Wish you could become German?
But there’s also definitely something to be said for the modern German way of life.
The country is increasingly becoming famous for its high quality of life, its long, paid vacations and its openness to foreigners. And its economy is doing pretty well, relatively speaking.
Despite its size, Germany ranks fourth in the world based on its GDP. It’s frequently in the headlines as one of the powerhouses in Europe and it’s famous for a myriad of things—beer, cars, wurst and loving David Hasselhoff.
But what is the German Lebensart (way of life) actually like? What are some of the things that Germans value?
This post will look through the stereotypes and examine Germany’s place in the world today, with a focus on what makes the German way of life different and special.
We’ve also got you covered with some further reading if you want to dig deeper.
Becoming German: All About the German Way of Life
How Is the German Way of Life Different?
What makes the German way of life, well, German? Here are five main differences that stand out right away, especially compared with the U.S.
1. The quality of life is generally very high.
In the Mercer quality of life survey, which ranks 231 cities across the world to help governments and companies place people on international assignments, German cities consistently rank in the top 25 in the world. Munich is Germany’s highest rated city, in fourth place, followed by Dusseldorf (sixth), Frankfurt (seventh), Berlin (13th), Hamburg (19th) and Nuremberg (24th).
What exactly does “quality of life” mean? Factors that influence quality of life vary but include political stability, a strong economy, environmental awareness, a good educational system and accessible public transportation.
A concrete example: having children in Germany is much easier than in the U.S. because parental leave is very generous, giving new parents three years. During that time period, a contract can’t be terminated. Additionally, there’s the monthly Elterngeld (child benefit), where the state pays €190 per child for the first two children, €196 for the third and €221 for every child thereafter. Parental leave can even be split between parents, so it’s not uncommon for fathers to also take some leave.
2. The line between work and private life is clearer.
On average, Germans work 35 hours per week, but those 35 hours are all very focused on being productive. Not only that, but Germans get a minimum of 20 days paid Urlaubstage (vacation days) per year, with many employees getting between 25 and 30 days.
The work culture that’s common in Silicon Valley, with crazy hours and never being disconnected from the office, is just not something that’s highly valued in the German way of life. Germans value a healthy work-life balance, and when they’re out the door for the weekend, it really is the weekend.
3. Everyone pays into the German healthcare system.
Universal healthcare is a reality in Germany, with everyone having compulsory health insurance. Because of this, it’s much easier to see a doctor, and seeing a specialist doesn’t even require going to a general practitioner first. Instead, patients can just go to a specialist directly, which makes preventive healthcare much easier since insurance covers it.
Moreover, sick days are sick days in Germany, and they aren’t docked from precious Urlaubstage. Employees have up to three days to recover, but afterward are required to get a doctor’s note to prove incapacity. Sick leave is paid for up to six weeks and if the illness lasts longer, health insurance will kick in, covering 70% of an employee’s salary.
4. Public transportation is everywhere.
In the U.S. it’s fairly common to use a car to get anywhere. Not so in Germany. Public transportation in Germany is ubiquitous and essential to the German way of life. The German equivalent of the saying “It’s all Greek to me”—“Ich verstehe nur ‘Bahnhof’” (I only understand “train station”)—proves how central public transportation is—because it’s always important to know where the train station is.
Many cities have a system of buses or trams, with larger cities having of a mix of buses, trams, subways or the so-called S-bahn (abbreviation for Stadtschnellbahn, or city rapid rail). Everything also runs on a planned schedule, whether it’s every five minutes or, in less populated areas, at least once an hour.
5. The cost of higher education is considerably cheaper than in the U.S. or the U.K.
If you study at a public institution, it’s actually free, unless you study in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which just reintroduced (quite inexpensive) tuition fees. Even so, non-EU students are charged only $13,360 for four years. This means that education is much more accessible for everyone, and students don’t have to take out loans or risk going into debt just to get an education.