When you are travelling through Germany, there are many cool places to see. However, there may be some customs and travel tips for Germany you should know about to avoid trouble. And you know how Germans love their rules and being prepared for all eventualities. So let’s discuss what you should avoid and what things not to do in Germany.
Disclaimer: I am only half serious in this article. But then again, I am not. If you have made different experiences while travelling Germany, let me know in the comments. (But be nice. These are my experiences as well-travelled German in Germany and they are valid too.)
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Not stand for the elderly, disabled or pregnant
There are designated seats on public transport with clear signage that is reserved for the elderly, disabled or pregnant. This way they can sit down quickly, don’t have to awkwardly ask for someone to clear the seat for them.
So if you find yourself sitting in one of those seats, be on the lookout for anyone you should offer the seat too.
I am not saying that all Germans adhere to this. Sadly, that’s often not the case. However, it’s also presumptuous to judge someone’s disability based on their perceived healthy looks. We never know. But if you know you are healthy, do not claim that seat.
Cross a red light when kids are around
If you want to be verbally abused in Germany (I don’t know what you’re into), try crossing a red light with (elderly) people present. It’s even more effective if there are kids in sight and they have their parents/guardians with them. You will be loudly disciplined and shamed in front of the kids. How dare you show misbehaviour in front of the kids?!
One time someone proclaimed they wished I would get hit by a truck in front of their kids’ eyes for my misdemeanor. I hadn’t seen the kid sneak up on my from behind. I’m honestly not quite sure if it was I that traumatized them or that comment of their parent.
Jaywalking is frowned upon even when there’s no one around. Why care if no one sees? Well, Many Germans do. It’s a stereotype and quite true. You will find plenty of Germans who will still do it. But they are rebels!
Flip the bird
Did you know it’s a finable offense to give somebody the finger, tap your forehead (to indicate someone is an idiot) or poke your tongue out?
According to German criminal code (StGB), it can be interpreted as a calculated insult and defamation.
Not having your own shopping bags with you
If you go grocery shopping in Germany, do not expect to get free plastic bags for your convenience. Those aren’t allowed anymore. Come with your recycled tote or buy a reusable bag at the cashier.
For a more budget conscious alternative that doesn’t leave you with an extra bag and a bad conscience, take an empty carton for a row of products (such as yogurt) and use that as a makeshift shopping box. You’ll see this done especially when shopping at places such as Aldi and Lidl.
Also: nobody will pack your bags for you, in case you were wondering. And they are super fast at the till. Get ready to pack with crazy speed.
South Germany is tick country. If you want to head out into nature, you need to be aware of this. While it doesn’t necessarily affect you unless you stray off the paths (And you are probably a very rule-abiding traveller, around you, and won’t leave the designated paths, right? Right?!), you can still get them from a seemingly harmless picnic in the park.
In the popular park Paradies in Jena, they did an experiment and found a surprising amount of ticks crawling on the blankets within an hour. (I don’t remember the number and can’t find the article online. It was sprinted in the local newspaper.)
You can see up to date maps of tick danger areas here.
The thing is that they are annoying and gross, sure. But they can also give you lyme disease and that can affect you for the rest of your life if you don’t realise that’s what it is rightaway.
So the best bet is to wear long clothes, always search your body at the end of the day after being in nature, using a proper tick tweezer* (never pull with your hands!!) and go see a local doctor as soon as you spot a discoloration in the form of a ring around your wound. If you have travel insurance, it won’t be a problem to see a GP.
Always double check with your insurance in advance, just to be sure if they need to recommend a certain GP that they cover. I recommend using WorldNomads for travel insurance. They’re covering super much, including covid (more info here*).
Smile and talk to strangers
Here’s a fun little social experiment for you if you get bored on public transport. Try finding an area that’s pretty much empty and sit next to the only person there.
Added points for smiling and greeting them casually. They’ll freak. Maybe they will mumble something under their breath and awkwardly flee the scene.
Kill them with kindness gets a different spin in Germany. 😉
Wearing a hat
I’m not kidding. People will let you know you are different very visually and sometimes even vocally. I honestly love my hats and will wear them proudly. By now I am just blocking out those obvious judgy looks, complete with a full up and down head movement.
People in Germany, especially on the countryside but also smaller cities and towns, aren’t interested too much in being fashionable.
Practicality is key. Which is why Jack Wolfskin is the fashion choice number one in Germany. You never know when you may spontaneously go for a hike or be caught in a rainstorm.
Plan museum visits on Mondays
You’d be in for a rude awakening if you want to enter castles, museums and galleries in Germany on a Monday. That’s a typical rest day. Those places are closed. Always double check the opening hours and days in advance cause on some holidays you will also find them closed.
Likewise for restrautants in smaller towns or villages, you might find they only open on a few days per week.
Going shopping on Sundays and after 6pm
Never go shopping on a Sunday in Germany. Why? It’s not possible. Everything is closed. This has Christian roots as Sundays are meant for resting from your work week.
Outside of cities and it seems in Bavaria in general (to give you an example as I live here currently), many stores are closing at 6pm. Supermarkets are generally open only until 8am, maybe 10pm during the week.
So late night snack getting is out the window. Equip yourself accordingly or be prepared to find a petrol station if you really need food. Of course, you can also have food delivered to you and restaurants might still be open as well.
Make noise during quiet hours
Another specialty of German Sundays are that you are expected to not be noisy. This includes loud music, doing laundry, hammering, even having TV on loud or talking loudly. German walls are not necessarily thin but thin enough to hear it.
You may find neighbours will aggressively knock on the walls, ring at your door or even call the police on you who will tell you to turn it down.
Quiet hours on any other day are typically 12-3pm and after 6 or 7pm. It depends on the housing and municipality, but that’s the general guidelines. Not that everyone sticks to it. But Germans have veeeery strong opinions about such people and will remember.
While our recycling system is far from perfect, Germans still take it seriously. Do they do it well and strictly adhere to it? Nope.
Live in a housing complex in Germany and you will be reminded daily of what assholes and how dumb people can be. Throwing plastic bags onto compostables when there’s a very obvious sign of this being forbidden (as it makes the entire trash bin contents unusable).
Still, you will find options for recycling your rubbish in many public places, especially inside malls and at train stations. So sort your stuff accordingly.
If you are staying in a rental or Airbnb, there are different containers for different kinds of recyclables. Always check the info sign for it as different states recycle differently. Sometimes you may even have to take the trash out yourself. And there are different bins for different trash and different recycling days. You often need your house key to enter those recycling stations.
Bring up anything N%zi
No, this isn’t a thing to bond over. (Trust me, I’ve had people think it’s a great ice breaker when they heard they are German. It made me feel extremely uncomfortable and really threatened on two occasions. I don’t need a comment on this if you felt your fingers itching to type something in response.)
It’s not cool to do a certain salute or draw a certain symbol (and actually a criminal offense that could even land you in prison). You can’t buy a certain autobiography in Germany, etc.
While we openly talk about our history to make sure it won’t be repeated, and you can see memorials, information plaques and museums dedicated to education on this chapter in German history, it’s not a light topic for us. It’s not taboo to ask questions, just be sensitive about it and definitely don’t bring it up out of the blue and with zero context.
Treat it like a theme park
Historical city centres aren’t a fairy tale movie set, nor is Neuschwanstein. I feel like I need to give this reality check because some people just go overboard with romanticizing this to the extreme.
It’s great that you appreciate it, but like the people in Notting Hill, London absolutely loathe all those selfie moments on their doorsteps, local Germans aren’t happy about such behaviour either if it gets obnoxious and blocks the street.
On that note, please do not visit Eastern Germany and feed into the narrative of it being the “lesser/poorer” Germany due to history, the typical Soviet housing blocks, etc.
The East West divide is still very much trapped in many people’s heads, so this is a bit of a salt in the wound for Eastern Germans. Plus, there are incredible places to visit that most tourists don’t even know about cause they only research the biggest cities.
Good thing you have found this blog. I am covering amazing places in central and Eastern Germany quite a bit.
Visit only Berlin
This is a pet peeve of mine. People who visit a capital city and call it a day. (maybe even doing a little bit of city hopping in Europe and proclaim they “have been everywhere”. Sure you have. Tell me again about the culture.)
There’s absolutely nothing wrong about a city getaway. You can casually explore it, see it in depth and all that. You can stay in Berlin for months and still have tons to discover, for sure.
But know that it means you’ve only been to Berlin. And Berlin is the least German city you can visit in Germany. We have an entire country to offer, you know.
Oh, and many Germans don’t like Berlin and will roll their eyes when you say that you love Berlin. :P
(I used to be that person before I visited it a few times. Funny how not even seeing a place can give you an opinion on it. It’s cool and worth a visit, but not my personal favourite. Still, I can see why many people love it.)
Not try sausages (if you eat meat)
This one is for the meat lovers. Vegans and vegetarians, please skip this paragraph.
(Traditional German cuisine isn’t kind to you – do not go into a typical restaurant unless you are fine with a really boring salad. Vegetarians, please try fresh bread from the bakeries tho!!)
You can say that kinda every region in Germany has their very own signature sausage and Schinken (bacon). This means, you should try them locally! Here is a sausage map of Germany to give you an idea of the different kinds and names.
You can get those from the supermarket, in the chilled section or the in-store butcher, or local butcher shops. Supporting the latter would be great but can be pricier. For a proper sausage meal, visit a local German-style restaurant. If you find the townhall, you will typically find such a restaurant (Gaststätte, Gasthaus).
Some sausages you really need to eat “on the hand”, as Germans call it. (Which means you get a bun that holds the sausage and apply your condiment on top and then eat while standing outside in some corner.)
This is absolutely important for the bestest sausage in Germany (and no, I will not accept divergent opinion on this, and yes, I am entirely biased): the Thüringer Bratwurst. As the name suggests, you can get it in the state of Germany called Thuringia (Thüringen), which is smack right in the middle of the country.
Do not get this one outside of the state. It’s not the same. Never the same. Trust me, I keep trying and being left disappointed. Fun fact: its recipe is patented and a big percentage if its ingredients need to be sourced from Thuringia. Also, you eat this sausage with mustard. (I am a rebel and take ketchup. But don’t tell the locals.)
Have awful autobahn etiquette
Let me preface this by saying that the autobahn isn’t a playground for people with big engines. You cannot play Fast and Furious here.
Exactly due to the fact that we have no speed limit there are many accidents happening and year after year the issue of introducing a speed limit is brought up. (It’s never successful, but here’s hoping.)
If you must race, just get a car at the Nürburgring and race the tracks there. That’s an ok thing.
You need to keep in mind that “slow” driving should be done on the right lane. The left one is just for overtaking and being faster than the rest. (And this is where the racing idiots come out of nowhere. And they will expect you to dodge them.)
Likewise, if you keep driving in the middle lane but aren’t keeping up with the flow, you can cause accidents or at least road rage and people tailgating you.
Wear shoes indoors
Take off your outdoor shoes when you step into the home of someone. You can ask for guest slippers or walk in your socks. But shoes are never allowed inside. It’s also common courtesy to have slippers for hotels or wear your own flip flops.
Ignore politeness language
In Germany we don’t use the casual You (du) unless we are offered or offer and have it accepted. If you don’t know someone, you address them with the polite You (Sie – with a capital S). This goes for anyone working in the service industry as well.
As a rule of thumb, anyone under the age of 15 can be addressed informally and above formally unless you both agree to “dutzen” (using informal pronouns).
- How are you? (informal): Wie geht es dir?
- How are you? (formal): Wie geht es Ihnen?
Expect trains/trams/buses to wait
I think this is quite obvious, but if you’re too late, even by a fraction and the drivers are setting off, they won’t open the door for you again. Sometimes it feels like they are making it a game to see how far you can make it just to shut the door and drive off with your hand still on the button.
This doesn’t mean that public transport is on time. Nope. But it will generally leave on time. If only to annoy you. 😉
Go around waving German flags
This might seem a bit weird (and why would you do it anyway?), but we aren’t hung up about our flag. You know, being patriotic still doesn’t sit well with us after the past century.
However, come football/soccer season, you will see flags everywhere, even on people’s faces sometimes. That’s an exception.
In the same vein, do not sign the first verse of the national anthem. We skip it and only do the third verse as that one doesn’t have a sour taste to us due to the N%zi regime.
Expect everyone to speak English
Let me say that again: do not expect everyone to speak English or be willing to speak it. It may be mandatory in German schools to learn it but we often do not need it unless for work (or watching original movies/series). And many people are very self-conscious about using it. (Please don’t comment on the accent.)
German TV and movies are dubbed. Older generations didn’t necessarily have to learn it and are much less likely to understand it.
That being said, do not expect the opposite either. Meaning: do not go about your day loudly talking English (or any other language you speak) and expect people to not know what you are saying. Especially if you are mocking Germans. It’s rude. And we can tell.
Small talk (unless it’s the weather)
Germans hate small talk. This includes the question How are you? (“Wie geht es dir/Ihnen?) Chances are people will just brush it off or actually give you a story about their day and emotional state.
It is, however, socially acceptable to lament about the weather, the traffic or other people.
You cannot ever respond to a How are you with the same response. You have to answer it in some way or another before asking it in reply, which you must do. Do not leave it at the monologue either.
Chatting up strangers on the street, on the train or at the bus stop will make many feel uncomfortable.
Have zero cash or coins on you
One thing you need to do in Germany when you want to relieve yourself is have small change on you. We have public restrooms, such as along the autobahn or in city centres and malls, but it’s expected to pay 50 cents or more. Have the change ready, no bills allowed.
When you’re parking a car in the city, you will also need coins to pay for your parking ticket. Most machines don’t seem to accept cards of any kind.
Generally, you should always make sure in advance if credit cards are accepted. Many places still only allow debit cards or cash payment. And yes, this also goes for restaurants and some hotels, post offices, supermarkets for instance.
Have no ticket
Using public transport, including buses, trams and trains, without buying a ticket in advance can be costly. There are regular controls to make sure people have valid tickets on them. (Sometimes you need to stamp them at the train station before boarding.)
If you get caught, they will take your details and you will get a 60€ fine.
Should you have misplaced a ticket that you find later, you can claim parts of the money back at a local ticket centre (they keep the admin fee), but that’s a hassle too.
Ask for tap water
I’m sorry to break it to you (and it’s annoying me as well) but there is no way you can get tap water in restaurants. You will have to buy a mini bottle of water. Please state whether you want still (stilles Wasser) or sparkling (Sprudelwasser) because the default is the latter.
And Americans like to call our mineral water “spicy” due to the bubbles. So be prepared.
Expect people to wear dirndl/lederhosen
That’s a Bavarian thing and commonly worn for Oktoberfest, not on the daily. At regional festivities and for die hard Bavarians lederhosen will be shown off more, but dirndl aren’t common at all. (Unless you go to a Bavarian Brauhaus or Biergarten).
Not be down for Kaffee und Kuchen
Afternoon time is time for coffee and cake, a little break so to say. This is particularly celebrated on the weekend by families.
So if you’re invited, you go. It’s a social event but it also involves actual cake and coffee. Typically, the host makes the cake themselves but guests often bring a few pieces of cake from a local bakery as well. There will be more than enough cake to go around and to take a few pieces home with you.
Ignore Guten Appetit
Germans say Guten Appetit before digging into their food. It’s wishing a good/enjoyable meal and you say it back as Guten Appetit or dir auch (“same to you”).
It’s a common courtesy and a strong impulse in Germans. I swear when I eat out with friends abroad, I want to say Guten Appetit to them even if they know zero German. It’s really hard to hold it back for some reason. I love it when other languages, like French, Korean or Japanese, have their own version of this so I can use it after all.
Congratulate people pre birthday
Germans are appalled when you wish them happy birthday on any day that isn’t their actual birth date. We don’t have birth weeks or weekends. Wishing happy birthday in advance is also seen as bad luck. Not that we’re overly superstitious but this one has stuck.
Trash talk German beer
Now, I do not drink beer myself but beer is normally a huge deal for Germans.
Germans are very proud of their beer. And each region, sometimes even towns have their very own unique brews. There is no such thing as an overall German beer. There’s quite the variety. In fact, Germany has between 5000 and 6000 different kinds of beer.
The region with the highest density of breweries per capita is Franken. You can do local brewery tours with tastings here as well.
Fun fact: Beer was the only safe way water could be drunk in the Middle Ages, which is when it started to become this much of a staple. You can still see round holes near big entrance doors on historical brewery buildings/restaurants. Those were used for placing a bushel of straw, indicating a fresh round of beer for sale.
Like in any culture or country really, there are many more things not to do in Germany that I could cover. I just picked my personal top 30 (you see, this isn’t entirely objective albeit still useful, if you ask me). Did I miss any in your opinion? Let me know in the comments.
(I am kinda waiting for someone to bring up punctuality 😉 )
More cool travel tips for Germany
- Why you should grab a bike and explore Münster and surrounds
- Weimar used to be the cultural capital of Europe, here’s why a visit today is still a must
- 7 fairy tale castles you can easily visit in Dresden
- How to celebrate Christmas markets in central Germany in castles
- Ever heard of Jena? It has Seven Wonders!
- Where to see coveted wild orchids near Jena