Traditions and customs of Germany

What traditions and customs are there in Germany?

Explanation of the customs and traditions of Germany, a European country.


Food in daily life

Eating habits in Germany vary by social class and environment, but it is possible to generalize about the behavior of the inclusive middle class, which has emerged in the prosperous post-war era. Most Germans buy food both in supermarkets and in specialized stores, such as bakeries and butchers.

Bread is the main food for both breakfast and dinner. Breakfast usually includes brötchen, or rolls of various kinds, while dinner, called Abendbrot, usually consists of bread, sausage or cold cuts, cheese, and perhaps a salad or vegetable side dish.

The hot meal of the day is still often eaten at midday, although modern work routines seem to encourage assimilation into American patterns. Pork is the most widely consumed meat, although various types of sausages or sausages are often eaten instead of meat.

Cabbage, beets and turnips are indigenous vegetables, however, they are often complemented by more exotic dishes. Since its introduction in the 17th century, the potato has earned a firm place in German cuisine. Favorite alcoholic beverages are beer, brandy and aguardiente.

German beers, including varieties such as Pilsner, Weizenbier, and Alt, are brewed according to the 16th-century German purity law, which states that the only permissible ingredients are water, hops, and malt.

Large family meals are still common at midday on Saturdays and Sundays. They are often followed in the mid-afternoon by Kaffee und Kuchen, the German version of tea time.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Special meals usually include meat, fish, or poultry, along with one of a number of starchy foods, which vary by region. Examples of the latter are klöße (potato dumplings), knödel (a bread-like dumpling), and spätzle (a type of pasta).

Alternatively, Germans often celebrate in restaurants, which often feature cuisines from other nations. Greek restaurants tend to be more moderately priced, French restaurants are often more expensive, and especially popular Italian restaurants run the gamut of price categories. The most important Christmas meal is Christmas dinner.

Regional and family traditions vary, but often consist of goose, duck or turkey, complemented by red cabbage and potatoes or potato dumplings.


It has often been noted that German society retains a small town ethos, which emerged in the early modern period under conditions of political and economic particularism.

Indeed, many Germans adhere to the norms of bürgerlichkeit, or civic morality, which lend a certain neatness and formality to behavior in everyday life. Walking into a store, for example, one is unlikely to notice, unless one loudly announces oneself by saying “guten Tag” (literally, “good morning”) or “hello”

In the former East Germany, it is still common for friends and acquaintances to shake hands when they meet for the first time each day. West Germans find it more modern and perhaps more American not to.

In direct address pronouns, the formal sie or the informal du is used. Colleagues in the workplace often call each other Sie or use a title and last name, such as Herr or Frau Doktor Schmidt.

Life in public doesn’t seem to be the best for all Germans, as city centers are often deserted on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. This is related to the question of the opening hours of stores, which has been discussed in Germany since the mid-1970s.

For different reasons, both the unions and the churches oppose the extension of hours, as do many citizens, who are critical of “consumer societies” or who prefer, on weekends, to stay with their families or in their private gardens.


Religious beliefs

Germany was the homeland of the Protestant Reformation, but, in the politically fragmented Holy Roman Empire of the 16th century, many territories remained faithful to Roman Catholicism or reverted to it, depending on the politics of the ruling house.

Today, 34 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical (Protestant) Church and another 34 percent to the Catholic Church. Many Germans have no religious affiliation.

This is especially true in the former East Germany, where in 1989 the Evangelical Church had 4 million members (out of a total population of 16.5 million) and the Catholic Church only 921,000 members. Since 1990, the Evangelical Church has lost even more members in the new federal states.

The Evangelical Church is a unified Protestant church, combining Lutherans, Reformed Protestants, and United Protestants. Reformed Protestants adhere to one form of Calvinism, while United Protestants combine aspects of Lutheranism and Calvinism.

Other Protestant denominations make up only a small fraction of the population. Most German Catholics live in the Rhineland or southern Germany, while Protestants dominate the north and center of the country.

In 1933, there were more than 500,000 people of Jewish faith or heritage living within the boundaries of the German Reich. Between 1933 and 1945, German Jews, along with members of the much larger Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, fell victim to the anti-Semitic and genocidal policies of the National Socialists.

In 1997, an estimated sixty-seven thousand people of Jewish faith or heritage live in Germany. The largest Jewish congregations are in Frankfurt am Main and Berlin.

In the postwar era, migrant workers or immigrants from North Africa and West Asia established Islamic communities upon arrival in Germany. In 1987, there were an estimated 1.7 million Muslims living in West Germany.

Religious practitioners

Religious practitioners in Germany especially include the Protestant or Catholic pfarrer (minister or priest). In local communities, the minister or priest belongs to the publicly recognized group of local notables, which also includes local government officials, school officials, and business leaders.

Catholic priests are, of course, local representatives of the international ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is based in Rome. Protestant ministers represent the Lutheran, Reformed or United churches, which are organized at the regional state level. These state organizations belong, in turn, to the Evangelical Church of Germany.

Rituals and Holy Places

From the smallest town to the largest city, the local church dominates the core area of ​​almost every German settlement. German churches are often impressive architectural structures, bearing witness to centuries of growth and renewal.

In predominantly Catholic areas, such as the Rhineland, Bavaria, and parts of Baden-Württemberg, the outskirts of cities and towns are often dotted with shrines and chapels. Processions to these shrines, which were common until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, have largely been discontinued.

Despite the processes of secularization, which had intensified at the beginning of the 19th century, the churches retained their importance in public life. Beginning in the 1840s, there was a popular movement to complete Cologne Cathedral, which began in the Middle Ages but remained under construction for 400 years.

With the support of the inhabitants of Cologne, the Catholic Church and the King of Prussia (who was a Protestant), work on the cathedral began in 1842 and was completed in 1880.

The character of the ceremonies and festivals that accompanied this process indicate that the Cologne Cathedral served not only as a church but also as a national monument.

Similarly, the national assembly of 1848, in which elected representatives met to draft a constitution for a united Germany, took place in Frankfurt’s St. Paul’s Church (the national and constitutional movement failed when the Prussian king rejected the imperial crown, which was offered to him by the representatives of the national assembly).

One of the centers of the popular movement that led to the fall of the GDR in 1989-1990 was the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) in Leipzig.

Since the late 19th century, churches and other historic buildings in Germany have become the subject of Denkmalpflege (cultural preservation), which can be understood as one aspect of a broader culture of historical commemoration.

Along with museums, historical monuments constitute a new set of special sites, which can only be accessed with the corresponding attitude of respect.

Cemeteries and war memorials occupy a kind of intermediate space between holy places and historical monuments. All settlements in Germany have cemeteries, which surviving relatives visit on special holidays or private anniversaries.

War memorials from World War I are also ubiquitous. World War II memorials often have a very different character. For example, the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar has served since the early 1950s as a memorial site, dedicated to the victims of the National Socialist regime.

Death and the afterlife

Nearly 70 percent of Germans are members of a Christian church, and many of them share common Christian beliefs in himmel (heaven) and hölle (hell) as destinations of the soul after death.

Many other Germans describe themselves as agnostics or atheists, in which case they view beliefs in the afterlife as potentially misleading or false. Funeral rites include either a religious service or a civil ceremony, depending on the beliefs of the deceased and their survivors.

Secular celebrations

The German holidays are those of the Roman calendar and those of the Christian liturgical year. Especially popular are Sylvester (New Year), Karneval or Fastnacht (Mardi Gras), Ostern (Easter), Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day), Pfingsten (Pentecost), Advent and Weihnachten (Christmas). The new national holiday is October 3, the Tag der deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity).

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

The arts in Germany are largely financed through grants from state and local governments. Public theaters, for example, earned 26 percent of their income from ticket sales in 1969-1970, but only 13.6 percent in 1996-1997.

Public subsidies have been threatened in the late 20th and early 21st centuries by budget cuts, which have been accompanied by calls for increased sponsorship by private industry. In the new federal states of the former East Germany, the previously very dense network of theaters and concert halls has been drastically reduced.

In Saxony, for example, the 1994 Kulturraumgesetz (legislation for the creation of artistic regions) requires that neighboring communities pool their resources, as, for example, when one community closes its concert hall but keeps its theater, while another does exactly the opposite.

Concert or theater goers must travel within the region in order to take advantage of the full arts program. However, many large and some small German cities have excellent theater ensembles, ballets, and opera houses. Berlin and Munich are especially important centers for the performing arts.


Germany was a cultural nation, that is, a nation that shared a common language and literature, before becoming a nation-state. As is well known, the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400-1468) in Mainz about half a century before the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther’s Bible, written in the vernacular German of Upper Saxony, spread throughout the German-speaking world and helped create a national reading public. This reading public arose among the educated bourgeoisie of the 18th century. Important aspects of this public sphere were newspapers, literary magazines, reading societies, and salons.

The classic phase of German literary history, however, occurred during the transition from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, the two most important figures being Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1809). The 19th century saw a dramatic expansion of the publishing industry and the literary market and the flourishing of all modern literary genres.

After World War II, there was a split between the East and West German literary spheres. German reunification began with a heated debate about the value of East German literature.

Graphic arts

German artists have contributed to all periods of the history of graphic arts, especially the Renaissance (Albrecht Dürer), Romanticism (Caspar David Friedrich) and Expressionism (the Brücke and the Blaue Reiter).

Performing arts

The Germans are especially known for their contributions in the field of classical music, and the heritage of great German or Austrian composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig von Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler continues to be cultivated in concert halls across the country.

The Germans developed an innovative film industry in the Weimar Republic, but their greatest talents emigrated to the United States in the 1930s.

In East Germany, Babelsberg was the headquarters of DEFA (“Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft”), a highly regarded film company. With the help of extensive public subsidies, a distinctive West German cinema emerged in the 1970s.

Since then, however, attempts to revitalize the German film industry have proven difficult, in light of the popularity of Hollywood products.

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