By now there is barely anything that surprises me about living in Berlin. Whatever new (social) rule comes out of nowhere or whatever new law gets passed, to me it is just part of this crazy, colorful, multicultural place I have been calling home for the last 14 years.
There is however, the one or the other thing about living in the country of poets and thinkers that appears very strange to most newcomers and guests. Thus, with the inspiration of the stories of friends and online articles, I came up with a list of weird things about living in Germany.
1. Get on the sugar cone!
When children start school in grade one, it is custom to get them what we call a Zuckertüte or sugar cone. As the name suggests, it is a cone that can either be of a handy small size or, as it was in my case, be as big as the kid him/herself. This cardboard cone is filled with all sorts of candy or little gifts like toys or books. The children usually get those the morning they go to school and carry it around for the whole first day ceremony.
2. Driver’s licenses…for BIKES!
Three years after the sugar cone, and one year after the mandatory swimming class in school, German kids have to do their driver’s license for riding a bike. In grade four the students are introduced to all the necessary theoretical facts about riding a bike and road safety, before they have to do the theory exam followed by the practical exam in what here is known as the “traffic school”. No policeman will actually ever ask to see the little orange booklet afterwards but obtaining it (or at least trying to) is mandatory for all children.
3. School lent textbooks are not free
From elementary school till the end of high school, students have the choice between borrowing their textbooks from the school or buying the textbooks themselves. However, even if the students choose to lend the books, they still have to pay the school a fee of about €100 for the academic year.
4. No noise on Sundays
Making any loud noise on Sundays is, so to speak, illegal. There is no drilling, no loud partying, no grass mowing etc. on Sundays and if there is, it may not start any earlier than 9 a.m. If you do become noisy, your bothered neighbors are likely to call the police and many times they do. In some neighborhoods even playing soccer or any other ball game is allowed within a certain time frame only. That is not only for Sundays but for the entire week.
5. Thank you is the new no
If you are asked whether you would like to be served dessert after your meal and all you say is “thank you”, that heavenly strawberry tiramisu will be nothing more than an illusion of your sugar craving brain. In Germany “yes” is an affirmative answer and so is “please” but “thank you” is equivalent to “no”.
6. Bring your own bags for shopping
When doing groceries, don’t expect to be given a plastic bag for free. If you don’t want to pay between 0.05 and 1.0 euros for a plastic bag, you should better bring your own and don’t expect anyone to pack your purchases for you. Cashiers are only paid for scanning goods and taking money but even that is on its way to oblivion thanks to the new self-checkouts where customers scan their stuff themselves.
7. Free education is a relative term
For years students are being told how lucky they are to study in Germany where education is known to be free. So ‘the tax payers of tomorrow’ get all excited and start getting their application documents together. However, their excitement vanishes the moment they realize that applications for foreign students are usually to be paid for since often they have to be processed and checked for validity by an institution called uni-assist that takes certified copies of documents only.
There is no such thing as actual tuition fees because the university staff is paid with tax money available to the government. However, students have to pay an obligatory semester fee which covers their public transportation ticket that is compulsory even for students with own cars.
8. Oktoberfest is in September
Don’t let yourselves be fooled by the name. The Oktoberfest starts at the end of September and ends somewhat after the beginning of October. We probably liked the name Oktoberfest very much but had to move it to September for organizational reasons…maybe…
9. Prostitution is legal
Yes, it is. It is actually considered a professional branch, at least generally speaking and it is not only women who practice this, but so do men.
10. Germans always want to be correct, even when advertising and selling
This will probably be a surprisng fact for most of my American readers. I remember watching an episode from the Colbert Report where the joke was all about an “illegal” advertisement on the German channel ProSieben by Kermit the frog. Aparently most people outside of Germany don’t know that if you want to advertise something on German TV, the audience has to know that they are being advertised to (or maybe they did know but still needed a gag for Colbert’s show so no offense really…). That is why, whenever I watch (usually an American) series on German TV, at the upper right hand corner it always states that the current program is supported by product placement.
It’s not just on TV that Germans want to be so overly correct. A year or so ago there was a scandal involving horse meat. Several goods that were initially labeled as pork, lamb or beef ended up having horse meat in them which lead to a huge hysteria in Germany. Not because Germans are bothered by eating horse. They are bothered by the fact that on the package it did not say there was horse meat involved.