Things You Should Know about Germany

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You’d think that Germany wouldn’t be so different from living in, say, Britain. But actually, there are loads of little things that are quite unique to Germany that take some time getting used to.

A lot of these may be Frankfurt based, but some can be applied to all of Germany, so if you’re planning to come and visit or if you’re moving to Germany in the near future, these may be of use to you!

1. Shops shut on Sundays.

You may not think that this will affect you so much, but as someone who works full time, I’d love to be able to spread my shopping errands over Saturday and Sunday. Some handy info, though – shops that are in train stations and airports are still OK to be open on Sundays!

2. Germans are ok.

“Oh, you live in Germany? I bet those Germans get on your nerves!!”

Sigh. No, German people aren’t all humourless control freaks who throw towels everywhere to mark their territory.

German people have such dry, dark humour they’re hilarious. Anyone who thinks they take themselves too seriously should take a look at the German satire magazine Titanic. As for the towels…if anyone thought Brits they met abroad (especially in places like Mallorca or Ibiza) represented the average British person, I’d cry myself to sleep every night. But I think most people see Brits on holiday as one set of people, and British people in general as another. And so you should do the same with Germans. And perhaps Russians (for they are a pain when they’re on holiday too).

Take this from someone who lives with 4 very different German people – Germans are great.

3. Lots of pork.

Do you like pork? Awesome. You’ll get it with everything, even things which do not usually contain pork will have pork in.

4. Safe, on the whole.

One of the things that surprises me about Germany is how trusting they are of passers-by. When I lived in my old flat, there was some construction going nearby and the building materials were just left out in the open overnight. If that was England, they’d be stolen right away.

At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall, so that it would be very easy to just stand out of sight and take something. But no one does. I doubt the thought goes through the German mind that this is a thing that might happen.

Germans always say that Frankfurt is really dangerous, but mostly it’s drug or corporate crime that bumps up the stats. There was a guy who got shot near to my flat but that was just a rare thing.

Saying that, I have known of a few people who fell victim to pick pocketers, so if you do come to Frankfurt, don’t let your guard down. As long as you use common sense, you should be as safe as in any major city.

5. Buying things from outside Europe

You need to buy a certain thing. You look on Amazon, and find a seller selling that thing. Awesome. Only, they are not in Europe.

When that thing is sent to you, the chances are, it’ll be sent through the zollamt – customs office – and that will be nothing but a huge headache.

Anecdote 1 – I move from Japan to Germany, send two suitcases with heavy books and winter clothes to my new home by boat. I have to go to the zollamt to open the cases myself so they can check what’s inside them, then pay about 10 euros per case in taxes/fees before I can have my belongings.

Anecdote 2 – I can’t find anyone in Europe selling the game Apples to Apples so I bought one from America through ebay. It was sent to the zollamt and, when asked if this was something I’d bought or whether it was a gift, I gave the wrong answer and said that it was something I’d bought and so had to pay 20 euros in taxes. ALWAYS SAY IT WAS A GIFT.

It’s even worse because the zollamt in Frankfurt is really out of the way and not easy to get to. If the thing you’re picking up is heavy or difficult to carry, you’re going to struggle.

6. Rules in the contract

Whether it’s a job contract of a contract for your home, be sure to read – or have someone help you read – it all the way through. Germans take their contracts very seriously, and I almost got into trouble for not knowing my rental contract all the way through when I wanted to move.

7. Insurance

Germans love insurance – and you’ll need it! Home insurance as well as rental insurance are a must for expats!

8. Journeymen

You’re sat in a German restaurant, full from your mountain of pork and making your way through your 7th bucket of beer. When all of a sudden some young men dressed in a weird way enter and start Germaning really fast – maybe as a poem or a song? Then they come round to each table with their hand out, asking for money. What’s going on?!

They are most likely to be carpenters on their “waltz” – men wanting to go into these professions have to spend 2 or 3 years on the road traveling from town to town relying on the kindness of others. Some may be looking for a place to stay in exchange for them fixing broken things in the home, but most seem to be looking for extra euros.

In my 2.5 years in Frankfurt I’d say I’ve seen journeymen about 3 times now – and that’s from a person who rarely goes out eating in German places!

9. Religion

Are you Christian? If you say so when you register as living in Germany, then you will have to give a certain % of your salary to the church each month. It’s not a lot, but is something to think about just in case you put christianity down as your default reply.

10. Germany is awesome for expats

German people are awesome, it’s illegal for you to work more than 10 hours, workers’ rights are great…there are so many reasons why you can easily make a comfy life here in Germany. Plus, they’re the strongest economy in Europe – so that’s also reassuring!

Is there anything I’ve forgotten on my list? What do you think people should know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Brittany has written a post about things you should know about living in Bavaria – it’s a really great post so check it out!

Comments

  1. You forgot “dog” insurance in case your dog bites and bicycle insurance in case you fall of your bike and scratch someone’s Mercedes. When my daughter started riding her laufrad someone asked us which insurance we had. They were horrified when we said “What insurance?” With a quick call to the cousins we were insured…no one wants to lose their house because your 4 year old slammed into granny on her walker.

  2. So I’ll keep that in mind if I buy stuff abroad! For #10? It sounds like Germany is great place to work, but what about taxes? I heard it’s crazy high and it’s something that puts me off of staying here after graduation, also, VAT is as high as 19% that’s really high!

    • To be honest, taxes are high wherever you go. In the UK I’d be taxed around the same.

      You can claim back on your taxes, though – and on everything you buy that’s related to your job. I got a very big tax back just before Christmas so it makes it not seem so bad.

  3. Indierockkid.com says:

    My better half nearly had kittens when he heard that I didn’t have haftpflicht (personal liability) insurance. He was all like “ooh, but what if you get sued for damaging something?” which is sweet. Because it’s like blood out of stone – if it’s not there, they can’t have it:-) I’m all insured up now though. The lack of Sunday shopping still gets on my nerves. And the lack of online grocery shopping sites. Dragging myself around Rewe never ceases to annoy me. Hohum:-)

  4. Euuuurggggh, customs! I once bought a brush set from America and it was held by customs for a fee of 50 cents a day. It took me an hour and a half to get to the Zollamt because it was so far out of the way and then had to unpack each and every brush in an office full of snickering middle-aged men. Fun.
    That pork comment made me laugh… I do miss German food.
    And in regards to the comment above about dog insurance – don’t forget about dog tax. You actually have to pay your city council extra tax for owning a dog.

  5. These are good ones. Didn’t know about the religion one. I wrote my 10 tips for expats moving to Bavaria here:http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/732/10-tips-for-expats-moving-to-bavaria

  6. That air travelers article missed Asian Grandmothers and I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on it. You know the women that went through Duty Free like locusts through a corn field. Then they spend all the boarding time trying to shove the bags (which they know won’t fit) into the overhead bin, cleverly blocking the whole aisle so no one can get passed before they finally decide to commandeer all the available space in her seating row for her precious bags. I’m not one to rush up to stand in line for 20 minutes to board a plane, but I do try to get in ahead of the Asian Grandmas. O.O

  7. I’ve never had to go to the Zollamt, and I occasionally receive gifts from America. Lucky me 🙂

    I laughed out loud at the image of Germans throwing towels everywhere 😀

  8. Wow, interesting. Are insurance salesmen in Germany as awful as the ones in Japan? Or maybe I’ve just had bad experiences… the religion thing is interesting, I’m curious now which “church” they give your money to, or do you get to decide? I’m Christian but would certainly not be comfortable letting the state decide which, if any, church I support, so that’s a good tidbit to know in case I ever end up in Germany!

    • I don’t believe insurance salesmen exist here…
      It would just be to the Christian church – to maintain the church buildings, I believe.

      • You mean, people just… buy insurance? Without a middle man? Nope. It’s too logical. My mind can’t accept it. 😉

      • To be precise, the “Kirchensteuer” (church tax) will ONLY be deducted (by the taxman on behalf of the church) if you are a church member – which most Germans are. So the question is not really about your religion (“Christian”) but about your church membership. And there again, the state will only collect church tax on behalf of the two big, official ones, the Roman Catholic and the “Evangelische Kirche” (evangelical = protestant church, which is locally either Lutheran or Reformed or United). If you are Christian but you belong to no church in Germany or to one of the “Freikirchen” (free churches), non of all this applies (I.e. if you are Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal or one of the other million denominations that an average German has never ever heard about in their whole life)

  9. Oh the pork thing! I keep telling my American friends it’s like living in a giant Cracker Barrel. They make everything with pork there, even the Cola…

  10. Very very true. And it’s interesting to read al of these things from your perspective. Funny – always say it was a gift! Yep, true!

  11. Just noticed you included a link to my 10 Tips for Expats in Bavaria post. Thanks for including it!

  12. >Safe, on the whole.
    I think nobody considers stuff from construction sites as items you want to own. They are dirty in general and no (German-) one wants dirty stuff. The expensive devices like electronic saw are usually locked away and the large, bulky ones lifted in the air by the crane before the workers leave. In the UK people steal this kind of things:)?

    > At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall,
    Christmas market are not necessarily known for selling high quality/valuable items. It has no value and especially these event-markets are known to sell only worthless trash you throw away the next day or at least place it somewhere in the attic/cellar where it vanishes for the next decade.
    These things just have low-value reputation thats why it is ‘safe’ to be careless with them.
    If you take cafes or restaurants with chair/tables outside on the other hand, they chain them together or lock them away entirely. These things are prone to become targets for theft or vandalism.

    >Rules in the contract
    Read it and understand it and be aware about regulations after you quit a job. Sometimes you might have to pay back bonus payments from the end of the last year if you leave the company within N months etc. There might be some really surprising phrases in it.
    And just because it is written in the contract does not mean it is legal or fair. If you leave your company in a fight, German courts tend to decide in the favor of the (former) employee you might have a chance to get quite a lot of money. A contract is not written in stone its just what the respective company thinks is legal or wants to be legal. You can find often disclaimers in the contract that prevent the whole contract from becoming invalid just because a single sentence is ‘incorrect’ formulated. You have rights as an employee in Germany 🙂

    • Charlotte says:

      Oh yeah, building stuff will get stolen by small building companies to use. Dirty or not, it’s all useful.

      It’s good to know that about contracts. There was a clause in our contract that apparently is not meant to be legally binding, so I guess it can often happen that we don’t need to follow it to the line.
      Thanks for all the info! I appreciate German people responding!

  13. Square pillows! And fines for jaywalking (even if the road is clear for miles in each direction). I miss Germany a lot.
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