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German Stereotypes

21 May, 2011

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.

Beer

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. 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.

Ganter, Freiburg's Brewery

Sausage

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.

Schnitzel

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.

Oktoberfest

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.

Beer Hall at Oktoberfest

Lederhosen

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.

Store in Munich selling Lederhosen and Dirndl

Autobahn

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

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.

Nazi Stuff

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.

Cologne Main Station

Language

“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”.

Others?

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?

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50 Responses to German Stereotypes

  1. Pingback: Debunking German Stereotypes - Grounded Traveler

  2. Juergen says:

    I am from Germany, and I’d really like to read that you are so interested about my country! I am very excited about that and would like to say thank you to all of the authors whose show your fellow citizens how Germany really is! Please excuse my bad english, and please feel free to correct me!

    Rgds
    Juergen

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Juergen, welcome to the site. Take a look around. I have lived here a number of years now. I definitely enjoy it. And Germans have a lot of different facets to explore, so I will be writing for a while.

  3. Andy says:

    Well-observed list this…I had a light-hearted crack at my impressions of Berlin, Germany and the Germans in this post too http://grownuptravelguide.com/six-slightly-strange-observations-about-berlin
    Cheers,
    Andy

  4. Pingback: Are Germans Any Fun? » Grounded Traveler - Expat Adventures in Germany

  5. Pingback: The Beautiful German Language » Grounded Traveler - Expat Adventures in Germany

  6. tracifoust says:

    HA! No, Downer Dan was an elderly man. I’d say 109 maybe, 14 wars or something like that. I guess he has crank rights. Yes the SoCal “hippie” scene is a fake one. Everyone protests to be on a “vibe” yet no one truly cars about the environment or spending less money. When we moved here it took all of a year to miss Germany something fierce. Now 550,000 negative equity later, we are stuck at lteast a few more years :-(

  7. tracifoust says:

    So true Andrew. The only American comedian I have seen come close to this is Demetri Martin. It does take my American friends a lot of time to really “get” how my boyfriend and I joke to our kids. The other week we hosted a party where a friend brought her boyfriend who was a complete downer. This guy complained about EVERYTHING! Finally, at the end of the evening when he left, my boyfriend turns to our 9 y/o and 16 y/o sons and says, “I truly never thought I would meet someone who is a bigger buzz kill than the two of you” And while we all had a gigantic laugh some of our friends thought it cruel. Then again, we live in SoCal where everyone cries at the drop of a hat and all problems can be solved with a yoga pose and a granola bar

    • Andrew says:

      Was the “downer” a German? They seem to complain about things a lot. Someone walked on a red light, someone else is not following the rules… that kind of thing usually. I love that story though. Sarcasm is really awesome. (Seriously, no sarcasm in that comment implied. ;) ) And really, German is where the word Schadenfreude comes from, has is that cruelty not funny somehow?

      I’ve not been to SoCal, but i think of it as big business not necessarily as the hippy set, though I guess I can see it too.

  8. tracifoust says:

    It’s true!!! I get my best material from my Berlinese boyfriend. Though of course most Americans aren’t smart enough to get his jokes…

    • Andrew says:

      The German sense of humor seems very much about the intelligence. I was told at one point it is based on irony. But the jokes I have understood seem to require a deeper knowledge than a normal American joke. Either linguistically or otherwise. So like most everything here, perhaps you need an Ausbildung to understand the joke.

  9. Yvonne says:

    why is everyone saying we’re not funny??? we are funny as hell!!
    duh. need a Wurst and a beer now. :)

    • Andrew says:

      German’s are indeed quite humorous. The sense of humor is just quite different from the standard English speaker. And often the public/private split means laughing in public is less common. But yes, Beer and Wurst are needed!

  10. tracifoust says:

    LOVE THIS! I’ve been several times and I am planning on moving to Berlin. Stereotypes are awful and true and funny as hell. I’m a comedy writer and I happened upon your blog for research on my next project: THANK YOU!

  11. Pingback: Typically German, yet little known. » Grounded Traveler - Expat Adventures in Germany

  12. Heinrich IX says:

    My all time favorite Verkehrsfunk message is
    “Achtung, auf der A7 zwischen Niedertupfelbach und Hinterzipfelhausen liegt ein Kantholz auf der Fahrbahn”. A Kantholz is a squared timber and I don’t have the faintest idea why tons of those get lost on German highways every day. Maybe it’s just IKEA stuff falling from overloaded vehicles and Kantholz is the code word for Billy?

    The dead pig warning you mentioned is of course not meant as a service for rednecks…”Please pick up your fresh roadkill for dinner shortly after exit 44, northbound on A22″
    No, in reality there is a huge difference between hitting a boar in a Porsche going 320 kilometers per hour compared to hitting a deer in Montana at 45 mph in a 5 ton pickup truck. Believe me, knowing what lies ahead (on the road) can by VERY helpful if you have a braking distance like a Shinkansen…

  13. BARBARA says:

    Hi guys, I have spent 10 years of my life in Germany (as well as a few years in other european countries ) and I just love the country and its people. I found real friends over there and endless work opportunities. Most people who have preconceptions about Germany have never or barely been there. Most people are friendly and generous. Of course, bad apples can be anywhere in the world. Yes, sandals and socks look weird, but there are so many good things about the country which to my eyes are more valuable than fashion. I don’t wear sandals and socks myself, I am italian after all :-), but I am glad I could get to know other cultures where people are not obsessed with fashion like it is the case in Italy. Tschüß und alles Liebe! Barbara

    • Andrew says:

      “Endless work opportunities”? What is your chosen profession?
      We get the fashion oddities in Germany for sure. The Italians have their own oddities. I remember being in Bologna in March and it was sunny and not so cold and still nearly everyone was huddling in winter coats. In Freiburg on such a day, people would be out in the sun enjoying it.

  14. Heather says:

    Great post – very interesting perspective on German tourism stereotypes. I recently blogged about a German community in South Australia (‘ve just moved here from Canada). It’s interesting the number of things in your post that came up as German markers as I toured through the Adelaide Hills!

    • Andrew says:

      Yeah the stereotyping concept is an interesting one. It seems to help describe some typical aspects or attitudes of a culture. However these are reinforced by society at large, so it is interesting that a community that is cut off from that “main society” still carries so many markers. Have they been there long?

  15. Going Kraut says:

    Great post! I am still amazed at how some stereotypes are kind of right and wrong depending on how you look at them. Germans being direct maybe see as rude but if you know them and they trust you they will completely open up to you and tell you everything. It is a double edged swoard. I have never heard the quote “German is more a throat condition than a language.” I’ll have to remember that one.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks. I have no clue where that line comes from originally, but if you can’t understand what is being said, the language sure can sound pretty harsh. The Germans are fond of double-edged-swords. My favorite phrase is “alles hat vor und nachteile”, “everything has advantages and disadvantages”.

  16. Ali says:

    Schnitzel!!! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

    Now that you’ve pointed out all of the things that don’t necessarily match the German stereotypes, I’m rethinking this whole moving thing. I really thought I was going to be living in a castel, dressing in a dirndl, drinking beer and eating sausages all the time. You really burst my bubble.

    KIDDING!!!

  17. Germany is also one of my favorite places in the world. It is interesting to read about the stereotypes regarding Germans. Some of these are the things I like the best :) Autobahn is amazingly efficient. Love how you just kind pull off to get gas and then go forward to get back on. Traffic jams anywhere are annoying. Trains are great too even if they are a little late from time to time. If you take a bus tour around a city and the guide tells you to be back at a certain time. Well you better back because they will leave you behind! Had my eyes opened to this one when we let someone behind.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t doubt that someone would get left in that kind of situation, but never heard a story of it happening. I really don’t drive, so I know very little about how the autobahns are built. I travel almost totally by rail.

  18. Sabrina says:

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    I really enjoyed reading this post. You summed up a lot of the things people here in Texas throw at me when they find out I am German :) Maybe I should just send them to your blog for some clarification on what’s true and what isn’t in the future :)

  19. jade says:

    Interesting post- I know a lot of people stereotype others, I often do it too, and I think it’s good and bad. I know I hate it when people think all southern u.s. people are stupid- simply not true. And I’m sure it’s the same thing surrounding the Nazi/German people feeling.

  20. Interestingly enough, I like stereotypes. I do it a lot and it’s not fair. However, your explanation of these things makes my point in my latest post – we all complicated. We can’t be put into a box and all classified as being one way. I have to admit I like Germany for being Germany. I wouldn’t want it to be any different – stereotypes and all. I realize we all are unique and in our experience should look at each other that way. But honestly, stereotypes are sometimes fun! And who doesn’t love a lederhosen, beer drinking, sausage eating, punctual German who drives fast? :)

    • Andrew says:

      I liked your post Jeremy and did notice the reference to stereotypes. Like cats you can put people into boxes, but they rarely stay there. :)

  21. Tijmen says:

    Don’t forget that Germans are always to serious and have no humor, at least thats how many Dutch people view the Germans :)

    • Andrew says:

      Ha. And the Dutch take nothing seriously? I don’t know if the Germans say this, but I imagine it could be. Usually the stereotypes run like that. The Germans definitely have fun and a sense of humor, it is just different than the English style that I am used to.

  22. Apfel struddel!!!! :) yummy

  23. Giulia says:

    As an Italian (=Germany “neighbor”), we have many stereotypes about Germans, as I believe they do about us!
    I think you covered them all: being strict, wurstel, etc.
    The only one I would point out is the weird fashion. Might be just a stereotype but we are used to spot Germans looking at their sandals (paired with socks…) :)
    In the end, I kind of admire them because they seem not to care too much about being fashionable, but more about being comfortable! And I agree on this 100% (I am a weird Italian!).

    • Andrew says:

      We make fun of the socks and sandal combo here too. There seems to be a German idea that noone should ever be without socks, including babies. I have never seen it, but apparently women will come up offering socks if they see a baby without them in public.

      The loud German tourist stereotype is the one that I remember Italians telling me. Which seems almost to fit with the Loud American idea.

      • Rod says:

        Germans make fun of the sandal/sock combo, too. Especially the younger generations living in cities with over 500k people. I wouldn’t say I’m a fashion freak like most Italians (3 out of 2 at work :D) but I do cringe when I see the black socks and cheap Tchibo sandals. :)

  24. Christina says:

    A great article! I like how you describe the intercultural differences between Germans and Americans : “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.” As a German, I couldn’t agree with you more. Have you heard of the concept of coconut and peach people? http://www.culture-contact.com/fileadmin/files/coconut_und_peach_engl.pdf

    • Andrew says:

      I have heard the peach vs coconut, although with a walnut instead of a coconut. The idea that Americans tend to be friendly up to a point, and hold in their feelings like a peach pit; while Germans start out more rough and standoffish, but once you get beyond the shell open up completely. It is a neat image, especially as to each other the other’s way of doing things seems weird. Americans seem superficial while Germans come off rude. This isn’t true in either case, but still it is the perception. Thanks for the reminder of that image.

  25. I love, love, love Germany!! I had been with my family when I was 18 and loved it. Jason and I put it on our RTW itinerary to visit (previously unmet) family there and were warmly welcomed and generously trotted around to all the great sites. I love every stereotype you just listed! Germany is on the top of our list of places in Europe to move to as part of our Responsibly Irresponsible plan. We’ll see you then!!

    • Andrew says:

      Yes, come join us. It can be stressful living here sometimes, but the society is fairly good about keeping stuff running even if to the expat it seems a bit over the top.

  26. Andrea says:

    I went to Germany for the first time about 3 years ago even though I had lived in Europe for many years before that. I don’t know what was holding me back but it’s now one of my favourite destinations. Each region is so different and even though they have a reputation of being a little cold I have never experienced that. I think they are some of the friendliest people in the world. I haven’t been to Germany for about six months so am due for another visit soon :)

    • Andrew says:

      Indeed, you should come back. It is coming into summer, which is truly one of the best times to be here. Not too hot, plenty of beer gardens open late into the warm evenings as well as the beginning of festival season. :)

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