6 Things to Know Before Visiting Germany

Cologne cathedral I
Cologne cathedral I | © Blendfrei/Pixabay
Evelyn Smallwood

Germans have a reputation for being inflexible rule-lovers. Though this is mostly an exaggeration, they are not shy about telling someone if they are doing something wrong – it might seem harsh at first, but in the end, it’s preferable to the Anglo strategy of passive-aggressive sighing. Here are 6 further quirks to know before visiting Germany.

Do not walk in the bike lane

In German cities, bike lanes are often on the sidewalk. They look can look like the picture below or they can be made of red bricks.

Beware of bike lanes I

Imagine the white line is an electric fence. If you stay on your side of the line, great – alles in Ordnug (everything’s ok). Should you wander into a bike lane, you will notice increasingly insistent bell-ringing – it’s amazing how aggressive this little can be in the right hands – followed by a scolding.

No need to tip

Being a waiter is a legitimate job with benefits and a reasonable wage. As such, you will find the waiter views it as your privilege to be served by him, not his privilege to serve you. Ask for the bill about 20 minutes before you want to leave. The waiter will calculate what everybody owes without a fuss. In return, just round what you pay up the near whole Euro or if it’s a more expensive meal, the nearest five. Done.

Jaywalking – nein

Particularly if there are small children around to see you do it – parents will shout at you for setting a bad example. The concept of crossing against the red man is so foreign there is no good analog for jaywalking in the German language. Before you consider breaching this rule, ask yourself – is it really worth risking a tear in the social fabric that will no doubt escalate into the total breakdown of civil society because you need to get somewhere one minute sooner? If the answer is “Of course it is”, just keep an eye out for the Polizei. Protesting that you are an adult and have been crossing the street safely for your entire life will not get you out of the €10 fine.

Watch out for the little green man I

Sundays are sacrosanct

If you’re in Germany at the weekend, be aware that on Sundays, shops of any kind are not open. Essentials, like cafés, restaurants, museums, galleries, cinemas and saunas, are. Here’s a video from the Goethe Institute that explains what Sonntag (Sunday) is all about.

Get really speedy at supermarket packing

Germany is a great place to live out all your grocery store bag boy fantasies. Grocery store clerks are full-time employees that have usually been doing this job for years. They do not pack your groceries – you do. If you have forgotten, grab a paper or plastic bag from under the conveyer belt and put it at the front of your stuff so it can be scanned first. Then, when the moment arrives, aim for speed, not efficiency. Get in. Get out.


Any glass bottle or metal can you buy has Pfand added on top, which is akin to a deposit charge. Beer is 8 cents per bottle and cans are 25 cents. You can return them to any grocery store for a refund. Just put them in the machine, take the receipt and either use it as credit against something you buy or ask the cashier to give you cash. If that’s inconvenient, put the cans or bottles on top of, or beside the public garbage can. Other people collect them as a way to earn money and picking up the bottles up from around the garbage can is much safer than sticking a hand in.

If you go the Christmas markets, Oktoberfest or similar, there will usually be Pfand on your glass or mug. Just return it the stand you bought it from and your money will be returned. Or keep it. There’s no limit to the number of comically tacky Christmas mugs a person can own in one lifetime.

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