Don’t disrespect the rules. Germans like to play by the rules, and when you’re on their turf, so should you. For starters, always wait for the traffic light to go green before crossing the road. People will disapprove and shake their heads at jaywalking, so practice a little discipline and respect the code of conduct. Secondly, if you’re planning to ride a bicycle (and you should) you always need to have a back and front light for safety reasons. Being caught in the dark or running red lights both result in hefty fines.
Don’t forget to pay for and validate your train tickets. Most newbies in Berlin are especially surprised, even giddy at the fact that there is no security gate or person checking tickets as you enter the train stations. Be warned, this is not a free pass to ride the underground, as ticket checkers (wearing plain clothes) are also riding the subway and could pounce at any moment, costing you at least a 60 EUR fine and a lot of embarrassment. Furthermore, there are endless stories of people who have diligently bought their train tickets, but alas, forgotten to validate them. Don’t forget to validate your ticket before jumping on the train! The ticket checkers pay no sympathy to that, and you will still be fined. Especially if you're travelling from Schönefeld Airport to the Berlin, expect your ticket to be checked as soon as the train leaves the station.
Don’t get confused with transport zones. You need an appropriately zoned ticket depending on where you are travelling in the city. Generally, going farther away from the city centre might see you crossing into a different zone. Always read the zonal maps in the station if you are not sure. For example, going to and from Schönefeld Airport in Berlin is a different zone to travelling within the city and requires a different ticket and price. Again, ticket checkers won’t have sympathy for the unknowing tourist, no matter how sorry you are.
Don’t be late. Being on time for social and business appointments is part of the German etiquette; there is no such thing as being ‘fashionably late’ there. Let your trip to Germany be a lesson in the importance of time-keeping that you can bring back to your own community.
Don’t forget to recycle. Recycling plastic and glass bottles is big in Germany, and when you do, you get a small refund for the deposit (Pfand) originally paid for the bottle. Check the bottle label to see if it can be recycled; an arrow usually indicates this. All of the major supermarkets have recycling machines where you can drop off your bottles, and collect some pocket money. The refund for plastic bottles can be up to 25 cents, while glass is a little less. This can add up quickly, and some people living close to the streets make their entire livelihood in this way. If you’re really not going to recycle, then instead of throwing your bottle in a public dustbin, place it on top or next to the bin. It will be collected in a matter of minutes by someone who will be pleased to claim its worth.
Don’t rely on credit cards. Many small business vendors, bars and restaurants don’t have card machines. If they do, some only accept German cards. Have your euros ready, or familiarise yourself with ATMs in your area that charge the least interest when you draw. Always have cash on your person. You don’t want to be walking countless blocks and wasting time searching for a place to withdraw money, only to be charged a heck of a fee for doing so at some obscure cash machine.
Don’t be shocked when people smoke in a bar. Unlike most places in Europe and around the world, smoking in bars and restaurants in Germany is generally allowed, so do not look flabbergasted when the guy next to you lights up and pollutes what you think should be clean air. New non-smoking laws passed a few years ago, although many people have simply disregarded them, and you’ll notice that a smoker will find it intrusive if you ask him or her to refrain.
Don’t go shopping on a Sunday. Everywhere in Germany, shops, supermarkets and pharmacies are closed on Sundays, so make sure you have all you need before Sunday rolls around. Cafés and restaurants, however, are normally open all weekend.
Don’t miss out on trying street food. No matter where you are in Germany, you’re bound to find a street with a place to eat. Note that in smaller towns, you’ll probably only find sausage and meat on the menu, while bigger cities like Berlin have a thriving vegetarian and vegan culture. If you’re eating on a budget, look out an ‘Imbiss’, a cheap snack shop that can be found on almost any busy street, train station, market and even parking lot.
Don’t assume everyone speaks English. While Berlin is full of the world’s languages, from Spanish to Arabic, and most people speak English, that is not how it goes in the rest of the country, so it’s a good idea to have command of some basic phrases to help you feel not entirely lost. Phrase books and phone apps come in handy here. Remember, all road signs, shop signs and businesses are written in German, so get to know your staples like pharmacy (Apotheke) and the police station (Polizeistation).
Don’t be afraid to explore the rural areas. Big cities like Berlin and Munich are great to experience nightlife, creativity and beer festivals, but Germany is also a land of magical wonders and hidden gems. From the mystical Black Forest to the plethora of fairytale castles dotted around the countryside, there is a whole heap more to explore than just the novelty of being allowed to drink beer on the street. Germany is an old land, with a number of glorious historic towns and natural wonders to discover. If you have a valid EU driver’s license, then opt to rent a car for the freedom it brings. Alternatively, plan your trip using the efficient and friendly German railway system.
Don’t show any symbols of the Third Reich. Do not ever, under any circumstances, show the “Nazi salute”, shout “Heil Hitler”, or show swastikas or other symbols of the Third Reich. It’s considered a criminal offense in Germany and you’ll most certainly get in trouble.
Don’t expect your water to be still. The “default” type of water in Germany is sparkling water, so if you ask for water at a restaurant, you won’t get it still unless you specify. Most of the bottled water sold at grocery stores is also carbonated, so beware!
Don’t walk on the bike lane. In Germany, everyone rides a bike. Each town, big or small, has special lanes for bikes, so please be extra careful if you don’t want to get hit and look under your feet when you walk!