I recently vacationed in Germany with my wife and learned some interesting ways that the country is different than the United States. Of course, there are more similarities than differences but here I want to share some of those differences, at least from my observations. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion based on my travels in the southern states of Bayern (Bavaria) and Baden-Württemberg and may not apply to all of Germany.
Germany is very similar to the United States in many ways. In fact, the large influx of Germans into the United States during the nineteenth century, including many of my ancestors, helped to shape what America has become. Nevertheless, there are many differences that I have noticed that I will detail below.
In the United States, people love drinking coffee. There are many ways to drink coffee but I think the most common is with cream and sugar. Cream, when ordered in America, typically is understood to be half and half, which is halfway between whole milk and light cream, about 12 percent fat. I like no sugar and heavy cream in my coffee, which is about 38 percent fat. So far, Starbucks is the only place I have found that has heavy cream as an option.
Coffee also seems to be somewhat popular in Germany but cream is not. It is nearly impossible to find a coffee shop there that offers cream, or even half and half. It is almost always low fat milk which is 1.5 percent fat. That does almost nothing for coffee. One might as well drink it black, which is something I can’t do. Occasionally you might find a coffee shop that has whole milk but you are just as likely to find a shop that doesn’t even have regular coffee. Surprisingly, the Starbucks at the Munich train station had all their fancy drinks like lattes and espressos but no regular coffee.
it is very common for hotels in America to have coffee makers in the room. They usually supply their guests with regular and decaffeinated coffee along with various sugars and containers of half and half. Our hotel in Stuttgart provided us with a kettle to heat water and instant coffee but no liquid cream or even milk. Our hotel in Munich did not have any option to make coffee.
It is also common for American hotels to provide free coffee for guests in the lobby. I looked for that option at our hotel in Munich and was directed to their restaurant. There, they told me I needed to have it delivered to my room, which I did. That was a mistake because the coffee was horrible and they charged me 15 euros for it. Our hotel in Stuttgart had a free breakfast buffet where they provided coffee with milk but I could never get it to taste good. They did have some good tea options, though.
Finding heavy cream or even half and half at the store was equally difficult. We looked for it at an Aldi’s store but could only find an artificial creamer. I did eventually find heavy cream at a store in Stuttgart but when I ran out and went back for more they were out of it.
From what I have seen, the German transportation system is very similar to what you would find in the United States with a few differences,
Speed Limits – Some Americans think the Autobahn is a free-for-all and everyone can drive as fast as they want everywhere but I saw posted speed limit signs just about everywhere we went so it really isn’t that different than the United States except for the drivers. In America, you will occasionally see the crazy lunatic driving like a bat out of hell on the highway but in Germany those crazy lunatics appear way more often than occasionally.
Germany has plenty of slow drivers too and on more than one occasion while we were passing one of those slow drivers, we had to hurry back into the right lane because there was a car approaching behind us who was about to break the sound barrier and we didn’t want to stand in his way. I say “his” because the speed demons almost always seemed to be men.
Road Congestion – We sat through many traffic jams while traveling through Germany but we also covered a lot of miles so I think it is about average compared to the United States. What’s different is the reason for those traffic jams. Every traffic jam we encountered in Germany where we could determine a cause, that cause was road construction. Not once were we delayed by an auto accident. In America, I would guess that auto accidents are responsible for a quarter to a third of all major delays.
I don’t know if Germans are better drivers or we just happened to miss the accidents by chance. I did see one guy hit a pedestrian. He wanted to pull out onto a busy road and was looking left while moving forward. He didn’t notice the woman crossing in front of him from the right until he hit her. Fortunately, she was okay but it makes me think that maybe we just got lucky and perhaps Germans are not better drivers.
While stuck in a traffic jam in Bavaria one day, we noticed all the cars were driving off to the side so there was a gap in the middle. We assumed this was required so that emergency vehicles could get by.
I find this to be a great idea. After this photo was taken, a Polizeiauto sped by with its lights on.
Pickup Trucks – In America, pickup trucks are almost as common as cars. In fact, I recently read that Ford will soon stop selling all of it’s cars in North America except for the Mustang and one other vehicle. It will instead focus on pickup trucks and SUVs. In Germany, a pickup truck is as rare as a good cup of coffee with cream. I saw only one pickup truck during our entire ten days in Germany. By contrast, in America it wouldn’t be unusual to see a dozen pickup while driving to the local market.
Below is a video I took in Munich. Notice there are are no pickup trucks. I probably should have taken a video in America to show the difference but I didn’t think about it until now.
Gas Stations – When self-serve gas stations first appeared in America one would pump gas and then go inside and pay. It soon became a problem because many people would pump gas and then drive off without paying. That problem was soon solved by offering pumps that accept credit cards and and/or requiring people to prepay before pumping gas. In Germany the old system is still in place. I don’t know why. Perhaps Germans are more trustworthy. I did not see one station that accepted credit cards at the pump or that required people to prepay. Considering that I usually pay for gas with cash, it was definitely more convenient for me, although I will admit to being a little confused the first time I needed to buy gas.
Bicycles and Scooters – Bicycles are more common in Germany than in the United States. I used to ride my bike to work so I appreciate a society that embraces bicycles. They not only save gas and lower pollution, they also relieve traffic congestion and parking problems.
Another thing I saw a lot of was electric scooters. A few cities in the United States now have electric scooter rentals, or what they call sharing, but they seem far more common in German cities.
Energy and the Environment
The United States has come a long way during the last fifty years in reducing pollution and conserving energy but Germany seems to have come even farther.
Wind – I saw many large wind turbines in Germany and while I know there are areas in the United States that has them, there are none near me. According to Wikipedia 18.7% of total power in Germany came from wind in 2017. In the United States, that number was 6.33%.
Solar – Solar power also seems to be more prevalent in Germany than in the United States. I noticed many homes and small businesses with solar panels while in Germany. Again, according to Wikipedia, Germany is ahead of America in solar power generation with 6.6% of their power generated by solar in 2017 compared to 1.32% in America.
Energy Conservation – I think both countries have come a long way in improving energy efficiency but I have noticed a few things in Germany that I hadn’t noticed in the United states. Our rental car, for example, would shut off every time we stopped and then the engine would start up again when we stepped on the gas. This was a little annoying at first but I got used to it pretty quickly. I read that that feature is pretty common on German cars but I never saw it on an American car until just last week when we rented a 2020 Chevrolet Malibu that also shut off when the car was stopped.
Another thing I noticed at the Munich airport was that the escalators only run when someone steps onto them. When they are empty of passengers they are off. I thought that was a great idea and I hope to see that in America soon.
In America, drinking tap water is common but in Germany it is not. At many restaurants in America, it is common practice to bring water to everyone before asking what else they want to drink. In Germany, you have to ask for water and then you usually get bottled sparkling water. We had to make sure we asked for still water when we ordered it in restaurants. I have heard that the Germans aversion to tap water comes from its name, Leitungswasser, which means something like line water or plumbing water.
I believe tipping has gotten out of control in the United States. It seems like everyone expects a tip nowadays and in many cases it is virtually mandatory. Restaurant workers are paid meager wages with the expectation that tips will make up the difference. I would rather pay more for the food and not have to worry about paying my server’s salary. From what I understand, this is close to how it works in Germany. A tip is still expected, I think, but it is more like five to ten percent instead of fifteen to twenty percent.
Because servers were not really working for tips, I was expecting service to be worse than in America. In some cases it was but usually it was about the same. Even restaurants in towns that had few tourists had good service.
In some ways, Germans seem to take care of their public properties better than Americans but in other ways Americans are better. Many places we went to in Germany were very clean, including the trains and the underground stations but for some reason the government seems to tolerate graffiti much more than in the United States. Sure, there are some bad areas in America but it seems like everywhere we went in Germany, except small towns, someone, or many someones, had defaced public property with spray paint. Sometimes it was artistic but more often than not it was an eyesore. Some of it seemed very old too, like nobody has bothered to paint over it in more than ten years.
I don’t think there was anything that caused more problems for us in Germany than finding a public restroom. I can only assume that Germans have developed very strong bladders. There were many times during our trip when our good time had to be put on hold because one or both of us had to use the restroom. In Heidelberg, for example, we probably could have spent much more time there but my wife and I both had to pee after the long drive to get there and we couldn’t find a restroom that we could use.
In the United States, places that sell food are required to provide restrooms for their customers but I don’t think that is the case in Germany. Also in the United States, grocery and convenience stores always have restrooms for customers but in Germany I did not find one store with a restroom. Gas stations we encountered in Germany had restrooms but they were always outside and needed a key. Most gas stations in America, except for the older ones, have restrooms that anyone can use and usually nobody need buy anything, although I always buy something because it just seems fair. Some gas stations even try to attract customers by making clean restrooms a top priority.
In the United States, it is most common to have a choice between one king bed or two queen beds in hotel rooms. In Germany you can get a single room (Einzelzimmer) or double room (Doppelzimmer). That means one twin bed or two twin beds that are sometimes pushed together to form a king bed. For Americans, this is weird.
First, there is a crack down the middle which is awkward for couples who like to sleep close together. Second, there are separate sheets and blankets which also works against closeness. Third, the pillows are square which is fine for putting behind your back while sitting up in bed but rectangular pillows, in my opinion, are better suited for sleeping.
Our vacation in Germany was perhaps the best vacation my wife and I took together. It is a wonderful country but my intention here is not to conclude which county is better. I simply wanted to point out some of the differences I noticed. I am sure there are plenty of other differences I could have wrote about but I would have needed more time in Germany to notice them.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed my posts on Germany and I welcome any comments you might have. There are a couple of more German related posts that I want to write before moving on to another topic and I hope you will watch for those.
If you want to read the entire series about our trip to Germany, you can start here.