Germany is a great place to travel. In the past few years I have taken several organized tours to other parts of Europe. In doing the research I notice how few if any tours there seem to be for English speaking people throughout Germany. It makes me wonder if there are just some wrong preconceptions of what Germany is like. What are the ideas that most people seem to have of Germany?
Here is a Top 11 list of Preconceptions and Stereotypes that I imagine people might have about Germany.
If there is one thing that Germany is the most world famous for it is Beer. The German beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) is well known and one of the oldest food laws in the world, declaring that Beer must be made of barley, hops, water and yeast, and nothing else. Each town has usually several breweries that serve only the to the local town.
Beer is a big deal here, true. Despite this, Germany has some excellent wine growing regions like the Moselle and Rhine Valley. Breakfast is almost always with coffee and dinner usually ends with it too. Add the concept of Apfelschorle and Germans are far more then just beer drinkers.
Some stereotypes exist because they are true. Germany is definitely the land of the sausage, Wurst in German. Most of the street food that is German and much of the pub food is centered around sausage. Each town has it’s own type and they are all different. From little ones you eat 4 at a time to hotdog-like things to sausages big enough to slice onto bread for sandwiches. Meat in various forms is part of the food culture, but so are fresh salads. Fresh local ingredients can be found in the markets that spring up in every town.
Yup more food. Schnitzel is the German word for cutlet. So any cutlet of meat is a schnitzel. These are usually breaded, pan-fried and covered in a sauce. The different “names” of Schnitzel are just different sauces. The meat is usually pork unless mentioned otherwise, though Wiener Schnitzel is traditionally veal. Schnitzel mit Pommes (Cutlet with French Fries) is a staple in nearly every German style restaurant.
Closed Off and Unfriendly
Germans are direct. There is rarely any urge to sugarcoat things. They are direct and often speak their mind to strangers, especially when rules are not being followed. This can come off as unfriendly. The other part is that the public life and manner is very separate from the private life. Once you get past the more direct nature of the culture, Germans are very friendly and hospitable people. The road to getting beyond that can be a longer one than English speakers is used to. The idea that things must run according to the rules is pretty deeply a part of the culture. There is a stated way that stuff should work, and when this doesn’t occur they will say something. But once you get to a social situation of just making friends, of course they are friendly and hospitable.
The Oktoberfest is well known throughout the world and often a destination in and of itself for tourists. This however is only in Munich and only a few weeks in the fall. Not to be disheartened, there are numerous other beer festivals across the country.
These are primarily in Bavaria and not even all of Bavaria. I guess since many Americans have only been to Munich the Bavarian concepts get attached to the entire country, which isn’t correct. Each area has it’s own style of traditional dress. The Lederhosen and Dirndl are further commercialized through Oktoberfest and deeper mixing of Bavaria with the rest of Germany. Bavaria is to Germany as Texas is to the US. It is a part of the country, but the residents often identify with the state before the country.
Yup, Autobahn just means highway. And yes many of them have no speed limit. Autobahns also have construction that slows traffic to a crawl. Certain roads seem to be in eternal traffic jam according to radio reports. “5km traffic stopage due to potatoes on the lanes” is my favorite report. Though “wild pig on the highway” followed in a few minutes by “dead wild pig on the highway” is kind of funny too. The concept of “Geisterfahrer” (ghost driver) is one I never heard of in the US either. This is the idea that someone(perhaps drunk) got on the highway going the wrong direction into traffic. So yes, Autobahns are the shimmering concrete speedways, but come with the common hazards of a highway system too.
Castles and medieval buildings exist in almost every town to be sure. Most of them are in some form of ruin. Medieval Germany was a place of war and feudalism and the remnants are still here. Though due to the number of these everywhere, I get the impression that most Germans just can’t get excited about them. Similar to me when a Swiss friend was excited to see water towers all over the place when driving with us cross country. The most famous castle in Germany is Neuschwanstein and again only in Bavaria and actually built in the late 1800s. The best area for more classic castles is the Rhine and Moselle area between Trier, Koblenz and Mainz. Germany is totally the land of castles and especially if you have a car a really good place to just go driving. Even in my little area I have heard of hills with castle ruins on them all over the place.
The world war two era history of the country is often in the forefront of many people’s thinking. This did happen and the camps are visitable. Other than a few small groups this is not a part of modern Germany. There is a really good article and discussion at Country Skipper’s site about how German’s view Nazi references. Hint: Grammar Nazi as a joke or meaning anal about grammar isn’t so funny here.
Trains Running on Time
Ha! The train system here is definitely top notch. They go everywhere and run with great efficiency, most of the time. Delays are nonetheless quite common. The system seems to be so tightly wound that a few minute delay can have a ripple effect in the system disturbing many different routes. Limited tracks and priority given to express trains means that the region trains can get delayed even more often. Add construction or strike potential to the mix and delay can be a big problem.
This said the conductors on the ICE trains as well as service personnel in the stations are often very helpful to you in getting you on your way. Yes, you might find a rude one every so often, but that could happen everywhere. All in all the system runs remarkably well, though most passengers still whine if a train is more than 2 minutes off schedule.
“German is more a throat condition than a language.” I have no clue who said that, but I can understand it hearing it for the first time. The sounds are guttural and the rhythm more of a chant than the melodic Italian or French. Learning travelers level German isn’t that difficult though. A lot of the words come either from Latin and share a common root with English or English uses a German root anyway. So a number of words are already familiar. Call it the American influence or just an interest in travel and the world, but German schools now teach English to nearly everyone. I have had far more people in Germany speak some bare English than in Spain or Italy. Just remember, they may not speak it much or have practiced since high school. So be patient and say “Danke”.
I still don’t know why a lot of the tour companies skip the country. There is more than enough to see in a week or so and the country is nicely compact for travel. The summers are warm and the tourist infrastructure highly developed. Oh and beer and castles everywhere. Hmm, I will continue talking it up.
Any other ideas that you associate with Germany that I missed?