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

10 Ways That Europe is Different from the USA

First, let me tell you about the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Recently a friend suggested that I read what turned out to be a rather disheartening rant published by an online expat website. (The names shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty.) The writer, an American lady, was complaining about her life in Germany, a lament brought on by a recent visit to her local Apotheke (pharmacy). She was whining about the fact that she had to take the extra time and trouble to consult with a German pharmacist (in German of all things) in order to obtain a medication that she could have bought over the counter in the US.

Bikes and pedestrians

Germans and other Europeans walk and ride bikes more often than Americans.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Several people left comments pointing out that the German system actually provided the benefit of helpful, professional advice that would have required a visit to the doctor in the US. True, you can’t just go to a supermarket and buy a bottle of aspirin in Germany, but you can go to your local Apotheke and get sound advice about which pain reliever would be best for your situation. While living or traveling in Germany and Austria, I have made several trips to the pharmacist to get help with a medical problem. In every case, the pharmacist either provided a good solution or, in one case, told me to see a physician. (What I thought was a sprained finger turned out to be a broken one.) 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

Free College Degrees in Germany

Get ’em while they’re hot. If you are a German-related news junkie like we all are at the German Way, you might have seen your Facebook or Twitter feeds filled with headlines like these, “Free Tuition in Germany for All American Students” earlier this month.

While it is true, Americans along with all other non-Germans, can study in Germany tuition free, this isn’t actually new news. A sudden lifting of tuition for American students has not just occurred; it’s just that Lower Saxony, the last German federal state to have charged tuition, dropped their fees to create this attention-grabbing headline.

So if you are now wondering what the catch is, since there’s no free lunch, especially in a land that isn’t known for giving out smiles for free, you might be disappointed. There isn’t any real catch or hidden deal of indentured servitude, but an American considering taking up Germany on its offer for a free Bachelor’s should weigh the differences in outcome and expectations before making a decision.

Heidelberg University

The library at Heidelberg University was built in 1905. The Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg was founded in 1386, making it Germany’s oldest and one of the oldest universities in Europe. PHOTO: TBE/iStock/Thinkstock

Continue reading

From freelance to Angestellte to Arbeitslos

Remember my last post where I talked about my wonderful new job? The one I was excited about after the eight months of freelancing and running around in many directions trying to make a living? Well, one of the perils of working for a start up company is the very flimsiness of it all. They depend on investors and the investors want results. What appeared to be a safe bet for me and the perfect place turned out not to be.

I went in to work at the end of January only to receive a mysterious meeting request from the CEO. I turned to  my direct manager and saw from the look on his face that I could expect bad news. And bad news I got. The company had grown to0 quickly, and documentation people are not the ones who bring in the cash. I was unfortunate enough to still be in the first few months of my probationary period (Probezeit), so I was chosen to be one of the victims. They assured me that they weren’t letting me go for performance reasons, but that doesn’t really make me feel any better, to be honest.

Needless to say, I was absolutely floored and devastated. I managed to get home, called my husband at the airport (he was on his way to Graz) and conveyed the horrible news. Then I went home to start looking for a new job. The company had assured me they would support me in any way they could, with a Zeugnis or by calling people they knew at the software behemoth nearby – my former employer, SAP. However, I have a very specific skill set. I am a technical editor, which is common enough in Germany, but I am not especially keen on writing in German. My German is fluent (written and spoken), but as a word person, I don’t feel comfortable writing less than perfectly in any language, especially when it is for publication. I love the actual writing and editing process and am very picky about language. But most jobs for technical editors are looking for native German speakers. Continue reading

American Expats, the IRS, FATCA and Other F-words

Besides “IRS,” Americans can now add another item to their list of ominous acronyms: FATCA. Like most things related to income taxes, the FATCA issue has a lot of people in a dither. As if US tax law wasn’t already complicated enough, along comes FATCA to gum up the works even more, especially for US citizens living overseas and earning income from a non-US source.

All US citizens or resident aliens living abroad are obligated to pay income taxes to the US Treasury, even if they haven’t lived in the United States for years, have no intention of returning, and even if their income comes solely from foreign sources. The United States of America is the only modern, industrialized nation that taxes the worldwide income of its estimated six million citizens who live abroad, even if their income is generated in a foreign country and they never return to their homeland.[1] Continue reading

Return to Freelancing

I’ve been away from the blog for a while because we moved to Ireland in 2010 for a new job for me. For years I have been working as a technical writer and editor at large corporations (SAP and IBM, to be exact), but as of April, I have returned to my roots in more ways than one. I’m back in Germany and I am back to freelancing, or being self-employed, which are two different things from a tax perspective. Continue reading

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Part 2a)

Today I’m continuing my list of expat likes (the good), dislikes (the bad) and major gripes (the ugly) – all related to living in Germany. In Part 1 I began with “the bad,” but my “good” list has turned out to be even longer! So long in fact, that I need to split my “good” list in two. You can read the second half of the list in my next installment.

To reiterate: Germany is no more monolithic than the USA. Conservative Munich is not really anything like free-wheeling Berlin. But I have tried to list things that generally apply, and note those things that may be more regional in nature. Everyone’s good and bad list will be unique, but there are many cultural things that all expats in Germany can relate to. And, as I pointed out in my first section, I could make a similar list for life in the US. In fact, this German list is also a commentary in reverse on life in the US.

If you want a more neutral comparison of US and German culture, see our six German Way cultural comparison charts, starting with Driving.

My list is not prioritized! Since my “good” list has now grown to over 20 items, it would be even more difficult to rank them. For that reason, items in the list are not numbered. Okay, here we go, this time with the good… Continue reading