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‘Germans are brutally honest’: How hard is it to date in Germany?

Dating isn't easy wherever you are in the world. We asked readers and experts to find out their experiences and tips on finding love in Germany.

'Germans are brutally honest’: How hard is it to date in Germany?
Photo: DPA

This story was first published in February 2020. We know that things are different at the moment due to the pandemic, and it's harder to meet people. But let's hope that we can do dating and flirting in real life again soon.

There are a lot of people looking for love in the Bundesrepublik. Dating website Parship estimated last year that there are about 16.8 million single people in Germany between the ages of 18 and 65, with 82 percent searching for a partner. 

Whether it’s through online dating apps or meeting people IRL (in real life), it can be tricky navigating the world of romance especially for internationals who’ve moved to Germany from another country.

READ ALSO: What's the advice for sex and dating in Germany during the coronavirus crisis?

Flirting is non-existent

Foreign readers in Germany last year told us they’ve experienced several culture shocks. 

On Facebook Marlene Barba said: “I'd say that it's really hard (to date), even for Germans with Germans. In Mexico you can date asap or through friends.”

In a previous Local article, Canadian expat and blogger Laurel Robbins in Munich said: “German men don't have the best idea how to flirt.”

That was a sentiment shared by many readers, but not all.

“I'd say people do not flirt in an obvious way here but it's difficult to have friends of the opposite sex, so you will never know if that guy that you have been talking to is into you or not,” said Barba.

READ ALSO: It's not impossible: The ups and downs of dating in Germany

In many countries chatting people up in a bar or a club is not an uncommon thing. Yet you won't find that same culture in Germany where people tend to be more reserved.

Mirkka Rissa in Munich said: “At least in München everyone waits – men and woman – for the other one to make the first move, which results in no contact whatsoever. Flirting is non-existent.”

However Rissa pointed out that British men are “even worse flirts” because they're so polite. 

Photo: DPA

Inger Walsh said that for the first 21 years of living in Germany, “I mainly dated people from elsewhere, simply because they approached and the German men didn't”.

Hamburg-based Eric Hegmann, who’s been working as a counsellor for couples and as a singles-coach for 15 years, said not all Germans are bad at flirting.
 
“But compared to some southern countries, Germans certainly look more reserved,” he said. “This does not prevent them from entering into happy relationships and being loving partners.

“Just like everywhere, there are shy and brave people here. So maybe you should take the first step yourself if you want to get in touch rather than waiting for the other person to approach you.”

Tatiana Henriquez Gordillo from Ecuador, now in Dresden said she'd experienced “dating anxiety”.

She said: “In my country dating is more like ‘you like me, I like you, let’s date exclusively for a while to get to know each other better and get into a relationship later if we get along’”.

But Henriquez Gordillo said in Germany there’s more of a casual style to dating in Germany.

“Here in Germany it’s more like: ‘You like me, I like you. Let’s meet sometimes, no strings attached, I want your body and many more too, give me your emotional support and time whenever I reach out, but don’t freak out when I’m done with my ego boost and disappear for a while because we are not in a relationship,'” she said.

“I miss my country in that sense. I experienced 'dating anxiety' here for the first time ever.”

'It takes a lot of time'

Others highlighted how moving from one stage to the next can take a long time . 

Ruby Red in Aachen said: “The struggle is real, I mean there are a lot of qualities of German men I like, being extremely respectful and trying not to overstep your boundaries is one of them. But especially if you are a person from the south you can see that their humour and the way they approach you is different. 

“It takes a lot of time for them to get close and trust you. You might be going on a 10th date but still not be together, you know. 

“I think I'm really lucky with my current boyfriend because he also has southern ancestry so he is a bit warmer than other German people I dated or flirted with. But we still have a lot of clash of opinions just because of the conditions we grew up in. 

“I would say though when they let you in, you see that it’s worth being patient. Not just for romantic relationships but also friendships.”

Of course every person is an individual regardless of their nationality. But it’s fair to say the character trait of being direct probably seeps into the German dating style too.

Emma Gln added: “Every single German is different, girls and boys. What is for sure: they are brutally honest and don't want to waste time. So be ready for that and make the most of it.”

READ ALSO: 'Sex is easy to find in Berlin': Foreigners on love, hook-ups and friendship in Germany

Benjamin Esser said: “It really takes a bit of time until we open up. Also cut the small talk, we suck at that and really feel uncomfortable doing it.”

On Twitter one German told us “We are direct to the point of what most other cultures consider rudeness. Don't count on us getting what you consider clearly readable subtext during communication (especially if you're British!).”

Germans also expect honesty and directness back from you. 

Writer Mike Stuchbery, who’s married to a German, described his dating experience as “horrifying”.

“You have to explicitly tell them you like them, and that you want to spend with them,” he joked. 

'My German husband is very romantic'

The stereotype of Germans not being particularly romantic or showing love in public is very much alive. But, again, not everyone has the same experience.

Pippa Kühn said: “It can be different but my German husband is very romantic (very much to my surprise as I thought German guys are not romantic ) plus he's a PDA (public display of affection) kind of person; it makes me feel bashful sometimes.”

But she added: “I don't think PDA is a German thing.”

Photo: DPA

Kühn said PDAs didn’t feel so weird back in the States but “I have not seen other people do it here”.

Meanwhile, some people are pining for their days of German dating. Omar Robinson said :”I live in NYC currently, the dating here is atrocious. When I'm in Europe, particularly Berlin, I find the dating prospect much, much better.”

Tips for dating in Germany

Wherever you are in the world, the same rules apply when dating: be yourself, state your boundaries, be respectful and enjoy meeting new people.
 
It's trickier of course if you're in a country where you struggle to speak the language fluently.
 
Sami Wunder, a dating and relationship coach who is married to a German, said foreigners shouldn't be frustrated if they can't speak German.
 
“Communicate in German only if you can speak it well,” says Wunder, who splits her time between the UK and Germany. “Else switch to a language you are both comfortable in. Most educated Germans speak a fair amount of English and will be happy to oblige.
 
“This is important because it’s impossible to connect emotionally if one is struggling to express themselves in a foreign language! Of course, let them know you are learning German. That is always an asset and will be appreciated.”
 
What else should you think about?
 
Wunder says women are Germany are known for being “equality driven”.
 
This can mean, for example, that German men are used to women contributing to the bill on a date.
 
However, if women are looking for a different experience or are not used to this culture, Wunder advises her straight female clients “to let the men know explicitly that they are happy to have the man lead and plan the dates”.
 
She added: “Most men will be happy to oblige when you set the expectations right from the start.”
 
'German men can be exceptionally loyal'
 
Another point to think about it is that dating can often be “extremely sexually driven in Germany”, said Wunder. “It’s important for you to know why you’re dating and to have full clarity around your sexual boundaries and at what pace you’d like to move.”
 
The type of date might also be different to what some non-Germans are used to.
 
“It is common to go on a date and drink a beer together,” said Wunder. “Very unlike the American or UK culture where a dinner is a must when treating a lady right.”
 
Photo: DPA
 
“However, German men can be exceptionally loyal and honest once they do bond with you, so it’s worth staying open to the experience.”
 
Lots of people say it's hard to find a committed partner in big German cities like Berlin.
 
Relationship coach Hegmann said that's down to the city having a youthful population and that lots of people struggle to commit, believing there is a better person out there for them.
 
That makes finding a partner “frustrating” said Hegmann. “The problem is singles lose their optimism and self-confidence through many frustrating experiences,” he added.
 
“But optimism and self-confidence make you attractive and are absolutely necessary for successfully finding a partner.
 
“When I advise singles, it is mostly about strengthening self-confidence after hurtful experiences. It's really less about opportunities to get to know other people and instead it's looking at your own fear of getting hurt again and your personal strategies to prevent that.”
 
Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences and views for our article.
 

Member comments

  1. This thing about Germans not doing small talk on dates really creases me up. What exactly IS small talk, and come to think of it, then what is big talk . . . discussing the finer points of a Goethe poem? I married a German woman. She approached me in a hotel bar and asked if we might enjoy a drink together. Next thing, she dragged me towards the dance floor. We only had 20 minutes before I had to leave to catch a red-eye flight but during the last few minutes on the floor I managed to scrawl her e-Mail address on my wrist with a biro. We never looked back, having enjoyed the most wonderful relationship for more than 20 years now.

    So I think it’s important not to stereotype Germans in matters of flirting or dating. Actually, if there is a problem, it’s a far wider one that the national character innately involves strong elements of self-doubt and angst. But hey, this same character produced some of the world’s most wonderful and romantic poetry and music so it can’t all be bad!

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Compared to many other countries, October 3rd is a relatively new nationwide holiday, marking 32 years since German reunification. Aaron Burnett explains the background to it and why it's celebrated on this particular date.

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany's national holiday

Independence Day in the United States dates all the way back to 1776. Canada Day, celebrated on July 1st, goes back to 1867. France’s Bastille Day on July 14th commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Compared to those national holidays, Germany’s October 3rd is fairly recent, having only been around since 1990.

October 3rd – or Tag der Deutschen Einheit – marks the date that the former West and East Germany officially became one country again, after being divided since the end of WWII. In 2022 it’s celebrated on a Monday, meaning many people will get a long weekend. 

Between 1945 and 1949, the country was split into four occupation zones – held by the Americans, British, French, and the then Soviets. In 1949 the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany – or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), while the rest of the country became the West German Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD).

The Bundesrepublik continues today, but now with the five eastern federal states, plus East Berlin, that were formerly in the DDR.

Why October 3rd and not November 9th?

Less than a year before official reunification on October 3rd, 1990, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.

At first glance, November 9th might seem a better day to commemorate as a national day.

Growing up in Canada, my Gelsenkirchen-born Oma used to talk about the Berlin Wall falling with a slight waver in her voice – and sometimes even tears – decades after it crumbled before her eyes on her television screen.

November 9th, 1989 is remembered by many Germans as the happiest day in the history of the country, but the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall is not observed as a national holiday.

‘It was the happiest day in German history,’ she told me at the time. ‘People were just so amazed at seeing that and no one really thought it would actually happen and guck mal – there it was. It was very emotional at the time and I guess I still am too,’ she would say.

READ ALSO: ‘There was a human tide moving’: Berliner remembers crossing the Wall

For Oma and many other German-Canadians I grew up around, Unity Day felt a little less momentous than November 9th. To them, October 3rd was an important day to observe, but conjured up a few less emotions.

‘November 9th suddenly made the dream of having a unified Germany again seem possible,’ my teacher at Calgary’s German-Canadian Club told me years ago. ‘By the time it was actually official, it just seemed like the final step of something that had been going on for a while already.’

To my Oma, my teacher, and others I grew up around who remembered that time – German reunification seemed inevitable within days of the Wall falling. But it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. Even after the Wall fell, the DDR and BRD remained separate countries at first.

The months between November 9th, 1989 and October 3rd, 1990 were momentous – and saw several additional events that would pave the way for reunification.

On March 18th, 1990, the DDR would hold its first – and only – free and democratic elections. Won by the East German Christian Democrats, their leader Lothar de Maiziere served as GDR Premier until reunification on October 3rd.

Lothar de Maiziere, the first and only democratically elected leader of East Germany, at a German reunification celebration on October 3rd, 2020.

In Spring 1990, Bonn and Berlin agreed to convert the East German Ostmark – which was practically worthless at the time – to the West German Deutschmark on a largely 1 for 1 basis, with most salaries, prices, and savings being converted straight over.

Finally, the process for legal reunification took months, with the signing of an economic and currency union, the reconstituting of the five eastern federal states that had been abolished in communist times, the official reunification treaty, and the treaty that saw the WWII allies renounce all rights and responsibilities in Germany.

READ ALSO: What unity means to eastern Germans

At the stroke of midnight on October 3rd, 1990 – a reunified Germany became a fully sovereign state for the first time since WWII. That was thanks in large part to both political will and legal work in the months immediately following the Wall’s fall.

Although it seems so normal now, reunification was never guaranteed, which is part of why October 3rd enjoys and deserves its own special commemoration.

November 9th – German history’s double edge

The other major reason why October 3rd serves as Germany’s national day instead of November 9th is that November 9th, while associated with the happy elation of witnessing the Berlin Wall crumble, is also linked to many other momentous – and often solemn – historical commemorations.

On November 9th, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Within hours, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party both declared the Weimar Republic and a ‘free, socialist republic,’ respectively. It would serve as the first sign of political instability that eventually allowed the Nazis to take power.

On November 9th, 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted a coup that started in a Munich beer hall. He was arrested and wrote Mein Kampf during his time in jail.

November 9th was not chosen as Germany’s national day partly because of the solemn commemorations attached to it, such as Kristallnacht on November 9th, 1938.

And on November 9th, 1938, Jewish businesses and synagogues were violently targeted during Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass.” At least 90 Jews were killed and 30,000 deported.

As happy as November 9th, 1989 was, commemorating it as Germany’s national day would be problematic given the other solemn observances attached to it, which is also part of why October 3rd was chosen.

READ ALSO: Why November 9th is a fateful day in German history

What days does October 3rd replace?

Both East and West Germany had national holidays before reunification. The DDR observed ‘Republic Day’ on October 7th, the anniversary of its founding in 1949. Before 1990, the BRD commemorated June 17th, or the anniversary of the East German uprising in 1953.

October 3rd replaced both days as the national day of celebration. 

Where can you celebrate it?

Unity Day is a national holiday with celebrations readily found around the country.

In Bavaria, Oktoberfest remains open until October 3rd partly to mark the occasion. In Berlin, festivities are readily found around the Brandenburg Gate.

However, each year, a major city plays host to official celebrations and the Unity Day Bürgerfest, or ‘Citizen’s Festival.’ The host city is in the federal state presiding over the Bundesrat – Germany’s upper legislative chamber – that particular year.

For 2022, Erfurt – the state capital of Thuringia – is the host, and next year will see Hamburg take over hosting duties.

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