There are many different national stereotypes and preconceptions people have when they think of Germany and the Germans. So always wanting to be a fountain of useful information, we have come up with 7 common myths that often get quoted about Germany, which are either completely or at least partially untrue.
This is intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, so if you have no sense of humour, look away now!
7 Frequently Cited Myths About Germany
1. The trains all run on time
“It must be nice to live somewhere where the trains actually run on time”.
It’s a comment I frequently hear from friends back in the UK.
“I don’t live in Japan” is usually my answer.
True, the German train service is infinitely better than the truly dire commuter rail services in the UK, but that is a pretty low bar to start from. The US doesn’t really have commuter trains outside of a few major few cities, so again, it is easy for Germany to look good in comparison.
The reality is that German long-distance trains have a pretty poor punctuality record. In 2016, over 21% of long distance trains did not arrive at their final destination on time. On time actually is defined as less than 6 minutes late arriving at final destination. Hardly the statistics of a model transport network.
Of course, this is extremely embarrassing for a country which prides itself on punctuality, and there is a detailed plan to get this back on track.
Local trains, however, generally perform a lot better.
Conclusion: It’s reasonably true for local and regional services but sadly, this is complete and utter rubbish for inter-city trains. Senk you for trävelling viz Deutsche Bahn.
2. German wine is all sweet and poor quality
German wine picked up a bad reputation in the 80s and 90s due to a surge in exports of cheap, poor quality wine, especially to some of its biggest export markets in the US and the UK.
This image stuck, and another classic myth about Germany is the preconception of German wine being sickly sweet and low in quality. Liebfraumilch is synonymous with German wine to many consumers and is often the only German wine which native English speakers have heard of.
That’s SUCH a real shame. Yes, this IS most definitely sickly sweet and low quality.
But all the Germans I know would rather drink grape juice than Liebfraumilch! They export their rubbish to those of us who are stupid enough to buy it!
The reality could not be more different.
Germany has some of the best white wine in the world and is famous for the Riesling grape variety, which thrives in the most northerly vineyards in Europe.
German Riesling is typically fruity, crisp, complex and mainly dry or off-dry. Such a shame that it can only usually be found in specialist wine shops outside its homeland. Another reason to move to Germany!
Not forgetting the other white wine varieties in Germany such as Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) and Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), as well as Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) and Dornfelder reds.
Conclusion: Complete bulls**t, so much so that the methane from it could damage the ozone layer.
3. No speed limits on the Autobahn
Hmm, well this one is probably the most famous of all the “interesting facts” which in fact are myths about Germany. The truth is that there are some long stretches of Autobahn which theoretically have no speed limits. But that’s where the fantasy stops and we need to take a reality check.
In and around major urban areas, the traffic on the Autobahn is restricted to 100 or 120 km/h. Furthermore, Germany has severely underinvested in its road infrastructure over the past 25 years and many Autobahns seem to be constantly under repair.
The main highway from Frankfurt to the Swiss border is only 4 lanes for long stretches. It connects 2 of Europe’s most important financial hubs (Zurich being the other one) and it is permanently clogged with traffic.
This is typical of many other 4-lane Autobahns which criss-cross densely populated areas and have not been widened or upgraded. And then in addition to this, we have the never-ending construction zones which seem to be omnipresent every 20 or so kilometres.
The situation magically gets better if you live in Eastern Germany. You know immediately when you have crossed the former border between West and East Germany because the roads are all brand new.
Crossing from Hesse into Thuringia on the A4, I feel like a kid walking into Disneyland. Suddenly the 4-lane, rough surface Autobahn which is riddled with construction and contraflows becomes a brand new 6-lane motorway where you can more or less put your foot on the gas all the way to the Polish border. Happy days. Just a shame that most of the population doesn’t live here.
Interesting fact: Last summer, I drove all the way to Cádiz in southern Spain – a 5,200km round trip. Anyway, of the 3 traffic jams I got stuck in, 2 of them were in Germany.
Conclusion: We’ll let this one go because there is some substance to it…you just have to know where to go for those nice, long, construction-free empty stretches. Get your Scorpions and Kraftwerk playlist out for the ride. Jawohl!
4. Everything in Germany is efficient
Anyone who has lived here and dealt with any kind of officialdom, bureaucracy, banks or telecommunications companies will tell you that this is laughable. Things which can be done online with a few mouse clicks in most developed economies require reams of paperwork here.
There is, however, a grain of truth in the myth. Germans are extremely efficient at making stuff and then distributing it.
Factory layouts, automation and manufacturing excellence here are world-class. Productivity per capita is amongst the highest in Europe when measured in output per employee hour worked and Germans statistically have the shortest working week in the OECD.
When it comes to anything to do with administration or bureaucracy however, Germany is one of the most inefficient countries you could imagine. And this is coming from someone who has spent time in Nigeria and South Africa.
Having a foreign passport adds to the nightmare. Any type of credit agreement, banking product, visa application or even something as simple as joining the library requires a trip to the residents’ office of City Hall to get a Meldebescheinigung to prove to them that I actually live where I say I do. Which I understand, but why can’t I just download a scan of this online and submit it through cyberspace to the institution asking for it. If the tiny ex-Soviet state of Estonia can figure all this out then why, Deutschland, can’t you?
The saying goes, if you want to experience German efficiency, go to Switzerland.
Conclusion: Pure mythology that even the Greeks would be proud of.
5. Germans have no sense of humour
I can see where this one comes from. Germans do tend to avoid clowning around in more formal situations.
Work culture here is more formal, and jokes and banter are not an integral part of an office working environment like it is in the UK. Toilet humour here is generally a no-no, whereas us Brits find it hilarious.
Germans do, however, have quite a dry, ironic sense of humour. It’s just that I don’t get a lot of their jokes.
Even speaking the language fluently, a lot of what they laugh about at parties leaves me scratching my head and thinking, what was the joke? So while I may not be laughing with them all the time, I find the Germans to be a jovial bunch once you get to know them outside of the office.
Conclusion: The workplace can often seem stuffy but the Germans do have a sense of humour….it’s just different.
6. Germans love sunbathing naked
So yes, it’s correct that there are often areas on lake beaches which are naturist (known in Germany as FKK, or Freikörperkultur). And yes, Germans are certainly less prudish about nudity than Brits, and definitely less so than Americans.
It is also true that many saunas and thermal baths have a no-bathing-suits policy. Germans believe that it is unhygienic to sweat in textiles in communal areas. Of course, this can lead to cultural faux-pas and embarrassing situations for those who are unaware. So in saunas, be on the safe side and assume you will have to go nude.
This is where the truth ends. Firmly in the territory of myths about Germany is if you’re expecting to walk through your local park in summer for the first time, expecting to see lots of naked sunbathers. You won’t do.
The whole nudist movement also tends to be more popular in former East Germany, perhaps because it was seen as a sign of freedom in an otherwise totalitarian society.
And for all of you gentlemen hoping to check out the naked ladies, I’m afraid it is not very common amongst younger generations.
Conclusion: I’m afraid this firmly in myth territory. If only the cute blondes embraced FKK, then rest assured I would never want to take holidays anywhere else.
Image: © Rex Gutierrez. Source: Wikipedia Commons
7. The Hoff is a demi-God
I would love to know where this one comes from but EVERYONE seems to mention it.
If I meet up with friends I’ve not seen for a while back in the UK, I often hear comments like “you’ve lived in Germany that long now that I bet you listen to the Hoff all the time, hahaha”.
Now, let’s be honest, Germans do have some dodgy musical tastes, as can be attested to by their deep love of all things Phil Collins. And yes, many of their radio stations seem to be stuck in the 80s. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Status Quo played on the radio until I moved here.
So, let’s get to the grain of truth in this one:
David Hasselhoff had a Number 1 hit in Germany in 1989 entitled “Looking For Freedom”. He performed it in front of the Berlin Wall shortly after its fall and with the Zeitgeist (by the way, that’s a great German word we’ve incorporated into English) of the era, it became associated with that monumental event in Germany’s history.
He had a couple of minor follow-up hits but nothing to make him a legend here that native English speakers seem to think he is. He still does some concerts in Germany but actually was more popular in Austria, where he first shot to musical stardom.
He also had a number 3 hit in the UK, following a campaign supported by influential Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, called “Get The Hoff To Number 1”, so us Brits can’t really take the piss too much.
Conclusion: He had a more successful music career in the German speaking world than anywhere else but he isn’t the demi-God that the myth would suggest.
So there you have it. Being English and all that, it’s 5 p.m., so I’m downing tools and going on a tea break. (I’m afraid this one is also a myth, my German friends!)