Germany is one of the world’s most advanced, culturally rich, and beautiful countries. Located in the heart of Europe, Deutschland boasts lively cities, stunning scenery, and ancient history. In all my years of traveling, including five years spent living in Germany, it has become one of my favorite places.
It’s cheaper than the US, offers universal healthcare, and has excellent public transport links. The crime rate and education levels are low, and Germans enjoy lots of free time. There’s little wonder it’s such a draw for tourists, businesses, workers, digital nomads, and retirees. Germany is a great place to live.
But to many people who have never visited this wonderful part of the world or met someone from Germany, misconceptions and stigmas still abound. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Never a truer word was spoken. Misunderstanding, xenophobia, and conflict exist when we don’t travel, open our minds, and learn about other cultures.
Alas, we can’t all jump on a plane and fly to Berlin at the drop of a hat. More’s the pity. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the most common misconceptions and myths about Germany. So, if you can’t go, you can dispel some fallacies from afar.
What We Cover
- 1. They Have No Sense of Humour
- 2. There Are No Speed Limits on the Autobahn
- 3. The German Language is Harsh
- 4. All the Beer is Warm
- 5. Everyone Loves Beer In Germany
- 6. You Can’t Mention the War
- 7. The German People Are Cold and Asocial
- 8. Organization and Punctuality Rules
- 9. Germans Don’t Speak English
- 10. Romance is Dead
- 11. German Cuisine is Only Two Dishes
- 12. Germans Don’t Like Americans
- 13. There’s Sex and Nudity Everywhere
- 14. The Berlin Wall Still Exists
- 15. Hiter and Arnold Schwarzenegger Were/Are German
- 16. They Love David Hasselhoff in Germany
- Are Germans good hosts?
- Is it safe to visit Germany?
- What defines German Culture?
1. They Have No Sense of Humour
A popular belief in Germany is that they have no sense of humor. In my five years of living in this country, I have never noticed that Germans are less funny than anywhere else.
But perhaps there’s something lost in translation. The fact that we perceive Germans to have no sense of humor comes from the language itself.
Without getting into the linguistics of it all, it’s also important to understand that different countries have different senses of humor. US humor is completely different from UK humor, for example. And we both use English! You can multiply that by ten in countries that speak another language.
To assume that German people have no sense of humor is ethnocentric. They’re hilarious, just in a different way. Try this comedy bus tour in Cologne if you don’t believe me.
2. There Are No Speed Limits on the Autobahn
This is one of the most confusing misconceptions because there is some truth to it. And if you’re renting a car in Germany, you must know the road rules.
There is no speed limit on certain sections of Germany’s highways – called the autobahn in these parts. However, that doesn’t mean you can go hell for leather and max out your speedometer.
There are recommended speed limits and variable speed limits. On the autobahn, it is recommended that you don’t go higher than 130 kilometers per hour.
Be aware they use kph and not mph, so that’s about 81 mph. Whatever you do, don’t sit in the left lane at a snail’s pace. I’m looking at you, Pennsylvania.
3. The German Language is Harsh
Irish comic Dylan Moran once said that the German language sounds like a typewriter wrapped in tinfoil getting kicked down the stairs. As hilarious as that image is, the native tongue in Germany gets a bad rep.
That’s probably because the world was subjected to an angry little man screaming it from a podium. Any language can sound abhorrent if delivered with aggression. Try visiting Croatia and listening to how they shout at each other on the Dalmatian coast.
Sure, German is not as romantic as French or as musical as Italian, but depending on who’s speaking and the context, I’ve heard German sound delightful. Charming. And – dare I say it – sexy.
4. All the Beer is Warm
Nowhere in Germany have I ever found a person or establishment that has offered me a warm beer. This misconception comes from the fact that Americans typically want such beverages to be served ice cold, and German suds are warm by comparison.
German bars, restaurants, and pubs serve beer at cellar temperature – like the British. It’s still cold, but not in the way that it will hit your teeth and leave you thinking you need a root canal.
In the 17th century, Germans would drink warm beer as an alternative to coffee for medicinal purposes. There are other warm alcoholic drinks served in Germany, such as glühbier and glühwein. You’ll usually find them offered during the winter at German Christmas Markets.
Or by a relative or family friend who gets sloshed on the stuff. Go on this walking craft beer tour in Hamburg and taste for yourself.
5. Everyone Loves Beer In Germany
The best breweries in Germany brew some of the best beers in Europe. It’s consumed at all times of the day. Germans like to relax with a beer.
Taking a craft beer tour is one of the most popular activities when visiting Germany. Oktoberfest, in particular, is legendary in German culture for beer consumption. But this does not necessarily mean that all Germans love beer.
The giant steins of frothy ale you see in all the pictures are typically synonymous with Bavaria. This large state in southern Germany is where Oktoberfest originated. Munich is the focal point, the Oktoberfest capital of the world.
And although a lot of beer finds its way into many bellies, Bavaria doesn’t represent Germany as a whole. Nationwide, Germans drink more coffee than beer, and German wine is also popular.
See Related: The Top Breweries in Munich
6. You Can’t Mention the War
A long-standing misconception about Germany is that you can’t discuss World War II. That’s not the case.
German children learn about it extensively in school, and you’re not suddenly going to be deported if you bring it up in a bar. Of course, most people do not like to talk about it for obvious reasons, but they despise Hitler’s views and what he stood for more than any other nation.
There are still some rumors floating around that Germans deny the Holocaust happened and support Hitler. This is also categorically untrue. I have never met one German who shares this archaic and dangerous opinion.
The Jewish Holocaust Memorial (pictured) is a testament to that and one of the most important and best things to see in Berlin. Learn to read the room, and you won’t offend.
See Related: Interesting Facts About World War II
Germans are not as cold and asocial as people think they are. They are just like everyone else. They enjoy spending time with their friends and family, eating, and enjoying a good laugh.
The difference is they are more direct in their communication and do not enjoy small talk as much as other countries and cultures do. I’ve always found German locals friendly, approachable, and hospitable.
But that’s not to say there aren’t pockets of the country that aren’t as welcoming as everywhere else. Some people aren’t people people.
8. Organization and Punctuality Rules
Vorsprung durch Technik, as they say. People from Germany are highly organized and efficient. They pride themselves on punctuality and efficiency.
They manage their time well and get the job done. Perhaps people of a certain generation in Germany conduct their lives with military precision. But not everyone in the country is running like clockwork.
Germany’s “famous” efficiency isn’t always there for the world to see. Several notable projects miss deadlines, and in recent years, public transport hasn’t been running as punctually as everyone would like. Germans are still more efficient than most of Europe, but if you want trains that run on time, you need to go to Japan.
9. Germans Don’t Speak English
This one surprised me. Having lived and worked in Germany for many years and not knowing the language too well, I’ve never had a problem communicating.
People of a certain age will have a grasp of English. However, it is estimated that some 56% of the population can speak English, which is lower than it feels when you’re living there.
This misconception is slowly changing as more German students are learning English, and English is the most popular second language choice. Still, many Germans understand basic English phrases and gladly help you with anything. Just be sure to have a translator on hand, just in case!
10. Romance is Dead
Germany shares a continent with some famously romantic nations, each boasting some of the most romantic cities in the world. Comparatively speaking, Germans are not particularly known for hot-headed passion.
They don’t rush into relationships, but they can still be romantic and enjoy romantic gestures in their personal lives with the right person. If you want to bring flowers, go for it!
However, Germans are less likely to pick up on social cues or give hints about their feelings, so if you are attracted to someone, communicate your interest before anything happens. And take things slow.
Then you can book a table at one of the Top-Rated Restaurants in Germany. Try a German chocolate workshop together, like the one pictured in Düsseldorf. Or whisk them away to one of these top holiday destinations for couples.
11. German Cuisine is Only Two Dishes
Admittedly, when you think of German cuisine, you will likely picture images of sausages and sauerkraut. And while Germany has many types of sausage, it’s not the only thing Germans eat. Just look at this article on the best food to try in Germany.
Some German dishes are more traditional, but this varies from region to region. Every town also has regional specialties, so there will surely be something on any restaurant’s menu for everyone to enjoy.
If you’re heading to Munich, try one of these German food-tasting tours and you’ll see there’s more to this country than brats. Currywurst is one of my favorite foreign foods of all time. Don’t ever change, Germany, don’t ever change.
12. Germans Don’t Like Americans
Sweeping generalizations are bad assumptions to make. Of course, you’re always going to find some people from certain nations who don’t like other people from other nations.
I know many Germans who have no beef with America or Americans. On the contrary, they enjoy the American way of life and find it very interesting.
Anti-Americanism in Germany was at its height during the Cold War and in more recent years, thanks to certain Euroskeptic former presidents. But the overwhelming majority of German people aren’t sitting over there hating on the United States or anyone from it.
Remember, people are not their governments; we should be wary of tarnishing everyone with the same brush. Disliking or not agreeing with a country’s foreign policy isn’t equivalent to everyone hating each other. Facts.
13. There’s Sex and Nudity Everywhere
Europeans, in general, are more liberated than the rest of the world when it comes to sex and nudity: the Dutch, the Germans, the French, the Italians, and the Greeks in particular.
For them, sex isn’t a dirty word, and the human body is a beautiful thing and deserves to be celebrated as such. Germany is still a wonderful place for a family vacation.
Did I watch the late-night German channels as an adolescent when my parents first got satellite TV? Sure. Do films like Eurotrip (2004) perpetuate the notion that Europeans are falling in and out of bed with each other?
Unfortunately, yes. But that’s not to say everyone in Germany walks around without clothes. It’s just a forward-thinking, sex-positive society. If only we could all follow suit.
14. The Berlin Wall Still Exists
When American tourists come to Berlin, one of the best places to visit in Germany, a common question gets asked all too frequently. “Where is the Berlin Wall?” The fact is that it doesn’t exist anymore. After it was torn down in 1989 and the following years, there is very little of the original wall left.
Notable exceptions include the East Side Gallery (pictured), the Berlin Wall Memorial, and Checkpoint Charlie. You can do a Berlin Wall walking tour that takes you around all the key locations and follows the wall’s original route. And get yourself a Berlin WelcomeCard when you’re in the city to get the most out of your visit.
See Related: Interesting Facts About the Berlin Wall
15. Hiter and Arnold Schwarzenegger Were/Are German
I realize that Adolf Hitler and Arnold Schwarzenegger are vastly different people, and I’m not comparing the two. One was a former painter, and the other an actor.
But a common misconception about both men is that they’re from Germany. They’re actually from neighboring Austria.
Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, which is one of Austria’s many charming towns and deserves more than to be associated with the dictator. Schwarzenegger was born in the village of Thal, just over two miles from Graz.
Graz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best things to do in Austria. I highly recommend this old town walking tour if you’re ever visiting, or visit the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in Thal pictured above.
16. They Love David Hasselhoff in Germany
You’ve got me on this one because it’s true. For those old enough to remember, Hoff cemented his legendary status in Germany when he sang at the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And while younger generations might look at you with a puzzled expression, David holds a special place in the hearts and minds of German people. There’s even a David Hasselhoff Museum in Berlin.
Are Germans good hosts?
Yes, most Germans I have encountered in my travels are lovely and happy to help you with anything. To avoid being rude, check out our article on cultural do’s and don’ts when visiting Germany.
Remember to make eye contact when clinking glasses, and don’t wish anyone a happy birthday before their actual birthday. It’s considered bad luck.
Is it safe to visit Germany?
Yes, Germany is a very safe country to visit. Just be sure to use common sense and take the same precautions elsewhere. And yes, you can ask for and drink a glass of tap water.
What defines German Culture?
Germany has a long and storied history of iconic, famous, and sometimes turbulent characteristics and events. German culture is known for its order, structure, reason, and logic.
For its contribution to the arts, including music and literature. For its advancements in technology and engineering. For the creation of some of the most beloved Christmas traditions. And for its love of beer and delicious sausages.