In my local branch of BooksEtc there are 102 travel titles covering Italy, 91 for France and 20 for Germany. In this year of the World Cup it would be tempting to conclude that the relatively meagre number on display for the host nation was due to demand. But, as the store manager explained, this isn't the case. He just doesn't sell very many.
Germany has always attracted fewer tourists than the Mediterranean countries. The guaranteed sunshine hours down south are a greater lure. But it is not only that. The country has an image problem, particularly in Britain, and that still deters significant numbers of people. This is despite the fact that cultural weekend breaks to interesting cities are, overall, growing in popularity.
It is something that Mike Adams, managing director of DER Travel Service, Britain's leading operator to Germany, is the first to admit. "There are five times as many overnight stays by British people to France as there are to Germany. I am German so I am allowed to be blunt," he said. "I continually have to challenge this negative image that, unfortunately, is linked to the past. In the minds of some British people, the [Second World] war is still a factor. And the really depressing thing is that this view is strongest in young people. Few have grasped that there is a very different Germany out there. Add to that the received wisdom that, as a nation, the Germans are dour and not fun to be around and you have a problem."
As if lending further weight to this perception, British Airways last weekend - barely two months before the World Cup - saw fit to withdraw its services to Hanover and Munich.
Britain's determination to cling to a cultural anachronism has prompted Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, to warn England fans they would be arrested if they performed a Nazi salute, chanted "Sieg Heil" or goose-stepped. There were, he said during a briefing on the tournament last month, strict laws in Germany against glorifying the Third Reich. "British fans should respect the law of Germany," Mr Clarke said.
The authorities, who still view England fans as potential troublemakers, are worried about how they will behave in Nuremberg, where they play Trinidad and Tobago on 15 June, because of the city's associations with the Third Reich and the fact that the original Nazi parade ground is next to the stadium.
Fully aware of these dangers, the authorities have launched a £2m "Service and Friendliness Campaign" to build bridges with fans. The German tourist board in London has its own "Germany Faces" campaign.
But, paradoxically, it is the World Cup itself which experts say could provide the springboard for finally ending these misconceptions. If this happens, no small part of that would be down to Germany's decision to open out the tournament to a range of social and cultural activities. And the German National Tourist Board is convinced that the €10bn (£7bn) the World Cup will contribute to the country's GDP will have huge economic repercussions, not least for tourism. Some €1.4bn is being spent on creating arenas that after the tournament will also be used for cultural events.
"In recent decades a number of destinations have proved that world championships can be powerful tourism magnets," said Petra Hedorfer, the board's chief executive. "We are predicting that the World Cup will increase the number of annual overnight stays to five million. We have a fantastic chance to present our country as a welcoming and friendly host and a fascinating travel destination, and thereby strengthen Germany's image worldwide. About 40 billion TV viewers will turn their attention to Germany this summer, and we are using this opportunity to create a positive awareness for Germany."
To this end, after the World Cup, the country, mindful of the growing appeal of "event tourism", will mount campaigns to attract more visitors to take part in its cultural life, go on shopping weekends and to enjoy health-related stays.
The target of the last initiative is the affluent, over-55 market across Europe, particularly in Britain. An ageing population, ever more focused on well-being, could be drawn to the impressive range of treatments. There are conventional holidays combined with anti-ageing cures, thalassotherapy sessions with cultural breaks, 320 mineral and mud spas to choose from and numerous health resorts by the water.
And the good news about Christmas markets still has to reach a wider audience, although the budget airlines already ferry thousands over to Germany every December. There is traffic the other way too, with stallholders from Frankfurt last year bringing their wares to Birmingham for a successful West Midlands fest.
There is evidence that the non-football approach is already working. Bookings from Britain in May and August, when the World Cup is not on, are 30 per cent up on last year.
Mr Adams believes that in June the thousands of sports journalists will learn to appreciate the special appeal of the country, and will spread the word. "The evidence is that when people go there they invariably have a great time and usually want to go back," he said. "The problem is with getting people to make the initial visit. Once that has happened, the recommendations come thick and fast.
"I would argue that because Germany is relatively unknown to the British, compared with France, that when the discovery is made it is all the sweeter. Believe me, people really do have an exceptionally good time there. And we laugh much more than you think."
England's Group B matches are in Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Cologne. If they proceed, they could also play in Munich, Stuttgart, Gelsenkirchen, Dortmund and Berlin.
German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908; germany-tourism.co.uk). Also: germany.co.uk
Another phoenix risen from the industrial ashes, the steel plants have given way to a Warner Bros Movie World theme park, Europe's largest shopping mall, and the action sports complex Duisburg-Nord Country Park. And Schalke 04's football stadium is the swishest in Europe.
CONTACT Gelsenkirchen Tourist Office (00 49 209 1690; gelsenkirchen.de).
Hanover is home to the 17th-century Royal Gardens, the best Baroque gardens in Europe, and numerous half-timbered houses, bars, boutiques and antique shops. Jazz seems to spring from the walls, while modern art finds expression in the Sprengel Museum and 200 al fresco sculptures.
CONTACT Hanover Tourist Office (00 49 511 12345 111; hannover-tourism.de).
Locals refer to this ancient city republic as "the gateway to the world". But which world? There are so many: fabulous galleries, top concerts and musicals, plus St Pauli, for nightclubs. The skyline is dominated by St Michael's Church. The world's largest warehouse district is dramatic by night.
CONTACT Hamburg Tourist Office (00 49 40 300 51 300; hamburg-tourismus.de).
This city has three opera houses, 35 theatres, 170 museums, 300 clubs and 7,000 bars. Must-sees include the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, Jewish Museum, and the Potsdamer Platz shopping centre. Take the S-Bahn railway and be among lakes and forests in minutes.
CONTACT Berlin Tourist Office (00 49 30 25 00 25; berlin-tourist-information.de).
Once part of East Germany, this city of sport and trade fairs is establishing itself in the first rank. Music is its lifeblood. Bach, who composed for St Thomas's Church, is buried there and the church's choir is internationally famed. Mendelssohn is remembered at the museum in his former house.
CONTACT Leipzig Tourist Office (00 49 341 710 4260; leipzig.de).
A famed Christmas market, the International Bard Meeting, the September festival, the Kaiserburg Castle, artist Albrecht Dürer's house, even the documentation centre of the Nazi Party: Nuremberg has it all. Beer was stored as long ago as 1380 in rock tunnels beneath the hills.
CONTACT Nuremberg Tourist Office (00 49 911 23360; tourismus.nuernberg.de).
This Bavarian city combines cosmopolitan flair with rustic charm and an Alpine atmosphere. Add the Oktoberfest, haute cuisine, opera and clubs and you have an irresistible southern brew. Don't miss the Leopoldstrasse, the "longest catwalk", or the famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall.
CONTACT Munich Tourist Office (00 49 89 233 96555; muenchen-tourist.de).
Numerous sporting events are held in this city on the river Neckar. The centre is dominated by the old palace and the Schlossplatz. For petrolheads, this year sees the opening of a Mercedes-Benz museum. Shopping in the Art Nouveau indoor market gives retail therapy an extra fillip.
CONTACT Stuttgart Tourist Office (00 49 711 22280; stuttgart-tourist.de).
Financial hub it may be but this cosmopolitan city retains its charm. Skyscrapers rub shoulders with gabled buildings and the Alte Oper opera house. St Paul's Church was the birthplace of German democracy in 1848. The Städel Museum houses 2,700 paintings and 600 sculptures.
CONTACT Frankfurt Tourist Office (00 49 69 2123 8800; frankfurt-tourismus.de).
The green lung of the Palatinate Forest surrounds this student city that proudly houses the 12th-century imperial palace of Emperor Barbarossa. The German wine route is nearby and many culinary delights are on offer in hundreds of trendy bars and exclusive restaurants.
CONTACT Kaiserslautern Tourist Office (00 49 261 915200; kaiserslautern.de).
Life zings along in this cheerful city on the Rhine, which has its own language, brewing traditions and cultural life. It is home to 30 museums (including the Chocolate Museum), art galleries, frequent classical and rock concerts, musicals and its Unesco World Heritage-listed Gothic cathedral.
CONTACT Cologne Tourist Office (00 49 221 2213 0400; koelntourismus.de).
The ultimate in urban regeneration, this coal-mining centre has transformed from belching beast of the Ruhr into a technological giant. Nor has it forgotten the arts: it offers the best in opera and classical music, while in its museums you can work at the world's biggest laptop.
CONTACT Dortmund Tourist Office (00 49 231 18999 222; dortmund-tourismus.de).Reuse content