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

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

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Part 1)

No, I’m not going to discuss Spaghetti Westerns today. I’m going to list some of my expat likes (the good), dislikes (the bad) and major gripes (the ugly) related to living in Germany. Although I’m going to start with “the bad,” you should know that my “good” list is at least equal in length.

There are regional differences for some of the items you will see here. 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 I’d like to point out that I could make a similar list for life in the US. In fact, this German list is in part a commentary in reverse on life in the US.

I’ve been living in Berlin for almost two months this year, but I spent almost a year here in 2007/08, and I have also traveled a lot all across Germany over the years. But time marches on, and the list I’m making now is not the same list I would have drawn up a year ago or five years ago, much less a decade ago. If you want to see a more neutral comparison of US and German culture, see our six German Way cultural comparison charts, starting with Driving. Continue reading

An Expensive Lesson in the Laws of the Land

For most of my first year in Germany I didn’t drive.  I come from a small Canadian city with no major highways, and so the thought of the autobahn seriously freaked me out.  I was, and remain, very surprised at how easy it was for my husband to simply turn in his Canadian license for a German one (which appears never to expire), to be handed a company car, and to then just be on his way.

Sure, GPS is a miracle for those of us who need to navigate to work that first day, or to the nearest food market for the first time, but such technology has yet to explain to me what the yellow diamond sign means, what the white squiggly line on the road means, and what I am supposed to do when someone is riding a horse in front of me.  Many expats, like my husband, cope with various expat situations, like driving, by relying on observation, common sense, and hoping for the best.  I offer a cautionary tale however, of common sense, and how it may not always be your most reliable guide.

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The Streets of Berlin: Cyclists versus pedestrians

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This sign means the sidewalk is shared by pedestrians and cyclists. It screams: “Pedestrians, watch out for your lives!” Photo: Hyde Flippo.

I don’t think there’s a German over the age of five or six who doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Seeing an 80-year-old German lady zipping along on her bike is nothing unusual in Germany.

I have witnessed rush hour in the small town of Burghausen, Bavaria, which means swarms of bicycles, not cars, going to and from the Wacker chemical plant. In much larger Berlin and other German cities, the bike is also a popular mode of transportation. An estimated 400,000 bikes stream across Berlin on an average day. If we compare the USA and Germany, travel to work or school makes up only 11% of all bike trips in the US, compared to 28% in Germany. Shopping trips account for only 5% of all bike trips in the US, versus 20% in Germany. (McGill Univ. (TRAM) – “Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany”)

So you might think that cyclists have a special place in the hearts and minds of most Germans. Well, they do, but it’s usually a negative place. The average German motorist despises cyclists (and vice versa). Although Germans often maintain that most people are both motorists and cyclists who should not hate each other, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Once a cyclist gets in a car, a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation takes place as the driver grasps the steering wheel and heads out to do battle with people on bicycles. And there are a lot of them in the average German municipality, large or small.

But that’s a topic we’ll save for another day. Continue reading