Everything About German Culture

By OptiLingo

German Religion

Christianity in Germany

Although Germany doesn’t have an official state religion, nearly two-thirds of Germans are Christian, with the types of Christians being split between Protestants and Catholics.. The foundation of Christianity in Germany is old and strong. Christianity was forced onto Germans when Charlemagne became Holy Roman Emperor in 800 CE and was strengthened by the German states’ close ties to Rome.

Germany was the place of residence to the Teutonic Knights, one of the most well-known Christian military orders; they crusaded all through the Baltic regions to convert the pagans. They were very successful and knights from all parts of Europe traveled to Germany to campaign with them. They were dissolved in 1525 when their leader converted to Protestantism. The people of Germany are on average, as devout as other Europeans. Germany however, does provide subsidies to the Church for chosen charitable services.

This is accomplished through a mandatory church tax (“Kirchensteuer”) of 8 percent of the income for religious communities/church attendees in Bavaria and Baden-Würtemberg and 9 percent in other places. So however much you may state as income on a form that asks for your religion, even though you may not attend church, you might be liable for taxation.

History of Protestants and Catholics in Germany

The Protestant Reformation of 1517 was initiated by Martin Luther, by way of expressing his disapproval of the gluttony of the Catholic Church; he posted it onto the door of a church in Wittenberg, now Lutherstadt Wittenberg. War ensued between the Holy Roman Emperor and a number of Protestant states, concluding with Germany’s southern states declaring their loyalty to Rome.

Since this time, Germany has remained mostly Catholic. The authority that was held by the Holy Roman Emperor was not only religious, but secular as well. The advantages of the church had to be guarded and protected in every way. At the time of the war between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Protestant states, the “Thirty Years War,” the right or claim of the church was not elective and was inherited by the Habsburgs.

Consequently, the Empire consisted of Austria and the Habsburg areas of Hungary, Bohemia, and southeastern Europe, until its dissolution in 1806. The quasi-mystical significance of the Holy Roman Empire lay in its linking of the Roman Empire of antiquity, the Catholic faith, and allegiance to the Pope in Rome. For most of Germany, in contrast to Austria, its power became valueless from the sixteenth century onward.

German Sport

Strong Support for Sport

Organized sport and fitness in Germany goes back to the sunny and happy golden years of the Napoleonic Wars. Similar to how Lord Robert Baden Powell envisioned the Boy Scouts, Germans used organized sport and fitness as a way of getting kids trained for war. (Today, the football, tomorrow, a man’s head.) Most of the actual sports clubs are only from the turn of the 20th century when the “Turn- und Sportverbände” (gym and sports associations) movement got going. One sports club that’s a bit older, and isn’t really IN Germany anymore, is the Turnverein, who supported the 1848 revolutions and got kicked out to America for their trouble. A bit of connection between Germany and America there.

One non-sport-but-still-athletic movement that began in the 1920s is the Wandervogel (“Birds of Passage”), which promoted closeness to nature, outdoor activities like hiking, and folk culture. And then in the 1930s the Nazis made all the kids join Hitler Youth and forget all the more wholesome movements.

And then after the war the East Germans touted physical fitness as a matter of prestige for the regime. Hm. It sounds like there’s an easy connection for Germans to make between sporting prowess and martial prowess. Might want to keep a close eye on that….says the writer whose football games all start with giant displays of American flags.


Germany continues to be full of sports enthusiasts. Especially when it comes to soccer (“Fußball”). German soccer stars have become world celebrities as the German teams have won four World Cups and three European cups. (The German team has also been the runner-up in the world cup three times, and runner-up in the European Cup four times.) But Germans also avidly enjoy tennis, time-out handball, basketball, shooting, riding, hockey, cycling, Formula One motor racing, golf, skiing, boxing, and many other sports. In this enthusiasm, they not only follow their favorite teams, they actively participate in sports, and join clubs for tennis, hockey, riding, cycling, jogging, walking, and climbing. On the Autobahn in the summer you will find many large cars carrying touring and racing bikes, kayaks and canoes, and boats.

And in the winter you can go skiing or to an ice hockey rink. Be aware, German ice hockey fans like to make a lot of noise. Either join the shouting or bring earplugs, and enjoy seeing some excellent teams. The German ice hockey league is considered one of the best worldwide. Not as high on the list as the NHL or the Russians, but standing at a respectable 8th place worldwide.

A Positive Image

A soccer tournament revealed changing views around the world about the German nation. Strange as that might sound, there is evidence to back up the statement.

Germany hosted the 31-day 2006 FIFA World Cup, a soccer spectacle that gains attention throughout the world. Although Germany finished third, its team performance and the ability to successfully host such an event apparently influenced perceptions.

In the annual National Brands Index, a global survey of consumer sentiment, Germany ranked higher after the FIFA World Cup than the marks it set prior to the tournament. Respondents in 20 different countries considered questions about Germany as a tourist destination, as a political entity, and even as an exporter of products. The result was that Germany ranked as second most-valued among 50 nations by 2010.

Another survey from the British Broadcasting Corporation found that Germany had a decidedly positive influence on the world in 2010. It showed 59 percent of those surveyed held a positive view of Germany, while only 14 percent harbored negative views.

Was a good soccer experience the sole reason for these perceptions?

Some point to other factors, such as the country’s stands for the rights of homosexuals and people with disabilities, or its record promoting gender equality.

But immigration policy is another area where Germany has attracted much attention. In a country where about 20 percent of the population was non-German in the mid-1990s, the overwhelming consensus was that this nation did not welcome immigration. In the years since then, there has been a strong acknowledgement of the positive roles immigrants play in German society.

German Celebrations and Festivals

The Thrill of Being Alive

Living in Germany takes some getting used to, but there are many pleasurable aspects of life there; the many celebrations and commemorations of historical and religious events that take place year-round. The Rhine in summer is host to Son et Lumière, which is a series of shows using light and sound, such as fireworks, while regaling tales of historical events such as tales of castles being plundered and destroyed. They celebrate defeat with as much enthusiasm as victory.

Another type of celebration is the passion play at Oberammergau. This play commemorates the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria being spared a plague in the year 1634. The people in the village prayed and vowed to perform a Passion as gratitude for being spared. So that’s exactly what they’ve done, every ten years. The Oberammergau Passion Play is a significant cultural event, lasting five days. The characters are all played by the villagers. It is an amazing and moving testimony to Oberammergau’s history, expression of continuity, theater, and celebration.

A Time for Celebrating – Personal Events

Birthdays are considered a time for celebration. If the celebrant is staying home, they will hold an open house and entertain guests throughout the day. If they are going to work, they will bring cakes and candy to celebrate with their colleagues. If you are visiting someone on their birthday, you may just shake their hand and congratulate them. You can also bring a small gift – but don’t give it to them before their birthday. It is considered unlucky to wish someone a happy birthday right before the actual birthday.

There are many traditions associated with German weddings. Friends of the groom might abduct the bride for a short time before the ceremony. Germans wear engagement rings on the third finger of the right hand, and they wear wedding rings on the third finger of the right hand.

On the night before the wedding, the family and friends of the couple may throw a party called a “Polterabend.” After the meal, the celebrants will break the porcelain plates to bring luck to the couple. Both bride and groom are expected to clean up the mess and thus demonstrate that they can work well together.

Festive Times – Seasonal Traditions

There are a number of traditional and religious events celebrated and honored by Germans. State holidays are among them and they are all a very important part of the culture.

Epiphany: Epiphany is the annual celebration on January 6, of the three wise men visiting Jesus Christ in the stable of his birth. It also marks the end of the Christmas season.

Karneval: In Catholic regions of Germany, Karneval is the last celebration before Lent season, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before Easter Sunday, lasting about six weeks. During Lent, Christians fast, pray, and sometimes give up certain comforts. Karneval is normally held the weekend before Ash Wednesday.

Easter: Easter is one of the most important events and much of the customary activities such as decorating eggs originated in Germany. The Sorbs, a West Slavic ethnic group, who resides southeast of Berlin, are well known for their exquisitely decorated Easter eggs. The Easter Bunny, “Osterhase” in German, hides the Easter eggs for the children to gather up.

Other Religious Festivals: A common theme among all religious celebrations such as Corpus Christi Day, is elaborate decorations, whether it’s traditional costumes or floats, particularly in rural areas. In Catholic regions, there are parades with altars and on St. Martin’s day, youngsters hold paper lanterns during processions.

Oktoberfest: Beer and wine lovers flock to Oktoberfest, a festival that takes place in and around Munich. The biggest folk festival in Europe, it runs from late September through early October. The annual event is a commemoration of the marriage of King Ludwig von Bayern to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The wedding guests enjoyed beer and wine in huge tents. A highlight of the event is the “Trachtenfest” parade, which features shire horses with beer wagons in tow. Attendees dress in folk costumes such as “Lederhosen” and “Dirndl.”

A Tradition of Joyous Entertainment

Germans know how to enjoy themselves when it comes to holidays, which play a major role in the country’s social life. Having a long tradition of both Catholicism and Protestantism gives the country several holidays to celebrate that include some major celebrations. Christmas is one important holiday in particular, with popular British and American traditions that include cards, greens, and Christmas trees being of German origin.

German holidays may vary somewhat by state. For example, there are some German holidays that are not celebrated outside Catholic areas. Other popular holidays, like Mother’s Day, are not public holidays. Some of the most noteworthy holidays are:

  • January 1, New Year’s Day
  • March or April, Good Friday
  • March or April, Easter Monday
  • May 1, Labor Day/May Day
  • May or June, Ascension Day/Father’s Day
  • May or June, Pentecost Monday
  • October 3, Day of German Unity
  • December 25, Christmas
  • December 26, Boxing Day

Each of these holidays has special significance for the German people. Regardless of whether one has a religious background or not, at least some of these holidays are likely to play a role in every person’s life.

German Traditions

Heimat – Love for the Homeland

“Heimat” is the German word for “homeland,” and it is a very important concept in Germany, just as it is in some other European countries and the United States. A German’s “Heimat” isn’t the entire country of Germany, but the region where they were born and raised. The “Heimat” is the part of the country where their parents lived and where their closest friends live. In many cases, husbands and wives come from the same “Heimat”.

Germans who are over 30 tend to show much less job mobility than do Americans or Brits of the same age. They prefer to find work near their families and “Heimat” – which can sometimes cause problems for employers. In one case, a major insurance company cut the number of its call centers from forty-five to five. That meant many of the employees would have had to move in order to keep their position. Many workers decided to take voluntary layoffs rather than follow the company and leave their “Heimat.”

German families tend to stay in a given region for generations, thus regions have each a developed distinctive character. “Rhineländer” (Rhinelanders), for example, are famous for their generosity. By contrast, the “Schwaben” (Swabians), who live around Stuttgart, have a reputation for being thrifty. “Bayern” (Bavarians) are said to be relaxed and mellow, while the citizens of Mecklenburg are said to be reserved.

A Fair Tradition

About two-thirds of the foremost trade fairs are held in Germany. The fairs are an important tradition in Germany and a major source of international trading of goods and services. Annual fairs or “Messen,” originated as a country market where crops and livestock were exchanged; traders from all over the country attended the events.

The Leipzig Trade Fair is one of the annual fairs and its origin can be traced back almost a millennium. It is one of the most important trade fairs and a long-established meeting place for businessmen and politicians from every region of Germany. The “Messehalle” or trade fair hall is a hallmark of many of Germany’s significant cities and many international events are held there, such as the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Hanover CeBIT computer industry trade fair.

It is important for Germans to gather for a common or shared interest, and they’ve come together regardless of politics or their differences, throughout the history of their country. An example is the Hanseatic League, a group of major North Sea and Baltic coastal seaports that came together to organize their trading ventures

A Tradition of Generosity

Germans believe in keeping their public and personal lives separate, and that influences their customs regarding gifts. For example, employees usually do not exchange gifts at the office. German businesspeople will exchange small gifts to celebrate successfully completing a deal. Such gifts should not have a company logo on them. It is also inappropriate to bring a gift that suggests an intimate relationship, like jewelry or perfume. Such gifts should only be given to family or very close friends.

It is considered good manners to bring a gift to your host or hostess when visiting. You should only give somebody wine if you are certain of the quality. Think twice before you give a German knives or scissors, for he or she may believe in an old superstition that doing so will curse the recipient. Fine chocolates are a safe gift, as are most flowers. Avoid red roses, which are for lovers, and chrysanthemums and lilies, which are associated with funerals. While Germans prefer an odd number of flowers in a bouquet, 13 is considered unlucky. When in doubt, consult a florist about the appropriate types of flowers and size of the bouquet.

Germans traditionally unwrap flowers before giving them to the host and then leave the paper on the hall table. You can also just tie the bouquet together without wrapping it. Gifts should be wrapped neatly, so get that done in the store if you aren’t an adept wrapper. Always use biodegradable wrapping, for Germans have a keen sense of environmental responsibility.

A Different Kind of Architectural Aesthetics

German architecture has been celebrated since 800 AD, in the form of mosaics and vivid depictions of small scale Carolingian style art. These bright, decorative displays were prominent in many areas of German churches and chapels, such as ceilings and windows. The Palatine Chapel, which is a part of what was the Palace of Aachen, is looked upon as an outstanding example of Carolingian architecture. The Ottonian was inspired by the Carolingian and is another important style that predated the Romanesque.

Other noteworthy designs produced by Germany include Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Gothic style was used in many cathedrals and churches in Munich and Cologne. St. Michael’s Church in Munich is a large Renaissance church whose style greatly influenced the early stage of Southern Germany’s Baroque architecture. The Expressionists’ Movement in the 19th century led to Realism which was prevalent in architecture until World War II.

The German Association of Craftsmen (The Deutscher Werkbund), established in 1907, was an organization that included designers and architects; they became an important component in originating the Bauhaus School of Design and developing contemporary architecture. Walter Adolph Georg Gropius was the originator of the Bauhaus School, and is considered to be a pioneer of modernist architecture.

During the time the Nazis ruled in Germany, many of the previous styles were abandoned and replaced with the essentials of neoclassicism. During World War II, much of Germany’s architectural heritage was destroyed. Reconstruction of cities was done in a simplified manner, not representations of the originals, but constructed in a functional, modernist style. Some cities are also using the new classical architecture, which continues the practice of classical and traditional architecture.

German Art and Theatre

Enjoying the Finer Things

One thing you are sure to find in a German city is a museum. Indeed, any town with over ten thousand people has a museum. In Berlin there’s a hundred at least. Though the French are more famous for their culture, Germans take pride in their high culture in a way that most folks don’t.

For example, Germany has a pretty big theater and opera tradition, going back all the way to the High Baroque when Germany was a bunch of independent little states and they were all competing heavily for the best court composers and orchestras. If you were a big cheese like Haydn, Bach, or Händel then you were getting big money to make music for a court, the way American cities compete to get sports stadiums. These days the trend continues with generous federal subsidies to the arts, and so Germany has some of the best orchestras in the world. Of these, the most famous are the Berlin Philharmonic—raised to eminence under the magisterial postwar baton of Herbert von Karajan, and before him by Wilhelm Furtwängler and Arturo Toscanini—and the Leipziger Gewandhaus, whose former director, Kurt Masur, worked for many years in the US. Go listen to the orchestra in Germany and you will not regret it.