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8 quirky German customs you might never have heard of

Germany certainly knows how to celebrate special occasions, sometimes in rather weird and wacky ways. Here are eight seasonal customs which help to make German celebration days so special.

8 quirky German customs you might never have heard of
Photo: DPA

1. Giving children cones of sweets on their first day of school

Photo: DPA

As part of perhaps Germany's most enviable school tradition, children are given large, brightly coloured cones filled with sweets on their first day of school. The cones, called Schultüten, are supposed to sweeten the deal of starting full-time education for unwilling first years.

The custom is almost 200 years old and legend goes that the sweets in the cones come from a sugar tree in the school basement, which has matured enough to be picked, just as the children are mature enough to begin school.

2. Running around the city dressed as Krampus

As you might know if you've seen the 2015 film, Krampus is Santa Claus' evil alter ego, who punishes bad children at Christmas time. Known by many names in German history including Klaubauf and Pelznickel, Krampus is a threat parents use to bring their badly behaved children into line.
Legend has it that, if you are naughty all year, on St Nicholas' day (6th December), Krampus will come and take you away to never be heard of again. This legend inspired yearly Krampusläufe or “Krampus walks”, where people don masks and furry costumes and run about the streets as the evil demon.
For more than 500 years people have carried out Krampus runs in south Germany and Austria. If you are in Bavaria on December 6th you'll be sure to witness the action firsthand.
3. Smashing plates before a wedding

There are a number of unusual German wedding traditions but one of the strangest is a pastime called the Polterabend, in which friends and family smash dinnerware to wish the couple luck in their marriage.

READ ALSO: 'Ja, ich will': What it's like to get married in Germany

The name Polterabend means “evening of crashing”, and the hope is that, through the crashing of plates and dishes, demons will be scared away by the noise and the newlyweds will be able to live in peace.

For more weird and wonderful German wedding customs: click here

4. Having a massive Easter fire

Photo: DPA

Unlike in England, you won't find any bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th in Germany, but you will find them at Easter every year. The fires have both a Christian and pagan meaning and can be lit from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
In parishes, the fires are lit on Holy Saturday and are then used to light the Easter candle, which is carried into the church. For Christians, the fire symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus, whereas in pre-Christian times the flames were supposed to drive the winter away.
Regardless of the original meaning, nowadays the fires are just a good way to get families and friends together and stay warm.
5. Eating green things on Maundy Thursday
Photo: DPA
Although this custom has died out in recent decades, tradition dictates that on Gründonnerstag (Maundy Thursday) Germans should eat green food, be it vegetables, herbs or Frankfurt 'Green Sauce' (pictured above).
The 'Grün' in Gründonnerstag doesn't actually refer to the colour green, as the word comes from the verb 'greinen' which means to cry. Understandably, however, the Germans opted for a slightly more lighthearted custom than systematic crying on the day of Jesus' last supper. 
6. Watching 'Dinner For One' on New Year's Eve

Every New Year's Eve, it is customary to watch this particular 1963 sketch – it is broadcast on most main German TV channels, including all three of ARD's NYE shows. The sketch is in English but was filmed in Hamburg by the NDR and features a butler humouring his rather senile mistress at a dinner party.

In 1988 the sketch broke the Guinness world record for the most repeated TV showings in the world. Despite its international success, the sketch never became popular in England but it is well loved and often reneacted across Germany and Austria. 

7. Eating goose and joining a lantern procession for St Martin's day

Photo: DPA
St. Martin lived from 317 to 397 A.D. and became Bishop of Tours. He is most beloved for his generous acts to help the poor and is therefore celebrated every year on November 11th.
On St Martin's day, Germans celebrate the saint with a procession of lanterns and singing before going home to eat goose, as the legend goes that St Martin was unwilling to become Bishop and so hid in a goose sty. The geese were not happy to be sheltering a fugitive, however, and squawked loudly, alerting the villagers out looking for him with lanterns. As a punishment to the unruly group of geese, roast goose is the dish of choice for the St. Martin's day festival.
8. Cutting off men's ties on women's carnival night
Photo: DPA
The Thursday before Rosenmontag, Karneval's main parade, is Weiberfastnacht, or 'women's carnival night'. Tradition dictates that women can cut off any man's tie that is within their reach and can also kiss any man they want to. Women take scissors with them on their night out ready to snip away at any tie in sight.
This custom dates back to 1824 when women decided to storm the Bonn-Beuel city hall and trim a few centimetres off the ties of the men there. 
For members


Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?