It’s always exciting when you first touch down in a new country, and more so if you’re planning on staying a while. But these seven things will undoubtedly get on your nerves in the first few weeks.
1. Everything’s closed on Sunday
This is something you may get used to, and even start to like after a while. But when you first arrive in Germany, it will no doubt catch you by surprise that nothing is open on a Sunday.
There are definitely upsides to it. It means that most people actually do get time off on a weekend so that families can have time together.
In the summer parks fill up, restaurants are busy, or groups gather for big lunches at home.
On the other hand, it makes buying things pretty difficult. You can normally pick up snacks and drinks in off-licences, but all supermarkets are closed. Your only bet is to head to a big train station or airport, where you might be lucky enough to find an Edeka or Rewe.
2. The bore of Anmeldung, or registering with the authorities
A queue outside the Bürgeramt in Berlin’s Neukölln district.
If you’re going to be in Germany for more than three months, you must by law register your address with the local authorities. Doesn’t sound like a problem – surely all these things are done online these days.
Not in Germany. True to the form of their technophobia, you still have to book in for an appointment at a Bürgeramt (citizen’s office), and negotiate the paperwork. If you’re trying to register in Berlin, the appointments are not easy to get either.
You may have to wait a month of six weeks for an appointment, or try and queue up to do it which can take hours. Not exactly the model of efficiency.
3. You have to pack your bags at the speed of light in supermarkets
For someone not used to German supermarkets, the first few experiences can be pretty bewildering.
The till assistant rapidly starts to scan through your shopping, pelting the items at you. You have no time to pack your bags, and as soon as the shop assistant has finished scanning, you have to pay and then they begin to scan the next person’s shopping through.
Germans have mastered it and have no problem with lobbing everything into their capacious bags, or gathering everything into their arms and heading over to a corner to pack. But as a first-timer, get ready to act fast, because no one will be impressed if you hang around and delay the system.
4. Paper tickets and stamp validations seem a bit last century
Make sure you stamp your ticket, or you could be in for a hefty fine. Photo: DPA
To anyone travelling from the UK or the US, it will strike you as bizarre that you can just walk into any station and board a train without a ticket. And you probably won’t see any ticket inspectors.
That’s because the German service works in a pretty strange way. Yes, you do legally have to buy a ticket, but the system trusts you to buy one. Most people who live in a city will have a longer-term pass, and there is also an app for buying tickets online.
But people who have just arrived get paper tickets. And if you don’t speak German then how are you expected to read the small print telling you to stamp the ticket to validate it? If you don’t stamp a ticket, you can still be fined the full amount.
Another thing that gets people – the majority of ticket inspectors are plain-clothed.
If you’re a visitor for the first time in Germany, and a man approaches you in a hooded black jacket and trainers, pulls out a machine, and asks for your ticket, it hardly seems official or legal and it can be both confusing and threatening.
Many tourists have had experiences like this. Although ticket inspectors are not meant to demand cash payment on the spot, some continue to do so, forcing surprised tourists to cough up €60 for a crime they weren’t aware of committing.
5. It can be pretty tricky to find even the most basic of medicines
You might have to buy a box of these rather than a box of aspirin on a Sunday morning.
We’re in no way encouraging you to overdo it on the drink, but we do understand that German beer can be very tempting (and surprisingly strong).
The problem you may find is getting cheap pain killers to help you the following morning. Unlike in Britain for example, supermarkets don’t stock medicine so you’ll most likely have to head to an Apotheke.
And on Sundays everything’s closed, so you really will have to trek about if you want any medicine, with your best bet being in an airport or train station.
Maybe that’s why you see people in the mornings clutching onto a bottle of Club-Mate (a naturally caffeinated ice tea) as they make their way about town.
6. Some of the appliances seem pretty out-of-date
If you’re from the US, you may well have a garbage disposal unit in the sink at home – one of those things that shreds food waste down the plug so it can be washed through the plumbing. But it is just one of the appliances you won’t see in Germany.
Ten years ago, around 47 percent of US households had a food waste disposer, compared to only six percent in the UK, and they are still almost nonexistent in Germany. Most people have never seen one here, so you better get used to scraping those plates into a bin bag again.
The other appliance that you may start to miss quickly is the tumble dryer. Again extremely popular in the USA and common in the UK, they are much rarer in Germany, and people tend to hang their clothes to dry even if they live in an apartment.
7. Getting used to the cash economy
You might be needing some of this if you are planning on going out for dinner.
This is something that will probably continue to annoy you for some time. With contactless technology, Apple Pay, cash can sometimes see like a thing of the past in the US and UK.
Sure, it’s a little concerning how easy it is to use someone else’s card with some of this modern technology, but in general it simplifies and speeds everything up so much.
Even in many restaurants, regardless of what you’re paying, you will still have to pay in cash. And if you do pay with card somewhere you will often still find yourself signing on receipts, which hasn’t happened in the UK for years.
There are upsides that you may eventually learn to appreciate. It’s definitely easier to track your spending, and if you’re keen on privacy, banks won’t have information on what you’re buying. But when you’re all out of cash, and the nearest ATM is miles away, it will still drive you mad.