THINGS YOU MUST KNOW BEFORE GOING TO GERMANY (ULTIMATE GUIDE)
As I enjoy living and studying here in Germany thanks to my exchange program, I would like to introduce this lovely country and its people to those who haven’t been to the land of Wurst and Bier. Haha! I have compiled this list of Things You Must Know Before Going to Germany to help first-time travelers to come prepared and avoid committing social mistakes when they travel here.
Do note that these are based on my observations and experiences as a Filipino traveler and foreign student. I may have different experience than others and I do not claim to be an expert on German culture and people. This article is simply written to give an outsider’s view and understanding of how Germany and Germans are like. Also, my favorite country, Austria, has a lot of similar things to that of Germany so this list could also apply to it. READ: Things You Must Know Before Going to Vienna.
- One of the things you must know before going to Germany is that the weather can be very cold and very hot. During summer, I complain non-stop on how this central European country could be hotter than my Asian hometown.
- On the other hand, winter could be very cold. During my exchange program at Marburg University (READ: Welcome to Philipps Universitat Marburg, Germany), my fellow exchange students and I wish for Spring to finally come. It felt like Winter wanted to stay and we were all looking forward to a sunny and warm weather.
- Because of this, you will often see people going out and basking under the sun’s rays once the weather improved. It is not uncommon to even see women in their bikinis lazily lounging in the parks, gardens, or even outside our school dormitories. Being from Asia where we had a year’s worth of sun, it was surprising for me at first to see a lot of people sunbathing with their swimsuits on when I was casually strolling along a park. So, heads up to my Asian friends. READ: How to Apply for Schengen Tourist Visa for Filipinos
- Germans are mostly and normally punctual. Forget your Filipino, Vietnamese or Italian culture and be on time.
- However, some trains are not regularly on time. Sad, but true.
- Germany still has the cash culture especially for smaller shops and restaurants. Your foreign cards are still accepted at major shopping districts and big diners, but sometimes won’t work when you go grocery shopping.
- With that, better get a coin purse. Germany uses Euro as its currency and it has coins, unlike countries in Indochina, for instance, where everything are in notes.
- Many Germans are crazy over Bio and so am I. The eco, animal, plant and life-friendly products have Bio sign on them and although the price is more expensive, it is a very good feeling to purchase and consume eco-friendly vegetables, eggs, milk, etc.
- Still on shopping, my favorite supermarkets are Rewe and Edeka, but I recommend going to Penny Markt and Aldi for cheaper finds suitable for your traveler’s budget.
- Also, better bring your own shopping bag! Plus points if you have those eco-friendly ones. You know, still on Bio. ☺
- German beer and football go along well. Not a fan of both? No worries. You will learn how to drink at least a Maß (one liter beer mug) and even get into the cheerful atmosphere of watching a football match with Germans. Also a perfect conversation starter.
Football fan here!
- Another thing you should know before going to Germany is that Germans can make everything out of potatoes. Seriously! You will never get bored with a variety of potato dishes your homestay, hotel or restaurants can offer – boiled, mashed, baked, fried, soup, salad, Knödel, Kartoffelkroketten, Reibekuchen, etc. READ: Guten Apettit! Top Must-try German Food
- Shops close early on weekdays and mostly on Sundays. Compared to shops back in Asia where many are open 24/7 (even cinemas!), shops, supermarkets and banks close after 1700 or 1800. The evening off is an important freedom to the Germans to spend time to themselves and their families. Also, many stores and other establishments are closed during Sundays and holidays, but restaurants and Museums remain open. You must keep this information in mind when you travel to Germany. I did not do my research before and had nothing to get my necessities when I arrived since the supermarkets nearby are already closed. However, some supermarkets (mostly ones near or in train stations) close a bit late around 2000.
- One more thing to know before going to Germany is that many drink carbonated water. Back home, it is unusual to do so. I had this mistake of casually grabbing the water-looking bottle off the shelf of a supermarket only to find that it has “gas.” For those who are also not a fan of carbonated water, look for signs that say “still” or “ohne.”
- Segregate your trash. I am very happy with this system in Germany and you can literally find it anywhere – schools, hospitals, train stations, airports, Museums, public spaces and even in your German friends’ homes! There are usually color-coordinated and appropriately labeled bins for different kinds of waste.
- Still with recycling, look out for the sign that says “pfand” when you buy drinks in glasses or plastic bottles. When you have seen that sign on your drink, it means you can return the glass/bottle to the supermarket and get a deposit back, usually .25 or .50. Another reason to buy those beer bottles!
- Germany, along with many other European countries, is pet-friendly. It is not uncommon to see people with their dogs in the subway, shopping stores and restaurants.
INTERACTING WITH GERMANS
- Based on my interaction with them, Germans are straightforward people who like to speak their mind. Small talk is okay, but they are more in their element speaking about certain issues.
- Also, I find Germans aware, knowledgeable and opinionated about social, environment, human rights and political issues. Knowing my background, I am so happy for this discovery!
- However, one thing that you must know before going to Germany is that people can be also very traditional and bureaucratic. If you would go there and be an exchange student like me, there would be too many paperwork and processes needed to be done. READ: How to Apply for German National Student Visa for Filipinos.
- Interestingly, I have observed that Germans like to complain a lot. They are critical and like to voice their opinion on things. The weather is too cold. The soup is too salty. The train is too fast. The weather is too perfect. This has been affirmed, confessed and validated by my German friends. I believe this is the reason why Germans are known to deliver high-quality products and services.
- Another observation is that many dress simply and casually. You would pass as a local with your t-shirt, jeans, and Converse sneakers. You can even go clubbing with that.
- Another thing to note before going to Germany is to not easily trust Germans when they say they are not good in English – most of them are! Aside from English, I like that they also learn other languages in school, mostly French or Spanish.
- One of the things you must know before going to Germany is to be polite. Greet people. Learn to say, “Hallo”, “Guten Tag”, or “Servus” when in supermarket, kiosk, restaurant, etc. Say your good byes and thank yous with a simple “Tschuss”, “Ciao”, or “Auf wiedersehen”. I know it should no longer be said, but I have seen many people around the world who are plain rude and do not even bother with polite gestures.
- It goes without saying that you should be punctual and not let your new German friends wait for you. Especially when you are going out to drink. Haha!
- Another interesting thing you must know before going to Germany is that many are obsessed with their titles, so better use them correctly. Address people with Herr, Frau, Mag, Dr appropriately. Some are insane with that and I was surprised to see these titles even on tombstones!
- When calling Germans, do not call after 10 PM unless you were given permission to do so beforehand.
- On weekends, many Germans like the quietness of the surrounding and just relax. Therefore, do not create unnecessary loud noises from 10 PM until morning. Also, do not use the vacuum cleaner or mower on Sunday morning!
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR TRAVELERS
- Try to be your best fit self when going to Germany. Get yourself your most comfortable walking shoes as well. You would do a lot of walking (and in my case, climbing hills in Marburg) in Germany so do come prepared.
- Always bring your passport especially when going to bars and clubs. I have been stopped on more than one occasion by bouncers who think I am younger than 18 years old. Sometimes, I hate my Asian genes. Haha!
- Be careful when you say you want to invite someone for dinner. In German and Austrian culture, “invitation” includes paying for the meals and drinks. Therefore, when Germans invite you for coffee, it means they would treat you. Do not get misunderstood.
- German trains are faster, but expensive when you go intercity or cross-country. Flixbus is a German bus company, which offers more affordable transportation within and outside Germany. READ: How I traveled Cheaply Around Europe.
- German cars are awesome and built to go fast, so I have noticed in several occasions Germans driving over the limit. Going around 180mph in autobahn seems normal, but as foreigners let’s try not to copy them. German Polizei looks strict.
- Always have loose change with you. They will prove handy when you need to go to the toilet in public areas. In train stations, for instance, toilets are paid and normally costs around 50 cents.
- I love going to sauna but do know that in Germany, sauna = naked. I was culture shocked last summer when I entered a sauna in Stuttgart and saw that not only were there naked bodies, but there were males and females mixed together!
- If you miss Hollywood films but cannot understand German, you can still go and enjoy watching movies. Just look for OV or Original Version when you read the cinema schedule.
Last tip: Learn a bit of German. I know that most of the time I feel like it is a torturous language invented to punish and easily identify foreigners, but speaking some words or phrases won’t hurt. You may be treated nicer or gained that not-so-common German friendly smiles from waiters when you show eagerness to learn their language.
At last, my Ultimate Guide for Things You Must Know Before Going to Germany has finally ended. I know it is a long list and quite a read, but I want it to be as extensive as possible. I hope that this article helps first-timers in Germany and Austria appreciate the culture of the country more and interact with the locals better.
Have you been to Germany? Help me grow this list by adding your comments below.