Germany. I love it here. So much so, I’ve adopted it as home…for now, at least. It’s a big country, in geography and character. The range of places to find and things to do here is astounding, from the much visited and much-loved to the lesser known but still worth a visit (I highlighted a few underrated German city break destinations here, please do have a read). But what Germany also has, is a few quirks. Its own way of doing things, shall we say. And if you know what to expect, you’ll get much more out of your time in Germany. So, a few things it’s useful to know before you go…
Not all of Germany is typically German.
If you are looking for traditional Germany- think timber-framed houses, winding narrow streets, romantic castle overlooking the town, etc – choose your destination wisely. A combination of the fact that much of Germany was destroyed in WW2 and the fact that it is such a diverse country means that you wont find this everywhere. Towns like Hameln, Goslar or Rothenburg ob der Tauber will delight visitors looking for storybook style streets to wander. Wherever you are for a taste of traditional Germany, seek out the local Brauhaus or Ratskeller.
The Stereotypes about Germans…
We’ve all heard them. Cold, humorless , stickler for the rules. I’d say that isn’t quite true but do expect a greater degree of formality here, especially in smaller towns and less touristy areas. Germans don’t really seem to do much small talk or banter, not until they get to know you. And that takes time… I’ve known some of my German neighbours for years and am still greeted as ‘Frau’ rather than Helen. But don’t be disheartened, this is a lovely country and people are generally very helpful. Just a bit formal with it. That brings me neatly to…
Don’t expect American style, warm and fuzzy service. The emphasis is on being professional and efficient. A German server won’t necessarily try to guess what you need and bring it without being asked. If you need a high chair, an English menu, a kids menu…you need to let them know. If there’s an issue with the food, you need to let them know or they’ll assume its all good. It’s rare to have a server check in with you the way they might in the UK or the US. Think brisk and efficient, but not effusive. It is changing, especially in larger cities and chain restaurants that are gaining popularity. But the pace of change is glacial.
Cash is King
Another slowly changing thing, but at present this is still a largely cash based society. Don’t assume you can pay by debit or credit card. And even when you can, check which cards. When in doubt, take the cash. And try to keep some small change with you. You’ll need it, especially if you need the toilet because…
You pay to use the toilets.
Yep, spending a penny costs…well, more than a penny. Usually around the 50-70c mark. Sometimes there is a toilet attendant to take the money and sometimes its a cash operated gate. In train stations & motorway services you’ll often get a voucher back to use towards a purchase. But a free wee is a rare thing, so keep a bit of change on you.
Get back you Pfand
The Pfand is the deposit you pay on most bottles and cans when you buy a drink. Bottles with pfand will carry the deposit symbol and can be returned via the machines located in most stores. Worth noting not all stores display the deposit as part of the price. It’s usually 25c. You can also expect to pay a pfand on glasses at festivals and the mugs you get at the Christmas markets, so either return them or keep them. Because if you don’t, someone else will.
Sundays are not the days to make big plans. Most things will be closed. Although this can make it a great day to explore a city, it does mean you need to check ahead if there is something you really want to see or do and your plans fall on a Sunday. If you are really stuck for something on a Sunday when the shops are closed, head to the train station. A quirk in shopping laws mean places located within a station are still able to trade, and in bigger cities you’ll find the stations to be like mini malls. Be prepared to possibly pay a premium, though.