Culture, Conduct and Customs in Germany

Germany and its people are often very much misunderstood by people other other cultures due to a troubled past.  It is certainly clear that Germany was involved in atrocious activities in the second world war, however that entire generation is getting smaller and smaller, with the vast majority of even those having had no real part to play in that troubled history.  Being half German myself I know that it is a history which the nation is not proud of and in their culture today there is really no sign on this past.  It is also important to keep in mind that many of the worlds major powers bear such stains in their history books:

  • the British Empire ran concentration camps in the Boer War (South Africa)
  • during the Vietnam War the US was reported to have committed over 320 war crimes
  • Napoleon killed 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of criminals and slaves at sea – some even claim his troops invented the gas chamber

Brendenburg Gate

No one thinks that any of these scars in human history should be forgotten, and in fact if you want to learn more about the troubled past of Germany, travelling there is a great way to do so…  But don’t let this taint your view of the country or the people.  Today Germans are generally very friendly and helpful, while being hugely proud (and quite rightly so) of a stunning looking country.  It is home to beautiful wilderness and stunning architecture, which you need to see for yourselves!

Some things to point out:

Crime

Germany has a murder rate of just 0.8 per 100,000, which puts it at the 20th lowest in the world and 11th lowest in Europe.  As such it is a pretty safe country to travel around, and it is generally safe to drive during the night, even in remote areas.  However usual caution needs to be taken, such as not walking through remote areas or quite / dark city areas on your own and keeping an eye on your possessions from pick-pockets – especially in areas frequented by tourists.  Do be careful in areas with large crowds which may get intoxicated, such as football matches and Oktoberfest (which has the highest annual incident rate for assaults).

AlexanderplatzDress

This is a fairly liberal and modern country where you can often dress the same as you dress at home.  Of course have some respect and consider that the vast majority of it is not on the coast so generally speaking you’d be looked upon less favorably for wandering around in attire designed for the beach.

Drinking

There are 2 different drinking ages in Germany, which are 16 for “soft alcoholic” drinks such as beers and wines, but 18 for distilled drinks such as vodka, whiskey and rum etc.  The Germans are big social drinkers, especially when done in moderation (for professions such as gardeners and builders it is even acceptable to drink in moderation whilst on the job), so generally it is considered OK to drink in public – except for Good Friday.

Drugs

Germany is quite liberal when it comes to drugs where it is not considered a crime to be an addict, and as such possession of amounts for personal use are allowed, however they may be more strict on tourists.  Buying and selling drugs is still illegal and you may not take drugs in public places.  This is the only country where the government run supervised injection rooms for addicts.

Money

The official currency of Germany is the Euro and credit and debit cards are accepted just about everywhere – if not there are cash machines at all banks as well as many other locations.

Public signs of affection

Even though it is a very liberal country keep public signs of affection to a minimum. It is OK to hold hands and have a cuddle or a quick peck in public – but as with pretty much everywhere no one wants to see you in the streets eating face! Equally while Germans are open about accepting gay couples in their country, it is still something many of them (especially older generations) don’t necessarily want to see, so you may find some objection if showing heavy signs of affection in public (not dissimilar to heterosexual couples).

Sex

The age of consent in Germany is a little bit confusing.  Technically it is 14 however it is illegal to take advantage of a 14 or 15 year olds lack of sexual self awareness if you are 21 or over and if a complaint is made by the minor, this will lead to a conviction.  This is taken away in the case of 16 and 17 year old however it is still then illegal to engage in sexual activities in an exploitative situation.  The main age of consent where such restrictions are lifted (however of course sex still needs to be consensual) is 18.

Sex in public is illegal, as with just about everywhere, as is exhibitionism.  The oldest profession however is legal in Germany and prostitutes are even entitled to regular work contact and high working conditions.  Prostitutes in Germany work in many different ways including street soliciting (where they need to pay an amusement tax), massage parlors, clubs, apartment visits (done in the prostitutes private dwelling), brothels and escort services which will come to you.

Berlin Graffiti

Smoking

Laws in different counties do vary slightly but to be sure I would recommend sticking to the more strict rules everywhere, so that you don’t accidentally face a fine.  As a result you should not smoke in federal buildings, public transport, railway stations, inside public buildings, restaurants and bars (this last one is one where you can play it by ear as many counties do allow smoking in bars and clubs).  The minimum age for buying cigarettes is 18.

Tipping

When it comes to restaurants tipping is not as high as in the States, and between 5 and 10% is sufficient for good service, however tipping is customary here, and a similar amount should be considered for tour guides and taxi drivers too.  A difficult one is always how much do you tip the bell boy who carried your bag?  Between 1 and 3 euros per bag is generally considered adequate, whilst housekeeping are usually tipped slightly more (3 to 5 euros per night).

Markus

A lot of people enjoy going abroad without any real plans about what they will do whilst out there – however I am very much of the school of thought which says plan as much as you can and leave yourself some time for exploring (however make sure you always give yourself a chance to explore).

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