Although we can’t claim to be experts of Germany- Berlin or Munich- after only two months here. We did, however, get a little taste of the culture and life as German expats that we think could be helpful to you. So here are our observations and what we have learned – again, from our limited time and experience. Although we generalize by saying “Germans” we really only lived in Berlin and Munich so we cannot speak to the rest of Germany. Take with a grain of salz. Danka!
Germans are a great audience
Having gone to several informal cocktail type performances as well as several more professional and formal performances we can say pretty confidently that Germans are some of the most polite audience participants we have ever encountered (again, both my husband and I are musicians so we’ve experienced a lot of audiences between the two of us both as performers and lovers of live performance). Germans clap with enthusiasm and great energy at all the appropriate times and are completely silent and attentive as soon as the music/performance/speaker begins. Even in the grand lobby of the Berlin Philharmonic, crammed with 1,500 people (including children, toddlers and babies) the room was almost completely silent while the musicians performed and everyone (including the children) were attentively watching and engaged. Only ONE small child started crying during the entire hour long performance (and with the what i would refer to as ‘artistic’ contemporary music being played I kind of wanted to cry out of distress too, so I totally understood the outburst) and her mother promptly held and soothed her until she calmed down (which didn’t take long at all actually) which leads me to number two…
Germans have the parenting thing down
We stayed in several very ‘family friendly’ neighborhoods and found ourselves continually amazed at how well behaved the children are and found the parent-child interactions very warm, nurturing and healthy. When children were upset, parents promptly got down on their level to talk with them, comfort them and/or address the issue. If a child was throwing a fit (which we rarely saw) parents seem to ignore the behavior completely and it seemed to promptly stop. Parents didn’t seem burned out, overwhelmed or at their wits end like I often saw in the States. From what we observed though (similar to our experience in France actually) was that parents give quality time and attention to their children where their attention is not divided or distracted with cell phones, laptops, or other people/things. This seems to go a long way in reassuring children not only that they are important and matter but that when they need a parent’s attention, they will get it 100%. This seems to make children less demanding of their parent’s time in general and everyone seems to be happy in their role and secure in their relationships.
Work and life are separate and balanced here
Germans seem to work hard and know when to be serious and when to turn off the screens and unwind with friends and loved ones. Evidence of this is everywhere. Sarah, a friend of mine that lives and works in Berlin, shared that it’s not uncommon to work 8:00am-7:00 or 8:00pm but that lunch time is mandatory and eating at your desk (which is basically how I functioned if I ate at all for years in the States) is unacceptable here. People are expected to take a break at lunch time and then when the work day is done, it is over- no bringing work home. People go out to hang out with friends or go home to spend the evening with their family. On a similar note, the concept of hanging out at a coffee shop all day to work is not really a thing here. Having gone to over twenty coffee shops/cafes we observed only a handful where people had laptops out at all and even in many of those they had strict policies (though not necessarily clear policies) on where you could have a laptop out (as a designated ‘work area’ ) and where you could not, and on Sundays almost every shop we went to would not allow you to be working or have a laptop out at all. NO WORK ON SUNDAYS! Apparently, on Sundays, NO stores are open either– only some restaurants/cafes. Sunday is the day to rest, relax, catch up on home stuff and spend with the ones you love. This is a big day for families to go out together to the flea markets and parks and everyone seems happy and relaxed, just as it should be.
Many Germans have a dog, few keep them on a leash
Whenever we went out we almost always came across some leashless dogs who looked like they were wondering aimlessly. This in a concrete urban scene, not just a park. My first thought was, “Oh, no! Poor doggy must have gotten loose.” but after a little bit of observation we found that these dogs weren’t “on the loose” they were just running up ahead or a little behind their owners and were leash free. After observing this on numerous occasions we realized that most dogs (at least in Berlin) were very well behaved, exceptionally trained (almost no aggressive, barking or anxious behaviors and they were good about coming when called, staying close to their owners and waiting at crosswalks) and all seemed very happy. So no need to approach or ‘rescue’ any dogs on the loose– they are definitely accounted for and just roaming free with their human(s). Not only will you find dogs on the street, but also in bars, grocery stores, malls, subway – in fact, they’re everywhere their human family might be found
Beware the bike lane
In both Berlin and Munich, bicyclists do not share the road with automobiles – but instead, with pedestrians. Although typically well marked, on the sidewalk there is almost always a ‘lane’ or portion of sidewalk that is designated for bikes so be extra careful to stay off this lane if you are a pedestrian as we saw several close collisions of clueless tourists not minding this courtesy. Most near-collisions seemed to occur close to or at crosswalks where these lanes sometimes overlapped or crossed paths and the pedestrians were so busy looking at the crosswalk signals that they weren’t looking for bicyclists using the bike path, so our advice is to always be aware of where the bike lane is in relation to where you are and to be extra alert near crosswalks and if you hear a bike bell get to one side of the path as quickly as possible. Even better would be to rent a bike when the weather is nice and enjoy the city from your own bike lane and then you get to ring your bell at all the aloof pedestrians 😉
When you go out to eat at a restaurant, expect to wait…and then wait a little longer
(Also, many places don’t accept card payment so always have some money on hand). For my husband who is not a fan of waiting in general this has been an adjustment and one we are still getting used to. In general we try not to go to any sit down style restaurants if we are in a hurry or are getting ‘hangry’ and will opt, instead, to go to a more counter service style or ‘fast food’ style establishment (the Doner shops are our absolute favorite and were our go-to for delicious, quick food that we could eat there or bring back to wherever we were staying). When time is not an issue we will check-out a local favorite (which we typically research and select in advance) and bring along our Kindles and usually a travel game to help pass the time. We have noticed that when we are ready to order or pay the key is to try to make eye contact or get the server’s attention in some way (we will raise a hand if eye contact doesn’t seem to be working) but have also noticed that even getting the waiter’s attention is not always enough and that many will only come to your table (especially to close you out and take payment) when they are good-and-ready. Although irritating to our American programming, it appears that this is just ‘the way it is’ when you chose to dine out at a sit-down restaurant abroad. Things just move a little slower in many countries with respect to service so just expect it and be prepared to do some waiting (and maybe bring some entertainment to help pass the time).
Don’t be alarmed by all the graffiti, litter, and public drinking
(oh, and watch out for the dog poop on the sidewalk) Although parts of Berlin look run-down and dirty (some more than others depending on which area you are in- the closer you are to tourist areas the cleaner it is) they did not seem to be an indication of lack of safety, quality of food/coffee or ability to enjoy ourselves. Our favorite area in Berlin (having traveled pretty extensively all over various parts of Berlin) was the region that bordered Mauer Park. This part of town was one of the cleaner areas with less garbage and dog poop on the sidewalks, had lots of street art, public transportation easily accessible, lots of delicious food options, some of the best coffee and hot chocolate we’ve found while abroad, the weekly Sunday Flea Market, and lots of vintage, thrift, and trendy shops to peruse. Although people do seem to enjoy the odd beer on the subway or while walking through town at night, we never once had an issue with safety while in Berlin– we rarely heard sirens, never saw any significant public disturbances (just a couple of intoxicated individuals talking loudly), and often saw women walking and using public transportation alone at night, which we take to be a good indication of overall safety.
Berlin vs. Munich- The rivalry is alive and well
In speaking with our hosts and others in both Berlin and Munich, it seems there are lots of opinions about ‘the other’ city that aren’t exactly complimentary. Apparently Berliners tend to see those from Munich and the city itself as “rigid, ‘old school German’, standoffish, serious and uptight” whereas those from Munich described Berlin as “noisy, dirty, a little crazy, and non-Bavarian” (which I took to be a kind of insult). Honestly though for us, although there were lots of incredible sights to see in Munich and it was incredibly picturesque, in Berlin the people seemed friendlier, we liked the general bustle of the city, the off-beat vibe (everyone can just be completely themselves and it is okay), and the variety of options appealed more to us than in Munich. I think experiencing them both was perfect because then we could explore what we preferred about each and compare. Despite which ‘team’ you end up on (or neither), the differences between these two cities and its people is noticeable (or so we thought/experienced).
Bring deep conditioner and moisturizer/lotion
Apparently the mineral content in the water in Germany is pretty high– which means it is safe to drink, but hard on the hair and skin. Within just a few showers I noticed a difference in my hair, scalp and skin. Everything was more dry and my hair felt more brittle and frizzy. I ended up having to get a hair mask treatment, a leave in conditioner and a body lotion once we arrived to combat this issue, which seems to be doing the trick.
Germans go by the honor system when it comes to public transportation
We have traveled to many places all over the world and use public transportation whenever possible and this was a new experience for us so we thought it worthy of mentioning. If you want to use any form of public transportation in Germany (subway, buses, and/or trams) then you need to get a subway ticket/pass which you can find at pretty much any station. If you are going to be there for more than three days we recommend getting a 3-day, week, or month pass depending on the duration of your stay. If you only get a ‘trip pass’ or day pass you have to validate your pass in the little validation queues before you enter and after you exit the subway. If you have the multi day, week or monthly pass you do not need to validate as the ticket will already print the day your pass was purchased on and when it will expire. Unlike most subways/public transportation we’ve used where you have to scan a card/ticket or show it to a human being in order to get through, in Germany it is assumed that if you are riding public transportation of any kind that you have purchased the necessary ticket to do so. They do have plain clothes transportation officers who will do surprise/random ticket inspections on the subways (“Fahrkart bitte!”- “train ticket please!”) and you do not want to be caught ticketless – you will suffer real German punishment. Even though we weren’t asked once to show proof of purchasing tickets in the entire two months we were in Germany (except having to flash them briefly to the bus drivers once or twice) the fine for riding without the necessary ticket will run you between 40-80 euro so it is definitely not worth it to try riding for free.
Tell us about your adventures in Germany. How accurate is our analysis? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you.