1. Surviving in a second language
If you’re in Germany, then it helps to speak German. Unless you’re in Berlin, where it helps to speak English.
Given how well Germans speak English, it’ll be hard to pick up the language at first. But eventually you’ll discover that daily interactions with postmen become a lot more interesting with even a bit of Deutsch.
You’ll start coming across less like a lazy expat and more like someone who is actively trying to engage with the culture, even if your verb placement and adjective endings aren’t always right.
There are several general benefits to learning a new language, which extend beyond being able to have a chat with your cheery local checkout staff.
A 2013 study found that speaking a second language can delay the onset of dementia.
Another 2014 study showed that picking up a second language, whether that’s early on or in later life, can have a positive effect on the brain, improving verbal fluency, reading and general intelligence.
So don’t feel like it’s too late to pick up a second language, even if German isn’t one of the easiest.
Germans are often pretty conscious about the mark they make on their environment, which means they take recycling seriously.
When you first arrive in Germany, all those colour-coded bins for plastic, paper and the rest of it might seem annoying, but it’s a small price to pay compared to overflowing landfills.
In 1990, 87 percent of Germany’s refuse went into general waste and 13 percent was recycled, by 2008 the country was placing only 39 percent into landfills while the majority, an impressive 61 percent, was recycled.
The “Pfand” system of bottle recycling is another example of this behaviour. You return your empty bottles to the supermarket, place them into a recycling machine and get money back. Of course, not all Germans treat this seriously – one man recently conned a Pfand machine out of €44,000 using just one bottle.
Aside from criminal endeavours, schemes like these encourage a culture of recycling and waste conscientiousness. Before you know it, you’ll be taking matters into your own hands and berating litterers on the streets of Germany.
3. Improving your diet
When you first arrive, you might find it hard to resist the wealth of delicious varieties of sausage in your local butcher. But before too long you’ll find yourself saying things like ‘I eat meat… but I prefer tofu at lunch time.’
And that’s probably no bad thing, given the impact meat consumption has on the planet.
Germans want to know where their food comes from. Bio (organic) culture is a big thing here. Upon arrival you’ll notice how many organic supermarkets there are and how many products are labelled with an organic seal of approval.
The country has the seventh highest consumption of organic products in the world, according to a 2014 report.
Vegetarianism and veganism are also popular. Nearly 10 percent of the population is now vegetarian, meaning the country has the highest number of non-meat eaters of any European country. Berlin was also named the vegetarian capital of the world last year.
But if you do have a cheeky currywurst when no one is looking, don’t feel too guilty. Germans consume 2.5 million tonnes of sausage every year and were recently criticized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) over the continued impact on the environment of their meat production.
Around 80 percent of German homes own at least one bike, and there are something like 78 million bikes in the country, almost one for every citizen.
Berlin may be the capital and boast an impressive 600km of bike lanes, but Munich is known as Germany’s Radlhauptstadt or “bike capital”. The city has 58 bike paths altogether, more than any other German city.
You might think Amsterdam or Copenhagen have the highest bike traffic in Europe, but according to a 2013 survey the German cities of Oldenburg (43 percent) and Münster (38 percent) have more, coming in an impressive second and third place after only the Dutch municipality of Houten.
Compared to cities like London, where cyclists feel excluded from the road and a daily dose of road rage from a white van is the norm, there’s far less pressure on cyclists here.
Cars expect to see you and look out for you because of the sheer amount of bikes here, 10 percent of all traffic volume is made up by cyclists.
You’ll not only be making yourself fitter and healthier, but you can also feel smug about leaving less of a carbon footprint.
Just relax, peddle and savour the feeling of superiority that shouting at tourists straying into your bike lane gives you, and appreciate the view of the gas-guzzling, environment-destroying machines stuck in traffic.
5. Questioning technology
As a nation that still prefers to use cash rather than card or contactless payment, Germans have a bit of a reputation for being scared of technology. It’s called Technikfeindlichkeit in German, or literally the fear of technology.
Four out of five German transactions are still conducted in cash according to 2015 research by the Bundesbank (central bank).
And it’s not just cash. Unlike almost every other country in the developed world, in Germany the more educated you are the less likely you are to use social media.
But it’s probably no bad thing that they’re a little cautious – especially when it comes to tech giants and their intrusion into your private life.
We now know that social bots were used on a massive scale to influence public opinion before the Brexit referendum and the US presidential elections. So perhaps relying on traditional media – where news can’t be made up so easily – isn’t so bad after all.