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Traveling to a new country comes with so many unknowns. Customs are different, food is different, language is different, the currency is unfamiliar. but I am here to help you navigate our way through Europe, discussing all the differences, and how to avoid common mistakes, and doing our best to fit in.
Germany is one of my absolute favorite countries in Europe to explore. From the amazing food to fantastic castles to the charming cities and the friendly Germans. But, from my experiences, I have learned a thing or two when visiting this great country, and I would love to share my knowledge with you, so you can avoid making the same mistakes as me!
1. Beware of the Bike Lane
This is actually a very big deal. Many tourist are unaware of the bike lanes in Europe, and I consistently see them wondering into them, and nearly getting ran over by the cyclist. Most cyclists are aware of oblivious tourists, and they are kind enough to slow down, and ring their bike bells, and yet, I still witness tourist unaware of what the bell means. But walker beware, some cyclist do not care that you are from the area, and are unfamiliar with their rules/laws, and the do not slow down, and they will run you over (I know from experience…see below for story).
Lanes are properly marked in most high trafficked areas, but not always marked in parks or smaller
towns, villages. As a curtesy, you and your group of travelers, should try to be cautious that Germany is a very bike friendly country, and when walking, leave room for cyclists to pass, don’t take up the entire walkway.
My first time in Germany, I was well aware that there are bike lanes, and I knew to avoid walking in them at all costs. Let’s set the scene: it was a very rainy day in Munich, and I had my hood up over my head. I went to cross the bike pathway, and when I went to look towards my left, to see if any cyclists were approaching, my hood fell and blocked my line of sight! Did that stop me? No, I stupidly did not stop walking. Well, needless to say, a cyclist was in the bike lane, and they DID run me over! They don’t slow down for nothing! So, it definitely happens.
Then, this last time in Germany, I was almost ran over a second time! I disembarked my cruise, and standing in a small grassy area, which had a pathway (nothing marked) going through the small park that ran along the river. There were many tourists who had just disembarked, and taking pictures. I had just started to turned around on the edge of the pathway, was about the step up on the path, only to have a cyclist whizzed right by me! He DID NOT slow down one tiny bit as he was maneuvering through all the tourist who had just left our ship. He then cussed me out in German, to where our tour guide was kind enough to have some of her own words with him.
In this case he was in the wrong for not slowing down, especially in a shared space, with no markings. The first time, however, I was definitely in the wrong when I got ran over!
2. Don’t Forget to Carry Cash
Germany is not a cashless society like most of the USA, or many Western European countries. Expect many restaurants and shops to accept cash only. Using a debit/credit card is more common in hotels, larger restaurants, chain-affiliated restaurants and deparment stores, and larger department stores.
Prior to Covid, using a debit/credit card was not as widely accepted, so the use of an ATM machine was definitely a necessity. They are safe and easy to use, and most have an English option available. Just be aware of the fees you may be charged. To find an ATM just look for a big white “S” with a dot over it, and a red background, or vice versa, known as Sparkasse, the state-owned banks. Other banks are also available for use, these are just easier to spot.
Since Covid, I did notice that more restaurants and shops are taking debit/credit cards, but MANY restaurants and shops are still dealing in cash only practices. So just be aware and travel with some Euros. Like I said, it’s extremely easy and safe to extract cash from an ATM.
Avoid getting currency at the Currency Exchange counters in the airports and train stations. Their fees and rates are higher then those you would pay through the ATM.
3. Expect to Pay for your Drinks. All of Them!
It’s a very common practice in Europe to purchase all of your drinks, even water, and do not expect refills! Beer in Germany is fairly inexpensive compared to soft drinks and water, so if you don’t plan on driving, do as the locals and enjoy a regional specialty beer!
When it comes to water, SOME places in Germany may let you get away with tap water (Leitungswasser) for free, but it’s pretty rare, and you still may be charged for the water, or the use of the cup. Some restaurants will let you have tap water for free with a purchase of your beer. Be sure to ask, because if you are getting charged for a drink, might as well get a water! Prices of water aren’t terrible, typically a glass of water runs from 2-3 Euros, soft drinks from 3-4 Euros, beer and wine runs around 6-9 Euros, and cocktails run around 8-14 Euros, these are just averages, prices vary by region and restaurant!
Quick Guide to Ordering Water in Germany:
- Mineralwasser klassisch/classic or Sprudelwasser: heavy carbonated water (Sprudel).
- Mineralwasser medium: carbonated at an intermediate level.
- Mineralwasser still or Stilles Wasser: poorly or non-carbonated
- Mineralwasser Mit Gas: Water with gas/bubbles
- Mineralwasser ohne Gas: Still Water Drinks to Try in Germany
German Drinks to Try:
- Apfelschorle (Non-Alcoholic): An apple juice soda
- Radler: Lemonade-Beer mix
- Spezi/ Mezzo Mix (Non-Alcoholic): A mixture of cola and orange soda
- Weissbier: Weissbier is a classic Bavarian wheat ale, with a mousse-like foamy top, and a cloudy appearance
- Riesling: A regional white, high in natural acidity, Riesling wines are incredibly versatile and may range from dry, medium dry or medium sweet to sweet styles.
4. Don’t -Not- Tip… but Over Don’t Tip
Tipping culture in Germany is not the same as it is in the United States, or even in other parts of Europe. But a small tip is still considered polite. Just round up your bill to the next Euro, or if it’s exceptional service, add a Euro or two. For a night out at a higher-end restaurant, expect to tip about 10%.
5. Don’t Get Drunk in Public
Germany has an amazing drinking culture from some of the most fantastic beers to some of the most amazing wines, but don’t get caught drunk in public! Not only will you get some distasteful looks, but you could incur some heavy fines or even an arrest!
6. Obey Road Signs, Even When Walking
It should go without saying, that you should always obey the rules of the road when driving, especially when driving, but what about when walking? Jay walking is not a thing in Germany. Will you see people doing it? Yes. Will the be Germans? Probably not. Jaywalking is frowned upon and if caught, you could receive a ticket. So be warned, follow the traffic signals and stick to the pedestrian crossings.
7. Speaking of Traffic Rules… Drive in the RIGHT Lane on the Autobahn. Left Lane is for Passing, ONLY
Germans are great drivers, and they take driving very seriously. One rule you MUST follow, not only for your safety, but for the safety of others, is to always drive in the RIGHT lane on the Autobahn, unless you are passing. Don’t hang out in the left lane for any reason. Pass, and get back over. There are large stretches of the Autobahn that are unrestricted, and let me tell you from experience, you think you are going pretty fast cruising at 120-130mph, when you are suddenly passed, out of nowhere, from another vehicle that zooms by, and you weren’t expecting it. That scenario happens a lot, and if you are cruising in the left lane, you are putting your life in jeopardy as well as the other drivers.
** Side note: It’s illegal to run out of gas on the autobahn, so be sure your all filled up before taking off!**
8. Don’t Assume Everyone Speaks English
Before leaving for Germany, please, please, I beg of you, learn a few pleasantries prior to your vacation. Saying things like, “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Where’s the toilets,” “How much is…” and of course “Thank you” in German really does go along way, and is very much.
Not all Germans are well versed in English, not even “the younger generation.” Yes, many Germans do speak English, and they speak it very well, but I have been in tourist-y areas where someone might expect “everyone should speak English” because, English is the universal travel language, but guess what, we had a few younger waiters who were struggling with their English, and that’s okay, we are in Germany, and German is their language. Their English shouldn’t have to be perfect! We are the visitors and should embrace their culture, including language.
Thankfully, we learned enough German prior to leaving that we were able to work out the menu and/or gesture to what we needed, but you’d be surprised at how much more people are willing to help you when you are trying to speak their language to get the message across, and surprisingly, their English even gets a little better, too!
9. Be Prepared: Sundays are For Relaxing
Sundays are typically quiet days in Germany. There is even a law which does not allow loud noises such as vacuuming, drilling, or playing loud music, even in your own house on Sundays. Especially between 1pm to 3pm, and 10pm to 7am. This also applies to tourists in hotels, so if you can, please be respectful, and do not be loud on Sundays. Also keep this tradition in mind when planning your vacation, as most shops, some restaurants, and some tourist attractions may be closed on Sundays. Sundays might be a great day as a travel day, or used to just walk around to explore the city or an area park.
10. Don’t Be a Prude…People Get Nude!
Germany has been in the buff since late-19th-century when it was considered healthy and routine to strip for fitness and sunbathing as a possible cure for TB and rheumatism. In Germany, nudism is known as Freikoerperkultur (FKK), Free Body Culture. And even today, Germans like to be in the buff.
Currently, there are about 600,000 Germans registered in more than 300 private nudist/FKK clubs; members can visit these clubs to sunbathe nude or indulge in some naked jogging or trailing through the countryside wearing only backpacks, boots or running shoes.
Although, normally considered a more conservative country among the other continental European Nations, Germans have kept their affinity for nudity. You’ll regularly see business professionals spending their lunch breaks in the park, typically in designated FKK areas, soaking up the sun in the topless or completely in the buff. There are also many designated FKK beaches, or areas of a beach purely for some Free Body Culture activities.
Wanting to join in?
You can visit nacktbaden.de (WARNING: NUDE PHOTOS ARE DISPLAYED ON WEBSITE). You are welcome to visit any of the designated FKK areas, such as in public parks, you can disrobe to your comfort-level. There you will see people in all levels of disrobed-ness! Beware, no dressing rooms are available, you just strip! As for designated beaches, they may be different, so be mindful of the signs. If the beach has a sign indicating it is a textile-free zones, then you must be fully nude or you’ll be reprimanded, and the life-guards do enforce the rules! There are also private FKK Clubs that you can join on a trial basis, or as a new member, but these seem to be on the decline.
Where else you might see some nudity:
- Mixed-gender Saunas
- In Someone’s Own Yard or on Their Balcony
- On Prime-Time Television
- Children: Pools, Parks, Saunas, Beaches
- On the Autobahn – Yes, you read that right, you can drive in the nude on the autobahn as long as your aren’t “flashing” other drivers!
11. Under No Circumstances Should You Give the Nazi Salute!
Not only is this extremely offensive, it is also highly illegal in Germany. Along with the Nazi Salute, it is also illegal to display any other Nazi symbol, flag, or slogan. Any violation can result in steep fines and up to five years in prison if you’re caught. This is EXTREMELY important and should not happen under any circumstances!
12. Don’t Forget to Pay for Your Transportation
Not gonna lie, most stations are on the “honor” system, meaning that you don’t have to go through turnstiles or a ticket checkpoint. But that DOES NOT MEAN you can no skimp out on buying a ticket. Tickets are often checked by staff on the train, dressed in plain
clothes, they regularly ride the rails, and who won’t hesitate to present you with a fine of up to €60 if you boarded the train without a valid ticket. Germany has an excellent public transport system, a wonderful network of trains, trams, subways, and buses that can take you just about everywhere. Plus, public transportation is Germany is incredibly affordable, and they often offer single trip, day, week, month and family passes, and the kiosks are incredibly easy to use!
13. Don’t Throw Your Water Bottle in the Recycling -OR- the Trash
Of course, you should NEVER through your plastic water bottle in the trash in Germany…But!…the shops in Germany charge you €0.25 per bottle as a deposit, known as a Pfand in German. If you save your bottle, and return it, you get your €0.25 back. Of course, if you are traveling on a whirlwind tour, or just don’t want to take the time to deal with this, be sure to recycle your water bottle in the proper container!
14. Avoid These Rude Gestures
- Pointing at your head: Unless you are looking to insult someone and call them “crazy,” this is a gesture best avoided
- Thumb Between Index and Middle Fingers: Another gesture worth avoiding as it basically symbolizes a sexual act, and is seen is seen highly insulting.
- Placing your hand in your pocket while talking: This one isn’t necessarily rude, but seen as very sloppy, lazy, and disrespectful. So if you are in Germany on business, it is certainly not a good idea to ever do this in a business setting!
- Chewing gum during a conversation: This again is considered very disrespectful, and considered very rude. Basically, showing any signs of distracted behavior will make you come off as insincere and arrogant.
- And of course… The Middle Finger, Snapping at Waiters/Waitresses, and the Forearm Jerk: All have the same meaning there as they do here, so no explanation needed!
15. Bring Your Own Bags Grocery Shopping
Going to the grocery store in Germany is it’s own adventure in itself! Eggs are NOT refrigerated (they aren’t pasteurized like eggs in the USA, and therefore keep their protective coating), among other oddities you will see, but checking out could seriously be an Olympic sport all on it’s own! The most important part of all of this, you will not get a bag for your groceries (if you didn’t bring one, and need one, buy a reusable one prior to check out!!!), and when you do bring your own bag, DON’T expect any help packing it, and you better do it quickly, because no one waits for you to collect your items before they start ringing in the next person, so here’s how it goes:
- Quickly unload your items
- Pack your items at lightning speed (IN YOUR OWN BAGS)
- Pay Quickly (Don’t Skip a Beat!)
- Finish Packing Items (If you haven’t already)
- Get out of the way, or you are going to get some nasty looks from the next customer in line!
16. Be Sure to Make Eye Contact While Toasting
While eating, it is common to toast when enjoying a meal with company, and if you get to be apart of this grand tradition, be sure you look the others in the eye when you do, as it’s considered bad German etiquette and even supposed to bring bad luck if you don’t. So, Pros
- The Ultimate Packing List for Travelers
- Common Packing Mistakes to Avoid for Stress-Free Travel
- Ultimate Guide: Comfortable Plane Travel – What to Wear on a Plane
- How to Spend One Day in Barcelona
- The Best Packing List for Cruises
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