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Five crimes that expats are bound to commit in Germany

Germans famously love to follow ‘ze rules.’ Expats new to Germany and not yet versed in the intricacies of the law might inadvertently land themselves in trouble with the authorities or — at the very least — with onlookers witnessing the cultural crime. But thanks to Germany’s correcting culture, expats swiftly learn the law of this land, as friends deliver lectures in proper conduct and strangers transform into schoolmasters.

Five crimes that expats are bound to commit in Germany
Committing a seemingly-innocent offense could land you in big trouble in Germany. Photo: DPA

1. Crossing the road when there is a red light

It's illegal to cross the road during a red light and offenders could face a fine and the icy glare of onlookers. Photo: DPA

Defying the Ampelmännchen is a criminal offense in Germany and could cost the unruly expat a fine and a scold from disapproving onlookers. Even in quiet suburban areas with no cars in sight, Germans – as a matter of principle – patiently wait for the little traffic-light man to turn green before crossing the road.

Consequently, expats running to work late but wary of breaking the most important unwritten rule will find themselves in an unenviable Catch-22. They can either make a quick dash across the road during a red light or abide by the law and turn up to work late. Whatever they decide, they will have made a grave transgression.

On the topic of road etiquette, expats should be careful not to mistake the pedestrian path for the bike lane, or else find themselves dodging for their lives as passing cyclists aggressively ring their bell and hurl abuse at them.

2. Riding a bike while drunk

Biking and boozing are popular pastimes in Germany, but together, are a dangerous combination. 

Two German passions – biking and beer – should never mix. Expats won over by the cycling craze should avoid biking home after a boozy bash or risk ending the night in a police station. If their blood alcohol level exceeds 1.6 per mil, they could be fined €1,000 and have their driving license confiscated or even revoked.

The authorities regards drunk cyclists as a danger to themselves and the public’s safety. In 2013, a study by Auto Club Europe (ACE) found that 3,400 bike accidents which caused injury to others involved an intoxicated biker. Recently, transport associations have increased pressure on parliament to take harsher measures against this very German misdemeanor.

3. Disturbing quiet time

Drummers must put away their drum kits during 'Ruhezeit' to keep the neighbourly peace. Photo: DPA

Expats mowing the lawn, vacuum cleaning, or partying at certain times of the day risk the wrath of their neighbour and even a fine from their local police officer. To keep the peace with their neighbours, expats should observe quiet time.

‘Ruhezeit’ – reminiscent of boarding school curfews – differs from state to state, but takes place most commonly from 1pm to 3pm, 10pm to 7am, and all-day on Sunday.

Expats testing their new drum kit during these times shouldn’t be surprised if their landlord decides to kick them out, as German civil law regards disturbing the domestic peace as reasonable grounds for terminating a lease without notice.

4. Forgetting to buy a train ticket

Schwarzfahrer (fare dodgers) face harsh penalties if caught. Photo: DPA

Unlike the New York subway, the London Tube, and the Paris Metro, there are no turnstiles or checkpoints in the Berlin U-Bahn. Using public transport, along with many services in this smooth-functioning liberal state, relies on trusting citizens to act for the common good, even if their obligations to one another aren’t enforced.

However, without metal gates to prompt newcomers to buy a ticket, committing a crime on Berlin’s transport might involve less cunning and calculation, and more carelessness. Bleary-eyed expats travelling to work could face a hefty fine if they unwittingly board without a ticket and are caught by inspectors, disguised in plain clothes.

5. Breaking a contract

Tenants bound to a contract should be careful not to break it. Photo: DPA

Germans take contracts seriously. Landlords here, in particular, expect tenants to follow the contract to the umlaut. Failing to read the jargonistic fine print of their rental agreement could lead expats to inadvertently break the contract and land themselves in trouble.

One common reason for breaking a contract is terminating the lease without proper notice. Most landlords require three months’ notice, so expats planning to move from one apartment to the next could find themselves at the mercy of a pedantic landlord threatening legal action and suing for rent until the end of the contract. Landlords also require termination notices for residential leases in writing, ideally on parchment paper and secured with a wax seal.

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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.