One of the first things that many of my friends asked me when I mentioned my internship in Germany was "do you speak German?"
Well, no. But as it turns out, you don't really need to, although it really does help to have someone around who can translate if you want to be out and about. Here in Germany, English is taught in the schools (like Spanish in the US, except a bit more seriously), so many educated people are able to understand what you're trying to say. And if nothing else, pointing and hand motions work well too.
At the international airports, English was very common to see around; many ads were written in English, as well as most signs. It was also the primary language aboard the flight from the US to Brussels. The safety video was only presented in English (though that's probably because Americans would sue if they weren't told how they could possibly die first). The flight from Brussels to Hamburg was quite a bit different. The plane was relatively fancy, though I wasn't creepy enough to take pictures. A man stood at the entrance to the plane and welcomed everyone in (I assume) German, to which I simply nodded. The two spoken languages on-board were (I again assume) German and then English. The safety video/demonstration was given mostly as animated pictures.
When I arrived in Hamburg, there was still English on a lot of signage and ads. It wasn't until after we left the airport that the amount of English plummeted. However, just because it wasn't printed often didn't mean that people didn't know it. Virtually everyone in our cooperative work space speaks English, even if I'm not around. Although, I have become Protonet's grammar-check for blog posts and such, but that's okay because Tiff doesn't really have bad grammar :)
Both other people in the shared flat also speak English, though the one insists that her English is terrible even when it isn't. From what I heard, her English teacher kinda insulted her after she took the written final. She just doesn't have a huge vocabulary, but that's ok because she didn't need one (and still doesn't, because I can normally figure out what she's trying to say--and then she learns some words at the same time).
So yea, English doesn't seem that common outside of the tourist-optimized areas, but it's definitely more commonly-understood than you'd expect.
You are just mentioning my good english grammar because you know I'm reading your blog! :P
@tiff Eh, kinda :P
When you go to larger cities in Europe English is more commonplace. Rule of thumb: the more foreigners that are in a city the more English is spoken. I think it is fun trying to communicate :)
@Meghan It's actually fun trying to figure out words sometimes. Sometimes it's like I'm on a weird game show.