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German Culture: Facts, Customs and Traditions

Oktoberfest, german culture
Germany's annual celebration Oktoberfest runs from late September to the first Sunday in October.
Credit: ETIENjones / Shutterstock.com

With a population of more than 82 million, Germany is in Central Europe, bordering Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and Poland. While all of these cultures have had a hand, to varying degrees, in shaping today’s Germany, Austria and Belgium have had some of the greatest influence on Deutschland.

The population is 91.5 percent German, with Turkish being the second largest ethnic group at 2.4 percent. The remaining 6.1 percent is made up primarily of those of Greek, Russian Italian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Spanish descent.

Traditions and values

Germans place a high priority on structure, privacy and punctuality. The German people embrace the values of thriftiness, hard work and industriousness. There is great emphasis on making sure that "the trains run on time."

Germans are stoic people who strive for perfectionism and precision in all aspects of their lives. They do not admit faults, even jokingly, and rarely hand out compliments. 

At first their attitude may seem unfriendly, but there is a keen sense of community and social conscience and a desire to belong.

Languages of Germany

The official language is German, with more than 95 percent of the population speaking German as their first language. Other languages spoken include Sorbian in East Germany; North and West Frisian, spoken around the Rhine estuary; and Danish, primarily spoken in the area along the Danish border. Romani, an indigenous language, Turkish and Kurdish are also spoken.

Religions of Germany

Christianity remains the dominant religion, with about 50 million, or 62 percent, identifying themselves as Christian. This group is split about evenly between Catholics and Protestants. The second largest religion is Islam with 4 million observers, making up 5 percent of the country's total population, and that is followed by Buddhism and Judaism.

German food and drink

As with much of Europe and the world, the eating habits of Germans have become more Westernized in the past several decades, but there is still a tendency to eat a large, hot meal at mid-day, especially when it comes to family meals on Saturdays and Sundays.

Pork is the most consumed meat, with Schweinshaxe (braised pork hock) and Saumagen (pork stomach) being among the traditional pork dishes.

Bratwurst, a form of sausage, is closely associated with German food. Cabbage, beets, and turnips are commonly incorporated into meals, as they are native to the region, and potatoes and sauerkraut are also stars of German cuisine.

Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage, and the country is known as the birthplace of a number of beer varieties, including Pilsner, Weizenbier (wheat beer), and Alt. These beers were crafted according to Reinheitsgebot, or the "Purity Law," a 16th century Bavarian law that decreed that beer could only be brewed from barley, hops and water. Brewers used the yeast available in the air. Brandy and schnapps are also favorite German alcoholic beverages.

The Brandenburg Gate, german culture
The Brandenburg Gate is a former city gate in Berlin that was rebuilt in the 1700s as a triumphal arch.
Credit: S.Borisov | Shutterstock

The arts in Germany

Germans have made tremendous contributions to classical music, and the traditions of famous German or Austrian composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig von Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler live on today.

With their penchant for precision and engineering, it is not surprising that Germans have a strong tradition of printmaking by woodcut and engraving. There is also a strong representation of all phases of architecture — including Romanesque, Gothic, Classicist, Baroque, Rococo and Renaissance — represented in cathedrals, castles and public buildings. One of the most well-known examples of Classicist art is the Brandenburg Gate, a former city gate that was rebuilt in the 1700s as a triumphal arch. The Schloss Charlottenburg and Schloss Sanssouci palaces are fine examples of Baroque and Rococo architecture.

Business culture

The desire for orderliness spills over into the business life of Germans. There is a staunch adherence to hierarchy and decisions are often made by a small group of leaders. Meetings are highly structured, and since opinions have often been formulated beforehand, there is not much tolerance for divergent viewpoints or debate.

There is a high regard for engineers in German, as evidenced by the country’s success in the automotive industry. Because of this high level of respect for hands-on expertise, companies tend to be headed by technical experts rather than lawyers or those with a financial background.

Workers at all levels are judged heavily on their competence and diligence, rather than interpersonal skills. Communication with co-workers as well as outsiders tends to be direct and not always diplomatic.

The Cologne Cathedral, german culture
About 50 million Germans identify as Christians. The Cologne Cathedral was begun in 1248. It was not completed until 1880, and was the world's tallest building (516.4 feet / 157.38 meters) until 1884, when the Washington Monument was built.
Credit: Nickolay Vinokurov / Shutterstock.com

Holidays and celebrations

Germany celebrates many of the traditional Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter. German Unification Day on October 3 marks the reuniting of East and West Germany and is the only federal holiday.

While the country’s big beer bash is called "Oktoberfest," its starts each year on a Saturday in September and ends 16 to 18 days later, on the first Sunday in October. The tradition started in 1810, with the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.

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