German Culture: Facts, Customs and Traditions

Known as Deutschland to the locals, Germany is more than just a country – it’s a place of poets, thinkers, and plenty of Gemütlichkeit (‘coziness, friendliness, and good cheer’)! Its cultural heritage is a blend of influences that have evolved over centuries, from its days as a significant part of the Holy Roman Empire to its current status as one of the world’s economic powerhouses.

With a population of 84.6 million, Germany is a melting pot of cultures, where Germans and minorities of other nationalities coexist harmoniously, sharing common values and enjoying lively festivities and cherished traditions.

Below, we will share more about German culture, which dates back to the beginning of the first millennium. Over time, the culture has evolved, influenced by historical events that have shaped not only Germany but the entire European continent.

But before we do so, here are some quick facts about Germany:

Quick Facts

  • Known as Deutschland in German, Germany has a population of approximately 84.6 million people.
  • Germany is a federal parliamentary republic and comprises 16 federal states, each with its own distinct culture, traditions, and governance.
  • The main language is German, and the dominant religion is Christianity.
  • Germany’s capital is Berlin, but Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne are also among the biggest cities in Germany.

Some common stereotypes about Germans include their love for beer (which is true), their reputation for being hardworking and punctual (also true), and their affinity for cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, to name a few, are manufactured here so that’s kind of a given, no?) 😊

Language

In Germany, German is the primary language spoken by about 95% of the population. Additionally, many people in the country speak German as their second language.

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While there are regional dialects like Bavarian and Saxon, the German state officially recognizes four minority languages:

  • Upper and Lower Sorbian
  • Romani
  • Danish
  • North and Saterland Frisian

Due to a significant immigrant population, you can also hear various other languages, such as Turkish, Kurdish, Ukrainian, Russian, Arabic, Romanian, Albanian, etc., spoken by different communities. This linguistic diversity reflects Germany’s multicultural society.

Religion

According to the 2024 survey, religion in Germany is diverse. Christianity is the predominant faith, embraced by 47% of the population, while Islam represents 4%.

About 5% adhere to other religions, and 9% prefer not to disclose their affiliation. Notably, 35% identify as having no religion or describe themselves as agnostic.

Despite the decline in traditional religious affiliation, Germany’s cultural landscape remains steeped in religious traditions and practices, observed through holidays like Christmas and Easter.

Cuisine & Food

german food

German food culture is all about hearty and comforting ingredients, with succulent meats like pork and sausages often starring in dishes such as Bratwurst or Schweinshaxe. These are often paired with German side dishes such as potatoes, Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), or Spaetzle (soft egg noodles).

Cabbage, dairy products, and an array of spices and herbs add depth to flavors, while rich gravies and sauces elevate the dishes. Beer often plays a role in cooking, enhancing the taste of dishes like beer-marinated Sauerbraten.

Let’s not forget of Germany’s love affair with bread and pretzels, with nearly 10,000 master bakeries sprinkled across the country. Just follow the delicious scent of freshly baked rye bread (Roggenbrot), whole wheat rye bread (Vollkornbrot), rolls (Brötchen), or small pastries (Kleingebäck) to find them.

For dessert, Germany offers sweet delights such as the famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake), Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), Lebkuchen (gingerbread-like cookies), and Stollen (Christmas fruit-bread).

German Drinking Culture

In Germany, beer is the undisputed king of beverages, with countless varieties ranging from pilsners to wheat beers. To put it in perspective, a staggering 6.5 million liters were consumed in just 18 days during the Oktoberfest beer festival from September 16 to October 3, 2023.

Germany also boasts a rich tradition of wine production, particularly in regions like the Mosel Valley, known for its Rieslings. If you’re into spirits, you’ve likely heard of Jägermeister, a well-known herbal liqueur.

For those seeking something non-alcoholic, don’t miss the refreshing Apfelschorle, a mix of apple juice and sparkling water, or Germany’s quality coffee culture.

History and Heritage

Germany’s rich history is marked by pivotal moments and events that shaped it. It all begins with the Holy Roman Empire, a medieval powerhouse that laid the foundation for modern Germany. The 16th century witnessed Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, reshaping religious beliefs across Europe.

The devastating Thirty Years’ War was a destructive period for the nation, while the Enlightenment period fostered intellectual growth, led by luminaries like Immanuel Kant. The 1848 Revolution set the stage for a united Germany. However, World War II cast a dark shadow, leading to division and immense suffering, commemorated today at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized reunification and the end of the Cold War, an event celebrated at iconic sites like the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and the East Side Gallery.

Literature

With over 64,000 new book titles published in 2022 in Germany, reading is a cherished pastime for many Germans. The country is also home to the Frankfurt Book Fair—the world’s largest trade fair for books, attracting publishers and literary enthusiasts from around the globe.

Plus, did you know the first-ever magazine was printed in German? It was called the Erbauliche Monaths-Unterredungen and was issued from 1663 to 1668.

German authors have given us timeless classics like Goethe’s “Faust” and “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial,” and Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” and “Death in Venice.” Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha” and “Steppenwolf” are also celebrated classics.

Philosophy

Germany is a hub for philosophical discourse and exploration, boasting influential thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, who emphasized reason during the Enlightenment.

The country played a vital role in German Idealism with figures like Hegel. Existentialism found expression through Martin Heidegger, while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed Marxism, revolutionizing political philosophy.

The Frankfurt School’s critical theory explored culture and society, while phenomenology, led by Edmund Husserl, examined consciousness.

Music and Dance

Traditional music and dance are deeply rooted in German culture. Lively folk tunes and energetic dances like the Schuhplattler and Ländler have been passed down through generations. The sounds of accordions, clarinets, and tubas fill the air at festivals and gatherings, where locals come together to celebrate their heritage through music and movement.

Classical music and opera have long been esteemed art forms in Germany, with legendary composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Richard Wagner calling the country home. Concert halls and opera houses such as the Berlin Philharmonic and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg provide a stage for these timeless masterpieces.

In Germany, modern music spans various genres, from electronic beats and catchy pop tunes to gritty rock anthems. Berlin, in particular, is known for its techno scene.

Arts

The Rhinocero

Germany has been home to renowned artists throughout history, such as Albrecht Dürer, Caspar David Friedrich, and Gerhard Richter. Some of Dürer’s famous works include “The Knight, Death, and the Devil” and “Self-Portrait at 28.” Friedrich’s iconic painting, “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,” captured the Romantic movement. Richter, a contemporary artist, is known for his versatility and works like “1024 Colours”.

Germany has also birthed influential art movements like the Bauhaus, Expressionism, and Dadaism, which revolutionized design and challenged artistic norms. These contributions have left a lasting impact on the global art scene.

Architecture

German Traditional Architecture

Germany’s diverse architecture reflects its rich history, with landmarks like palaces, castles, and cathedrals serving as reminders of its past. From ancient Roman structures to pre-Romanesque churches like the Abbey Church of Saint Michael, each building tells a story of its era.

During the Romanesque period, impressive cathedrals, including the iconic Cologne Cathedral, were constructed across the country. The Renaissance brought forth majestic castles and palaces like Heidelberg Castle, while the Baroque era left behind remarkable buildings such as the Wurzburg Residence.

Notable landmarks like the Semper Opera in Dresden and the Ulm Cathedral showcase the diversity of architectural styles in Germany. In the modern era, landmarks like the Einstein Tower and Berlin Modernism Housing Estates highlight the country’s architectural advancements.

Fashion and Clothing

bavarian clothing

Germans generally opt for casual and comfortable attire in their daily lives, favoring jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. However, they tend to dress more formally on special occasions, leaning towards classic and conservative styles.

Each region in Germany has its unique traditional costumes, such as Bavaria’s Lederhosen for men (leather trousers ending just above the knee) and the Dirndl dress for women (featuring a bodice, blouse, full skirt, and an apron). These traditional outfits are commonly worn during carnivals and festivals.

In cities like Berlin, known for its thriving fashion industry, you’ll discover a vibrant mix of high-end boutiques and trendy street fashion, with Berlin’s fashion scene renowned for its avant-garde and edgy style.

Holidays and Traditions

Holidays in Germany combine religious, cultural, and national observances. There are nine public holidays celebrated nationwide, each with its own significance and traditions:

  • New Year’s Day (Neujahrstag). January 1st marks the beginning of the new year, celebrated with fireworks, parties, and family gatherings.
  • Good Friday (Karfreitag). Observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday, it commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ with church services and quiet reflection.
  • Easter Monday (Ostermontag). The day after Easter Sunday, known for family gatherings, Easter egg hunts, and festive meals.
  • Labour Day (Tag der Arbeit). Celebrated on May 1st, it honors workers’ rights with demonstrations, rallies, and public events.
  • Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt). 40 days after Easter Sunday, it marks Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven, observed with church services and family gatherings.
  • Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag). The day after Pentecost, known for picnics, outdoor activities, and spending time with family and friends.
  • Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). On October 3rd each year, Germans celebrate the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. It’s marked with patriotic events nationwide, including a three-day festival in Berlin around Platz der Republik and the Brandenburg Gate.
  • Christmas Day (Weihnachtstag). December 25th is a religious holiday celebrated with family gatherings, gift-giving, and festive meals.
  • Boxing Day (Zweiter Weihnachtstag). December 26th is a day for relaxation and spending time with loved ones, often marked by leisure activities and outings.

Additionally, there are regional holidays celebrated only in specific states or regions, such as Epiphany (Heilige Drei Könige), Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam), Reformation Day (Reformationstag), and All Saints’ Day (Allerheiligen).

Sports and Leisure

Germany’s sports scene is incredibly diverse, catering to a wide range of interests and passions. Undoubtedly, football (soccer) reigns supreme as the nation’s favorite sport, with the Bundesliga drawing massive crowds and fervent support. However, basketball, handball, volleyball, tennis, ice hockey, and athletics also enjoy significant popularity.

In 2017, Germany had approximately 90,000 sports clubs and 27.4 million club memberships, with 33.2% of the population actively participating in these organizations, according to a .

Beyond organized sports, outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and skiing are widely enjoyed, thanks to the country’s beautiful landscapes and well-developed infrastructure. Transportation-wise, as well, Germans are known to appreciate the simple pleasure of walking.

Festivals and Celebrations

german festivals

Whether it’s a traditional folk festival or a modern cultural event, Germans love to come together to celebrate with music, food, and fun activities. Festivals often feature live music performances, delicious traditional cuisine, colorful parades, and lively street markets.

Here are some of the most popular festivals and events in Germany:

  • Beethovenfest – Bonn. An annual celebration of classical music, Beethovenfest in Bonn honors Ludwig van Beethoven’s legacy with around 80 diverse events.
  • Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) – Berlin. Berlinale is a major global film festival in Berlin, showcasing international films and attracting industry professionals and film enthusiasts worldwide.
  • Cannstatter Volksfest (Stuttgart Beer Festival) – Stuttgart. This traditional beer festival in Stuttgart is one of Germany’s largest, featuring beer tents, rides, and live music, akin to a mini Oktoberfest.
  • Carnivals (Karneval/Fasching) – nationwide. Carnivals across Germany offer colorful parades, costumes, and festivities, each region with its unique traditions and celebrations. The largest and most famous carnival takes place in Cologne.
  • Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) – nationwide. Germany’s Christmas Markets are renowned for their festive ambiance, offering handicrafts, seasonal treats, and mulled wine. Among the most famous are those in Nuremberg, Dresden, and Munich.
  • Easter Markets (Ostermärkte) – nationwide. Leading up to Easter, these markets feature handmade crafts and Easter-themed goods, providing a festive atmosphere for visitors. Berlin’s Easter Market at Alexanderplatz and Stuttgart’s Easter Market at Schlossplatz are popular destinations
  • Oktoberfest – Munich. The world’s largest beer festival, Oktoberfest in Munich boasts large beer tents, Bavarian cuisine, and carnival rides, drawing millions of visitors annually.
  • Reeperbahn Festival – Hamburg. One of Europe’s largest club festivals, the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg showcases diverse music acts alongside conferences and art exhibitions.
  • Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames) – multiple locations. This series of fireworks festivals along the Rhine River offers spectacular displays against historic backdrops, attracting crowds to various locations.
  • Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) – Harz Mountains. Celebrated in the Harz Mountains, Walpurgis Night features bonfires and festivities to welcome spring, rooted in German folklore and tradition.

German Social Etiquette

From greetings to dining and gift-giving, it’s important to know the dos and don’ts when in Germany. Let’s explore the basics of how to be courteous in German society.

Greetings and Politeness

Whether you’re entering a shop, office, or someone’s home, offering a friendly “hello” or “Guten Tag” to acknowledge others is customary in Germany. However, initiating a conversation is not necessary in public spaces, as Germans are not big fans of small talk.

When it’s time to bid farewell, saying “Auf Wiedersehen” or “Tschüss” for goodbye is a courteous gesture.

Addressing people correctly is equally important in German social interactions. The language offers two forms of “you”: “du” and “Sie.” “Du” is informal, akin to addressing friends and family, while “Sie” is the formal option, used with strangers or to convey respect.

Using “bitte” (please) when making a request and “danke” (thank you) when expressing gratitude are not just polite; they are expected and appreciated in everyday exchanges.

German Work Culture

Work culture in Germany revolves around being on time, getting things done efficiently, and maintaining a professional demeanor. Quality and precision are highly regarded, especially in jobs where attention to detail matters

On average, people in Germany work around 40.5 hours per week, which is somewhere in the middle Germans treasure their personal time, making use of generous vacation days. All employees in Germany working a 5-day week are entitled to a minimum of 20 vacation days per year.

Gift-Giving

People in Germany exchange gifts on occasions like birthdays, Christmas, and special events. Wrapping and presentation matter, so a nicely wrapped gift is appreciated. However, when it comes to the actual gift, Germans would rather receive something modest and thoughtful rather than extravagant.

Flowers are a popular and well-received gift, especially when visiting someone’s home. In group settings, such as for birthdays, recipients often open gifts in front of others, so expressing gratitude is customary.

Dining Etiquette & Tipping

At home, dining in Germany is cozy and relaxed. The meal kicks off with a friendly “Guten Appetit” (enjoy your meal), and dishes are served family-style. It’s polite to wait for the host to start eating before you do. Afterward, a simple “Danke” (thank you) shows your appreciation.

As for dining out, you might wait to be seated in fancier places, but in casual spots, feel free to choose your table. When you’re ready to order, a raised hand or “Entschuldigung” (excuse me) gets the server’s attention. Payment? Both cash and cards work, but cash is more widely accepted. Tipping is appreciated but not mandatory; rounding up or leaving an extra 5-10% is common for good service.

Weddings

If you’re invited to a German wedding, be sure to RSVP promptly when you get the invite – it’s a big help for the couple’s planning.  When it comes to dressing up, Germans lean towards formal attire. Ladies often go for dresses (just not in white), and men typically wear suits. If you’ve been to U.S. weddings, the style is quite similar.

It’s common to bring a thoughtful gift, often in the form of cash, to support the newlyweds as they start their lives together. During the festivities, embrace the lively atmosphere by raising your glass with a cheerful “Prost!” for toasts. And don’t be shy to hit the dance floor – Germans love to dance at weddings. When the festivities wind down, take a moment to personally thank the couple for inviting you.

Funerals

Funerals are solemn (and highly regulated) rituals in Germany. Depending on the deceased’s and their family’s beliefs, the funeral can follow Christian or secular traditions. Christian funerals include a church service, often with an open casket, followed by burial or cremation. Secular funerals are more or less similar but without the religious elements.

Germans typically dress in dark and conservative clothing for funerals, so it’s advisable to do the same. If you want to offer condolences to the grieving family, a simple “Mein Beileid” (My condolences) is appropriate. Flowers are a common way to express sympathy; you can bring a wreath or bouquet to the funeral. During the service, maintain a quiet and respectful demeanor, ensuring your phone is on silent mode.

Public Behavior

Here are some points to consider when you’re out in public in Germany:

  • Strong sense of community. Germans have a strong sense of community and look out for one another. If you spot lost items hanging from trees in Germany, it’s a thoughtful gesture by someone who found them, making it easier for the owner to retrieve them.
  • Public transportation. When using public transportation, make sure to queue up and let people exit before boarding. Always buy a ticket and validate it before boarding trams, buses, or trains. Priority seats are reserved for those in need, so be ready to offer your seat.
  • In public spaces and queues, Germans value order and quiet. Whether you’re waiting for a train or in a library, keep noise levels down and respect personal space. Noise levels are especially important in residential areas. Germans have specific quiet hours to ensure peaceful living, so keep the volume down, especially during evenings.
  • Environmental consciousness is a way of life. Recycling is taken seriously in Germany, with specific bins for paper, plastic, glass, and more. Always recycle responsibly.
  • Supermarket checkouts. Navigating supermarket checkouts in Germany is like a mini workout for your packing skills. Unlike some countries, there’s no dedicated bagger, so you’ll need to pack your items quickly into your own bags or reusable totes after they’re scanned. Don’t forget to have your own bags ready or purchase them at the store. Payment options include cash and cards.

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