Friday the 13th: Eight strange superstitions that Germans hold dearly

It's Friday the 13th, so we thought we’d take a look at some German superstitions - and how to get some good luck.

A chimney sweep (Schornsteinfeger in German) in a pedestrian zone in Wernigerode, Saxony-Anhalt in October 2021.
A chimney sweep (Schornsteinfeger in German) in a pedestrian zone in Wernigerode, Saxony-Anhalt in October 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Matthias Bein

1. Spit on your fellow actors’ shoulders before a play

Photo: Wikipedia 

Theatres are famously superstitious places, and theatres in Germany are no different. British and American thespians cheerily tell each other to “break a leg” before the premiere to avoid bad luck, but Germans take it a little further and spit on each other’s left shoulders.

Make sure you only do so once you’re in costume though. or it won’t work. And at the same time you have to say: “Toi Toi Toi.”

2. Pressing your thumbs
Photo: Wikipedia
While English speakers cross their fingers for luck, Germans hold their thumbs or “drücken die Daumen”. This appears to come from the days of ancient Rome and gladiator fighting where the emperor would indicate whether the losing fighter was to be executed (thumbs up means sword out and the man dies) or not (thumb hidden means sword sheathed and the man lives).

3. Never give knives as gifts

Photo: Pixabay

Giving a German knives as a gift means that you’re cutting through the friendship, so make sure you steer clear when looking for a house-warming present. And avoid gifting your lover shoes, too. It is said that if they then run away it is your fault.

4. Never wish someone a happy birthday before the actual day

Photo: Pxhre
In other parts of the world, wishing someone happy birthday before the actual day is considered pretty normal. If you’re not going to see that person on the day or just because you might forget, you say happy birthday in advance. In Germany, however, this is widely considered to bring bad luck, even if the birthday wishes are only a few minutes early. 
The tradition of “reinfeiern” in Germany or literally “celebrating into” is when guests gather the evening before someone’s birthday to celebrate, and wish the birthday boy or girl a happy birthday, in stereotypical German fashion, precisely when the clock strikes midnight.
5. Always make eye contact during toasts

Photo: DPA

Whenever you clink glasses with anyone, always remember to maintain eye contact or you could be cursed with bad sex. Regardless of who you’re with or what you’re drinking, bear this in mind as the curse lasts for seven years.

Nobody really knows where this superstition comes from, but some say that it could date back to the middle ages when poisoning was very common. Eye contact was supposed to establish trust between hosts and guests that nothing was poisoned but the consequences would’ve been slightly worse than a few years of bad sex, namely death.

6. Never light cigarettes from candles

Photo: Pixabay

Given that you can’t smoke in many public spaces anymore and the fact that candles and matches have been replaced by lighters as the preferred method of lighting cigarettes, you probably won’t break this rule anytime soon. Good thing too, as it is said that every time you do, a sailor dies.

The reason for this superstition is actually quite logical as in olden days sailors used to make matches to tide them over in the winter months when they couldn’t go out to sea. Therefore, by using a candle instead of a match, you were robbing sailors of their temporary living.

7. Always knock on the table when you sit down in a pub

Photo: DPA

Whenever you arrive at a pub or bar, you should always knock twice on the table. Why? To show your friends that you aren’t the devil of course!

According to legend, the Stammtisch, the regular’s table in the tavern, was traditionally made of oak which the devil was unable to touch as the tree was holy. Knocking on the table proved you weren’t the devil in disguise. It is always good to be sure after all.

8. Being touched by a chimney sweep

Photo: DPA
If you have broken one of these rules and garnered some bad luck along the way, then perhaps consider befriending your local chimney sweep to put yourself in the clear of any unfortunate accidents.
Chimney sweeps are considered lucky as their services meant people could cook food again after having blocked chimneys and also reduced the risk of the house burning down. And if you get ash from a chimney sweep in your face, it’s considered lucky.


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.