Customs of Germany

Marriage and Family

ImageCouples usually marry in their late 20s or early 30s, often waiting until they have some financial security. It is common for young people to live together before or instead of marriage. Legal marriages are performed at city hall, and religious ceremonies are optional.

Over the years, families have become smaller. The average family now has only one or two children, and children in urban areas tend to live away from home once they become wage earners or go on to university studies. In rural areas, households comprised of extended families are more common.

Both parents often work, especially in the east. The traditional family values of order, respect, responsibility, and achievement are still important, but there is much less rigidity in family life, and a wide variety of lifestyles exist today, especially in the west.


German food traditionally includes substantial portions of meat and potatoes or, to a lesser extent, noodles. Pork is a popular meat, along with beef and, to a lesser extent, chicken. Pork is prepared in a variety of ways, often according to region: it may be roasted with dumplings in Munich, for example, or served as a ham in parts of North Rhine-Westphalia. Lamb is more of a delicacy but is widely available in the north. Fish is popular in North Sea areas such as Hamburg, as well as in the south, in Bavaria (Bavaria), where trout are plentiful. Every region has its own type of Wurst (sausage). Cakes and pastries are also eaten.

Breakfast is usually light, with rolls and cheese, cold cuts, or jam accompanied by coffee or another hot drink. Traditionally, the main meal has been at midday, but an increasing number of people now have it in the evening and have only a snack or a light lunch. A typical meal is three courses: soup, a main dish, and dessert. A typical light supper is Abendbrot, an open sandwich with sliced meat, cheese, a spread, and salad. Germans tend to shop frequently for groceries, preferring to use fresh ingredients when cooking. Ethnic and fast foods are popular. In the west, at least, there are numerous Italian, Greek, and Chinese restaurants, and many of the top restaurants serve French nouvelle cuisine.

The Germans are known for their beer making and beer drinking. They also enjoy wines, particularly domestic white wines. There are numerous small winemaking businesses in Germany that produce wine solely for the domestic market. Soft drinks are increasingly popular among the youth.

Mealtimes are between noon and 2 pm for lunch and between 6 and 9 pm for supper. Table manners are much the same as in other northern European countries. Fish is usually cut with a fork rather than a knife. Most people prefer to drink bottled mineral water rather than tap water.


A firm handshake is the most common form of greeting. Greetings vary by region, but the most common phrase is Guten Tag! (“Good Day!”). A simple Hallo (“Hello”) is also common. Many people in southern Germany use Grüß Gott! (literally “May God greet you!”) as a greeting.

ImageBy tradition, only family members and close friends address each other by their first names. Germans are much more formal in this respect than many other western nationalities, although younger people increasingly use more informal forms of address. In formal greetings, Germans use surnames and titles, such as Herr (“Mr.”), Frau (“Mrs.”), and Fräulein (“Miss”). In the most formal situations, these titles might be combined with a person’s professional title, sometimes without the surname. For example, a male professor with a doctoral degree might be addressed as Herr Professor Doktor; a female head of department in business or government could be addressed as Frau Direktorin. Fräulein is used much less frequently than in the past and is not usually used by members of the younger generations.

Germans rarely call on people unannounced. Punctuality is important, although it is acceptable to arrive up to a quarter of an hour after the stated time for the invitation. When invited to dinner it is common to bring flowers or another gift for the hosts. Dinner parties often last well into the night, but daytime visits are usually short, except when one has been invited for Kaffeetrinken, when coffee or tea and sweets are served in the mid- to late afternoon.

When socializing outside the home, wine taverns and beer gardens are popular in warm weather. In cold weather, many people socialize in bars and cafés.


Because of negotiated agreements on working hours, Germans enjoy a relatively high amount of leisure time, which they fill with activities such as walking, skiing, swimming, running, cycling, touring in cars, or playing tennis. In urban areas, it is not unusual for people to own or rent small garden plots in or near the city. Germans' love of the outdoors translates into a strong environmental consciousness.

Soccer is the most popular sport, and millions of people belong to soccer clubs. Recreational clubs and associations play a big role in local social life; they exist for every kind of hobby. Young people are more likely to participate in team sports through local clubs than through schools.

Throughout Germany, clubs sponsor Volksmärsche, walks of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) or more along a specified route. These events are especially popular in the southern part of the country. Sometimes the locations of the walks are not announced until the morning they take place, which adds suspense. Then participants tune in to the radio to find out where the walk will begin. Participants buy a card, which is stamped at control stations along the way. Volksmärsche can be festive occasions. Once the walk is over, walkers and nonwalkers alike socialize over cakes, pies, wursts, and other refreshments. Walkers receive prizes for the cumulative distances they cover and for the number of events they attend.

Of the performing arts, music is the Germans' first love, followed by the theater. Generous state and city subsidies mean that even small cities support their own opera company, orchestra, and sometimes even a ballet, and many small towns have a theater or music group. These are all well supported, and in summer there are music and arts festivals throughout the country.

Germans in the west have long relished travel, something those in the east are also beginning to enjoy. People also enjoy watching television or visiting friends.

Holidays and Celebrations

Neujahr (1 January), or the New Year, is a public holiday in Germany.

During the week before Catholic Lent, Carnival—called Fastnacht or Fasching—is celebrated in some regions, where people have fancy balls, parades, and other celebrations. In the Rhineland region of western Germany, the first of the five days of Carnival is Weiberfastnacht, or “Women’s Carnival.” The tradition is said to have started in the town of Beuel in the early 19th century, when the laundry women grew tired of watching their husbands celebrating Carnival without them—and, even worse, with the money they earned washing clothes. In protest the women themselves began to celebrate with song and dance. Now this celebration is known for its carefree nature and often bizarre events.

The week before Easter is known in Germany as Karwoche—“Still Week” or “Silent Week”—and Holy Thursday is called Green Thursday. This comes from the tradition of giving a green branch to penitents after they have finished their penance. Easter Sunday and Monday are both observed, with worship services on Sunday and family gatherings on Monday.

Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurgis Night”) is celebrated on 30 April. On this date in the 8th century, the remains of Saint Walburga were moved to Eichstätt. After that time, according to legend, oil was found on the rocks at Eichstätt that had the power to cure, so a shrine to Saint Walburga was established. She is revered as the saint who protects against magic. People once believed that on Walpurgisnacht, witches rode across the sky over the Harz Mountains of Germany. In an effort to ward off the witches, people banged pots and pans and lit torches. This day is still celebrated with bonfires and other activities.

Labor Day (1 May) is often celebrated by raising maypoles and participating in parades. The Day of German Unity is celebrated on 3 October. On 31 October, some Germans observe Reformation Day, which is also known as Luther’s Theses Day. On this date in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. In his writings, he expressed his specific problems with the Roman Catholic Church. This event marked the start of the Protestant Reformation.

The Christmas season begins with Advent, which lasts from the Sunday closest to 30 November until 24 December. Christmas markets are held in towns, villages, and most large cities. Musical performances abound. Children put their shoes out the evening before Saint Nicholas's day (6 December) to receive small treats. Gifts are given on Heiliger Abend (Christmas Eve), and the family relaxes on Christmas Day (25 December). The following day is also a public holiday.

In the year 325, when Saint Sylvester was pope, the Emperor of Rome decreed that Christianity would be the official religion from that time forward. Saint Sylvester has since been associated with getting rid of paganism. Saint Sylvester’s Eve, or Silvesterabend, is celebrated on 31 December with parties and midnight fireworks. Touching a pig on Silvesterabend is thought to bring good luck; at home some people hang up a marzipan pig and touch it at midnight.

In some regions of Germany, various Catholic and Protestant religious holidays are celebrated throughout the year, such as Pentecost, Ascension, Corpus Christi, and All Saints’ Day.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas