I’m writing this at home after a long, three-week trip to Germany. Hardly blogged from there as I usually do. The reason? German hotel wi-fi or W-LAN as it is called there.
Germans have a very ambivalent attitude to wi-fi, like they do to credit cards. I still remember the shock when only ten years ago I tried to buy booze from Munich airport and was told that I’d have to use cash and that there was a cash machine over there, thank you. Credit cards and anything that doesn’t make immediate money sense is alien to German practical thinking. Maybe ten years from now, wi-fi will be as common there as it in, say, France or Britain, but today we seem to be still at “Munich airport” conditions.
The different ways I got online and the loops I had to jump through in Germany beggar belief. Let’s forget Inter Hotel Mainz who put me off the Internet altogether by demanding €14.50 per day (or 17 cents/minute) to connect me. Let’s forget about the B&B with an otherwise good system whose owner, afraid of being hacked, gave me a 50-strong password. “You can write it down”, he told me, “but hide the piece of paper well.”
Let’s even forget McDonald’s who pride themselves in offering wi-fi with their fare. A month before that, in Budapest, I was eating Big Macs while happily tweeting images using their free connection. In Germany, I had to get a password along with my fries, get online, register my name, address and mobile number, receive a code by text, then go back online to enter the code and access the Internet. By the time I did all that, hey, only half of the large Coke had been left.
Many hotels seem to see wi-fi as a financial burden which they must bear only because the competition offer it. (I presume they saw hot running water and en-suite WCs in the same way in the 1960s and 1970s.) Many hotel managers I met were incensed by the idea of installing routers on every floor for a proper signal. Who would pay? So they tried to scrimp money from you, any money at all: €5 per 3hrs online (which rules out smartphones) or even a fixed fee added to your room per day. And are hostels any better? Ha! There was one where you could certainly have free wi-fi at reception, but no, you’d have to pay €5 per day to access the Internet in your room.
But this is not the end of it. Because of the draconian German Internet laws (it is, for instance illegal to offer an open, non-secure network) which penalise network owners for any unlicensed downloads made through their system, hotels go to great pains not to be sued. Because they are: a copyright infringement industry has been flourishing in Germany in the past five years with lawyers sending about 500,000 letters per year with fines ranging from €200 to €1000, mostly to hotels and Internet Cafes. Two Internet monitoring companies (Evidenzia and IP Solutions) trawl the net and filesharing networks to pick up downloading (and uploading) IP addresses. They then pass them to the law firms specializing in copyright enforcement, who send out the letter demands.
It’s because of this that I had to sign declarations that I had read the German Internet and data protection laws (and understood them) and that I would not engage in any illegal activity or introduce any viruses into their system. It is for that reason that whenever hotel receptionists gave me a username and password, always personal and time-limited, they wrote them down on a sheet of paper, dated them and asked me to countersign. Should any letter arrive from a legal firm they would have their defence ready from their network logs. And it’s because of this that you won’t find many restaurants or cafes in Germany offering wi-fi any time soon.
So let’s hear it for the good guys. The cafe chain Coffee Fellows who were a lot less anal than everybody else about free wi-fi (plus they make a great cappuccino) the wonderful Little Paris hotel in Frankfurt, which was the only hotel in Germany with a wi-fi signal and network, as you and I understand it.
Is this a recent development? I was in Dresden and Leipzig in 2011 and it didn’t seem as hard. There wasn’t much cafe wifi around, but I was able to use it easily enough at Starbucks and another indie cafe. I think my fancy Dresden hotel provided it free, from memory; can’t remember what the situation at the Leipzig hotel was.
I didn’t try Starbucks, I have to admit. But looking around in blogs and forums, people have always complained about paying for wi-fi in Germany. And a recent tweet (May 11) from my friend and travel blogger @theaussienomad read: “Farewell Germany it’s back to the land of the Internet for me”.
Do you still think, it is that bad?
Lets put it this way, as you mentioned earlier, Germany does have laws that do not allow open hot spots at all.
For us, Internet is an expensive thing. Each one has Internet, most people on there smartphones, so Germans actually dont need hotspots.
We are very afraid of loosing privacy, someone might read our messages when you use an open hotspot, or someone might see the pictures you are taking. This is not a joke, this is flat out possible, and not even that hard.
Because back in the days, our privacy was taken away, nowdays we, our government and our laws try to protect that.
I do understand the saying that you should offer free wifi at Hotels, but not at a coffee shop, bar oder McDonalds. Peeps usually go there to hang out with other, that would flat out just ruin the conversation.
NO WIFI CAN IMPROVE THE CONVERSATION. You are actually forced to talk to people around you.
A young german girl, always impressed by the meaning of Wifi
Well, it depends what you consider bad, of course.
I don’t need Wi-Fi in the UK either, but when I go abroad I don’t want to pay my carrier’s obscene charges so I am, like most travellers, dependent on WiFi. So yes, I think that the difficulty in connecting with Wi-Fi is a big annoyance to travellers in Germany. Americans and Brits are those who complain the most.
There is certainly a cultural element regarding privacy, yes, which is why Germans have not taken to Twitter with the same enthusiasm as other countries, for instance. And I do agree with your pointabout WiFi stifling conversation. I have a picture somehere of a MacDonalds in Krakow with a whole roomful of people looking down on their smartphones. So funny!
But there is also the element in the law and the threatening letters that hotels receive which I touch upon. I think this is worth bringing out in the open for debate.