From Smoke Detectors to Electric Cars: New and Revised Laws in Germany for 2016

Sometimes it’s surprising how a modern nation like Germany can lag behind in certain areas. A good example from the past is smoking. While the US and many other countries long ago banned smoking in restaurants, the workplace, and other public areas, Germany was slow to do the same. After an initial period of voluntary restrictions by some businesses, Germany began to regulate smoking in public places. (Austria, on the other hand, still has a lot of work to do on public acceptance of smoking bans. Cough! Cough!) While non-smoking areas in Germany were once a rarity, today German anti-smoking laws are similar to those in the US in most cases.


As of 2016, some German states require the installation of smoke detectors (Rauchmelder) in existing homes. PHOTO: Feuerwehr e.V.

Another area where Germany was lagging behind was smoke detectors. As with many things in Germany, this is an area left to each of the 16 Bundesländer (states). There is no nationwide law. After a slow start beginning around 2004/2005, almost all of the German states now require smoke detectors in new houses and apartments. As of 2016, only Berlin and Brandenburg still lack any smoke-detector requirements (Rauchmelderpflicht). Some Länder now also require smoke detectors in older, existing living quarters. Continue reading

January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules

2015 ushered in new laws and regulations in Germany. Our overview of new things that expats and travelers need to know also reveals a lot about daily life and customs in Germany.

If you drive a car, use public transportation, rent a place, watch TV, take out the trash, get paid in euros, or use the post office in Germany, there are changes that can affect all expats and travelers. We’ll start with one of the more bizarre things that the new year introduced to German law and life (and it’s not the precipitous fall of the euro). Continue reading

Expatriates and the cost of living in A, D, CH

Expatriates don’t always have a choice of where they’re assigned to work, but they definitely need to know the cost of living in their assignment location. If your salary is paid by a US company, for example, that salary might put you at a huge disadvantage if you are working and living in Tokyo, Japan, which happens to be the most expensive city in the world for expats. (The news for Germany is much better.)

Companies with employees assigned to overseas locations usually offer some sort of cost-of-living allowance to supplement the increased costs. So even if you are going to an overseas location by your own choice, without company support, you need to know how the cost of living there compares to your current or home location. But how do you get that information? One excellent source is the website, from which we derived the rankings discussed here.

It may surprise you to learn that, except for New York City, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Jose and San Francisco, most cities in the United States of America have a far lower cost of living than places in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America – and even Canada! My own hometown of Reno, Nevada ranks 455th out of 780. Most places in the southern states of the US rank much lower than that. Continue reading

Schaffe Schaffe Häusle Baue

That’s nice thick Swabian for “work and work to build a house”. The Swabians are probably the most home-owning obsessed of the Germans, and even here, I’m not even sure that the majority of people live in their own property. Continental Europe in general is very different than the Anglo-Saxon world in terms of property ownership. Most Europeans prefer to rent, usually apartments near a city. Property ownership here is just not as popular, and people (hopefully) invest their money elsewhere. Our adventures with finding a home to buy took ages, then we gutted and completely renovated the darn thing. On the topic of Handwerker (a lovely catch-all term referring to builders, electricians, painters, plumbers, etc.) alone, I’m sure I could fill pages… but I’ll spare you (for now!)

In a rental property, as various other blog posts here have referred to, you get the walls and floor and ceiling and a functioning bathroom when you move in. Light fixtures, window coverings (except for external shades, Rollladen), and kitchens must typically be provided by the tenant. Many Germans have told me that it’s obvious why renters should buy and install their own kitchen: it is such a personal thing. Really? In a rental? Continue reading

Go Forth and Reproduce

It’s a fact: Germany needs babies. The generous welfare system of this social democracy needs young people to work hard and pay enough taxes to support the rest of society. One problem: young people are too busy working to bother with raising the next generation of workers. How to solve it? Pay them to reproduce!

Ok, it sounds like really tacky social engineering when I put it that way. Let me try again. Continue reading

How many Germans are international travelers?

Germans have a reputation as travelers. They even claim to be the Reiseweltmeister (world champions of travel). Indeed, many citizens of Germany do travel abroad and in Germany. If you visit US national parks, as I did this month, you could get the impression that Germany is almost empty, and that most of the country’s population is in the US this summer. You will often overhear German, French and other languages as you hike the trails of Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon.

But in 2009 (the latest year for which statistics are available), Germans represented just 5.8 percent of all foreign visitors to the United States, totaling 1,881,944, a bit fewer than in 2008. That means that in 2009, barely two percent of all 82 million Germans crossed the Atlantic to tour the USA. Not only that, Continue reading

A 400-pound gorilla named Germany

Anyone who has followed the evolution of Germany and the European Union for as long as I have may be forgiven for thinking that Germany would always be the EU’s biggest supporter – in more ways than one. But lately, there have been signs that the gradual progression from the old Common Market of the 1960s to the EU and eventually on to a United States of Europe may be a much bumpier road than many once thought.

In the past, German policy regarding the EU reflected Germany’s history and the destruction of Europe caused by Nazi Germany. Along with the rest of Europe, German leaders realized that a unified Europe would help avoid the national conflicts that had so often led to European wars of conquest from ancient times on into the 20th century. In 1952, post-World War II German guilt and common sense led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) by six countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. That modest beginning would lead to the “Common Market” (Treaty of Rome, 1958) and the European Community (EC) in 1967. By 1993, only a few years after German reunification, the 12 EC countries formed the more robust European Union (EU). Today the EU has 27 member states with a total population of about 500 million. Continue reading

“Friendly Service” and Zero-Euro-Jobs

Who’s left holding the (grocery) bag?

One definition of culture shock: The first time an American goes through the checkout lane at a German grocery store. The first shock is seeing the cashier/checker comfortably seated rather than standing. The second comes as the purchased items come zipping across the laser scanner — and you, the customer, discover that you are also the bagger (Einpacker). And you are under pressure from the person behind you when the checker starts scanning his/her groceries, barely a split second after you have paid. (The third shock comes if you don’t have your own bag.)

German entrepreneur Martin Lettenmeier wants to change that. At least the bagging part. He has founded a company in Fürstenfeldbruck, Bavaria with a typically “German” name: Friendly Service. (He probably chose the English name because the concept barely exists in German.) Based on his experience in the USA, Lettenmeier wants to spread the idea of the friendly grocery bagger in Germany. (“Profis stehen den Kunden beim Einpacken bei.”) Continue reading