Visiting Germany may not seem as culturally different as visiting somewhere in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, but Germany has plenty of rules, social norms and other things to know before visiting Germany. Knowing them will not only reduce the likelihood of offending someone, but it’ll give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of German culture.
From sitting down to pee to waiting at the traffic lights, here are 10 things that you should know before visiting Germany.
#1. It’s A Great Place For Shopping
While Asian-made products are typically cheap, Germany is known for its high-quality manufacturing. German-made products – be they knives from Solingen, cars, or sandals are well-made and built to last. These products are typically more expensive than products made outside of Germany, but the quality of the product means that they satisfy the price-to-quality ratio.
The price-to-quality ratio?
While many other nationalities get excited if something is cheap, Germans get excited if something has good Preis-Leistungs-Verhältnis (the ratio of price to quality). Germans are very frugal by nature, but not frugal in the sense that they’ll buy a poorly-made product.
Shopping in Germany can be more expensive than other European, and especially non-European countries, but if you’re in the market for a product that’s going to last, Germany is the place to buy it.
#2. Sit Down When You Pee
German men sit down to pee and, as a man, you should sit down to pee as well. To non-Germans, this may seem strange. To Germans, it’s just a more efficient way of making sure everything goes into the toilet bowl and not onto the floor.
Naturally, there are German words that fit here: in Germany, you are either a Sitzpinkler (someone who sits down to pee) or a Stehpinkler (someone who stands up to pee).
Anyone visiting Germany should definitely aim to be the former and not the latter. You’ll see signs in many cafes and restaurants reminding you to sit down when you pee, and people have even gone to court over Sitzpinkler- Stehpinkler conflicts.
#3. Do Your Shopping Before Sunday
While Sunday is just another day to shop in many countries, shopping is effectively verboten in Germany. Aside from a couple of shops, usually near the train station, most supermarkets are closed on a Sunday. In Germany, Sunday is meant for relaxing.
If you’ve just arrived in Germany only to find all of the supermarkets closed this can be quite frustrating. Spend some time living in Germany, though, and you quickly grow to appreciate it.
Switching off can be hard, and it’s tempting to spend Sunday doing your grocery shopping or running errands. Since that effectively isn’t an option, it forces you to relax. In Germany, this means getting out and going for a walk, looking after your schrebergarten (allotment), or participating in your hobby (in Germany, everyone has at least one hobby).
#4. Save The Nazi Jokes
This is one of the very important things to know before visiting Germany. The myth that Germans don’t have a sense of humour is exactly that: a myth. German humour may not be as accessible as Hollywood humour, or as well-known as dry British humour, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
One of the reasons that many people have decided that Germans don’t have a sense of humour is that Nazi jokes rarely raise a smile in Germany, whereas they are a staple of British and American comedy.
In Germany, the Second World War is no laughing matter. Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past) and dealing with Kollektivschuld (inherited collective guilt) is a big part of the national dialogue, and something that children are taught about from a very early age.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been some Germanic attempts at humour: the TV show Obersalzberg is a parody of The Office set in Nazi Germany, for example, but, in general, Hitler jokes are pretty rare in Germany.
Why mention this? Surely most people don’t need to be told that this is culturally insensitive. That’s true, but every few months you do hear a story about tourists in Germany being arrested for doing Nazi salutes (a criminal offense in Germany).
#5. A Good Night’s Sleep Trumps Romance
Sharing a bed may be romantic, but it doesn’t always guarantee a good night’s sleep as many couples will attest to. Your partner’s movement, or the movement of the covers as they are taken from you, can mean that you don’t get a perfect night’s sleep.
Not so in Germany. Here, German double beds are actually two single mattresses in a double bed-frame. Each mattress also has its own set of slats, and each person gets their own single duvet.
It’s not the most romantic bed in the world, but one thing’s for certain: you get a great night sleep that sets you up for a full day of efficient and productive work.
#6. Breakfast Is The Best Meal Of The Day
“Breakfast is the best meal of the day” is a phrase that’s typically associated with America, and especially American movies, but it’s a philosophy that Germans adhere to as well.
A traditional German breakfast covers a small table and contains items like bread rolls, hams, cheeses, jams and honey, fruit and vegetables, and smoked fish. It’s enough to set you up for a day of walking in the Bavarian Alps, or at least to provide a decent brunch.
Lunch is the next biggest meal, traditionally, although most office workers these days usually forgo the big German breakfast and have a hot meal at lunchtime instead. Usually this takes place at the office canteen, although kebabs are a popular fast food for those on the go.
The evening meal in Germany is typically smaller, and often consists of just bread and cheeses (Abendbrot) – a big contrast to the UK and USA where the evening meal is usually the warm meal.
#7. Kebabs Can Be Eaten Sober
In many countries, a kebab is a late-night, drunken purchase that most people wouldn’t normally make sober. Not so in Germany. Kebabs are Germany’s most popular street food and, as with all things made in Germany, they’re made to extremely high standards.
There’s even a kebab shop in Berlin that claims to be Angela Merkel’s favourite kebab shop. Whether she went there more than once is up for debate, but one thing’s for sure: German kebabs are so good that even the Chancellor of Germany has them as a lunchtime snack.
These days, most people don’t need to be encouraged to recycle – it’s just something that we do. Then again, most people shouldn’t need to be told not to make Nazi salutes in Germany.
In Germany, everything that can be recycled will be. If you are spotted going to the bin without having taken the appropriate recycling measures, you can expect anything from a stern look to a lecture on the importance of recycling.
You’ll find recycling bins for everything in Germany, from glass to organic waste. There’s even a special day of the year when your Christmas tree will be collected for recycling.
Glass bottles and cans are the only thing that many people don’t recycle, and this is due to the Pfand system: every time you buy a bottle or can of Coke, you’re paying a small deposit on the can. Simply bring it back to the shop, and you’ll get your deposit back.
So, when in Germany be sure to recycle. Except on Sundays, when noise is meant to be kept to a minimum.
#9. Punctuality Is Next To Godliness
Punctuality is taken seriously in Germany, and if you’re meeting up with someone you should always be on time. When meeting socially, this usually means there’s a 10-15 minute slot in which it’s acceptable to arrive. In professional situations, that slot is narrowed to just a few minutes.
It doesn’t matter who you are, being late is guaranteed to offend. Vladimir Putin learned this the hard way in 2014 when he turned up late to a meeting with Angela Merkel. She did what any German would do and promptly cancelled the meeting.
The only time it’s acceptable to be late in Germany is in a university setting. Here, classes start 15 minutes after they’re supposed to in what is known as “AkademischesViertel” (academic time). The classes technically aren’t late since everybody knows that they’re supposed to start late, but it’s the closest thing you’ll find to tardiness in Germany.
#10. Always, Always Wait For The Green Man
Jaywalking is something that’s usually associated with the United States, but it’s taken very seriously in Germany as well. Here, you always wait for the green man. This is especially true if there are children around, or if there’s another German who might criticise you for not following the rules. But even if that’s not the case, even if it’s the middle of the night and there’s nobody else around, many Germans will wait for the green man.
This rule is broken a little in Berlin but, to be on the safe side, you should always wait for the green man.
Do you agree with these 10 things to know before visiting Germany? Have you been to Germany? What did you love/dislike about it? Read our travel guide to Germany.
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Guest Post by: James from Worldwide Shopping Guide
James writes the blog Worldwide Shopping Guide, a travel blog focused on shopping around the world. You can follow him, and all of the latest posts from his blog, on Twitter.
James also has his own book: German Men Sit Down To Pee And Other Insights Into German Culture. Check it out on Amazon here!
Great post! I was on a hunt for an article about traveling to Germany, and came across your post. I especially liked how you included fun facts about kebabs and breakfast but also a lot of very practical advice!
That’s great news and so glad we could help!