9 essential things you need to know to understand German culture

9 essential things you need to know to understand German culture

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 8, 2022

What makes German culture so unique? Aside from a bazillion different types of bread, they also love to travel and learn, but still prefer to pay in cash. Home to about 83 million people and located in the heart of Europe, here are the major aspects that make up the German culture.

9 reasons why the German culture is unique!

1. Formal language

Much of Germany’s history took place under a monarchy. In fact, the last emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, didn’t officially abdicate until after WWI in 1918. Even though that was just over 100 years ago, Germany still maintains formal aspects, especially within the language. Unlike in English where everyone is referred to as “you”, German has a separate word for informal you “du” and formal you “Sie”. “Du” is the equivalent of calling someone by their first name and “Sie” is the equivalent of using Mr./Mrs. and their last name.

This is an important aspect of German language to pay attention to, because it can cause offense if you call someone “du” when you should be saying “Sie”. The general rule of thumb is that anyone you speak to that you don’t know, anyone in positions of authority (doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc.), and anyone who is your supervisor at work should be referred to as “Sie”. You can change to “du” once the person gives permission.  

2. Healthy work-life balance

Germany has one of the shortest average workweeks in the world as a developed country at about 34 hours per week. This can be contributed to the combination of a strong social system and a culture that prioritises having a healthy work-life balance. Employees in Germany get an average of 30 days of holiday per year, plus 10 bank holidays. This enables Germans to travel much more extensively than other countries, as well as spend more time with family and friends. Germans also tend not to work weekends and the majority of businesses and shops are fully closed on Sundays.

3. Love of education

Education is a big deal in Germany: 86% of the country’s 25-64 year-olds have obtained at least an upper secondary qualification. Public education including university is free for all students (even international ones), because German culture heavily prioritises learning. Because education is quite accessible for the majority of the population, the workforce often requires a Bachelor’s degree at minimum (with the exception of trade and vocational positions). Germans love education so much that they’ve even been termed “Das Land der Dichter und Denker” (The country of poets and thinkers) due to famous intellectual figures like Albert Einstein, Robert Koch, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

4. So much bread

At the core of German cuisine is and always will be bread. There are a bazillion different types of bread at the bakery. Germans even have a meal time known as “Abendbrot” which literally translates as “evening bread”. And it is exactly what it sounds like: an evening meal of bread and a few toppings, most often eaten cold. Contrary to other cultures where cuisine involves complex spices and hot meals for dinner, many Germans prefer simplicity and a cold meal in the evening.

5. Cash still rules

While Germany has a stereotype as a technologically developed country, expats who move here will be surprised to find that it isn’t completely true, especially when it comes to payment systems. Cash is still the dominant form of payment and there are often businesses like restaurants and kiosks who only accept cash payments. Furthermore, Germans are highly credit card averse, so your typical Visa or Mastercard often won’t work here either. You’ll need to use a German EC card (debit card) for the majority of non-cash payments.

6. Passion for cars

Germans love their cars like a part of their own family. Consider how many large car manufacturers are based here: Porsche, Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Opel, and Ford-Werke GmbH. Although many Germans do take public transport or ride their bike to work, they are also well-known for driving without a speed limit on the Autobahn. Interestingly, this no speed limit rule on the Autobahn is one of the core elements of German freedom. While they do love to follow the rules in daily life, the Autobahn is one place they’d like to keep free of them.

7. Punctuality

It’s impossible to speak about German culture without mentioning punctuality, because it is so extremely important. Being on time has a lot to do with the cultural view on respect: if you’re not on time (or at least give notice), then you’re not respecting the other person’s time. When you’re on time, things are organised, they go according to plan. And things going according to plan is a big deal here, because that’s a major factor in why German society functions so smoothly.

8. Football

Around one-third of Germans are a member of a sports club or actively participate in a sports team, which most of the time means playing football. Furthermore, the professional German football league (Bundesliga) gets the second highest attendance of all sports in the world. They’ve won the four World Cup matches so far, which is a great source of German pride. Everyone from children to grandmas gather together to watch on a yearly basis.  

9. Traditional beer

Where is one of the best places to get cheap but delicious beer? Germany. German beer is one of the top things any tourist should try while visiting, because they’ll truly be drinking a part of the German soul. There is evidence that Germany has the oldest brewery in history known as Weihenstephan in Bavaria, originating from the 8th century AD. Beer brewing became so popular that nowadays you can drink a different type of beer every day for 15 years. Despite these numbers, the craft beer scene hasn’t taken a strong hold, as Germany’s beer purity law began 500 years ago and is still in place. But the beer still tastes fantastic anyways!

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