At first interaction, Germans’ curt demeanor and obsession with order can be intimidating and off-putting. That said, once you peel back the layers you'll find that the land of beer, Christmas markets, heavy foods, pristine views, and age-old folklore is actually pretty awesome. If you want to get the most out of your stay, intermingling with locals and testing out the ways of the Deutschländer for yourself is key. So here are some quintessential tips for sizing up the German psyche on your next trip:
Be blissfully infatuated with beers
No doubt, Germans are as fond of their beer as they are adhering to rules. In fact, the country ranks third worldwide in terms of annual beer consumption. Naturally, the best way to get a feel for this national infatuation is to witness Oktoberfest at least once. Not only will this provide the best opportunity for witnessing the spectacle of grown men and women singing and dancing on tabletops (dressed in dirndls and lederhosen, by the way), it’s also the best place to try Munich’s six renowned breweries. It's here that you'll learn to appreciate the different varieties of beer, and the ways that they've been produced according to tradition through the centuries.
Granted, Oktoberfest is a handful, so if that's not your scene we recommend just keeping an eye out as you explore the country. Surely you’ll notice young people casually sipping beers outside or on public transportation—the lack of open container laws in cities like Berlin never lose their appeal! Here in Germany, beer is cheaper than water, and if you really want to impress the locals, learn how to open your brew with a lighter.
Go out clubbing like a true Berliner
Most Berliners in their 20s and 30s can recall a time where they went all out and partied for days on end. These benders likely involved hopping from one of the city’s renowned underground techno clubs to another, sustaining their energy supply on more than the hyper caffeinated Club Mates, if you know what we’re getting at. Yet, any seasoned veteran of Berlin’s ‘nightlife’ scene will tell you that the best time to really see how things are done is to begin the excursion on Sunday morning, joining the revelers who have kept on from the night before. Head to none other than the infamous former power plant, Berghain to see what we’re talking about.
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Fall in love with following rules!
Ah, yes. The German affinity for rules is a stereotype that’s absolutely true, and it’s wise to take the social norms as seriously as they do while on a visit. It might seem like a lame suggestion at first, but it will provide you with an appreciation for how smoothly the country runs when everyone respects the regulations. Plus, it’ll keep you from running into any negative confrontations with the locals.
Wondering what kinds of things we’re getting at? Start by standing very patiently at the crosswalk until the little walking man turns green—and not a moment before. Also, practice disposing recyclables in the proper bins without fail, no matter what lengths you have to go to do so. There are other cultural perks to this mentality as well. Germans take their leisure time with equal earnest. On Sundays, expect entire towns to be shut, and for doctors to hand out sick days with astonishing laxness.
Get comfortable in your birthday suit
Americans tend to view all European countries as laidback about sex and nudity, but Germany really takes the cake. From private saunas to public commercials aired on network television, you'll quickly get used to seeing complete strangers in the nude. This applies to trips to the lake, the park, and even sometimes in the clubs; you can't say we didn’t warn you. If this phenomenon really intrigues you, however, time your trip to partake in the annual knackarsch wiese, an hour-long naked dance commemorating the start of summer held at Hainich National Park in central Germany.
Go a week or longer paying only in cash
As a country known for its strong economy and minimal debt (especially compared to the states), it makes sense that Germans are smart with their money. Likely a large reason is that Germans are wary of credit cards. In fact, they go electronic substantially less than any other industrialized nation. For travelers, this means that a surprising number of restaurants, shops, and venues don’t take cards whatsoever. Get used to withdrawing large quantities of paper at the ATM, but rest assured that the minor inconvenience will probably help your bank account in the long run.
Get Gemütlichkeit with some Glühwein at Christmas time
In Germany, just about everyone holds a nostalgic fondness for Christmas market season. To this day, holiday bazaars feel just as untainted by modern consumer culture and tourism as ever. While the French have their joie de vivre, and the Danes call it hygge, Germans have termed the cheerful sensation gemütlichkeit, and no other place embodies the ambiance better than the Weihnachtsmarkt. Definitely grab a warm mug of Glühwein (German mulled wine), and keep the cup as a keepsake from your journey.
If you’re wondering where to find the perfect market scene, rest assured that there are plenty to choose from dispersed throughout the country. The most famous is the one in Nuremberg, but for something extra quaint and special, take a visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Last but certainly not least, get acquainted with Krampus, the satanic goat that functions as Santa’s counterpart during the Christmas season. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s sort of like the Yin to old Saint Nick’s Yang. For those who shuddered at the prospect of getting coal on Christmas after a year of being naughty, find comfort in the fact that Krampus isn’t on his way to whip you with his phallic birch stick or simply swallow you whole. No wonder Germans are so committed to following the rules! The lore surrounding Krampus is mainly celebrated in Bavaria where towns put on an annual Krampusläufe, a sort of grotesque parade where people dress in terrifyingly life-like renditions of the beast, making noise and causing mischief. Also, remember to pick up some Krampuskarten holiday cards to share with your friends back home.
German neighbor Amsterdam just celebrated King's Day. Take a look inside the festivities here: