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Overnight Accommodations

This page describes the different types of overnight lodging possibilities available to the bicycle tourist in Germany.

Want to find a hotel or a room as you ride the bicycle tours in Germany? You have many options including Privat Zimmer (rooms in private homes), Gasthäuser (Guest Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen (Youth Hostels), and Hotels. A partial list of some of the possibilities can be found on the page Hotels in Germany in this website. What do the terms "Ruhetag," "Du/WC" and "Ferienwohnungen" mean anyway? Should you reserve a room in advance? Click the links to find the answers. I also leave you with some thoughts on the cost of a room and the very large system of bicycle friendly establishments that take part in Bett and Bike program by ADFC (German Bicycle Club)

Zimmer Frei signZimmer Frei signZimmer Frei signZimmer Frei signZimmer Frei signZimmer Frei signZimmer Frei signAnother Zimmer Advertising

Rooms to rent in home are advertised with a sign that says something like "Zimmer Frei" or "Gästezimmer. The signs are sometimes hard to see so look closely. Even Pensionen (pensions) and hotels frequently put out "Zimmer Frei" signs.

Information signIn some communities one can find an information sign with a map and a list of possibilities. If there is one, it may be on the bicycle path as you enter the community. These lists are not complete because a listing on that sign probably costs a fee. But stopping at the sign, you can get an idea of the lay of the land and where the sources of night noise might be. There will also be telephone numbers and addresses of each listing so you can call. We have found that not all telephone numbers work. Sometimes, there is no answer (the owners may be on vacation, closed for Ruhetag, or perhaps just temporarily away from the phone). If there is a cell phone (Handy in German), that might be the best number to call - if the cell phone is even turned on.

Another option is to access the town’s website on the Internet and check the list of overnight accommodations. Although in German, these websites are fairly easy to understand with a little study. The syntax for the address block on your browser is ‘http://www.nameoftown.de.’ Once you find the town's homepage, look for the word Unterkünfte or something like "Hotels, Pensionen und Gasthäuser." Also, check your favorite search engine for "Germany, nameoftown, hotels" or "Germany Bed and Breakfasts." There are several great sites today and more every year. We normally use either the list found in the back of the guidebooks or wait until we get to our destination that day and use the information facilities.

Ruhetag: It is common for some businesses, even Privat Zimmer, to be closed one day a week. As the bible says, and on the seventh day, He rested. Well there is some controversy about what day is the seventh and some folks think it could be any day of the week that they want to be closed. There is usually a sign saying that "Heute ist Ruhetag" or simply, "Ruhetag."

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Zimmer: Personally, our first choice is a room in a private home, called Zimmer or Privat Zimmer. Two or three decades ago, most of the Zimmer were simply the rooms vacated by grown children and the traveler would share the bathroom with the family as had the children when they lived there. Today, however, many have their own aftermarket bathroom built into the bedroom.

Du/WC: If you want your own bathroom, look for the abbreviation ‘Du/WC.’

The word in German is both singular and plural; so ein Zimmer, zwei Zimmer. When you see a Zimmer sign, it means that they have at least one room for rent to travelers.

Not only are these Zimmer inexpensive but with just a little effort, you will be able to engage the owners in conversation. The right questions will direct you to a good restaurant, give you a little history of the village, help you find the best bicycle paths, direct you to the post office, etc., etc. In our experience, these accommodations are 98% clean and comfortable. However if you are unsure, just ask to see the room before you decide. If it is too dusty, there is probably a cleaner one down the path.

We have had exceptional luck with those Zimmer that are uphill from where we would otherwise stay.; if only because of the view. We have had bad luck with accommodations anywhere near railroad tracks. Freight trains are the worst and they can run at night. Busy roads can cause you to sleep lightly too.

What do the abbreviations Du/WC mean? Du. stands for Dusche, (shower). WC is a Wassercloset (water closet or toilet). Really – this is not a joke.

Pension: Buildings with as few as four rooms may be advertised as a Pension but typically Pensionen will have many more rooms. They offer minimal service and are sometimes called Hotel Garni. More often than not, there will be a breakfast room and the cost of breakfast is usually, but not always, included with the room rent these days. One should inquire. By minimum service, I mean you get a clean room, clean linen, two towels each, but no wash cloth or soap. The soap comment is tongue-in-cheek but half the time you will need your own supply anyway. The soap offered is sometimes too small to see and almost always too small to use.

Youth Hostels or Jugendherbergen: Many medium sized or larger communities have Youth Hostels. These are fun places to stay and your experience will differ each time. As the name suggests, these establishments were originally places for backpacking youths to overnight. Today in all German states except Bavaria, they accept people of all ages. Some have even remodeled to accommodate the wishes of aging baby-boomers by adding bathrooms in the private rooms. It is still likely that you will either have to rent or purchase your own bed linen but the fee is minimal.

If you plan to use hostels a lot, travel writer Rick Steves offers paper or cloth linen to take with you. Also consider the purchase of a lifetime membership card if you plan to stay at more than two Jugendherbergen. If you are over 26 years of age, membership cost €20 each. And, from the following website I learned something new: “Even if you don’t have a Hostelling International membership card, you can stay in German Youth Hostels by paying a small extra charge of €3.50 per night for a so-called "Welcome Stamp." Once you have collected six Welcome Stamps you will receive a full membership card valid for 12 months. This information is attributed to: www.jugendherberge.de.

Bavaria is different as any non-Bavarian German citizen knows. Only in the state of Bavaria are people older than 26 prohibited from using the hostels. I do not know why. I do not care why; if they do not want me, I do not want to stay there either. As Groucho Marx said, "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would admit me."

Hotels: Hotels range in price from five-star to one-star. The one-star hotels are competitive in price to Privat Zimmer. In a five-star hotel you get slippers, a robe and a bidet. In a one-star you get the same minimal service as a Pension (no bidet and maybe no soap).

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Gästehaus: If you are like me, you are confused between the term Gasthaus, Gasthof, and Gästehaus. All three are singular nouns but the first is usually just a restaurant while the other two might be small hotels or a Pension. Unfortunately, some Gasthaus owners became successful enough to afford a house apart from the building their Gasthaus is in so when they moved out from above the restaurant, they discovered they could rent the rooms of their former home and now they have a Gasthaus that rents rooms just like a Gästehaus. What to do? Change the name of their long established restaurant? or just put out a Zimmer Frei sign and continue calling it a Gasthaus? There should be some standardization but there is none.

Ferienwohnungen: There are also Ferienwohnungen (vacation apartments abbreviated as FeWo). They are frequently suites of rooms including a kitchen, living room, bath, and at least one bedroom. One usually rents a FeWo for several days or weeks at a time, seldom for only one day. Sometimes a sign will say something like FeWo / Zimmer Frei which may mean that both are available or simply that they have a suite and it can be rented for one night or several nights. The one night rate will be slightly more expensive - laundry and cleanup is more labor intensive.

However, if there are no Zimmer available, do not be shy about asking if a FeWo can be rented for just one night. If the stars are aligned, there is no reservation, the owners do not mind the extra work, and they want the extra income that one night will bring, then you are in luck. It may help to conjure up a tear in your eye as you explain that you are tired, hungry and all the other Zimmer are Besetzt (booked).

Room reservations: To reserve or not to reserve, that is the question. The answer is: It depends. The best place to start your search is in the guidebook if you are using one.

Info signThe second best place is the travel office at the train station in larger towns. In smaller towns, you may find information about accommodations at the Information kiosks or tourist information offices. These are located either in or near the train station or near the center of the town. Frequently one will find a sign with a blue, lower case, italicized “i.” There you will get a nearly complete list of all the options with details on costs, bathing facilities, beds, etc.

It is probably a good idea to make a reservation for the first night in Germany or the first night of a multi-day tour. When you arrive in country, you will probably be experiencing some level of jet lag. That is the feeling you get when you are dead tired and ready for bed but someone wants to serve you breakfast because the sun just came up. It may also be a good plan to reserve a room for the last night before your plane leaves Germany too.

Those of you who bring your own bike will probably want the first and last night to be at the same hotel because you may be able to arrange to deposit the packing material for your bicycle with the hotel while you are on your tour.

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We don’t normally make reservations for ourselves during a tour. However, we make exceptions when there are few choices of accommodations or if everything seems to be already booked. On holidays, a lot of Germans are underway and your choices may be more limited. See Calendar of Holidays and school breaks. Normally, we want to have the freedom of spending as much time as we want sightseeing along the way. Some days we might feel like putting in 20 miles, others 50. It depends on the weather, the sightseeing opportunities, the condition of the path, and the number of hills we have to climb. It even might depend on how much we ate for lunch.

The other consideration in making advance reservations is that one cannot see the accommodation. We have stayed in a couple places that we would rather not stay in again. The circumstances around those incidents vary but nowadays, we prefer to inspect the room before we agree to rent it.

Underway, we like to start looking for a room around 4:00 PM and certainly not later than 6:00 PM. If the available rooms are going to be absorbed, everyone will be settled by 6:00 PM. Now that we can travel with a cell phone (ein Handy), we sometimes call ahead around 4:30 PM or so just to make sure we have something when we get there. Then, with a known destination, we can linger over our afternoon break or last sightseeing stop.

More information on reservations has been suggested by one of our frequent readers, Norm Ford. He suggests making advance reservations and that is the way to go. His recommendation is to use Reisen mit Preisen, which can be reached by clicking the link. According to Norm, they cover 90% of the accommodations in Germany and do not charge for their service. I have not tried Reisen mit Preisen so I ca not say - but Norm is quite experienced as you can see from his website: http://home.ktc.com/blodwen.

Cost: The price for all accommodations varies with the region. The more touristy, the higher the competition and the lower the price per room. The more business travel oriented, the higher the price. There are exceptions for example, some Accor hotels and Hotel Ibis (owned by Accor I think) are quite affordable. While cheap and cheerful, breakfast is not usually included and could come from a vending machine or have similar quality. For credit card carrying Americans who want to continually insolate themselves from the culture, there are Best Western, Hyatt, and Holiday Inns to choose from.

We sometimes treat ourselves to a hotel overnight, especially if we have been cold and/or wet during the day.

Bett and Bike: Normally shown as "Bett + Bike" is a program through the ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad Club) that accredits certain establishments that have a set of skills, knowledge, and tools to accommodate bicycle riders. The quality of the accommodations is kept high and we always enjoy using these establishments. We have found that cost of these establishments varies but is normally slightly higher than any Zimmer or Pensionen nearby. This is a case of getting what you pay for, especially if you can use the skills, knowledge or tools they must have by contract with the ADFC. Note that on the ADFC website, if you leave the language in its origial German, they a small map in the right margin which you can click to enlarge a view of the entire country showing the establishments that sport the "Bett + Bike" logo.

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