Going Online in Germany and Europe
An Internet Access Guide for Expats and Tourists
Below you’ll find helpful information for both residents and travelers in German-speaking Europe. We’ll discuss a wide range of options: Wi-Fi hotspots, DSL and cable internet, cyber cafés and computer tips, MiFi, and bundled packages for internet, telephone and TV.
Cybercafés • Internet Cafés
Austria, Germany, and Switzerland all have many Internet cafes in cities and towns across the land. With the widespread availability of Wi-Fi in traditional cafes and restaurants, the distinction between an Internet and a regular cafe is blurring, but an Internet cafe offers computer terminals, while most traditional cafes offer only wireless Internet access for your own laptop or smartphone.
Web cafe access rates can vary considerably, but range from free (for paying customers) to as little as 50 eurocents per half hour to three euros per hour, depending on the location and the services offered. In large cities, there is an Internet cafe on almost every corner in high-traffic areas. Many serve food and drink, while others are just a room full of computers with a snack or beverage vending machine.
When you’re not using your own computer in German-speaking Europe, you’ll encounter the German QWERTZ keyboard that has some familiar keys in unfamiliar locations. As the QWERTZ term implies, the German keyboard (Tastatur) has the Z where the English keyboard has the Y. That’s only the beginning of the confusion. Unlike an American or UK keyboard, the German key layout includes special keys for the umlauted characters (ä, ö, ü) and the ß (sharp s). That means certain important keys, such as the @-key, are missing completely. To type @ on a German computer you have to learn to use a special key combination. Some German internet cafés post small helpful signs on or near the computers telling foreigners how to type @.
With the advent of smartphones, the iPad, the iPhone and the “cybercafe,” it is now possible to stay online while traveling without a computer. Business people and others have bought into the universal access offered by having a web-based email account with Gmail (googlemail.com in Germany), Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or some other free Web email service. Many firms also provide web-based email for their employees. They can go into a web cafe (or use a friend’s computer) to access their email and surf the web at a Wi-Fi hotspot. Of course, a web cafe doesn’t offer this service for free, but the cost is usually very reasonable.
Wi-Fi and High-Speed Access in Germany – Hotels
Wi-Fi (called W-LAN in German, pron. VAY-lahn) internet access in Germany and Europe is increasingly widespread. Most German business hotels offer Ethernet or Wi-Fi high-speed internet access for either an hourly or a daily charge. For example, the last time I was there, the Kempinski Airport Hotel in Munich charged 20 euros per 24-hour period for unlimited access via its Ethernet (room) or wi-fi (lobby) connections. But a modest hotel in downtown Munich offered free internet access in its rooms, something fairly rare in Germany. Smaller hotels and pensions can be more problematic. Sometimes there are problems even getting a dial-up connection (hard-wiring, different jacks, etc.) It’s wise to ask before booking if you will need internet access from your hotel.
See more about Wi-Fi and hotspots below.
DSL- und Kabel-Anbieter (DSL and Cable Providers)
For expats living in Germany, the list of DSL providers is long, but the biggest ones include: 1&1, Deutsche Telekom (Call&Surf), Tele2, and Vodafone. Cable service with high-speed internet is provided by Kabel BW, Kabel Deutschland, Tele Columbus and Unitymedia. Other than Deutsche Telekom, not all of these firms offer service in every region or city in Germany. Some offer bundled services (Komplettpaket) for cable/DSL internet and telephone, plus TV and HD digital recording. There are also many regional providers in Germany. To find out which providers serve your area, you can use an online service (“Internet-Anbieter finden”) or each provider’s own finder that uses your area code (Vorwahl) or postal code (PLZ) to locate ISPs in your area – often with price, download speeds, and service comparisons. As in the US, cable offers higher download speeds than DSL in Germany.
Wi-Fi and Hotspot Locations – Free or Fee
In 2009 Berlin’s city-state government announced it would offer free Wi-Fi in the central parts of the city, but — like similar plans around the world — that plan never got off the ground in Germany’s largest city.
But there are many locations all over Germany with Wi-Fi hotspots (free or fee). According to one website, there are over 400 free Wi-Fi locations in Berlin alone, mostly at cafes, restaurants and hotels. The most common commercial Wi-Fi service in Germany is the Telekom HotSpot Network. (See HotSpot finden – find hotspot locations, in German). Just in Berlin there are over 100 locations, including the airport, Starbucks, most McDonald’s, the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, and many hotels and restaurants. If you are a T-Mobile USA customer, you can sign up for the HotSpot service, but US customers may be subject to an 18-cents-per-minute or a flat per-day roaming charge in Europe and at some international airports. But you can buy a prepaid pass online for such services that may save you money. Contact T-Mobile for details and current information.
MiFi for Your PC, Mac or iPad
Another option to stay connected while you’re in Europe is a mobile device called the MiFi (a trademarked brand that stands for “My Wi-Fi”). The MiFi is a portable hotspot that, together with a data plan, emits a Wi-Fi signal that you can use to connect to any device that has Wi-Fi capabilities – the vast majority of devices. This device is recommended for its ease of use and flexibility. You basically turn it on, enter your password, and you are connected. Another plus is that up to five users can connect to this device simultaneously.
Our partner, CellularAbroad.com, rents this device, but in some cases you only need a special SIM card. If you want to use your tablet or iPad, and it has 3G capabilities (i.e., a slot for a SIM card), you don’t even need to rent or purchase a MiFi device. Simply purchase an Ortel SIM card for Germany from Cellular Abroad and add the 3GB data plan for 15 euros.
Cellular Abroad German SIM Card Offer
Mention when calling or enter promo code GermanWay10 online
and receive $10 off your order. Go to
www.cellularabroad.com or call 800.287.5072 to order.
Just as in the US or anywhere, when using public Wi-Fi locations, you should be careful about online security. Wi-Fi service in public locations is not always safe from password or identity theft. Use common sense when using Wi-Fi in Europe. For instance, avoid doing online banking at a public location.
Germany was one of the few countries in the world that once required modem users to register their dial-up modems with the telephone company. Because the law was widedly ignored – even by usually law-abiding Germans – and because the law was stupid, it’s no longer necessary to register your modem in Germany. But other problems persist for North Americans used to the standard RJ-11 phone plug and free local phone calls. However, RJ-11 phone plug converters can now be bought in Germany. Just go to a department store or telephone shop (anywhere mobile phones are sold) and ask for a connection cable with the RJ-11 connector for your laptop/notebook modem on one end, and the German connector on the other.
Hard-wired connections and different dial tones are only two of those problems. I highly recommend a phone line tester that comes with plug adapters. It could save your computer! Thankfully, as DSL replaces dial-up, this is less of a problem.
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