full houses and noisy nights. Either bring earplugs or choose more expensive, but quieter, accommodations.
Many hostels are affiliated with Hostelling International (HI), an umbrella group of hostel associations with some 4,500 member properties in more than 70 countries. Membership in any HI association, open to travelers of all ages, allows you to stay in HI-affiliated hostels at member rates. One-year membership is about $28 for adults; hostels charge about $10–$30 per night. Members have priority if the hostel is full; they're also eligible for discounts around the world, even on rail and bus travel in some countries.
DJH Service GmbH. 05231/99360; www.jugendherberge.de.
Hostelling International—USA. 301/495–1240; www.hiusa.org.
Most hotels in Germany do not have air-conditioning, nor do they need it, given the climate and the German style of building construction that uses thick walls and recessed windows to help keep the heat out. Smaller hotels do not provide much in terms of bathroom amenities. Except in four- and five-star hotels, you won't find a washcloth. Hotels often have nonsmoking rooms or even nonsmoking floors, so it's always worth asking for one when you reserve. Beds in double rooms often consist of two twin mattresses placed side by side within a frame. When you arrive, if you don't like the room you're offered, ask to see another.
Among the most delightful places to stay—and eat—in Germany are the aptly named Romantik Hotels and Restaurants. The Romantik group has over 100 members in Germany. All are in atmospheric and historic buildings—a condition for membership—and are run by the owners with the emphasis on excellent amenities and service. Prices vary considerably, but in general they are a good value.
Romantik Hotels and Restaurants. 800/650–8018; 817/678–0038; 069/661–2340; www.romantikhotels.com.
Taking the waters in Germany, whether for curing the body or merely pampering, has been popular since Roman times. More than 300 health resorts, mostly equipped for thermal or mineral-water, mud, or brine treatments, are set within pleasant country areas or historic communities. The word Bad before or within the name of a town means it's a spa destination, where many patients reside in health clinics for two to three weeks of doctor-prescribed treatments.
Saunas, steam baths, and other hot-room facilities are often used "without textiles" in Germany—in other words, nude. Wearing a bathing suit is sometimes even prohibited in saunas, but sitting on a towel is always required. (You may need to bring your own towels.) The Deutsche Heilbäderverband has information, but it is in German only.
Deutsche Heilbäderverband. 0228/201–200; www.deutscher-heilbaederverband.de.