First of all… just a quick disclaimer that this list is by no means exclusive or exhaustive… Also it’s only based on my personal experiences of growing up in London, studying in Surrey and Working and Living in Frankfurt am Main… I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say, if you’ve noticed any of the same things as me or if you think I’ve missed anything instrumental!
Contrary to popular beliefs (held fairly widely in the UK atleast) other than the obvious differences of language and location, currency and history, England (my homeland) and Germany (my adopted home) share a great deal in common. Cultural attitudes to a lot of things are very similar, the general way and pace of life is roughly comparable… but there are definitely more than a couple of things you’ll notice if you move from the UK to Germany. Some are great, some are less great, but I find them all really interesting regardless.
Pfandflasche… &The Pfand system
For those of you who are wondering, what the heck a Pfandflasche is when it’s at home, click here to find out! I was so amused by and totally enamoured with them when I initially moved to Frankfurt for the summer in 2016, and became a keen recycler in no time, in order to save cents… The system keeps the streets cleaner and gives everyone a greater incentive (a financial imperative) to bother recycling their used bottles, drinks cans and flasks. It’s doubtless an innovative and efficient system…The only downside I’ve observed is that many Germans find it much more practical to hoard their Pfandflasche at home until they have an unholy, uncarriable amount to recycle all at once. I’m fairly certain that my German boyfriend has atleast 50 euros worth of Pfand goods stashed in every spare crevice and cupboard of his apartment! (though that figure just is an estimation, it’s no joke!) It can be very entertaining opening drawers, expecting towels and finding 12 empty bottles of apfelschorle instead… until you need space to store your actual belongings…!
Public (outdoor) Bookcases
I first spotted these last summer but was so shocked and bemused by the concept of a *FREE* book that I was too scared to approach one alone. Once encouraged and reassured by German friends that the contents of these magical little cabinets is in fact free for everyone to take home, swap or return, I plucked up the courage to pick a title.
I love the idea of free books and book-swapping. They are typically full of an eclectic mix of novels, manuals, educational books, children’s books, dictionaries…(sometimes even DVDs, CDs and VCRs) in a wide range of languages (The last one I visited, on Sunday, featured titles in English, German, Dutch, Russian, Danish and Hebrew at a glance!).
They’ve been around since the early 1990s and can be found all over Germany, but exist mostly in bigger cities. There are plenty in Frankfurt, with one to be found in almost every neighbourhood. Here’s a photo of the one I visited at the weekend…
They don’t all look the same. Some can be found in the form of converted telephone boxes and old fashioned wooden cabinets too. Here is a list of all the public bookcases in Hessen! And here’s a bit about them, if you’re interested.
And incase you were wondering… I took a Beginner’s Danish book this time!
(on billboards, at bus stops, in train stations etc. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act of 2002 banned most forms of tobacco advertisement in the UK- only advertisements smaller than A5 are allowed in the premises of licenced retailers now, with a minimum of 1/3 of the page being occupied by mandatory government health warnings.) Cigarette Vending machines (until 2012, licenced premises in England and wales could still have these, but they have been illegal in the UK since. Most sizeable towns and cities in Germany have many of these, on the side of the road, and they are also quite common in in club and bar toilets.)
People smoking indoors…! In the UK it has been illegal to smoke in public indoor spaces including restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, music venues etc. since July 2007. Most private rented accommodation in the UK doesn’t allow smoking indoors either nowadays.
In Germany, like several other central European countries, smoking indoors is not only legal but is common practise in quite a lot of places. Of course, there are quite a lot of non-smoking venues, but if you go on a night out in Germany as a non-smoker you can probably expect to come home itching for a shower!
Nudity and Adverts on Daytime TV
Nudity on TV is far more common in Germany than in the UK. It appears in varying degrees at varying times of day, but it’s fair to say female nipples aren’t scandalous on German TV in the daytime as they would be if shown in England. I can only recall seeing full-frontal nudity a few times on British TV, and then always well into the evening, around 22:30 at the earliest, and always with ample warning from the BBC that things might get a little racy later on…!
What can be and is actually shown during the day is differs quite significantly… Adverts for alcohol, condoms and what have you are far more common on the Continent than in the UK in General, for example, where they can’t be shown until after hours.
There is a legal ‘Watershed’ in Germany too, with 16+ content appearing between 22:00 and 06:00, and 18+ material only between 23:00 and 06:00. In the UK, the ‘Watershed’ comes earlier, at 21:00, but also ends a little earlier, at 05:30.
Naturism… and public nudity
Nudist parks, nudist societies and clubs are really quite rare in the UK, and when they are found, they are most commonly used a source of a one-off day-trip giggle by tourists. Most Brits are, as the stereotypes suggest, pretty prudish when it comes to being naked. I vividly remember a family trip to Brighton beach as a child with some family friends, where the dads decided to pose behind the ‘Brighton Nudist Beach Zone’ sign… but were too embarrassed to get, nude so left their pants on behind it for the photos!
In Germany, the choice to boldy go, or should I say, to boldly go without reigns supreme. Many public parks in the middle of the city have nudist areas. There are over 200 private clubs in Germany, known as part of the Nacktkultur (or naked culture) movement. Nudity is also far more common in spas and saunas, much to the horror and amusement of many less liberated international visitors.
This being said… most German’s aren’t naturists… just like most Brits… but, there’s certainly less stigma surrounding the practise.
7. Licenced Brothels
Prostitution and almost all aspects of adult sexwork are legal in Germany- street prostitution, brothels, sexual sauna and massage parlours, escort services…You name it, it’s here.
This allows for much greater regulation than in places like the UK where many women in particular are forced to work in poorer conditions. The German government even taxes prostitution. To read more about this cultural difference, click here.
People driving the wrong way…
Cars on the Left-hand side of the road… It’s an obvious one, and I know it’s almost just us Brits still driving on the RIGHT (correct 😉 ) side of the road… but I’ll never get used to driving around a roundabout the other way!!
(now this one is a bit debatable, but hear me out!)
I suppose it depends entirely on your boundaries in defining both graffiti and wit. Having grown up in London, I’ve seen quite a lot of graffiti in my life, but I don’t think much of it has ever made an impression on me for its cleverness or humour or… Instagram-worthiness… Perhaps I’m blinded by the foreign exotic charm of some german graffiti, but I seem to see lots of much funnier wordplay, romantic proclamations and cute doodles than in the UK.
Don’t get me wrong- on the whole I’m not a huge fan of graffiti- in fact, the shabbily drawn gang tags which populate the train track-side walls of every city route I can recall back home can be a real eyesore. I actually think wittier graffiti and street art might be a non-British thing more generally… when I was in Iceland recently with my family, we noticed a really cool graffiti mural… (which i can’t currently locate a picture of, though I definitely took one!)…Some food for thought, either way.
(or literally… time to celebrate the end of the working day/ the start of the evening!)
Now there’s nothing particularly special about this word in itself… rather more fun is its significance culturally… many German’s (and guests, like myself) take the lingustic suggestion to celebrate the evening very literally, with a post- work drink. Many people don’t even wait until they’re home… seeing quite a lot of stressed out looking business people sipping a cold beer in the U-Bahn around 6 is pretty common in Frankfurt!
Thanks for reading my 10 things you’ll find in Germany that you won’t find in England post- If you liked it, please do check out my other blogs! I’m hoping to write some more culture shock posts like this one in the near future 🙂
Ciao for now,