Which public holidays are there in Germany? And what’s the weather like? We’ve put together a few key facts – also about safety, democracy and law in your host country.
Perhaps you will find when you arrive in Germany that lots of things are just like at home. But some may not be. You might be surprised for instance to see that people in Germany still pay in cash quite often, especially in small shops, at markets or at the bakery. You also cannot expect free WiFi everywhere, and where it is available, it may not always be that great.
It’s also good to know that Germany is located in a temperate climate zone with four relatively distinct seasons. So you shouldn’t really need any special clothing – a coat, scarf and gloves will be enough in winter, and of course decent shoes. There is also no strict dress code at higher education institutions, so you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
The most important German words you should learn first are "Guten Tag" and "Auf Wiedersehen". These are the normal ways to greet and say goodbye to people respectively. Friends tend to use a more informal "Hey" or "Hi!". If you can say "Danke" – "Thanks" – most people will be pleased.
You will feel at home more quickly if you know a bit about your host country, so we have put together a few selected facts about Germany for you.
German is the native tongue or second language for 130 million people, making it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world
With more than 83 million inhabitants, Germany is the European Union’s most populous country
There are roughly 3,200 different types of bread in Germany, which is why German bread culture is on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list
72 kilograms of packaging waste per head are collected each year, nearly three quarters of this total being recycled
Sources: Federal Government; Eurostat; Deutsches Brotinstitut; UNESCO; Destatis
Public holidays will probably be a bit different here, too. Without doubt, Christmas is the most important festival in Germany. Though technically a Christian festival, it is celebrated by pretty much everyone. People prepare for Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. Everyone gives each other presents on Christmas Eve, which takes place on 24 December. Living rooms are decorated with a Christmas tree and people get together to share a meal. The next two days are public holidays that Germans normally like to spend with family and friends.
Easter is also a family festival, with children being given small gifts and painted Easter eggs that are hidden around the house or garden.
Other important occasions that people celebrate are birthdays, weddings and “Junggesellenabschiede” – when the bride or groom gets together with their best friends to celebrate, usually on an evening shortly before the wedding. Then there are regional festivals such as the Fastnacht carnival that is known as Karneval in Cologne and Fasching in Munich.
There are nine nationwide public holidays enshrined in law in Germany. Some federal states also have additional public holidays. Source: Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community
Germany is a parliamentary and federal democracy that regularly scores highly in the worldwide Democracy Index. The country’s parliament, the Bundestag, is elected every four years by citizens in a free and secret ballot.
Given the country’s National Socialist past, Germany’s status as a stable democracy can by no means be taken for granted. Which makes it all the more important that an overwhelming majority of German citizens support their democracy and view it as the best form of government.
of Germans see democracy as a good form of government
Source: DZA, German Survey on Volunteering 2019
Democracy is made possible by the country’s people. Their civic engagement, participation in elections and referendums, and open debate of issues of social and political relevance lay the foundations for a functioning state.
Interested in this subject? Visit Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education for more information.
A properly functioning constitutional state is one key way to guarantee democracy. This means that all the country’s citizens and state organisations are bound by the applicable laws.
These laws are decided by parliaments and apply in Germany. One especially important one is the Basic Law, which is Germany’s constitution and guarantees fundamental rights – such as the freedom of expression and assembly – and the principles of the democratic constitution.
The Civil Code and the Criminal Code are also important collections of laws, though there are of course many other laws.
The Federal Constitutional Court is itself a constitutional organ and the “guardian of the Basic Law”. For example, anyone can file a lawsuit with the Federal Constitutional Court if they believe that the state is violating their basic rights.
The constitutional organs are a state’s highest organs as defined in the constitution. Their rights and duties are regulated by the Basic Law. The federal constitutional organs are as follows:
Germany is one of the world’s safest countries. It has a relatively low crime rate by comparison with other countries. For years the number of crimes has been falling, especially burglary and theft. Cybercrime has increased, however: the police have registered significant increases in cases of manipulation, sabotage and fraud via computer.
As you will doubtless know from experience, it is important to feel safe if you want to feel comfortable and at ease: like when walking alone on the streets at night, for example. For most Germans that is no problem:
More than 76%
of Germans feel safe when they are out and about alone at night
Germany’s well-trained police force helps maintain this security. It is responsible for everything from teaching schoolchildren about the highway code to providing security for sporting events, giving advice about preventing crime and avoiding danger, protecting state institutions, investigating crimes and fighting international terrorism. Police officers maintain a public presence and can always be approached for advice.
In an emergency, you can call the police by dialling 110.
You’ve probably already heard that Germany takes the issue of environment and climate protection seriously – even if Germany is still one of the top ten countries with very large numbers of cars per capita. Nonetheless, the topic is important to most Germans. Not least because summers are becoming increasingly hot and dry and storms are ever more frequently having a devasting effect, as was the case during the catastrophic flooding in July 2021, which cost more than 180 people their lives in Germany alone.
That’s why Germany supports international agreements like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and aims to achieve greenhouse gas-neutrality by 2045.
The many wind turbines dotted around the country, and above all out at sea, are the most visible sign of the energy transition that is underway to achieve this goal.
They provide the lion’s share of the electricity Germany produces from renewables.
Do your bit to promote the energy transition by saving energy: completely switch off devices on standby, use energy-saving bulbs and energy-efficient electronic devices, and turn down the heating when you don’t need it.
But it’s not only the climate that needs protection. Protecting the environment and biodiversity are equally important to ensure the world remains liveable. To better protect the environment, fewer unnecessary things should be produced, and those that are broken should be repaired – or if no longer needed, recycled. An important part in this is played by the waste separation schemes in place all over Germany, especially for glass, paper, organic waste and packaging, not to mention the system of deposits on bottles and cans.
Environmentally friendly products are marked with the Blue Angel and can be found at www.blauer-engel.de/en.
Germany is a diverse country. Around 22 million of the country’s 83 million inhabitants, i.e. more than one in four, have a migrant background. In other words, they themselves or at least one of their parents was not born a German citizen. So it is a good thing to respect one another and to be tolerant towards people from difficult cultural backgrounds.
Incidentally, that applies just as much to people who deviate from the mainstream for other reasons, be it because they have a different skin colour, belong to a different religion, have a disability or are perhaps different from the majority in another way – such as those who see themselves as part of the LGBTQI+ community.
The Basic Law expressly protects the right of people to be different. This is what it says in Article 3:
“No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions. No person shall be disfavoured because of disability.”
Germany is one of the most popular host countries for internationally mobile students. At present,
students from abroad
WS 2020/21; Source: Destatis
“I will definitely take with me the habit of bringing my own cup to have it filled at the coffee shop.”
Giulia Pra Floriani, 29, from Italy, is doing a PhD at the Institute of East Asian Art History at Heidelberg University.
“Awareness about environmental and social issues is widespread throughout society, and it seems to me especially in young generations we have learned to think about the impact of what we buy, consume and eat.”
More infos: www.study-in-germany.de.