For members


German words you need to know: Haftpflichtversicherung

Germany is known for being a land obsessed with insurance coverage. But do you really have to be insured in case you damage someone else's property? We break down the very long word and culture of Haftpflichtversicherung for foreigners.

Broken your friend's phone by accident? Perhaps you need to get on board with Germany's insurance culture.
Broken your friend's phone by accident? Perhaps you need to get on board with Germany's insurance culture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

What are we talking about here?

Let’s say you’re at a friend’s house and you spill coffee on their laptop, causing it to break. Or you accidentally scratch a car with your bike. Perhaps you’ve caused damage to someone by accidentally tripping them up. 

These are all nightmare scenarios. But in many places you wouldn’t think about having insurance to deal with them. Step forward Germany. 

In the Bundesrepublik there’s a very long word called Privathaftpflichtversicherung (it sounds like this) – or private liability insurance – and it can cover the cost of many of these types of situations.

Do I need it in Germany?

For many foreigners, hearing about this insurance is a culture shock. It simply doesn’t exist in lots of places. 

It’s important to note that it’s not mandatory, unlike health insurance or motor vehicle liability insurance, but most Germans would argue that – yes, you do need it. 

READ ALSO: ‘It works’: Your verdict on German health insurance

According to the German Consumer Advice Centre, private liability insurance is an “absolute must”.

So if you are spending a significant amount of time in Germany, it’s definitely worth getting it. Some rental contracts also require that you have it when you submit your application documents.

A broken vase.

A broken vase. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Franziska Gabbert

What does it actually cover?

So let’s go into a bit more detail. If, for example, you cause an accident as a cyclist and injure other people, you will have to foot the bill for treatment costs, any loss of earnings and compensation for pain and suffering and possibly other costs.

This can lead to people running into financial problems unless they have the insurance to cover it. According to German law, you are liable for all damages that you have caused to someone else, and there’s no limit to how much that can cost. This is the case even if you didn’t mean to cause an accident.

“That is why it is important to take out private liability insurance – and for a sufficient amount,” said German broadcaster NDR in a recent advice column.

“The insurer will only pay up to the coverage amounting for the personal injury, property damage and financial loss that is specified in the insurance policy.

“If the damage is higher, you have to pay the rest yourself.”

One of the terms in most policies is the “Gefahren des täglichen Lebens” – hazards of everyday life. This refers to dangers that a person can face in their private life. For example, coverage is provided if the duty of road safety has been violated because snow has not been cleared on the pavement.

You can also opt for extras. 

The Consumer Advice Centre lists other useful options that can be covered by the insurance such as damage to rented property, loss of someone else’s private or professional keys, insuring someone else’s dog, and operating drones. 

A person holds a pair of keys for a flat.

A person holds a pair of keys for a flat. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

So how much should you be covered for?

Consumer experts recommend a minimum cover of €10 million, but say it is best to have coverage for €50 million.

People should also think about whether they need a ‘single’ or ‘family tariff’ which will cover more family members. 

How much does it cost?

According to consumer protection experts, good insurance cover for families is available from around €60 a year.

Isn’t this all a bit paranoid?

It may sound a bit over the top and as if Germans are living their lives in fear of something dangerous happening. But Germans do tend to like stability, so it could be that simply having this insurance is a layer of protection that keeps things in order if anything happens. 

And the fact is that the culture for private liability insurance is strong. Around 48.06 million people in Germany had private liability insurance in their household, according to Statista figures from earlier this year.

Do I need insurance for other things?

Yes, you’ll need to consider that. For example, you can sign up for Hausratversicherung (home contents insurance) to insure the items in your home in case they are damaged or stolen. This won’t be covered by private liability insurance. 

Useful vocabulary:

Are you covered by liability insurance? – Sind Sie privat haftpflichtversichert?

My liability insurance can cover this accident – Meine Haftpflichtversicherung kann diesen Unfall abdecken.

I’m so sorry for this accident. I have private liability insurance – Dieser Unfall tut mir sehr leid. Ich habe eine private Haftpflichtversicherung.

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For members


Fact check: Is Germany really such a car-obsessed country?

From major manufacturers like BMW and Volkswagen to the world-famous Autobahn, Germany is said to be a country that loves its cars - but how much truth is there behind the stereotype?

Fact check: Is Germany really such a car-obsessed country?

In many ways, Germany is a car lover’s paradise. Not only are some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers based here, but drivers also enjoy numerous rights that they don’t elsewhere, from cheap parking permits to speed-limit-free sections of the Autobahn.

It’s no wonder then that the country has developed a reputation for being somewhat car obsessed. But how true is it really? We take a look at some of the facts. 

The endless Tempolimit row 

It’s a topic that’s almost never out of the news, and a debate that has been rumbling on for years: should Germany finally introduce a hard speed limit on sections of its Autobahn? 

In German politics, the Green Party has been one of the loudest voices calling for so-called Tempolimit in recent years, arguing that the move would prevent accidents and drastically cut carbon emissions on the motorway. However, the liberal FDP were dead-set against the move when the ironically named traffic-light coalition sat down at the negotiating table last year. 

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it seems that public opinion in Germany has been swinging towards the Greens. When framed as a solidarity measure in an ARD poll, 60 percent of Germans said they would be in favour of a temporary speed limit on the Autobahn, while just 35 percent were against.

Most surprisingly, even Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) – who’s said to be a huge fan of fast cars – has softened his stance on the measure in recent weeks. In an interview on political podcast Lage der Nation, Lindner signalled his readiness to negotiate on the issue.

“I would immediately be prepared to say that we would impose a speed limit in Germany if the nuclear power plants were to run longer,” he told podcast hosts Ulf Buermeyer and Philip Banse. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany introduce a motorway speed limit?

German car manufacturers 

One of the reasons Germany is so closely associated with cars is the unwavering national pride in its car manufacturers. BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are all German brands – and politicians in Germany have often been accused of being in the pockets of these big companies over the years. 

Indeed, former chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has been branded the “car Chancellor” for her perceived friendliness towards the car industry – even when it interfered with her environmental aims. And there are endless jokes on German satire shows about Christian Lindner supposedly taking his policy ideas from the CEO of Porsche. 

However, there’s no denying that car manufacturing plays a significant role in the German economy. In 2021, the sector employed almost 790,000 people and turned over a whopping €410 billion – accounting for 24 percent of domestic industry revenue. Seen from that perspective, it’s understandable that successive governments have wanted to keep these heavyweights on-side. 

Angela Merkel BMW

(Former) Chancellor Angela Merkel looks an electric BMW at a car expo in Hannover in 2018. Photo: picture alliance / Peter Steffen/dpa | Peter Steffen

Car ownership 

Though driving is clearly close to Germans’ hearts, it may surprise you to know that the Bundesrepublik is by no means at the top of the ranks in Europe when it comes to car ownership.

In a ranking of motor vehicles per capita in the EU, Germany actually ends up somewhere in the lower-middle, with a total of 14 member states – including France, Portugal, Italy and Finland – boasting more cars, vans and freight vehicles per person. (In case you’re interested, the Italian micro-state of San Marino topped this particular chart.) 

However, when you look at the number of motor vehicles in total, rather than just per capita, the stats paint a slightly different story. While Italy and France both have around 45 million motor vehicles in the country, there are 52 million of them in Germany.

READ ALSO: Will Germany’s motorists and cyclists ever learn to live with each other?

Average mobility spend

Of course, that’s not to say that the German love affair with driving is entirely a myth. A recent study found that the average German spends a whopping €233 per month on their Auto, which adds up to almost €2,800 per year, compared to just €33 per month on buses and trains. 

That’s not including the outlay for a car in the first place, which can cost well into the tens of thousands. 

Debates over right-of-way

The seemingly unshakeable bond between Germans and their cars has become the subject of heated debate recently as the government tries to encourage people to switch to more climate-friendly options. Some argue that people have become far too attached to convenience and need to make lifestyle changes, while others say the transport network in Germany just isn’t good enough to support this.

In fact, it would probably be fair to say that there are two competing forces in German civil society at the moment: those who are fighting to reshape cities for a more eco-friendly future, and those who are fighting for drivers to maintain their rights and privileges (at least for now). 

Climate activists in Munich

Climate activists glue themselves to the road in Munich’s Karlsplatz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lennart Preiss

The latest front for this battle is Berlin, where the Senate has recently been forced to re-open a busy street to cars after a court ruled that there was no valid legal basis to redirect traffic. Friedrichstraße had originally been blocked off the motor vehicles as part of a traffic trial in 2020 – but the cycle paths and pedestrian walkways had simply remained in place ever since.

As the signage redirecting vehicles is removed from Friedrichstraße, it seems that those who wanted cars to return to the busy thoroughfare have won the battle. But with the Senate vowing to push ahead with plans to pedestrianise the street in the long-term, they may not have won the war. 

READ ALSO: How Berlin Friedrichstraße ended up at the centre of the car-free debate