Surviving in Germany
Germany may appear very strange sometimes, especially if you’ve never been to Europe before. But don’t be afraid to go out and mix with your German neighbours! We’ll give you some tips on how to survive in Germany:
◊ Useful links in English for everyday life in Germany:
- Excellent online translator: Dict.cc
- Having problems with displaying German characters? See here for help.
- Find German zip codes: German Post's website
- Find German phone numbers: Das Telefonbuch English
- Directions: ViaMichelin. You'll need to change the pre-selected country, and if you register, you can add it to your favourites (the heart icon). But it gives you very detailed directions, allows you to add two stop-overs, select the type of vehicle you're driving and which type of route you prefer (fastest, scenic etc.)
- Historical Germany: http://www.hhog.de/
- Loads of information about Germany, its language and its customs: http://german.about.com/
◊ If you don't like to drive into Nürnberg because of the fast traffic and the rude German drivers, there's a great alternative: the train! All train stations that are part of the “Verkehrsverbund Großraum Nürnberg” = VGN (English and German homepage) offer special tickets. Click on this interactive map to see which locations are part of the VGN (only available on the German page). Amberg, Freihung and Vilseck are VGN train stations, for example. At the participating train stations, you can purchase a special VGN family ticket for regular trains that take you straight into Nürnberg city center / Hauptbahnhof = main train station.
In Nürnberg, the VGN ticket allows you to use all buses and S- and U-Bahnen (over- and underground trains) within Nürnberg's city limits for free! This way you could visit the zoo in the morning and do some shopping in the afternoon, for example. And then comfortably travel back home without having to worry about traffic.
But that’s not all: if you purchase a VGN ticket, some establishments offer you a reduced entry fare - including the Nürnberg zoo!
◊ Germans ordering you around
Have you ever had a German tell you something like: "you will come here" or "you must sign there"? It sounds horribly impolite in English, like they're ordering you around, but trust me, they are not (except, perhaps, if you're married to one J ).
The whole problem stems from English and German being two completely different languages (and cultures), and the speaker's English not being the best.
The English "must" and the German "müssen" sound very much alike and even mean something similar - just not exactly the same. In English, "must" indicates a mandatory requirement, or order ("you must do this, or else …"). In German, "Du musst" (you see how similar they are!) simply means "you have to" or "you need to". A German who speaks English well will know the difference but not all of us can be language whizzes.
And it's a similar story with a statement like "you will come here". Most likely, they're trying to ask you politely to come with them, they just don't know how to translate it correctly.
Next time you encounter such seeming impoliteness, don't take it personal, especially if you notice that the German's English isn't the best. If you know the person, you might even consider explaining to them the difference between the German "musst" and the English "must".
◊ If you still find Germans peculiar (to say the least), maybe the explanations on this site will help a bit (in EN).
◊ If you're having trouble addressing Germans correctly, try these suggestions (in EN).
◊ "I want to know how to … in Germany": see here what others are suggesting. Especially if you want to win a German's favour (both links in EN).
◊ How to locate the "Altstadt" / Marktplatz / Town Centers
How do you find the town center in smaller places if there is no sign for "Stadtmitte"? It's easy: look for the (central) church spire. Churches have always been the central point of towns or villages, and everything else - including the town or community halls - were built "around" it. The (old) market squares and (old) town halls can always be found near churches but keep in mind that parking might be restricted in that area. This rule is even applicable to larger cities although they may have more than one church.
◊ Good to know: A City? A Market? Or What?
You may have wondered why some smaller communities are called a "Stadt" (= city / town, e.g. Stadt Vilseck) while other communities are only a "Markt" (= market, e.g. Markt Freihung).
Whether a community is a Stadt or a Markt depends on the town privileges or city rights given to them. A community has to fulfill certain criteria (one of them being size and number of citizens) to be elevated to a Stadt, the highest category, or a Markt, the second category. Communities that don’t fulfill these criteria are so small that they are consolidated into a local “Gemeinde” for administrative purposes.
As you approach any community, the yellow signs depicting the city limits (and “auto-reducing” the speed limit to 50 kmh / 33 mph!) will also tell you if the community is a Stadt (e.g. Weiden / Amberg / Ansbach / Grafenwoehr etc.), or a Markt (e.g. Moosbach / Freihung etc.).
In the past, city rights were bestowed upon a community by the Landesherr (= territorial lord / monarch). “Markt” indicates that this community has the right to hold a (meat and/or produce) market, a right also granted by the Landesherr.
Nowadays, communities have to apply for higher town privileges via their respective Landesregierung, the individual State governments (i.e. a Markt in Bavaria has to apply to the Bavarian government if it wants to become a Stadt).
Extensive information about Germany’s town privileges can be found on Wikipedia:
- German town law
- Free Imperial City
- A short synopsis with even more links
- and as a comparison, see City Status in the UK
◊ What is the difference between Burg, Schloss and Berg?
You may have wondered why some castles are called "Burg" [pronounced BOORgh, not BURG(er)] while others are referred to as "Schloss". Simply put, it depends on when the castle was built and what its purpose was. A Burg (EN) was usually built in the Middle Ages and intended as a fortification to protect the inhabitants. Its origins were often no more than a donjon or keep (EN).
A Schloss (EN) was built much later as a stately residence for wealthy nobles. For more information, check out this impressive list of castles in Germany on Wikipedia.
And just to complete the thought: Berg [pronounced BEARgh, not BURG(er)] is a mountain, or in colloquial speak also a hill. You will quite often see both -burg and -berg in city names. Now you know that -bUrg always indicates that at least at one point in time, they had a castle; whereas -bErg points to a hill or mountain in the vicinity. Of course, very often you'll find a Burg on top of a Berg …
◊ What Day Starts the Week - Sunday or Monday?
If you've ever put a U.S. calendar next to a German calendar and compared the two, you will immediately be confused: the U.S. calendar starts the week with Sunday, while the German calendar starts the week with Monday. Why is that so?
Apparently, the U.S. calendar follows the path set out by ancient Rome: As their worshipping of the Sun increased, the Sun's day (Sunday) advanced to the first day of the week, and Saturday became the seventh day [Source].
And the German calendar? That, believe it or not, is based on the bible: When God created the world and everything in it, he rested on the seventh day ….. Sunday.
◊ Typical Bavarian Greetings
If / when you listen to Bavarians, you might catch them saying “Servus” as a form of greeting (both for Hello and Good-bye). It is a word that Bavarians learned from the Roman occupiers 2,000 years ago! It means “servant”, and you can still find the stem of the word in the English "servant" and "service". The Romans used to call out for "Servus" when they required - yep, you guessed it, service. The Bavarians at the time didn't know what it meant and thought it was a greeting. And so it crept into the Bavarian language as a greeting.
"Grüß Gott" is the standard welcome greeting in Southern Germany, and one of the most mocked expressions in the German language. It is often mis-interpreted as "(addressee should) Greet God" but that is wrong, it actually means "God greet thee". There is a very informative article on Wikipedia, if you're interested.
Another greeting you hear quite often is "Hawedere" or, if you spell it more accurately, “Habe d’Ehre”. It's (muzzled up) Bavarian slang for “ich habe die Ehre” – literally “I have the honor”, equivalent to “I am honored / pleased to meet you”. If you ever go to Austria, you will hear the greeting “Habe die Ehre” quite frequently, especially in Vienna. They drop the “ich” but at least they say the article “die”. We Bavarians are country bumpkins, so we screwed it up even more: we dropped the "ich" and the article (which is quite common in Bavarian with the feminine “die” if the following noun begins with a vowel), and out came “Hawedere”.
"Pfüati": Is one way of saying Good-bye and is yet another great example of the way Bavarians mash up words. That odd-looking little word translated into High German means "(es) behüte Dich Gott" - "may God protect you".
Note": you might also see the spelling "Pfüat Di" (which, again, is the more accurate spelling), and "Pfüat Eich" or "Pfüat Enk" as the plural when addressing a group of people. The different plurals depend on the region you're in.
◊ A Few Helpful Hints in General
Tips to waiters, taxi drivers, etc., are given differently than in the U.S. Let's say you're in a German restaurant, you ring up a bill of 32.20 Euros, and you're handing over 40.- Euros (2 x 20.- Euro notes). In Germany, you simply round off the payable bill to a sum which includes the tip you want to give. In the above example, when you give the waiter the two 20.- Euro notes tell him/her "Make it 35" or just "35". He/she will understand that you only want 5.- Euros returned and the rest (2.80 Euros) will be his/her tip. This way the waiter doesn't have to pull out all that change (7.80 Euros) just for you to return some or all of that very same change as his or her tip.
Also, this way you won't be leaving the tip on the table at the restaurant. Not everyone in Germany is honest, and a tip left on the table might not make it to the waiter.
Tips are not a must in Germany. Most restaurants will have a note on their menu like "Unsere Preise enthalten Mehrwertsteuer und Trinkgeld" which means that their prices include Value Added Tax and Tips. Yet most people do leave tips.
If you want to give the whole change as a tip, hand the the waiter the Euro notes / coins and tell him/her "Das stimmt so" or just "Stimmt so". The waiter then will not give you any change back but accept it as the tip.
One day I witnessed an American, who spoke German very well, ask a waiter in German for "heißen Tee" (hot tea). The waiter didn't understand what the customer wanted. The reason is that if you ask for tea in Germany, it's always hot. Ice tea is not as common here as in the U.S. If you want Ice Tea, you need to ask for "Eistee". Tea or "Tee" alone will always mean hot tea, the waiter just needs to know what type of tea you want. Most common teas are "Schwarzer Tee mit Zitrone" (black tea with lemon), "Schwarzer Tee mit Milch" (black tea with milk), "Früchtetee" (fruit tea), "Hagebuttentee" (rose hip tea), "Kamilletee" (chamomille), and "Pfefferminztee" (peppermint).
Water is not automatically set on your table in a restaurant. You will have to order it, and if you do, you normally receive a glass of sparkling mineral water. If you want to have tap water, you need to specify so ("Wasser aus dem Wasserhahn"). The good thing is, this water won't cost you anything. :)
Slowly the idea of traffic circles is becoming more and more popular in Germany. The traffic rules are like this: the cars in the circle have the right of way. When you drive into a traffic circle you do not set your signals, but you must set the signals when you exit.
If you want to learn more about the language, you could follow Hyde Flippo on Twitter (in EN).
◊ Some funny traditions are explained here in English (scroll towards the bottom).
◊ If you already speak German and want to know more about those strange Bavarian customs, click here (GE). Or you try this site for customs from all over Germany (GE but with a translation button).
◊ If you can read German: find out what the weather predictions are according to the Hundertjähriger Kalender (calendar said to be valid for a hundred years).
◊ For language buffs: click here for examples of Germanic dialects, many with good quality audio recordings.
◊ A few Bavarian Expressions:
Those of you who speak German may have already had their encounters with the local dialect - it is not easy to understand, not even for other Bavarians! Here are a few basic Oberpfälzer words for you. You might find different spellings of the words because of course there is no alphabet and/or spelling rules as there are in high German or English.
Grüss Gott: Greeting most often used in Southern Germany (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, the Stuttgart / Black Forest area)
Servus: Bavarian greeting for all occasions. Surprisingly, it goes back to the Roman occupation! When Romans were calling for their servants, they called out "Servus" (still remaining in the word "service"). The locals didn't know what it meant and thought it to be a greeting. And have been using it as such ever since.
Hawedere = Habe die Ehre ("I have the honor“). Another Bavarian and Austrian greeting
Lewakaas = Leberkäse. Bavarian food specialty, consists of beef and pork and spices (but neither cheese nor liver!)
Kiöchl = Küchl. Deep-fried, round yeast pastry, topped with powdered sugar. Also known as "Aaszogne" (Auseinandergezogene, "pulled apart" because of the way the raw dough is pulled apart with the fingers into a round shape before being deep-fried)
Mass: 1 liter (1/4 gallon) of Bavarian beer, served in a Masskrug (big beermug). Pronounced "musss" (short ah sound like in "must") - don't say "muuuus" (long ah sound) like the Prussians (= non-Bavarians) always do!
Seidl: 1/2 liter (1/8 gallon) of Bavarian beer, served in a Seidlkrügl (small beermug)
Freibier: sponsored FREE beer.
Fruchtzwerg: Synonym for a small Pils in a bottle (0.33 Liter)
Bsuffana = Besoffener: a drunk person, aka "Bierleiche" (beer body).
Saurausch (syn.: Zintara, Wenda): full alcohol intoxication
damisch: crazy, stupid
Gaudi: fun. Originates from the Latin gaudium ("gaudere" = to rejoice, be joyful, take delight)
Wolpertinger: this very rare animal (photos) is only found in Bavaria (mostly by Bsuffana). It is a crossing of several native animals. According to statements of witnesses, it also lives in the JMTC Training Area.
Preiss = Preusse: a non-Bavarian person from the Northern, Western or Eastern parts of Germany, living above the Weißwurst equator (which has the river Main as its natural border). You may have heard the motto “It's nice to be a Preiss, but it's higher to be a Bayer!”
Kirwa = Kirchweih: Celebration of the consecration of a church.
Kirwabursch: unmarried young man who tries to find an unmarried young Kirwamoidl (girl); he has a lot of Gaudi and is very happy. He also has an abnormal thirst.
Kirwabär: the thirstiest Kirwabursch. He is presented to the public in disguise on Kirwamontag (be careful when you see him)
Kirwamoidl = Kirchweih-Mädchen: unmarried young girl who was selected by a Kirwabursch to maintain inter-human liaison during the Kirwa season.
Louda = Luder: nickname for a cheeky Kirwamoidl
Derndl: (Kirwa-) Girl or young lady.
Dirndl: traditional Bavarian dress of Kirwamoidl (a Derndl wears a Dirndl, so-to-speak).
Lederhosn = Lederhose: traditional Bavarian leather trousers.
Kirwahupferl: Close contact between a Kirwabursch and his Kirwamoidl.
Kirwabaam = Kirchweih-Baum: decorated fir with two or three wreaths, at least 100 feet long, around which dances are held.
Aastanzn = Austanzen: typical Bavarian "Volkstanz" (dance) of Kirwaburschn and Kirwamoidln around the Kirwabaam, usually on Kirwasonntag = Sunday. It's the highlight of every Kirwa.
Schwalbn (syn.: Goisn): Two tree trunks bound together at one end with a special knotting technique; used to lift up the Kirwabaam.
Kirwabaam-Verlosung: Raffle, with the Kirwabaam as 1st prize, takes place on Kirwamontag = Monday.
Kirwamusi: Special kind of “Volksmusik” (Bavarian music), performed by the Kirwa-Musikanten (musicians)
Juchzer (syn: Gurzerer): Primal scream of the Upper Palatine population (may possibly mean: need more beer)
Schnodahüpfl: Rhyme-song in Bavarian dialect with sometimes bawdy content, warning to all VIPs.
Germany is famous for its bread. Find more information about German bread at: