For members


Five crimes that expats are bound to commit in Germany

Germans famously love to follow ‘ze rules.’ Expats new to Germany and not yet versed in the intricacies of the law might inadvertently land themselves in trouble with the authorities or — at the very least — with onlookers witnessing the cultural crime. But thanks to Germany’s correcting culture, expats swiftly learn the law of this land, as friends deliver lectures in proper conduct and strangers transform into schoolmasters.

Five crimes that expats are bound to commit in Germany
Committing a seemingly-innocent offense could land you in big trouble in Germany. Photo: DPA

1. Crossing the road when there is a red light

It's illegal to cross the road during a red light and offenders could face a fine and the icy glare of onlookers. Photo: DPA

Defying the Ampelmännchen is a criminal offense in Germany and could cost the unruly expat a fine and a scold from disapproving onlookers. Even in quiet suburban areas with no cars in sight, Germans – as a matter of principle – patiently wait for the little traffic-light man to turn green before crossing the road.

Consequently, expats running to work late but wary of breaking the most important unwritten rule will find themselves in an unenviable Catch-22. They can either make a quick dash across the road during a red light or abide by the law and turn up to work late. Whatever they decide, they will have made a grave transgression.

On the topic of road etiquette, expats should be careful not to mistake the pedestrian path for the bike lane, or else find themselves dodging for their lives as passing cyclists aggressively ring their bell and hurl abuse at them.

2. Riding a bike while drunk

Biking and boozing are popular pastimes in Germany, but together, are a dangerous combination. 

Two German passions – biking and beer – should never mix. Expats won over by the cycling craze should avoid biking home after a boozy bash or risk ending the night in a police station. If their blood alcohol level exceeds 1.6 per mil, they could be fined €1,000 and have their driving license confiscated or even revoked.

The authorities regards drunk cyclists as a danger to themselves and the public’s safety. In 2013, a study by Auto Club Europe (ACE) found that 3,400 bike accidents which caused injury to others involved an intoxicated biker. Recently, transport associations have increased pressure on parliament to take harsher measures against this very German misdemeanor.

3. Disturbing quiet time

Drummers must put away their drum kits during 'Ruhezeit' to keep the neighbourly peace. Photo: DPA

Expats mowing the lawn, vacuum cleaning, or partying at certain times of the day risk the wrath of their neighbour and even a fine from their local police officer. To keep the peace with their neighbours, expats should observe quiet time.

‘Ruhezeit’ – reminiscent of boarding school curfews – differs from state to state, but takes place most commonly from 1pm to 3pm, 10pm to 7am, and all-day on Sunday.

Expats testing their new drum kit during these times shouldn’t be surprised if their landlord decides to kick them out, as German civil law regards disturbing the domestic peace as reasonable grounds for terminating a lease without notice.

4. Forgetting to buy a train ticket

Schwarzfahrer (fare dodgers) face harsh penalties if caught. Photo: DPA

Unlike the New York subway, the London Tube, and the Paris Metro, there are no turnstiles or checkpoints in the Berlin U-Bahn. Using public transport, along with many services in this smooth-functioning liberal state, relies on trusting citizens to act for the common good, even if their obligations to one another aren’t enforced.

However, without metal gates to prompt newcomers to buy a ticket, committing a crime on Berlin’s transport might involve less cunning and calculation, and more carelessness. Bleary-eyed expats travelling to work could face a hefty fine if they unwittingly board without a ticket and are caught by inspectors, disguised in plain clothes.

5. Breaking a contract

Tenants bound to a contract should be careful not to break it. Photo: DPA

Germans take contracts seriously. Landlords here, in particular, expect tenants to follow the contract to the umlaut. Failing to read the jargonistic fine print of their rental agreement could lead expats to inadvertently break the contract and land themselves in trouble.

One common reason for breaking a contract is terminating the lease without proper notice. Most landlords require three months’ notice, so expats planning to move from one apartment to the next could find themselves at the mercy of a pedantic landlord threatening legal action and suing for rent until the end of the contract. Landlords also require termination notices for residential leases in writing, ideally on parchment paper and secured with a wax seal.

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For members


Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!