It all seems like yesterday, my first foray into the new, daunting shores of Germany. Upon disembarking from my Eurowings flight, I was immediately bombarded with ‘ACHTUNG!’ and ‘WILKOMMEN!’ signs everywhere.
Thankfully, that B I got in German GCSE saw me through that first journey from the airport to my new home in the beautiful city of Düsseldorf. 6 months on, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I feel very much at home and have started to carve out a very enjoyable life for myself. I thought a fitting subject to commemorate this would be a handy guide on the 6 Do’s & Don’ts for those who are planning on moving to Germany.
The 6 German Do’s
Do eat lunch foods for breakfast
In Germany, if you were to go to the local café and ask for a bacon sarnie, or some peanut butter on toast, you would be given blank stares before they start to put a range of sandwiches or baked goods in front of you. In Germany, bread is king, especially on the breakfast table. On my very first day, I went to the shop and bought some bread (no Warburton’s Toasty over here, sadly), some ham and mustard, and a bag of crisps, very much looking forward to a delicious sandwich luncheon. I sat down with my sandwich and crisps on my plate, and noticed a silence fall around the office.
“Late breakfast today, James?” my manager tentatively asked me, a bemused look on her face. When I explained that in the UK, a sandwich and crisps were a staple of British cuisine (especially when combined into the holy crisp sandwich), they all looked away and muttered under their breath about ‘those weird Brits’.
Do drink small beers
This ‘Do’ is more for the North-Rhine Westphalia region. Here you will only ever (unless going to one of Germany’s innumerable Irish Pubs) get small 0.2cl glasses for your beer. These will also come with considerably more foam on top than you might be used to. I am assured this is not to steal some of your beverage from you, but instead to keep the beer fresh, which is also the reason for the small measures.
Unlike in the UK, most breweries have table service, and will supply you with a constant supply of beer the second you seem in danger of running out. The way to stop this unending service is to place a beer mat upon your glass. In Düsseldorf, you will be privy to a delicious beer called Alt (think a hybrid of Ale and Lager). Cologne however boasts their own beer called Kölsch. To drink the beer of the other city is comparable to a Manchester United fan going to his favourite pub in a City shirt; social suicide!
Germany is an incredibly beautiful country, with rolling hills, picturesque isolated villages and magnificent historic architecture. Deutsche Bahn puts these at your doorstep (figuratively speaking, of course). Fancy a walk around a bustling city full of amazing buildings and quaint cafes? Then jump on the IC to Hamburg! Or is a night of Techno raves and getting very lost more your thing? If so, then head over to Berlin! Maybe the small beers just don’t sit too well with you in NRW? Munich has you covered, with their world-famous Steins!
But it’s not just Germany that you need to get out and see. Coming from a small Island, taking a plane anywhere always seemed so laborious to me. But now, I am but 1 hour from Holland, 1 ½ from Belgium or 2 from France!
Do greet everyone you meet
From visiting the gym or to sitting in the waiting room of your local doctor, expect to be greeted by everyone you see. A chorus of Guten Morgan/ Guten Tag’s ring around any communal area. If, like me, you hail from London (where you get treated as a bit mad if you so much as make eye contact with someone on the underground or, heaven forfend, strike up a conversation!) then this can take a bit of getting used to. For the first few weeks here, I was always caught off guard by the greetings, and would never issue any of my own. But now I stroll confidently around warmly greeting all I meet, though sadly still in poor German.
Anyone who is a fan of football (soccer, although I hate calling it that) will be aware of the German’s rise to global dominance in the sport. This is mirrored by the large number of local and national teams available to join across the country. However, it’s not just football that is available in Germany. Rugby is slowly gaining traction as a popular sport (though mostly dominated by expats at this stage). Both Field and Ice Hockey are also incredibly popular sports (the latest Ice Hockey World Cup was recently hosted in Cologne). Or should non-contact sports be more your thing, Tennis and Badminton are both sports that are gaining popularity within the country.
Should you prefer to watch than play, the football stadiums in Germany are huge and far cheaper to visit than those in the UK. Even teams in the Bundesliga 2 have stadiums with up to 50,000 capacity. There are even neutral zones in the stadium to watch from should you not be affiliated with either team, or be in a group affiliated with both. Motor sports are also a very popular spectator sport, due to the ever-present love for cars in Germany. Whatever your choice, Germany has you covered!
Do fall in love with public transport
Germany is well-known for its penchant for efficiency and nowhere is this more in evidence than their wonderful public transport network. Anyone who has sat on any underground line you care to name at rush hour knows that it is only slightly more bearable than a trip to hell. (I still have horrible dreams of my commute from Clapham to Blackfriars on the Northern line on a morning, wedged a mere few inches from the track to either side of the platform hoping that the train pulling in doesn’t catch your face or belongings…). After witnessing several rather unpleasant incidents, I opted to take the bike and run the Central London ‘gauntlet of death’ that is Ludgate Circus.
Now, let’s compare that to Germany. Be it local, national or international, you have a myriad of options available to you, lauded for both their efficiency and price. For inner city travel, most cities have their own tram network which run most hours and every 10 or so minutes. These are incredibly cheap (€1.60 per journey) as well as reliable and comfortable. No sardine can for you, you are always guaranteed a seat on all but the busiest of routes, and even then, you will be afforded enough standing room to not feel that you need to take the person next to you for dinner. Should you need to travel more further afield, Germany’s famous train network have trains running at all times, to all locations. These trains not only connect you with any other area of Germany, but also have regular services to most, if not all, countries across continental Europe.
The 6 German Dont’s
Don’t do anything (and I mean ANYTHING) on a Sunday
They don’t call it the day of rest for nothing! All stores close (with the exception of the handy kiosks), public transport is significantly reduced and people seldom venture out of doors unless it is an absolute necessity. In the larger cities, you may see some people flouting this rule, however if in a smaller town or village, you are seen doing something as mundane as washing the car, or taking the bin out, prepare yourself for disparaging looks from your neighbours.
This ‘Don’t’ has taken me a long time to get used to (and in fact I’m still not completely at home with it). Sunday used to be my day of getting things done, be it the shopping, or any other tasks I had neglected through the week. I will still find myself putting things off until the end of the week, before coming to the sad realisation that I’ve shot myself in the foot yet again and need to wait until Monday to do them, at which point it’s a safe bet I’ll have other things to do. The way I see it, Saturday is the new Sunday!
Don’t cross at the red man
Crossing the road when the green man is shown is illegal (although I’m given to understand this is only as crossing areas and that to cross the normal road is still ok). Fines can be handed out on the spot, with more serious repercussions for repeat offenders. However, in Germany, a strict adherence to the law is an absolute must. Rules/laws are there to be followed to the letter! So, should you take a quick look around and see no police, and take the risk to quickly pop across the road with the red man looking down on you, you can be sure that you will, at least, be given a disgusted look from one or two of you fellow waitee’s. Perhaps even a mild berating from them, particularly should children be anywhere in sight.
Coming from London, where no one has time for anything as mundane as waiting at the side of the road, with the risk of death-by-car preferable to a 30 second delay, this is another rule I may have flouted at the start of my time here. However, now I’m wise to the game, I’ll happily wait for the green man to grant me permission to travel safely.
Don’t get involved in the Düsseldorf/Cologne divide
As mentioned briefly above, Düsseldorf and Cologne are engaged in a friendly(ish) rivalry, typified by the bitter (pun intended) war surrounding their local beers. Düsseldorf boasts a dark golden lager by the name of Alt, whereas Cologne have instead opted for a lighter, less fizzy tipple by the name of Kölsch. To drink the beer of the rival city is an unconscionable crime, and you run the risk of upsetting someone! Apart from the main supermarkets, you would be hard pressed to even find an establishment in the City that stocks the other beverage.
Whilst this is the most well-discussed aspect of the rivalry, there are many other instances of discontent between the 2 cities. Düsseldorf residents are often heard making disparaging remarks regarding the ugliness of the city, with its drab, square and plain buildings (Cologne was sadly almost completely flattened during the second world war, except for the stunning Köln Döm), whereas many Cologne-ians will refer to the residents of Düsseldorf as posh, stuck-up and boring. Having made friends in both cities, I have learned to steer well clear of these discussions, with a seat firmly on the fence.
P.S. Alt > Kölsch
Do not go to work hungover
In London, it is often seen as a badge of honour if, after a particularly hearty ‘Thirsty Thursday’, where you may have last been seen at 2am making a beeline for the toilets after one-too-many Sambucas, to make it into the office the following day on time. You’ll receive a few joking remarks about your general appearance and then you’ll be left to suffer in peace.
The juxtaposition in Germany could not be any more distant. The reported proclivity for heavy drinking in Germany is not borne out, with many I know preferring just the odd drink upon occasion. This isn’t to say they don’t indulge heavily upon occasion (see Karnival/Oktoberfest/Kirmes), but drinking is not as in vogue as it is in London, not by a long shot. However, should you decide to drink more than a couple, you’d best be sure you can hide the resulting headache/odour/sickness from your boss the next morning. It is considered an incredible breach of decorum and poor manners to attend work in such a state, and can result in some serious consequences depending upon the mood of your superiors. On this, I speak from experience. My very first visit to Germany was for the Christmas party. In London, I’m sure everyone knows that that means, and so I believed the same held true for our German office. The next day, a bit the worse for wear, I dragged myself from bed to ensure I did not turn up late. What followed was a day of silence, judgement and regret, following which, the firm commitment that this is a mistake I shall never make again.
Don’t EVER be late
To remain on the subject of breaches of decorum, punctuality, not cleanliness, is next to godliness in Germany. As ever, Germany is a country of efficiency, and nothing shows a more wanton disregard for efficiency than lacking the ability to keep an appointment. There is of course understanding when it comes to unavoidable circumstances, however unlike in the UK, where in friend groups a time to be ready by is a guideline rather than a target, here if you make plans for a time, you are expected to be there at that time. To be considered by your friends or colleagues as unpunctual is a sure-fire way to find yourself excluded from plans. In professional contexts, this is even more important, however in that aspect this does not differ from the UK. But expect to hear about it A LOT if you turn up late for something without an adequate reason for having done so.
Don’t miss Karnival
Now, I know this is technically cheating as a ‘Don’t’, as it’s just a reverse ‘Do’, but it’s my article, and I’ll write it my way. Okay? Cool.
Karnival was an unknown to me before moving to Düsseldorf. It takes part in early-mid February and is an excuse, at least it seems to me, for all of North-Rhine Westphalia to let their hair down for 5 days. Every major town or city will have their own Karnival parade or celebration, however the 2 largest and most popular are held in Düsseldorf and Cologne. The festivities kick off at 11:11am on a Thursday, and involve a large group of women storming the town hall in all manner of costumes, before going on a rampage around town with scissors, to cut the ties off unsuspecting men (I have no idea why, no one I ask can give me a real reason beyond ‘that’s just what we do’). Following this, the German population attempt to put as large a dent in the countries supply of alcohol as they possibly can. There is no theme to the festivities, you just dress in whatever costume takes your fancy and drink until you can drink no more. There is of course the Karnival music, which it is obligatory for every German to know word-for-word from birth (apparently) and I’m sure there are many other traditions that I was not privy to as an uncultured Auslander. But to my eye, it’s just one long party. The pinnacle of the event is known as RoseMontag (Rose Monday), which sees Karnival Floats and Parades traverse across the city, throwing sweets and other goodies to passers-by.
Overall, considering I had never even heard of this, it is perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had in Germany to date. Everyone is just focussed on being together and having fun. There is no strife, no anger, none of the things you may usually expect around large groups of inebriated people. It’s just good, wholesome fun.
This is of course merely scratching the surface, with so many things still left to discuss. But one thing I would like to say, as a man who thought he would never leave the hustle and bustle of London, that I would now never move back. This country has captured my heart and I would recommend it to all and sundry. If you would like to learn more about my move here to see if it could ever be a future prospect for yourself, please do drop me a note. Or if you just want someone to go out to Karnival with next February, I’m also your man!