• Many of Berlin's most famous sights can now be seen by rickshaw. Velotaxi operates 30 three-wheeled bicycles attached to passenger wagons, which can carry one or two persons. Each day, from noon to 6 p.m., the rickshaws follow three two-mile routes - along Kurfürstendamm between Adenauerplatz and Wittenbergplatz; from the Zoo's Aquarium at Budapester Strasse through the Tiergarten park to the Brandenburg Gate; and from there, along Unter den Linden to Alexanderplatz.
Drivers, mostly students, are allowed to use bus lanes, bike paths and park promenades, thereby avoiding traffic jams. If requested, they can make minor deviations from the standard routes.
Fares are $1.20 for one kilometer, or six tenths of a mile; $2.95 for a full one-way trip on each line, and $8.80 for the 30-minute tour. Children up to age 3 travel free, kids 3 to 12 are half-price.
The rickshaws can be hired for special events by calling Velotaxi at 030/443 589
• One of the best ways to obtain hotel discounts is via Entertainment Publication's popular Hotel & Travel Ultimate Savings Directory. The latest edition is now available for $62.95.
With the directory comes a card that entitles the bearer to 50% off the rack rate at more than 5,000 hotels throughout the world. Included are approximately 30 hotels in Austria, 50 in Germany and 20 in Switzerland. The card is also good at three Prague hotels and nine properties in Budapest.
Examples of hotels in the program include the family-run Hotel Bären in Wilderswil, Switzerland, (near Interlaken), the Radisson Palais Hotel in Vienna, the Hotel Forum Praha in Prague, the Ramada Hotel Freising near the Munich Airport and the famous Hotel Gellert in Budapest.
Admittedly, most of the offerings are large chain hotels, but the discounts are substantial and real. For example, the rack rate for a double room at the Ramada Freising near the Munich Airport is 355 DM ($196). The Entertainment Card's half price discount lowers that to 177.5 DM ($98), a price which was about 58 DM ($32) better than what Gemütlichkeit's editor could negotiate for two rooms face to face with the hotel's night manager at 8 p.m. on an April evening when the hotel couldn't have been more than 60% occupied.
There are, of course, some restrictions. Card holders must make advance reservations which will likely not be accepted once the hotel has reached 80% occupancy for the night(s) in question. The card must be presented at check-in.
Purchase by phone at 800-445-4137 or send check to Entertainment Publications, Inc., 2125 Butterfield Rd., Troy MI 48084..
• The Zürich tourist authority currently offers discounts at hotels in six categories.
On weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) between August 25 and October 31 and daily between July 3 and August 24, an overnight stay with breakfast ranges from 70 to 255 Sfr. ($48-$175). Contact Zürich Tourism at 1/215 4000, fax 1/215 4044.
• Rev. Paul L. Higgins will lead a religious pilgrimage to places of historical and religious significance in Germany, Switzerland and Italy this October. The tour begins in Zürich, where participants will be flown on Swissair, on October 2 and ends October 19 in Cologne. Between those dates it visits such destinations as Lucerne, Sienna, Dresden, Eisenach, Bayreuth, Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Meringen, Heidelberg and Cologne.
Land costs are $2,995 per person and the airfare on Swissair starts at $800. Contact: Rev Paul Higgins, 300 Washington St., Glouchester MA 01930-4832.
• Nostalgic Journeys, a special travel program for American armed forces personnel who served in Germany since 1945, is available through the German National Tourist Board. The packages, available to both individuals and groups, include airfare to Germany, accommodations, a rental car or rail passes and vouchers for free gifts and reduced prices at restaurants, museums and entertainment facilities. Prices start at $1,099 per person.
Contact: Germany National Tourist Office at 122 E. 42nd St., New York NY 10168, tel. 212-661-7200, or 11766 Wilshire Blvd, #750, Los Angeles CA 90025, tel. 310-575-9799; or Galaxy Tours, tel. 800-523-7287
• Switzerland Tourism now offers a free CD-ROM which contains the full text of the Swiss Hotel Guide. Included are full details plus a color photo of each hotel. The hotel finder makes it easy to select the right property in the right destination. The CD-ROM - compatible with both IBM systems and Macintosh - is available from Swiss Tourism, 222 North Sepulveda Blvd. #1570, El Segundo CA 90245, tel. 310-640-8900, fax 310-335-5982.
• The Royal Plaza Inter-Continental in Montreux offers a package through November 30. Discover Vineyards and Castles includes a room rate of 175 Sfr. ($120) per person, per day, plus a visit to Aigle Castle. The hotel offers related activities such as a visit to the Vieux Vevey Museum (4 Sfr./$3), a lunch cruise on Lake Geneva (Sfr. 30 Sfr./$21), a visit to folklore markets in Vevey (5.6/$3.80), a visit to the Chillon Castle (6.10 Sfr./$4.18), mountain biking through the vineyards (20 Sfr./$14) etc. Contact 021/963 51 31, fax 021/963 56 37.
• Founded in 1938 by Arturo Toscanini, the International Festival of Music Lucerne (August 16 to September 10) is one of Europe's leading classical music events. Program highlights this year include the Schubert Cycle and a violin recital by Anne-Sophie Mutter. Packages can be booked through Ovations International 800-635-5576.
• Consumer Reports Travel Newsletter recently reviewed several prepay hotel voucher programs and found most of them wanting, including three that represent a number of hotels in Germany, Austria and Switzerland - WunderHotels, MinOtel and Best Western.
The idea behind such programs is that by purchasing vouchers in advance, the customer locks-in hotel costs for an entire trip and thus has no difficulty with foreign currency, nasty high rate surprises and no worry if the dollar drops. The problem, at least with the three voucher programs mentioned, is that it is usually less expensive to deal with the hotels on a pay-as-you-go basis. And, of course, this summer the value of the dollar has steadily increased thereby eroding the value of the vouchers.
There are other disadvantages, too. Bring a prepaid voucher, CR says, and you can expect to be put in the cheapest room available.
In its survey, CR found only one hotel in the MinOtel program (700 hotels) where the voucher would save 20% off the rack rate but eight hotels where the voucher price exceeded the rack rate by 20%. The average discount in the MinOtel program was a negative 13%.
WunderHotel's (198 hotels) vouchers also averaged 13% higher than rack rates and CR found no hotels where the saving was 20% or more and seven WunderHotels where the voucher price was 20% or more higher than the rack rate. The average WunderHotel discount was also a negative 13%.
The worst performer was Best Western's Euro-Guestchegues (700 hotels) program where the average voucher was 21% higher than rack rate.
Remember, this is not a denunciation of the hotels themselves - there are many good properties to be found in each of these marketing associations.
Consumer Reports Travel Newsletter, Box 53629, Boulder CO 80322-3629. $39 per year. Phone orders 800-234-1970.