Embarking on a journey to the heart of Europe? Before you pack your lederhosen and set foot on German soil, pause. This isn’t your standard travel guide—it’s your secret code to blending in like a local without accidentally poking the proverbial cultural bear.
Crafting this checklist, I pulled on a trifecta of perspectives: That of a native German, the nuances I’ve soaked up in my American upbringing, and countless experiences back in my German motherland. The faux pas listed here are harvested from the orchards of personal blunders, anecdotes from other ‘been there, done that’ travelers, and the invisible handbook of German customs I’ve seen folks wish they had before stepping on a bratwurst minefield.
So, grab your pretzel, settle in, and let’s get friendly with the no-nos of Deutschland travel—not in the dry tone of a history professor, but like a pal filling you in over a beer (which, by the way, you should never cheer with water).
We’re exploring those easy-to-miss trip wires that could turn your dream vacation into an awkward silence festival. And hey, I get it. Traveling can be as confusing as a German compound word, but after this little chat, you’ll navigate the cultural labyrinth of Germany like a pro – just quieter and more towel-clad than you might expect.
Ready to find out why you should think twice before walking in bike lanes or disposing of your rubbish? Let’s dive right into the land of efficiency, where certain “don’ts” can be just as important as the “dos”.
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12 Things You Should Not Do In Germany. Ever.
1. Forget Your Towel In The Sauna
Never, and I repeat, never forget your towel when visiting a German sauna. This isn’t just about personal hygiene; it’s an unspoken rule in the land of efficiency and order. You see, in Germany, the towel is your trusty sidekick, akin to a superhero’s cape in a steamy world of nakedness.
On my last trip, a friend made the rookie mistake of leaving my towel behind. Let me tell you, the collective gasp that echoed in the sauna could have restarted the Cold War. As I sat there, towel-less, I felt dozens of disapproving eyes branding me as “the one who didn’t follow the rules.”
Trust me, when you visit a German sauna, bring your towel. Or be prepared to sit in the corner of shame, your forgetfulness a hot topic amongst the regulars long after the steam settles. Remember, a towel is not just for drying or stopping your butt from touching the wood; it’s your ticket to sauna solidarity.
2. Recycle Willy-Nilly
Sure, when in Germany, tossing an aluminum can into the regular trash is akin to yelling “spoiler alert” at a movie premiere – it’s not just frowned upon; it’s practically social sabotage. The Germans treat recycling like a national sport, and trust me, they’re all Olympians.
You see, every bottle you nonchalantly chuck could be a 25-cent missed goal. During my frequent visits, I’ve even seen friends dive into bins to rectify my “recycling own goals.” And those colorful bins aren’t just for show. They’re a silent test of your citizenship – fail, and you might as well wear socks with sandals.
So, unless you fancy being the local ‘Umweltsünder’ – that’s ‘environmental sinner’ for you – mind the bins! Your green reputation depends on it.
3. Walk In The Bike Lane
Oh, the bike lane in Germany, a sacred ground you dare not tread! Picture this: you’re strolling merrily along, ice cream in hand, when suddenly a bell tolls your impending doom. It’s not the church—it’s an irate cyclist, and you’ve wandered into his domain.
Now, between you and me, I learned my lesson the hard way. I set one foot in that cursed lane, and a flock of cyclists descended upon me, their steely glares colder than the scoop of Eis I dropped in my fluster. Lesson learned; the bike lane is lava.
Seriously, keep your wits about you and your feet in the pedestrian zone. Unless you fancy a high-speed chase with a side of tutting and head-shaking, treat the bike lane like it’s lined with mousetraps. Consider yourself warned!
4. Joke About Speed Limits on the Autobahn
When you find yourself cruising down the Autobahn, resist the urge to crack that speed limit joke. I tell you, as someone who’s familiar with both the discipline of German roads and the laid-back American highways, Germans take their no-speed-limit zones *very* seriously.
Joking about it? That’s the autobahn equivalent of asking a gourmet chef if they use microwave meals. To the locals, the Autobahn isn’t a lawless race track; it’s an efficient, well-oiled machine. They’re zen with their velocity, and your jest could be the sand in their gears.
Not to mention, it’s a bit like teasing the local bear with honey-covered hands—just not wise. So, keep those speed jokes for the bumper-stickered cars back home and let’s enjoy the German engineering in appreciative, whistle-worthy silence. Trust me, your punchline might just become the prelude to a speed-educated lecture no one asked for.
5. Not Make Eye Contact When Prost-ing
When you’re in Germany, ready to clink that frosty mug, remember to lock eyes! Prost-ing without the all-important eye contact is like bratwurst without mustard—sure, it’s possible, but why miss the full experience? It’s a gesture that says, “I see you, fellow beer aficionado.”
You might think it’s a tiny misstep, but it’s actually a hop into social faux pas territory. It’s said that toasting with a glassy gaze curses you with seven years of bad luck in the bedroom. Take it from someone who prefers all their luck to be good; that’s a superstition you don’t want to test.
Not only does it avoid mythical bedroom woes, but it also earns you silent nods of approval from your German companions. Next time you’re lifting a pillowy pilsner, give them a good ol’ eyeball—Prost!
6. Ignore The Red Man At Pedestrian Crossings
When you’re in Germany, treating the Ampelmann—the little red traffic light man—like he’s invisible is a surefire way to earn some tuts and stern looks. Trust me, your street cred can vanish faster than a Bratwurst at a beer festival.
On my frequent visits, I’ve noticed those red figures are like silent, unyielding guardians of pedestrian law. Ignore them at your peril. Dart across on a dare and you might as well wear a sign saying “Tourist” or “I heart jaywalking.”
They take their walking cues seriously over there. So, when you see the red man, just stop and enjoy the scenery. It’s a great chance to people-watch or ponder over why you can’t seem to make schnitzel as good as Oma’s. Be patient, or the only walking you’ll be doing is the walk of shame under the collective disapproval of orderly German pedestrians.
7. Ask How People Are
When you’re in Germany, dropping a casual “How are you?” can land you in some hot water—well, not literally, but you’ll certainly get some perplexed looks. This isn’t just small talk territory; you’re in the land of practicality.
Drop this American greeting on a German, and brace yourself for either a confused pause or a thorough medical history. I’ve asked it before, grabbing a pretzel at a bakery, and ended up learning more about the baker’s bunion surgery than I ever intended.
You keep it simple, right? Wrong. They take your “How are you?” and raise you a “Do you have time?” Because let’s face it, if you’re going to ask, you better be ready to listen.
Just when you think you got away with it, there you are, 10 minutes in, nodding along as Klaus dissects his philosophy on life post-retirement. Next time, stick to “Guten Tag,” and save yourself the accidental therapy session.
8. Bring Up The War
When you’re in Germany, steer clear of bringing up the war, trust me! It’s a party pooper, a bratwurst bummer, an absolute no-go. It’s like popping a helium balloon at a silent retreat – suddenly, all the fun, light-headed laughter is replaced by grim nods and a collective, unspoken “Oh no, not this again.”
Now, you might have a robust curiosity or genuine historical interest, but mentioning the war is about as welcome as sauerkraut in your cup of coffee. It’s an awkward sprinkle on a conversation cake that was doing just fine with cherries and cream. It’s old news treated as fresh gossip—you just don’t.
It all boils down to etiquette, like not putting ketchup on a Wiener Schnitzel. Besides, the last time I checked, the war was not listed under ‘fun facts about Germany’. So next time you’re there, maybe talk about how efficient the trains are, or how every village seems to have its own brewery. It’s safer, and hey, you’re less likely to turn your cultural exchange into a history lesson that no one signed up for.
9. Expect Shops To Open On Sunday
If you’ve etched out a delightful Sunday shopping spree in Germany in your travel agenda, prepare for a twist worthy of a German soap opera. Why? Because expecting shops to burst with life on a Sunday in Germany is like longing for a snowball fight in the Sahara – a quirky but fundamentally flawed plan.
You see, in Germany, Sunday is Ruhetag, the day of rest. You and I can forget the bustling market scenes and retail therapy. It’s the day when even the clinking coins in your pocket get a day off. Supermarkets, malls, boutiques – they all pull down their shutters, join hands with closed cafes and sign off for a collective snooze.
So, put that wallet away and join the locals in a park or by the riverside. In Germany, Sundays are for lounging, not for swiping cards. Consider it an unexpected cultural detox, sprinkled with the irresistible charm of German Ordnung. Prost to that!
10. Stare At Naked People
When in Germany, keep your eyeballs in check—especially at the sight of flesh. It’s quite the norm to see folks stripping down to their birthday suits in parks, lakes, and, of course, the notorious saunas. But here’s the thing: gawking is a strict no-go.
Trust me, if you opt for the wide-eyed spectacle routine, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. The locals are champions at the art of nonchalance in the face of nudity. So, when you find yourself amidst the unabashedly bare, act cool, keep your gaze navigated elsewhere, and maybe pretend you’re intensely pondering the clouds or the precise art of towel-folding.
It’s all about the ‘when in Rome’ vibe, or in this case, when in the land of saunas and sunbathing al fresco, do as the Germans do: enjoy the breeze and leave the stares for the amazing architecture. Your cheeks might be spared some redness—both sets.
11. Toast With Water
When you’re clinking glasses in Germany, steer clear of toasting with water – it’s bad luck! Trust me, you’ll get a chorus of groans and maybe even a gasp if you unwittingly lift a glass of H2O for a Prost. It’s like inviting a troupe of black cats to cross your path.
On my last visit, a cousin playfully warned, “With water? Might as well toast to my pet rock’s health!” It’s a faux pas rooted in maritime folklore, where toasting with water was a tribute to the drowned. And who wants to toast to that?
So, when in Germany, do as the Germans do: grab a beer, a glass of wine, heck, even a soda – but leave the water for hydrating between toasts. Your German friends will thank you, and the sailors of yore can rest easy.
12. Make Noise
When in Germany, you’d be wise to keep the decibel level down. Tread lightly on that noise pedal—Germans take their peace and quiet seriously, my friend. Now, I’m not saying they don’t know how to party, but let’s just say there’s a time and place for everything.
You see, Sundays are sacred. It’s the day when even the clatter of dishes seems like a rebellious act. Attempt vacuuming and the neighbors might just stage an intervention. And don’t get me started on the “Ruhezeit,” the customary quiet hours. Channel your inner ninja; your tiptoeing skills will become legendary.
Ever heard of a lawn mowing schedule? Yeah, that’s a thing. So, keep it down. Read a book, learn to mime, whatever it takes. Just remember: in Germany, silence isn’t just golden; it’s expected.
In conclusion, after exploring the unique cultural quirks of traveling through Germany, remember that while forgetting your towel might leave you in a, let’s say, drafty situation, recycling like a rebel without a clue or wandering into the fast and furious Autobahn of bike lanes could indeed make your trip memorably regrettable. So, arm yourself with a towel, your recycling guide, and keen spacial awareness, and you’re all set to enjoy the Wurst of times without any unnecessary faux pas!
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