Ask someone what they know about Germany and they’re bound to bring up sausage, beer, and that good ‘ol German efficiency. And, actually, those things often ring true. But Germany is a huge country with tons of variety and a large population. To make the most of your time in Germany, there are a few things you should know before you go.
Bavaria is completely different from the rest of Germany.
Even the dialect in Bavaria differs from the northern regions — in some rural parts of Bavaria, it’s practically a different language. But mostly the difference lies in Bavarian identity and culture. Most people are familiar with Oktoberfest, and although Bavarians don’t strut around in their lederhosen and dirndl on a daily basis, there’s a good deal of pride for the celebration and its traditional garb. Bavarian food is also unique, and includes the likes of white sausage and mustard, and the ubiquitous pretzel.
There’s epic scenery beyond the Black Forest.
Yes, the Black Forest is stunning, but it’s not the only place to go in Germany for big nature. Saxon-Switzerland National Park borders the Czech Republic, and its sandstone formations around the Elbe River makes for a dramatic landscape. There is also a surprising abundance of white sandy beaches, like on the Rügen archipelago, or at Rostock on the Baltic Sea.
You should carry cash with you.
Despite being an incredibly modern country, many shops and restaurants in Germany do not accept credit cards or even debit cards. You’ll be fine at most supermarkets and tourist spots, but if you plan on a night out at a bar or a dinner at a local restaurant, you’ll want to have cash with you. (And, oddly, ATMs are seriously lacking in cities like Berlin.)
Overt displays of patriotism are not a thing.
Although you might see Germany flags everywhere during Euro Cup or World Cup, Germans are usually very hesitant to show lots of patriotism; nobody wants to confuse pride with nationalism. Germans are very aware of their country’s dark history.
But Germans have no problems acknowledging the past.
Having said that, Germany does an incredible job acknowledging the past and has accepted full responsibility for it. Children are taught about the world wars from an early age, and every museum and memorial dedicated to these wars and the Holocaust are free of charge. Places like the Jewish Museum in Berlin have free admission.
And Germans also celebrate their cultural identity, because it’s epic.
Germany has given us prolific artists like Caspar David Friedrich and musicians like Ludwig van Beethoven. German architecture is in a league of its own, and contemporary design schools like Bauhaus produce some of the finest architects in the world. Almost every town in Germany is home to a large gallery or art museum, including notables like the Nationalmuseum Nürnberg and the Hamburg Kunsthalle.
Germans really do take their beer seriously.
In Germany, there’s such thing as a beer “purity law” (Reinheitsgebot), which outlines a certain standard for all beers being brewed in the country. Beer is also ridiculously cheap, because it’s taxed as “food” (bread) and isn’t really considered alcohol.
Children have a whole lot of freedom.
In big cities like Berlin, you’ll see young children riding the subway alone, or headed off to school alone…and it’s totally normal. Or you might notice a pram parked outside a shop with a baby still in it while his or her mother briefly runs errands inside. Again, this is totally normal.
Speaking of Berlin, the capital is a different universe compared to other cities.
The German capital is chocked so full of history, it’s hard to take everything in on your first visit. But it also draws expats and travelers from around the world, and is an incredible multicultural hub with a massive arts scene. Berlin is gritty and more graffiti-laden than other German cities and villages, but its free spiritedness can’t be beat.
Germans aren’t big on small talk.
Sometimes Germans come off as cold, but generally they’re just not fans of small talk and it’s unlikely that a random stranger in the street will strike up a conversation. This doesn’t mean they’re not accommodating or helpful when asked, though. If you work in business, you might notice that Germans are incredibly direct and straightforward with their instruction and feedback.
German punctuality and efficiency is not just a stereotype.
Here’s another mostly-true stereotype: spend time in Germany for longer than a few weeks and you’ll come to appreciate the tiny details of life there, like how thorough the public transit is, and how easy it is to recycle. Bicycle lanes are just as extensive as the road system, and we have the Germans to thank for the autobahn (highway).
Nudity is totally acceptable here.
Nobody shies away from nudity, and you’re apt to come across plenty of it on any public beach or spa. In fact, in spas it’s more frowned upon to not go nude. In Eastern Germany, when citizens lived under a communist government, vacations to the Baltic Sea or the lakes were popular and nudity was a form of freedom and self expression.
You don’t need to tip.
Tipping is not expected in Germany, because wages are fine and employees receive lots of benefits. But it’s not uncommon to round up to the nearest dollar when paying your bill, and although you may see plenty of tip jars at bars and fast food joints, nobody will spit in your salad for not adding a little extra.
Oktoberfest is the world’s biggest festival, and the locals actually (mostly) love it.
Oktoberfest is the largest beer drinking festival in the world, and although it’s a massive tourist draw, it’s enormously popular with the locals too. For 16 days, people from all over the world come together to drink more than a million liters of beer in total. There’s something special about sharing a long table with a bunch of new friends over a liter of Augustiner-Bräu.
When toasting a drink with a German, always maintain eye contact!
When you clink glasses with a German, not maintaining eye contact is considered to be bad luck! And yes, you will be called out on it. Prost!