Tips for new volunteers in Germany - Part II
In this part, I’d like to touch on rather more specific situations you can encounter when living in Germany.
The longer you live in a country, the more things you start noticing. ESC gives us all a beautiful opportunity to really dive deeper into exploring the culture of another country. In this second part, I decided to touch on some a bit more sensitive matters. Some of them are more sensitive, while others are more generic. It all depends on the angle of our perception, so I’ll try to stay as neutral as possible and give just raw facts from my own experience. If you are out of the context, please refer to the first part of this series.
Drinking in public transport
You should be prepared to see many people drinking beer in trams and busses. In most cases, it does not affect you personally in any way. However, sometimes when people are drunk they become very noisy, especially on weekends. Thus, my recommendation: you should always have your headphones on you.
Currently, there is no unitary regulation in Germany in regards to alcohol consumption in public transport. From state to state these regulations are different. For instance, some transport companies, such as Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft, Verkehrsverbund Stuttgart, Metronom Eisenbahngesellschaft, Duisburger Verkehrsgesellschaft, and a couple of others, have an official alcohol ban. However, it is not common throughout Germany. There are many parts of the country, where it is allowed to consume alcohol in public transport (or better to say, not officially forbidden). This topic is deemed to be a controversial one since you cannot really draw a fine line between people who drink in transport and who get in the transport already drunk. Even the most widespread railroad company Deutsche Bahn does not have a uniform regulation within its own system.
After 22:00 and until 06:00, it is night quiet hours in Germany. On Sunday (starting from 22:00 the previous day) and public holidays, it should be quiet the whole day. It does not apply much to your outdoor life, but to the building, you live in. So it’s better not to throw a party at your home at these times. Loud music, vacuum cleaning, doing your laundries or laughing hard rolling on the floor - all counts as noise. It may seem a generic thing, but the interesting fact here is that your neighbors will not talk to you about this. You may even not be aware that something you do bothers your neighbors. They will just file a complaint or call the police directly. Thus, to be on the safe side, start being quiet a little bit before 10 pm.
If you’d like to rent a flat, most likely it’ll be empty with no furniture. If there is a kitchen, you will probably be asked to pay for all the utensils and furniture, otherwise, it will be empty too. It is quite logical to me. You use it, you pay for it.
In my home country, which is Ukraine, it is normal that people tend to be interested in each other’s personal affairs. Although we do keep sensitive details to ourselves, still we share a lot at the same time. You can often see people who’ve just met chatting like best friends. It is not the case in Germany, however. Not everybody, but most people prefer to keep their personal life private. Given another mentality some people here feel quite uncomfortable with discussing such matters. So my advice to you is to be careful with personal borders. Moreover, you should keep in mind that in Germany people take a long time to open up and become friends. Yet, if it comes to this, you’ll have a very loyal and reliable friend.
FKK - Freikörperkultur
Freikörperkultur (literal translation is free body culture) means, so to say, a concept that considers a body just as a body and not as a sexualized object. There are places in Germany where you can or must be naked. Moreover, it is not prohibited on a legal level to be naked. For instance, in Sauna all attendants must be naked and there is no way around it. Another example, I had a beautiful lake near my house in Magdeburg, where you may spot many people without a single thread on their bodies. As for me, I’m totally ok with it. I must confess that I sometimes enjoyed the feeling of freedom on that lake too. But those of you coming from more conservative countries or families may want to know this little thing before you agree to accept an invitation to join your friends in Sauna.
Auf Fehler hinweisen
This one can be translated as pointing out a mistake of others. This does not apply only to you as a foreigner, but to everyone who does not follow the order. Germans are known for their love for order. Honestly, I can relate to it. If there is an order, there is security and stability. Things are predictable, which is a perfect environment for our brain. This is why you may sometimes get an educational comment when you do something wrong. Just see it as a way of learning things and say “Dankeschön”.
You may be asked to speak German
I doubt that you will ever experience it in Berlin, but in an eastern city such as Magdeburg, it may sometimes happen. The most popular place for this display of love towards the local language is public transport. If you get into a tram with your friends speaking Russian for instance, you may get unfriendly looks, comments about “all these migrants” or even be asked to speak German. I won’t say that it happens 100% of your tram rides, but it happens. I won’t either give you any advice here. Your reaction depends solely on your personality. Whether you prefer to conform, confront, or ignore - everything is legit.
Hopefully, some information will be useful for you and spare you from unpleasant situations or unnecessary worries. In a way, this is how real integration is happening - by learning the culture from inside and encountering different aspects of mundane living. Discovering a new way of living of another folk is a deep and fun thing. An ESC project is the best way to dive into a new society. Most of your needs are taken care of, so you’ve got plenty of time and space to explore, to reflect, to comprehend, and to make your own conclusions.