German and Austrian Pioneers in LGBT Rights


Although we tend to think of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement as a modern, fairly recent phenomenon, the advocacy of homosexual rights goes back to the nineteenth century in Austria and Germany. Two pioneers in the field were the Austro-Hungarian Karl-Maria Kertbeny (who coined the word “homosexual”) and the German Magnus Hirschfeld (who invented the term “transvestite”). We’ll learn more about them and others below, but first let’s compare several European countries in the area of LGBT rights.

Hirschfeld

Pioneering German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) in 1929. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The treatment of homosexuals in Europe, socially and legally, varies greatly by country. Only nine of Europe’s nations have legalized same-sex marriage. The Netherlands was the first European country to do so (in 2001). Northern European nations tend to be more progressive in LGBT rights than southern and eastern European lands. Here are some examples:

Germany
Being gay or lesbian is largely accepted in Germany, with most of the population feeling that sexual orientation is a non-issue. Berlin had an openly gay mayor (Klaus Wowereit) for many years. Legally, however, Germany has not been a leader in gay rights. But on June 30, 2017 that changed when the German Bundestag (parliament) voted in favor of same-sex marriage (“Ehe für alle”). Ironically, the CDU/CSU party of Angela Merkel, which had long blocked a vote on the issue, was encouraged by the chancellor to proceed with a vote. Although Merkel herself voted no, the marriage-equality law passed with 393 yes votes versus 226 no votes, meaning that 75 CDU/CSU members voted in favor of the new law.

Klaus Wowereit

Klaus Wowereit served as Berlin’s mayor (SPD) from 2001 until 2014. He “came out” prior to the 2001 mayoral elections. He is known for his now famous phrase: “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.”)
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A special type of civil union existed for gay and lesbian couples for many years, but it was not really equal to marriage in several respects, including taxes. In May 2013 a high court decision on so-called “tax-splitting” (Steuersplitting) required the German government to allow homosexual couples to combine their incomes for tax purposes, just as heterosexual couples could do. This reduced the difference between a gay civil union (eine eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften, “a registered life partnership”) and a “normal” heterosexual marriage, but it was still a “separate but equal” status. (Tax-splitting was already legal in 13 of Germany’s 16 states before the court’s ruling.) Many Germans had already called for doing away with this legal distinction before the recent marriage-equality vote. Continue reading

New Laws in Germany for 2017


As the new year approaches, many new laws and regulations are about to take force in Germany in 2017. Some of them are welcome changes (no more cell phone roaming charges in the EU), while others don’t make a huge difference (a modest minimum wage increase) or really aren’t all that welcome (higher electric rates).

Let’s start with a new law that most people in Germany will enjoy: a new nationwide holiday!

Wittenberg Rathaus

The City Hall in the Luther City Wittenberg. All of Germany will observe the Reformation Day holiday in 2017. Currently only five Bundesländer observe this holiday. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

REFORMATIONSTAG
For the first time ever, Reformation Day (October 31) will be an official holiday all across Germany in 2017. Currently the Protestant Reformationstag is a holiday only in the German states (Länder) of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt), and Thüringen (Thuringia). Reformation Day commemorates the date when Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg 500 years years ago. Because 2017 is also The Year of Luther (das Lutherjahr), German lawmakers decided to make Reformation Day an official holiday all across Germany for that year, even in Catholic Bavaria. But it’s a one-off just for 2017. After the special nationwide observance on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, the holiday will return to being observed only in the five states mentioned above. Continue reading

Baedeker, German Reiselust, and vacation days

Baedecker book cover

The traditional Baedeker guidebook, like this 1911 English-language edition, sports a red hardcover with a golden embossed title. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

In both German and English, the term “Baedeker” (BAY-day-ker) is synonymous with “travel guidebook” (Reiseführer). Although the German Karl Baedeker (1801-1859) did not invent the travel guidebook, he certainly perfected it. After publishing his first travel guide (Rheinreise/Journey along the Rhine) in 1838, Baedeker went on to refine his product by being meticulous about the facts and information he included (with carefully detailed maps), and inventing the “star” ranking system for outstanding attractions (1846). The German word Erbsenzähler (bean counter, nitpicker) is said to have originated with his method of counting the exact number of stair steps in a cathedral tower by leaving a dried pea on every 20th stair as he went up, and collecting/counting them on his way back down.

Kings and governments may err, but never Mr. Baedeker.
– A.P. Herbert, in his 1929 English libretto for J. Offenbach’s operetta La Vie Parisienne[1]

The red Baedeker guidebooks[2] are still published today, and still have a reputation for sober factualness and lack of embellishment, especially compared to most contemporary travel books. And it is the Baedeker and other tourist guides that bring us to my main topic: German Reiselust (love of travel).

Sometimes called “wanderlust” in English, the German propensity to travel is better named by other, more modern German words, Reiselust and Fernweh being the two most common. Perhaps Fernweh is the one we want here: the longing for travel to distant places. Some cynics say this Germanic desire to go off to faraway places has to do with the German saying “Da, wo ich nicht bin, da ist das Glück.” (“There where I am not, there’s where happiness is.”) — but I think not. It has more to do with Germanic curiosity and information-gathering, not to mention a desire to find the sun and escape the frequent gloom of northern Europe. Ever since Goethe went on his Italienische Reise (Italian Journey) in the 1780s, the Germans have been among the world’s greatest tourists — with Baedeker in hand (since the 19th century). You also may have seen the Baedeker in the hands of Lucey Honeychurch in the film A Room with a View (also in the original 1908 E.M. Forster novel). Continue reading

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.

caption

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

Moving to Germany: The Top 10 Things to Consider


Moving anywhere is a challenge. Even a short move across town can be problematic. An international move presents additional complications, but a little preparation will mean fewer hitches. Even if you are fortunate enough to be using the services of a relocation agent, you should be aware of the following ten factors to consider when moving to Germany.

Berlin apartment parking

Having a car in Germany can be a mixed blessing. Here: apartment parking in Berlin-Friedrichshain. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

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1. Get Oriented
By “get oriented” I mean get to know the culture, the language, and the place where you’ll be living. This may seem obvious, but I am constantly amazed by how many new expats fail to do this. You’re moving to a new country with a culture and a language very different from what you’re used to. Don’t arrive in German-speaking Europe without at least some basic preparation. This is what our German Way site is all about! You’ll find all sorts of help here, and here are a few tips on what you need to learn: 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

Here Comes the World Cup

I am sure you already know this, but as of the time of my writing, the World Cup begins in 22 days. In just over 3 weeks, soccer fever will consume Germany and much of the rest of the world. Are you ready?

If you are new to Germany and have arrived from North America, you might not be. The World Cup is big. Bigger than the Superbowl. And longer, more exciting, and more fun. “How can that be?”, you may ask. “Nothing is bigger than the Superbowl!”, you may say. This is something you must experience to believe.

Beginning June 12th at 5pm Sao Paolo time (10pm German time), you can spend your waking (and sleeping) hours consumed with the game of soccer. Lest you fear you will have to sit at home in front of your TV all day, rest assured: many workplaces will broadcast it in-house. All pubs will show the matches. And there is “public viewing” – the German notion of gathering in public squares to watch matches on giant screens, together. With beer. This is more fun than it sounds! (“public viewing” for Germans involves watching sports together in public, and is an awkward example of Germans adopting English words and giving them new meanings). Continue reading

Confessions of an Expat TV Addict in Germany


VPN options for GermanyThis is the most honest way to introduce myself to German-Way readers,

Hello, my name is ebe and I am an expat TV addict.

It’s true. Despite living in Germany for several years, I still watch American TV every day. As a writer working from home, I have the freedom to tune into the squabbles of various housewife franchises, observe the zombie apocalypse and evaluate cooking competitions any time I want. And I want.

It’s comforting in this strange life abroad to hear those familiar accents discussing things I understand. Unlike German politics, the best Fleischsalat or how to help the refugees in Oranienplatz, I have opinions on TV. It helps me stay connected to that life I left behind and keeps me in the loop with my stateside community. Continue reading