German Customs, Culture & Traditions
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Germany has already figured out a lot of things other countries still struggle with! Solar power anyone? Gender equality? Protecting the environment? Healthcare for everyone? Affordable higher education? Family first? Let’s explore some of more intriguing issues and end with a few light-hearted FYIs pertaining to Germans and possibly some quirks!
Germans take care of each other
One of the best traits of the German people and culture, is that they like to take care of each other. For example, lost items are hung on trees. If you are at a park in Germany, or anywhere near a tree, and you see something hanging at its lowest branches, then known that this is a lost thing. Somebody has lost it, and the other one who found it took care to hang it on the tree. So, when retracing their steps, the owner will have it easier to find their belonging. (Source: Studying in Germany.org)
What a great trait; one other countries would do well to learn!
Germans and their dogs
They love their dogs, which explains why most cafes and many restaurants are dog-friendly (and likely to even have doggy water bowls) and why dogs are allowed on buses and trains in Germany. Germans aren’t likely to consider hiking unless they are taking Fido with them. In fact, I can’t begin to tell you how many bicyclists have Fido running alongside of them!
The five most popular dogs in Germany are in this order: German Shepherd, German Dachshund (80% are wire-haired standards), German Wirehair Pointer, Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever
Germany is one of the leading nations when it comes to reading, too. About 94 thousand new books are published by German publishers each year, and the International Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the most important book event in the world, is held in Germany. Many don’t know, but the first known book was printed in German, just as the first ever known magazine.
According to a research conducted by Allensbach Media Market Analysis, 44.6% of the German population read a book at least once a week, while 58.3% of Germans buy at least one book per year. (Source: Studying in Germany.org)
I find this unusual in a world that counts so much on the Internet and online books for reading. I also see a lot of Europeans buying/reading newspapers, which is also rare these days in America.
Religion & Progressive policies
German culture has been shaped over thousands of years. It was originally a pagan country, and then an important seat of the Holy Roman Empire. It was also the birthplace of the Protestant reformation. Today, Christians, Catholics, and Muslims coexist happily in Germany
A progressive society Germany can be considered a modern and advanced society in lots of ways. They have some of the most progressive policies regarding gender equality, LGBT rights, and immigration. In recent years policies to allow more immigrants to enter the country have come about as more German people have begun to value the benefits of a diverse multicultural society.
Everyone pays into the German healthcare system
Universal healthcare is a reality in Germany, with everyone having compulsory health insurance. Because of this, it’s much easier to see a doctor, and seeing a specialist doesn’t even require going to a general practitioner first. Instead, patients can just go to a specialist directly, which makes preventive healthcare much easier since insurance covers it.
Environment and Economic Development
For decades, Germany has shown its commitment to renewable energy and protecting the environment. It has long been at the forefront of pioneering new technology to help in the war against fossil fuels, CO2 emissions, and pollution, and its dedicated garbage recycling system is one of the most thorough in the world. This should certainly be lauded as one of the country’s most impressive values.
No other country in the world does recycling better than Germany!!
When it comes to school and work, it seems to be ingrained in most German people that they should be conscientious and hard-working, which is probably why the country can boast impressive economic development and one of the best education systems in the world.
Higher education is actually affordable (for everyone!)
If you study at a public institution, it’s actually free, unless you study in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which just reintroduced (quite inexpensive) tuition fees. Even so, non-EU students are charged only $13,360 for four years. This means that education is much more accessible for everyone, and students don’t have to take out loans or risk going into debt just to get an education.
Practicality, Punctuality and Planning
Germans place an enormous premium on these three Ps! They are very fair people and largely adhere to regulations that exist to keep things fair for the masses. Germans love a good rule. And they reap the benefits of a rule-abiding society.
Germans don’t jay-walk. And they judge those who do with a piercing, back-burning gaze. Germans have rules, abide by them, and expect all others to do the same!
Making small talk
Initiate conversation with a total stranger? Probably not! Germans hate small talk. Words without purpose are wasted words. This is because Germans are generally extremely direct and goal-oriented people. They want to get right to the point, and not beat around the bush.
Meals with Germans can be quite quiet affairs, the participants seeming to adhere to the unspoken rule of Eat Now, Talk Later.
Although this seems to be a common belief about Germans, I have a German friend in the KMC area who has obviously been “Americanized” because she talks to all strangers and talks her way through every meal! 😊
German’s are enthusiastic partiers
Germans probably won’t be at the top of anyone’s list of “the best dancers in the clubs”, but what they lack in dancing skills, they make up in enthusiasm! I would normally worry about offending by saying “the ability to consume alcohol” is a strong suite for Germans, but they are more likely to be complimented than offended by it.
While the rest of the world is hovering over a toilet bowl at 2 AM, the Germans are calmly downing their 40th shot and washing it down with a beer; their cheeks might be a little rosy, and their eyes a little glazed, but their livers working as smoothly as a German manufactured automobiles. A possible explanation is that Germans start drinking at a young age and possibly develop a better tolerance. The drinking age for ‘soft alcohol’ is 16 and 18 for ‘hard alcohol’ .
We once took a five-hour “party train” from Landstuhl to Munich for Oktoberfest. It left very early in the morning (before daybreak) and was full of Americans and Germans. People were already drinking, dancing, singing in preparation for the biggest beer fest in the world! I asked my husband if everyone would still be that celebratory on the return that was scheduled to leave Munich at midnight after a full day of partying at Oktoberfest. He said, “the Americans will be passed out, but the Germans will still be going strong”. OMG……..he was absolutely right. At 2 am I strolled down to one of the bar cars just out of curiosity; as I passed by hundreds of passed-out Americans, I arrived at a bar car full of Germans who, by then, had a disco ball twirling overhead, loud music, shots still being distributed, and a party in full swing!
Eye contact during a toast
Don’t even think about looking away as you raise your glass (or stein) for a toast; if you break eye contact in Germany you can look forward to seven years of bad sex. No, no bad luck…but bad sex!! Although I guess one could argue that seven years of bad sex is definitely not good luck! Yes, it’s a superstition, but one that has melded into the German culture.
There are several theories; this is just one. Back in the Middle Ages, maintaining eye contact was a way of showing trust. The idea was that, if someone had poisoned their rival's drink, the poisoner would be watching the glasses when toasting, to ensure that none of the poisoned beverage splashed into their own. So, by maintaining eye contact when toasting, both parties could demonstrate that they trusted each other, and had no reason to be monitoring the cups.
No matter where you go in Germany – to a festival, on a road trip, to a sporting event – you will find a clean public toilet. At most festivals, you will pay perhaps €1 for use of the portable toilets that are equipped with hand washing stations, and an attendant who is responsible for keeping them tidy (well worth the expense!)
It’s not uncommon for men to see signs in the bathroom asking users to “Bitte im Sitzen pinkeln” (Please pee sitting) ….it helps with the ability to keep them clean!
Please means yes and thanks means no
Are you confused yet? As an example, if you’re asked in Deutsche whether you would like some more of that incredible German beer, make sure you don’t reply with "danke ("thanks"), assuming that will get you more. "Danke" will be interpreted as "no, thanks." If you want more, say "bitte" ("please"), which in this context means "yes, please."
No Sunday shopping
With the exception of small shops in the Bahnhof, or gas stations, you won’t find any stores open on Sunday in Germany (or most of Europe) – Sunday is a day to spend with family or on hobbies.
Shopping in general
And on the topic of shopping, Germans seem to love really large hardware stores and large furniture stores (like Ikea) which often includes a restaurant and/or café, and of course a stand that sells brats in the front of the store 😊
When you shop in Germany, you will need to insert a €1 coin to release the chained shopping cart; you’ll get it back when you return the cart! Many places sell a pseudo coin to carry on your keychain for this purpose, instead of using a real coin. The only retail establishments I’ve seen in Germany that don’t charge for the use of carts (buggies, as they would say in Georgia and Alabama!) are the beverage markets.
Beverage markets are usually very large stores that sell nothing but beverages. Although you CAN purchase beer, wine, and alcohol in most grocery stores, the beverage markets let you avoid all the other groceries and long checkout lines if you’re only purchasing beverage. They often have a wider variety; considering there are more than 7000 varieties of German beers from 1300 breweries, your chances of finding what you’re looking for are much greater at a beverage market.
BTW: Germans aren’t likely to wear sweatpants and slippers when shopping 😊
Germans seem to be passionate about international travel; they spend more per capita on international travel than any other country in Europe.
It appears Germans are much more likely to book their through travel agencies than US travelers, who are more likely to handle all their own travel arrangements online or via phone apps. In America, most travel agencies were driven out of business by technological advances (the Internet!), but in Germany it’s still a thriving business. As you walk the pedestrian zones in most mid-large size cities, you will see awesome travel packages being promoted in the windows of travel agencies.
The biggest holiday destinations for Germans are Spain, Italy, and Austria, but since they share nine land borders with other countries, it’s very easy to take a European trip from Germany.
BTW: We have discovered most of those packages offered by German travel agencies are much better deals than ANYTHING we could arrange on our own! There’s a real good chance the agency staff speaks English, so don’t be afraid to check them out!
Germans may be the only people in the world to a) have a word for and b) accept the notion of ‘Frühjahresmüdigkeit‘ which translates to ‘Springtime fatigue’.
Well, that might be misleading; there ARE rooms provided for kitchens, but if you are moving into a Germany home, there’s a good chance you will be surprised to find no sink, stove, oven, counter space or cabinets! Whether it makes the home cheaper, or it’s because they assume every new owner will want to choose their own kitchen layout (not sure of the reason), it’s a blank room with capped-off pipes for installing the plumbing and gas to your sink/stove.
There are a few exceptions to this; many builders or landlords who are hoping to appeal to Americans near US military bases are likely to have a completely furnished kitchen – they know American military families aren’t likely to invest in a whole new kitchen for what’s likely to no longer be useful to them at the end of their 3-5 years here. When Germans move, they take their entire kitchen with them!
“The best thing since sliced bread” is not a term you’re likely to hear in Germany! They aren’t big on bread slicing. The typically use Brotchens for sandwiches, and buns for brats, so there’s not a lot of need for sliced bread. Grilled cheese is not something you’re going to find on German menus!
However, German Breads should probably be a post of its' own; there are so many varieties and each is to die for! And that doesn't even take into account their salted pretzels! There is one store near us that has a line a block long (yes, longer now with distancing as a result of COVID), but we keep wondering how any bakery (Bäckerei) could possibly be THAT good! There are several other bakeries in our same community, but none with the lines like this one has. We will have to investigate what the attraction is!
Do you even know what it is? Döner is a type of Turkish meat (similar to the Greek gyro); seasoned and shaved from a vertical rotisserie.
Germany has assumed the döner kebab as a national dish, Germanified it with pickled cabbage and elevated it to where it now sits, loftily, alongside other key German snacks like currywurst and fish sandwiches.
Our favorite is a "Dönerteller" (or Döner Plate) which is more like a salad with Döner meat and always comes with the very best pommes (French fries)!
The Germanic Stare Down
I hate to generalize; it doesn’t seem fair to all, but there’s a lot of sources that claim this to be a fairly well-known trait that Germans wouldn’t even consider to be derogatory 😊
People stare at you all the time! Germans have a staring problem: Whether it’s the old lady in the house across the street watching your every move or the child across from you on the subway whose gaze can’t be broken! In Germany, intense eye contact is a daily occurrence – so much so, that expats and visitors have dubbed it The Germanic Stare Down. German pedestrians also use it to communicate, and the right amount of eye contact at the right time can mean “I am walking here, and it’s not my fault if you don’t move over and get pushed off the sidewalk.”
We can personally attest to that look on the pedestrians who keep walking in front of your car where there is no stop sign and the pedestrians just keep coming!
The Jack Wolfskin matching jackets
While Americans are big on the Columbia or North Face brands for winter wear, German’s prefer the Jack Wolfskin brand, perhaps because it’s a German brand! Often you will see couples wearing matching Jack Wolfskin jackets on walking paths and bicycling. I have to admit I love the quality, and on items like insulated winter pants/ski pants, and gloves, they fit better and are more stylish (in my opinion).
Bicycling – is HUGE in Germany!
Yes, I know, due to COVID bicycling has become huge everywhere, but even before 2020, bicycling was a major mode of transportation in Germany.
Cycling is cool in Deutschland. Customized bicycles are fashion statements in their own right. And urban cyclists are considered hip and environmentally conscious. The number of people who use the bicycle as their main means of transport is growing in cities. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 30 percent of all households in German cities with a population of more than 500,000 use only a bicycle—they neither own a car or motorbike. The Berliners have taken it a step further: It is estimated that there are 710 cycles per 1,000 people in Berlin. Electric bicycles have become really popular among the young for long commutes.
In Berlin, the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) runs a hiring system by the name of Call a Bike. Riders on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn even get to hop on with their cycles once they’ve bought a ticket for their two wheels! Germany is that cycle happy!
You don’t even need to own a bicycle; there are bicycle-sharing services that allow one to borrow it for free or for a nominal amount. In Berlin, the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) runs a hiring system by the name of Call a Bike. Riders on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn even get to hop on with their cycles once they’ve bought a ticket for their two wheels! Germany is that cycle happy!
With more than 200 dedicated long-distance cycle routes, Germany is a paradise for vacationers who prefer to see the country on their bicycles. There are scenic routes in the lush countryside, along rivers and vineyards. Most of them are peppered with culinary stops, monuments and breathtaking natural sights, making it a compelling experience. (Source: WhatsUpGermany.de)
With all the steep hills and mountains in Germany, e-Bikes (motorized bikes) are becoming increasingly more popular every year. I have spoken to many Germans who wouldn’t have anything other than an e-Bike!
Football and Automobiles!
Football, or soccer as Americans call it, is not just a sport in Germany, it’s a religion. In fact, the most passionate you will ever see a German is when they are watching, talking about, thinking about, dreaming about or playing, football
And as the country that invented the modern motor car and the birthplace of Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, it’s little wonder that Germans love their cars and are very proud of their ability to make such good ones.
Because Germans are so passionate about both of these topics, each of them deserves a post of its’ own, so this is all I will say on either topic for the moment!
On the weird side
I’ve seen videos and articles stating that prison escape in Germany is not punishable, because it’s a natural instinct!! But here’s the full story.....
Prison escape in Germany is not punishable by law if the escaped person doesn’t break any other laws, however, as a law student put it, it is close to impossible to escape a prison without breaking a law. If the prisoner damages the bars, it’s damage to property, if the prisoner runs a way with his prison clothes on, it’s theft. Taking hostages, beating someone etc. will be punished as well. Any crime you do while escaping from prison will be held against you. Edit: It’s illegal to help someone to escape from prison. (Source: Random)
Tilt & Turn windows and doors
If you’ve traveled to Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, you’ve seen a “tilt and turn window.” They are considered the de facto window option in much of Europe. We had not seen them until we arrived in Germany the first time (2008).
The first tilt and turn hardware for windows was designed in Germany in the 1950s, a life-changing invention. Tilt and turn windows work by the simple turning of a single handle. There are three different positions for the handle, each of which allows unique functionality. The major advantages are better ventilation, easier to clean, better air seals, more secure, aesthetics, and hidden hinges. But to anyone who has never experienced them, a picture (or in this case, video) is worth a thousand words! Clearly these unique windows are starting to catch on stateside!
No clothes in the sauna!
Germans are much more comfortable with being naked than most other Europeans and Americans. So, going to a sauna, a popular pastime in Germany, can be quite “interesting” as everyone is naked; Bathing suits are not allowed (supposedly for health reasons.) However, for those who are more shy or conservative, there’s usually one day a week reserved for women only.
FKK is a German movement whose name translates to free body culture. It endorses a naturistic approach to sports and community living. Behind that is the joy of the experience of nature or also of being nude itself, without direct relationship to sexuality. The followers of this culture are called traditional naturists, FKK'ler, or nudists. The German nudist movement was the first worldwide and marked the start of an increased acceptance of public nudity in Germany. Today, there are only few legal restrictions on public nudity in Germany.
Nude-friendly locations are designated as FKK on signs, but you may still find people at least partially stripping down at lakes, the beach, in the park or on their own street-facing balconies. And that’s perfectly German to do. (I personally have not witnessed either in the KMC 2008-2012, or now in Bavaria, but psyching myself not to be surprised if/when I do)
A 2016 poll by Expedia also showed that 61 percent of Germans said it was perfectly acceptable for women to go topless at the beach. Still, only 2 percent of female respondents said that they regularly do this. So while it might be accepted, you won't find it done so often outside of FKK zones.
Part of the glory of getting naked in public in Germany is a feeling of oneness with nature - Naturgefühl. So of course there are specific, nature-oriented activities to try in Germany that involve being close to the outdoors - the very first nudist trail in the Harz mountain region of Saxony-Anhalt, for example. And there are various nudist camping spots throughout the country.
I won’t be including photos for this topic 😊
I'm hoping to learn as much about Germany's customs, culture & traditions as I would want any foreigner to learn about America's while living there!