Fun facts about Germany (part 1)

There are so many facts and habits in Germany that are funny/odd for a foreigner that this will have to be a series of posts, rather than just one! lol

For those who have lived here for a while, like me, these things have already become completely normal and nowadays go unnoticed. But those who are not so familiar with the German culture usually find these facts quite confusing or weird.

Let’s start with 5 of them:

1) At the cinema, you’ll find sweet popcorn

They do have salty popcorn here, but the ‘standard’ popcorn, the one you can usually buy in stalls, is usually sweet. Going to the movies and not even having the option of eating some salty popcorn? How come?

popcorn

2) Academic scores are from 1 to 6 (1 being the highest)

In Germany, the grading system doesn’t range from zero to 10, or from zero to 100. They don’t use the A-B-C-D system either. It works like this:

1 = very good
2 = good
3 = satisfactory
4 = sufficient
5 = insufficient
6 = very insufficient / zero

You need to get at least a 4 to pass an exam or course. Universities often don’t even mention grade 6, as any number higher than 4 already means ‘failed’. The grades also have one decimal place, usually with odd numbers. For example: 1.3 – 1.5 – 1.7 (1.3 being a higher score than 1.7). For Germans, a grade ‘2’ is better than a grade ‘3’. Totally counter-intuitive.

The first time I received a grade in my Master’s, the email said ‘1.0’. I almost had a mini heart attack. 😀

3) The second floor is the first one

In Brazil, the ground floor is usually considered the first floor, the floor above is the second, and so on. But in Germany, the ground floor is ‘floor zero’. And the first floor (number 1) is the one that comes above the ground floor. This causes newcomers a lot of confusion. ‘Meet me on the first floor’ – in the beginning my brain was trained to automatically think of the ground floor, which is the first floor on which you step. In many elevators or in the large department stores here, you can see the digit ‘zero’ on the screen referring to the ground floor (and sometimes -1 and -2 for underground floors).

4) When entering a German house/apartment, you must take off your shoes

This is perhaps the most typically German habit of all. Each and every German person takes off their shoes as soon as they step inside the house, still by the door, and puts on a pair of ‘house shoes’, or walks around in socks. They do the same when they go visit someone, and expect it from you when you visit them. Since I’m not a huge fan of walking barefoot, I have to remember to check that my socks don’t have any holes before I go visit a friend around here! lol

The goal of this habit is to preserve hygiene and to avoid bringing dirt from the outside into the house – which is quite understandable. But this habit is so embedded in the DNA of Germans that they follow it strictly even when it doesn’t make any sense. Like in the case of house parties, for example. Parties always cause a bit of a mess, and the apartment will have to be cleaned later anyway. What difference will it make if the guests take off their shoes? 😛

schuhe-aus
“Shoes off” = how to get a German house party started (note: there were a lot more shoes that didn’t fit in the picture)

5) Germans love fizzy drinks

Did I say ‘love’? I meant CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT. In Germany there are not two, but three options of mineral water: Still, Medium e Classic. Imagine a tourist or newcomer in the country who just wants to quench his/her thirst and finds 3 types of bottled water for sale. Which of them should be the one without gas? The one that says ‘Classic’, right? WRONG. Classic in Germany is fizzy water. Go figure… Still is without gas, and Medium with a bit of gas (as you can see, they take this very seriously).

Tap water is safe to drink around here – and still, some Germans prefer to buy sparkling water in the supermarket (even having to carry all that weight home). You can even get a ‘sparkling water maker’ appliance for your home to transform normal water into fizzy water yourself! The addiction is real.

How the German school system works

classroom

The German school system is quite different and curious.

The first level, equivalent to pre-school, is Kindergarten – a famous German word that is also used in English. It is not mandatory in Germany; parents decide whether or not to enroll their children. Then comes Grundschule, the elementary or primary school. It lasts 4 years, usually from ages 6 to 10. Starting from Grundschule on, education is mandatory (and free!) for everyone.

Until that point it is quite similar to other countries. It starts to look different at the end of Grundschule.

When the child is almost finishing Grundschule, around the age of 10, a decision needs to be made: which of the 3 types of school he/she will pursue. This is usually decided by the teachers and advised to the parents, based on the child’s school transcripts.

Now let’s go through the different types of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium.

Putting euphemisms aside and explaining it in a clear, straightforward way (as the Germans do): the difference between these 3 schools is the level of difficulty and demand on the students.

Hauptschule is the easiest school out of the three, demanding less from the students. Realschule is the one with intermediate level of difficulty and demand. Gymnasium is the hardest one, where the intellectual demand is the highest of the three and the student has to dedicate more time and effort to the studies. At the end of Gymnasium the students take an exam called Abitur (also referred to as Abi), which is somehow similar to the SAT in the U.S. or the Baccalauréat in France. The student who does not have high enough grades to pursue the Gymnasium straight after primary school can still (given that his/her performance improves) attend Realschule first and then Gymnasium, or even take a longer path of Hauptschule, then Realschule and then Gymnasium.

But what about those who attended Hauptschule and/or Realschule, without having finished Gymnasium and Abitur? They pursue vocational training, or technical courses.

Something one should know about German society:

In Germany, a university diploma is not a necessary requirement to land a good job with a good salary. That’s because there are hundreds of vocational training courses (Ausbildung), which are schools that prepare people for all the non-academic professions. For example: retailer, mechanic, hair dresser, product designer, dental assistant, among many others. And all professions are relatively well-paid. Of course some get better salaries than others, but the discrepancy is not as big as in my home country Brazil, for example. This results in a society with skilled workers in all areas, of both manual and intellectual labor. Each technical course lasts at least 3 years, and the apprentice has to go through theoretical and practical training and evaluations to be able to practice the profession. While in Brazil it’s very common to hire an electrician, for example, only based on referral, in Germany one can, in theory, trust any professional electrician, as they are all equally well-qualified.

Therefore, it is natural that not all Germans decide to go to university – since there are other attractive options where one can start working and earn money sooner. Some people also say that those who go to university spend years learning many things in theory but, at the end of the day, have no work experience and don’t know how the profession works in “real life”.

Indeed, a store salesperson probably does not earn the same amount as a medical doctor – but he/she earns enough to live well. In Germany each person has the opportunity to make the professional choice they consider best for themselves.


Pros and cons of the German education system:

  • CONS:

It is quite segregationist, since students are divided into schools of different difficulty levels.

It is a way of labeling students by their potential, and judge them for their school grades.

Kids are forced to decide on their future at only 10 years of age. They are too young to know what they will want to do afterwards.

If the children from Hauptschule were surrounded by dedicated classmates during high school, as the ones from Gymnasium, maybe that would motivate them to study more.

  • PROS:

This system is already so embedded in the German culture that they don’t see it as segregationist. Children grow up knowing this is how it works, and nobody thinks of it as ‘perverse’.

Different people have different rhythms and interests. Not everyone is meant for university. Not everyone is willing to study really hard at school.

A society is not and shouldn’t be made of only intellectuals, but also of skilled workers from all areas.

Placing all students in one single type of school would mean to slow down the ones who are willing to study harder because of those who prefer to pursue the path of technical training.

The decision is not irreversible. There is mobility and the students can change their minds and swap their school type if they want to and show interest for it.


This is a basic summary of the main points of the school system in Germany. It varies a bit from state to state and there are some exceptions, such as the school that integrates the Hauptschule and Realschule (Integrierte Sekundarschule) and the Gesamtschule.

I find some points very interesting, but disagree with others. But in general, this curious school system seems to work, and is strongly related to the job market and to the German society.