From the northern seacoast to the Bavarian Alps, discover hip cities, quaint towns and beautiful landscapes. Germany’s diversity is best explored by experiencing the country firsthand, the old and the new: gothic cathedrals vs. 21st century skyscrapers; Oktoberfest, Carnival and Christkindl markets vs. the Documenta art fair and Love Parade; soccer worship vs. the deep appreciation for museums, opera houses, theater and literature.



Languages Spoken:

German

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION

The oldest German universities were founded in the late Middle Ages. Now, Germany has more than 100 universities and institutions of higher education which are administered by individual states (Bundesländer) under guidelines from the federal government.

There are two types of universities, traditional academic universities and Fachhochschulen. Traditional academic universities contain humanities and science faculties, as well as professional schools (law, medicine, dentistry, etc). Fachhochschulen, or Universities of Applied Sciences, offer subjects such as engineering, business administration, architecture and agriculture in a more practical oriented way. About one-third of all students attend Fachhochschulen. The so-called Gesamthochschulen are a combination of elements of the universities and the Fachhochschulen. Most German universities have a state charter, but the number of private, highly specialized universities is increasing.

STUDYING AT A GERMAN UNIVERSITY

German universities used to award the academic degrees of Diplom, Magister atrium and Staatsexamen (State examination). These were usually taken after a four-semester basic study stage and a four to six-semester main study stage. Most students spend considerably longer at university than the official norm: the average is 14 semesters. Due to the Bologna Process, German universities will all have switched to bachelor's and master's programs by 2020.

Bachelor's and Master's Degrees

The bachelor's degree is an undergraduate degree. You can choose a single or combined degree, depending on which subject you wish to study. Most bachelor's courses take six semesters (3 years) and lead to the degree of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. The bachelor's degree is a first professional qualification.

The master's degree is a postgraduate degree. After the bachelor's you can continue with a master's course in the same field. You thus have the chance to increase your knowledge or specialize in a field you have already studied.

Alternatively, you can supplement your bachelor's with a master's in a further subject, thus widening your knowledge and skills beyond the degree you have already taken.

Master's courses generally take four semesters and lead to the degree of Master of Arts or Master of Science.

Doctorate

By means of an extensive written doctoral thesis you have the chance to specialize in a research area. The thesis presents new research results and is worthy of publication. It is necessary for a doctoral candidate to find a supervisor who is an expert in their field and willing to accept them as PD student. On completing the thesis, you must present and defend your research results in an oral presentation. Depending on the subject, between two and five years are needed to complete a doctorate. In many faculties it is also possible to take a doctorate in English.

Higher education at public institutions has traditionally been free. However, most German states have begun to introduce tuition fees per semester in addition to marginal student fees for student services.

Diplom

The German Diplom is awarded in all the engineering and natural sciences, as well as in social sciences. In most Diplom courses students concentrate on a main subject, as well as being offered the chance to specialize in certain areas. In addition, there is a wide range of interdisciplinary courses. Here two or three subjects can be combined. Nowadays, new career fields often arise at the interface between two branches. The different possible combinations aim to take changes on the job market into account, thus improving future career prospects. Interdisciplinary studies are an excellent basis for many different careers. 

Magister Artium

The academic degree of Magister Atrium was usually awarded in the arts and humanities. At many German universities, students currently enrolled in Magister courses will be able to complete their studies, but new students will not be accepted. Courses leading to the Magister Artium are being converted to bachelor's/master's courses.

Staatsexamen (State Examination) 

The Staatsexamen is an examination monitored by the state, which is taken in law, teacher training courses and medicine. The first state examination is usually followed by a period of practical training. After this comes the second state examination. The state examination is not an academic degree, but it is generally accepted as an entrance qualification for a doctorate. The first state examination may be taken by students of all nationalities, but you should clarify in advance wheterh the German state examination is recognized in your home country.

Classes

At most universities, the winter semester runs from mid-October to March and the summer semester from mid-April to Mid-July. The period of study is generally counted in semesters rather than years.

Teaching at the universities includes lectures and seminars. Vorlesungen (lectures) will, as a rule, take up the full amount of time designated, and the number of students is not limited. Discussion and questions concerning the lecture take place during the accompanying Übungen, small discussion groups. The Übungen usually feature homework assignments, research and the writing of papers.

The Seminar, dedicated to small-group learning, is headed by a professor. It covers a subject area in more detail and requires that each student contribute, by way of an oral presentation on a specific topic. Students are encouraged to participate intensively in two to four seminars per semester. Proseminare make up the Grundstudium (first few terms of study) until successful completion of the interimediate exam, after which Hauptseminare are taken to finish the course of study. Proseminare may also be taken in the Hauptstudium.

A common practice is the akademische Viertel. Classes are scheduled on the hour, but do not actually begin until 15 minutes past. This is signified by a "c.t." (cum tempore) after the listed time of a meeting. If this practice does not apply to a particular meeting, an "s.t." (sine tempore) will appear after the posted time. Check with other students before assuming that the akademische Viertel is practiced by individual instructors.

Coursework

Independent, self-directed study is heavily emphasized at German universities. There are usually no definite assignments of a certain number of pages to read in textbooks. German students are expected to do independent primary and secondary reading during the course of their studies. Independent study is a crucial element of the academic freedom of a German institution and is designed to encourage self-motivation and promote interesting discussion, since not everyone has read the same material. While less demanding on a daily basis than study at a U.S. institution, independent study may ultimately be more rigorous in its demands.

Grades

Assessment is based on oral and written reports in seminars for which the student receives a Schein, or certificate (a grade can be requested). A certain number of Scheine are required in order to take the intermediate exam. The state exam, for which the student receives a grade, assesses the quality of his or her entire course of study. Grades are given on a five-point scale: 1, very good, to 5, unsatisfactory or failing. However, by introducing the ECTS credit system, the German "Schein" is becoming less common.

Student Life

German universities typically do not have central campuses and the classrooms, libraries and administration buildings are usually scattered around town. Students are housed in some university-owned dormitories, in privately owned or church-affiliated student houses, or with private families, while many continue to live with their own families or join fellow students in rented accommodations (Wohngemeinschaft).

School spirit as known in the United States does not exist at German universities, and U.S. students may feel a lack of community and comradeship. Much of this may be due to the fact that German universities do not have sports teams; there are, however, many intramural sports opportunities such as aerobics, basketball, volleyball, soccer and swimming. Look for signs on lobby bulletin boards or ask around for Hochschulsport. International students who are interested in joining a sports team can do so by joining a local club. (Sportverein, or Fussballverein)

While often friendly and helpful to foreign students, professors may be far more formal and less easy to approach than their U.S. counterparts. Advice on courses and almost anything else is available from the ISEP coordinator and the staffs of the Akademisches Auslandsamt ("AA" or Foreign Student Office) and the DaF (German-as-a-Foreign-Language Office).

RECEIVING CREDIT FOR YOUR CLASSES

European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is a standard for comparing the study attainment and performance of students of higher education across the European Union and other collaborating European countries. For successfully completed studies, ECTS credits are awarded. One academic year corresponds to 60 ECTS-credits that are equivalent to 1500-1800 hours of study. One ECTS credit corresponds to 25-30 hours of work.

The new Bachelor and Master’s degree programs increasingly use the ECTS to award academic credits. However, German universities are still in the transition phase and many have not completely adopted the new system of awarding academic credits. Therefore, the old credit transfer procedures outlined below are still applied at many universities in Germany.

CREDIT TRANSFER FROM GERMAN INSTITUTIONS

German universities do not have centralized or departmental registration, primarily due to the law governing the protection of personal data. In addition to the lack of centralized registration, there is no centralized recording of grades and transcripts are not automatically produced at the end of each semester. To obtain a transcript containing a record of courses taken and grades earned, you need to follow the procedures outlined below and any specific procedures required by your host institution. It is extremely important that you complete all the required steps before you leave your German host university. Transcripts cannot be prepared after you have left the campus. The process includes two essential steps:

  1. Collect "Scheine" for your coursework from professors, and
  2. Secure an ISEP transcript.

Earning a Schein

To receive credit for courses taken at a German institution, you must earn a Schein in each course. At the beginning of the course, the professor will explain what is required to earn a Schein in that particular course. The requirements may be different for each course:

You may have to submit a paper, or Referat, at the end of the course or at the beginning of the next semester (usually six weeks later). You may also be asked to present your paper in class. Often several students join together to prepare a single Referat, with each student responsible for a particular section. In most cases, the paper accompanying the speech must be at least 10 pages long.

You may be required to take a final exam. This is often the case with foreign-language courses. The final exam may be oral or written.

You may be required to prepare a Hausarbeit, or term paper. Although group efforts are sometimes permitted, as with a Referat, a Hausarbeit is usually written by one student. The information presented in a Referat, however, often serves as a foundation for the Hausarbeit. Frequently, the paper is not due immediately at the end of the term. Many German students work on their Hausarbeit during the semester break.

Please keep in mind that students at German universities are expected to do independent reading during the course of their studies. If required to take an oral or written final exam, you may be expected to be more conversant in the topic than is possible from just memorizing lecture notes. Ask the professor for a suggested reading list to complement the course in order to prepare for the exam.

A Schein is not usually awarded in a lecture course, or Vorlesung, but the professor will administer a final exam or allow a student to submit a paper if a request is made. You should therefore explain that, as a U.S. ISEP student, your performance in class must be assessed in order to allow you to receive credit at your home institution.

Obtaining the Schein

Once you have completed the requirements for a course, you must obtain the Schein yourself, directly from the secretariat of the appropriate faculty. When you pick up the Schein, it should already have been signed by the professor. The secretary will validate it with the university seal.

The Schein will contain the following information:

  • your name
  • course title
  • your professor's name
  • year and semester
  • number of hours per week
  • how you earned the Schein (e.g., by term paper, final exam, etc.)
  • your grade (may be on a pass/fail basis, or on a German scale, where 1-4 is considered passing)

OBTAINING CREDIT AT YOUR HOME INSTITUTION

Obtain a Transcript

After you have obtained all of your Scheine, complete the transcript form provided by your host institution ISEP coordinator and present this, along with your Scheine, for verification and validation by your host institution coordinator. This form will serve as your official transcript, and will be sent by your host institution coordinator to ISEP Central for forwarding to your home institution. Please keep a copy for yourself along with the original Scheine. Do not carry the original transcript back to your home institution. Note: Some German universities have slightly modified procedures for issuing transcripts. Please refer to section #17 of the Institutional Information Sheet (IIS) of your host institution.

Please note that the ISEP transcript is not intended to replace Scheine. It is designed as a mechanism whereby record of your academic work is reported through official channels back to your home institution. Even with a properly validated transcript, you should produce Scheine for back-up verification at your home institution.

Take Proof of Course Hours

Credit is usually granted at U.S. institutions on the basis of hours that the course met each week. For example, two credits may be granted for a two-hour lecture course. More credit may be awarded for a higher-level course such as a Hauptseminar. You may want to bring the semester course catalogs home with you to use as proof of the number of course hours. You should also save all written work, course outlines and any other written materials to facilitate credit transfer.

Questions

If you have any questions about obtaining Scheine, contact your host institution ISEP coordinator, your professor or the faculty secretariat. Questions regarding the actual transfer of credit should be addressed to your home ISEP coordinator.

Visa and Residency

STUDENT VISA/RESIDENCE PERMIT
Citizens of the U.S., Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland as well as EU citizens do not need to obtain a visa before departure but may apply for their residence permit after entering Germany without a visa.

Find more information here.
After your arrival in Germany, you will have to register with the Foreigners' Registration Authority (Auslaenderbehoerde). For your registration, be sure to bring the following documents with you to Germany:

• Passport
• Visa (If applicable – not U.S. students)
• One passport photo
• Letter of acceptance from your host university
• Proof of sufficient financial resources (letter of admission from your host university should suffice)

However, if requested, this proof can be provided by non-EU citizens in two ways:
1. The student's parents submit a financial guarantee letter at the German Embassy/German Consulate closest to their place of residence. This letter will be forwarded to the Foreigners offices in Germany

2. Students open a blocked bank account after their arrival in Germany, which they deposit the required amount (a minimum savings deposit of EUR 7,716, from which you are able to debit only EUR 643 per month). Students on scholarship who can take their scholarship money with them only need to show proof of the scholarship amount they receive to make sure it covers the minimum financial means required.

You will then receive your residence permit (Aufenthaltsgenehmigung) and your residents' registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung). Please take care of these documents as you will need them occasionally, e.g. when opening a bank account or applying for a reader's card in the public library.

Employment: Students looking for paid part-time employment in Germany must observe the German labor law regulations for international students. Most students from non-EU countries are not allowed to work for more than 90 full days or 180 half days per year parallel to their studies. All German and international students who earn more than EUR 400 per month are liable to pay contributions to the German pension fund. These contributions are transferable within the EU, students from non-EU countries can apply for a refund.

For most employment you will need a German tax card which can be obtained from the Citizen's Bureau (Buergerbuero). Do not forget your passport and visa or residence permit.



EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES

Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany
2300 M Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
Phone (202) 298-4000
Visa questions (202) 298-4224
Passport questions (202) 471-5529

Embassy of the United States Berlin
Clayallee 170
14191 Berlin
Federal Republic of Germany
Tel.: +49-30-8305-0

A Note Regarding the Schengen Area

Germany is a member of the Schengen area. Students should review the important regulations that dictate travel and visas within the Schengen area.

Culture

CULTURE

Population

The demographic changes of the past forty years have significantly altered the face of German society. While formerly very homogeneous, Germany’s population has evolved over the past decades into a socially and culturally diversified country. Of Germany’s 82.3 million residents, nineteen percent have an immigrant background, meaning they are foreigners, repatriates of German descent, or children of foreign-born parents.

Religious Tradition

64.1 percent of the German population belongs to Christian denominations. 31.4 percent are Roman Catholic, and 32.7 percent are affiliated with Protestantism (the figures are known accurately because Germany imposes a church tax on those who disclose a religious affiliation). The North and East is predominantly Protestant, the South and West rather Catholic. Historically, Germany had a substantial Jewish population. Only a few thousand people of Jewish origin remained in Germany after the Holocaust, but the German Jewish community now has approximately 100,000 members, many from the former Soviet Union. Germany also has a substantial Musilim minority, most of whom are from Turkey.

German lifestyle

The following traditional German saying probably describes it best, "Food and drink hold the body and soul together."

Germany is the world’s eighth largest wine producer, and ten percent of German wine is exported to the United States

Few traditions color the world's perception of Germany more than the brewing and drinking of beer. And with 1300 active breweries, beer is still an important part of German culture.

The influence of the various immigrant groups is most noticeable in the gastronomic and food sector. Many Germans love the healthy Asian and light Mediterranean cuisine. In fact, you often have to look long and hard to find a typical German restaurant, while Italian, Greek, Chinese, Spanish or Thai restaurants are lined up, one after the other.

However, not only the eating habits of Germans have changed. Their whole lifestyle has as well. One could say that German students have become more relaxed, easy-going and cosmopolitan as a result of the many different contacts with people and cultures from all around the world. They have, above all, been inspired by the Mediterranean lifestyle. Besides working, which continues to play an important role, of course, they also like to dedicate plenty of time and space for some fun and joie de vivre.

Punctuality

Be on Time! Punctuality is seen not as a courtesy but as precondition for future relations. Most Germans arrive 5-10 minutes early and take this for granted from everyone. Arriving more than two minutes late to a meeting is seen as rude and will be tolerated only with unknowing strangers, unless you can give good reason in your defense. It is seen as a courtesy to call the other participants if you seem to run late. Regular delays are seen as a disrespect for the other participants.

Family

Diversity characterises how and with whom Germans live. An estimated 800,000 marriages in Germany are bi-national. In one-in-six weddings, at least one of the partners comes from abroad. This in turn means that ever more children in Germany are growing up with several cultures and languages, and so are particularly well equipped for the challenges of a globalised world.

Many different kinds of family structures also exist. The traditional Mom-Dad-2 Kids model is increasingly being replaced by a kind of patchwork family: people get divorced, then live together with their new partner, with children from various relationships. In addition, many single parents or same-sex relationships are bringing up their own or adopted children. Since 2001, gay partners can be registered as a couple and enjoy similar rights as married couples. Importantly, one marked difference about married Germans is that they wear the wedding ring on their right hand not their left.

Sports

Sport forms an integral part of German life, as demonstrated by the fact that 27 million Germans are members of a sports club and an additional twelve million pursue such an activity individually. Soccer is by far the most popular sport, and the German Soccer Federation (Deutscher Fussballbund) with more than 6.3 million members is the largest athletic organisation in the country. It also attracts the greatest audience, with hundreds of thousands of spectators attending top German National League (Bundesliga) matches and millions more watching on television. The other two most popular sports in Germany are marksmanship and tennis.Other popular sports include handball, volleyball, basketball and ice hockey.

Greetings

Greetings are formal. A quick, firm handshake is the traditional greeting. Titles are important and denote respect. Use a person's title and their surname until invited to use their first name. You should say Herr or Frau and the person's title and their surname. If you are invited to a German's house, bring a small gift such as chocolates or flowers. Gifts are usually opened when received.

Table manners

Table manners are continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not begin eating until the hostess starts or someone says 'Guten Appetit' (good appetite). Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate, with the fork over the knife. The most common toast with wine is 'Zum Wohl!' ('good health'). The most common toast with beer is 'Prost!'

Germans and Americans… some observations to be taken with a grain of salt:

Germans and Americans have a few different standards regarding what constitutes "politeness". Americans tend to define politeness in terms of "friendliness": smiling, telling "white lies" to avoid hurting people's feelings, pretending to like people even if we don't, saying "Hi, how are you?" whether we really care how they are or not, etc. Germans, however, tend to consider "respect" to be the proper way to show "politeness", and "respect" assumes that the other person wants an honest answer.

Humor

Dour. Unfunny. Serious. Such is the reputation of the German in much of the world. Problem is though, it's simply not true. While not everyone in the country is quite as ready with a joke as Hans and Franz, nor as outlandish as Dieter, the German funny bone is quite well developed. Self-deprecation, irony, sarcasm, and a sharp wit are to be found in abundance -- and often you have to really be paying attention. Nor is it easy to pin down. Germany has almost as many different ways of making you laugh as there are different dialects in the country. The following are just some of the stereotypes:

  1. The Bavarian: Humor just north of the Alps tends to be anything but subtle. In-your-face slapstick abounds as do hearty belly laughs around the Biergarten table.
  2. The Rhinelander: Germans from the Rhineland are crazy about Karneval. Each year, Cologne and many other cities shut down just to party for a week. Besides copious drinking, part of the fest is ritualized joke telling in massive halls.
  3. The Berliner: Germany's capital is famous for its Schnauze-- literally "snout" -- which is essentially shorthand for its big city attitude. Always quick with a retort, the Berliner is very definitely not a stranger to sarcasm. But so long as you're not overly sensitive, the snarky comments can often be hilarious. Just be ready with your own quick cutdown. A true Berliner will respect getting taken down a peg as much as making fun of somebody else.
  4. The Hamburger: No, we're not talking about American fast food here. The Hamburger is synonymous with the clichéd assumptions about Germany's supposedly cool and calm northern residents. Don't expect the knee-slapping, belly laugh of the Bavarian -- it's all about understatement and irony up north. Deadpan delivery and witty banter are the way to tickle the Hamburger's funny bone.

Making friends

German students may seem a bit distant and uncommunicative at first. Don't give up! Once you have made your first few contacts things will pickup and you are bound to be included in the numerous social activities of German students. Note that the German Freund involves a closer, much steadier relationship than its English counterpart "friend."

Tipping

Unlike in some other countries, service staff is always paid by the hour (albeit not always that well). A tip is a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciate the service (e.g. slow, snippy or indifferent service), reduce the tip accordingly or don't tip at all.

Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip (Trinkgeld, lit. "drink money") of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Nonetheless, service charge is already included in an item's unit price so what you see is what you pay.

Tipping in Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if eg. a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "€13.50", just state "15" and he will include a tip of €1.50.

Tipping in other situations (unless otherwise indicated):

  • Taxi driver: 5%-10% (at least €1)
  • Housekeeping: €1-2 per day
  • Carrying luggage: €1 per piece
  • Public toilet attendants: €0.30-0.70

SHOPPING

Be prepared to bag your own groceries and goods as well as provide your own shopping bags for doing so. While most stores provide plastic as well as canvas shopping bags at the checkout, you are charged for them.

LIFESTYLE

Most cities have a vibrant gay and lesbian scene, especially Berlin and Cologne. The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. In fact, some politicians (e.g. the Mayors of Berlin and Hamburg) and stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.

Daily Life

CULTURE

Population

The demographic changes of the past forty years have significantly altered the face of German society. While formerly very homogeneous, Germany’s population has evolved over the past decades into a socially and culturally diversified country. Of Germany’s 82.3 million residents, nineteen percent have an immigrant background, meaning they are foreigners, repatriates of German descent, or children of foreign-born parents.

Religious Tradition

64.1 percent of the German population belongs to Christian denominations. 31.4 percent are Roman Catholic, and 32.7 percent are affiliated with Protestantism (the figures are known accurately because Germany imposes a church tax on those who disclose a religious affiliation). The North and East is predominantly Protestant, the South and West rather Catholic. Historically, Germany had a substantial Jewish population. Only a few thousand people of Jewish origin remained in Germany after the Holocaust, but the German Jewish community now has approximately 100,000 members, many from the former Soviet Union. Germany also has a substantial Musilim minority, most of whom are from Turkey.

German lifestyle

The following traditional German saying probably describes it best, "Food and drink hold the body and soul together."

Germany is the world’s eighth largest wine producer, and ten percent of German wine is exported to the United States

Few traditions color the world's perception of Germany more than the brewing and drinking of beer. And with 1300 active breweries, beer is still an important part of German culture.

The influence of the various immigrant groups is most noticeable in the gastronomic and food sector. Many Germans love the healthy Asian and light Mediterranean cuisine. In fact, you often have to look long and hard to find a typical German restaurant, while Italian, Greek, Chinese, Spanish or Thai restaurants are lined up, one after the other.

However, not only the eating habits of Germans have changed. Their whole lifestyle has as well. One could say that German students have become more relaxed, easy-going and cosmopolitan as a result of the many different contacts with people and cultures from all around the world. They have, above all, been inspired by the Mediterranean lifestyle. Besides working, which continues to play an important role, of course, they also like to dedicate plenty of time and space for some fun and joie de vivre.

Punctuality

Be on Time! Punctuality is seen not as a courtesy but as precondition for future relations. Most Germans arrive 5-10 minutes early and take this for granted from everyone. Arriving more than two minutes late to a meeting is seen as rude and will be tolerated only with unknowing strangers, unless you can give good reason in your defense. It is seen as a courtesy to call the other participants if you seem to run late. Regular delays are seen as a disrespect for the other participants.

Family

Diversity characterises how and with whom Germans live. An estimated 800,000 marriages in Germany are bi-national. In one-in-six weddings, at least one of the partners comes from abroad. This in turn means that ever more children in Germany are growing up with several cultures and languages, and so are particularly well equipped for the challenges of a globalised world.

Many different kinds of family structures also exist. The traditional Mom-Dad-2 Kids model is increasingly being replaced by a kind of patchwork family: people get divorced, then live together with their new partner, with children from various relationships. In addition, many single parents or same-sex relationships are bringing up their own or adopted children. Since 2001, gay partners can be registered as a couple and enjoy similar rights as married couples. Importantly, one marked difference about married Germans is that they wear the wedding ring on their right hand not their left.

Sports

Sport forms an integral part of German life, as demonstrated by the fact that 27 million Germans are members of a sports club and an additional twelve million pursue such an activity individually. Soccer is by far the most popular sport, and the German Soccer Federation (Deutscher Fussballbund) with more than 6.3 million members is the largest athletic organisation in the country. It also attracts the greatest audience, with hundreds of thousands of spectators attending top German National League (Bundesliga) matches and millions more watching on television. The other two most popular sports in Germany are marksmanship and tennis.Other popular sports include handball, volleyball, basketball and ice hockey.

Greetings

Greetings are formal. A quick, firm handshake is the traditional greeting. Titles are important and denote respect. Use a person's title and their surname until invited to use their first name. You should say Herr or Frau and the person's title and their surname. If you are invited to a German's house, bring a small gift such as chocolates or flowers. Gifts are usually opened when received.

Table manners

Table manners are continental -- the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not begin eating until the hostess starts or someone says 'Guten Appetit' (good appetite). Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate, with the fork over the knife. The most common toast with wine is 'Zum Wohl!' ('good health'). The most common toast with beer is 'Prost!'

Germans and Americans… some observations to be taken with a grain of salt:

Germans and Americans have a few different standards regarding what constitutes "politeness". Americans tend to define politeness in terms of "friendliness": smiling, telling "white lies" to avoid hurting people's feelings, pretending to like people even if we don't, saying "Hi, how are you?" whether we really care how they are or not, etc. Germans, however, tend to consider "respect" to be the proper way to show "politeness", and "respect" assumes that the other person wants an honest answer.

Humor

Dour. Unfunny. Serious. Such is the reputation of the German in much of the world. Problem is though, it's simply not true. While not everyone in the country is quite as ready with a joke as Hans and Franz, nor as outlandish as Dieter, the German funny bone is quite well developed. Self-deprecation, irony, sarcasm, and a sharp wit are to be found in abundance -- and often you have to really be paying attention. Nor is it easy to pin down. Germany has almost as many different ways of making you laugh as there are different dialects in the country. The following are just some of the stereotypes:

  1. The Bavarian: Humor just north of the Alps tends to be anything but subtle. In-your-face slapstick abounds as do hearty belly laughs around the Biergarten table.
  2. The Rhinelander: Germans from the Rhineland are crazy about Karneval. Each year, Cologne and many other cities shut down just to party for a week. Besides copious drinking, part of the fest is ritualized joke telling in massive halls.
  3. The Berliner: Germany's capital is famous for its Schnauze-- literally "snout" -- which is essentially shorthand for its big city attitude. Always quick with a retort, the Berliner is very definitely not a stranger to sarcasm. But so long as you're not overly sensitive, the snarky comments can often be hilarious. Just be ready with your own quick cutdown. A true Berliner will respect getting taken down a peg as much as making fun of somebody else.
  4. The Hamburger: No, we're not talking about American fast food here. The Hamburger is synonymous with the clichéd assumptions about Germany's supposedly cool and calm northern residents. Don't expect the knee-slapping, belly laugh of the Bavarian -- it's all about understatement and irony up north. Deadpan delivery and witty banter are the way to tickle the Hamburger's funny bone.

Making friends

German students may seem a bit distant and uncommunicative at first. Don't give up! Once you have made your first few contacts things will pickup and you are bound to be included in the numerous social activities of German students. Note that the German Freund involves a closer, much steadier relationship than its English counterpart "friend."

Tipping

Unlike in some other countries, service staff is always paid by the hour (albeit not always that well). A tip is a matter of politeness and shows your appreciation. If you didn't appreciate the service (e.g. slow, snippy or indifferent service), reduce the tip accordingly or don't tip at all.

Since the introduction of the Euro, a tip (Trinkgeld, lit. "drink money") of about 5-10% is customary if you were satisfied with the service. Nonetheless, service charge is already included in an item's unit price so what you see is what you pay.

Tipping in Germany is usually done by mentioning the total while paying. So if eg. a waiter tells you the bill amounts to "€13.50", just state "15" and he will include a tip of €1.50.

Tipping in other situations (unless otherwise indicated):

  • Taxi driver: 5%-10% (at least €1)
  • Housekeeping: €1-2 per day
  • Carrying luggage: €1 per piece
  • Public toilet attendants: €0.30-0.70

SHOPPING

Be prepared to bag your own groceries and goods as well as provide your own shopping bags for doing so. While most stores provide plastic as well as canvas shopping bags at the checkout, you are charged for them.

LIFESTYLE

Most cities have a vibrant gay and lesbian scene, especially Berlin and Cologne. The Berlin tourism agency and other tourism organisations have started campaigns to attract gay and lesbian travellers to their cities. In fact, some politicians (e.g. the Mayors of Berlin and Hamburg) and stars in Germany are homo- and bisexuals.

Health and Safety

https://www.isepstudyabroad.org/guides-and-tips/health-safety

Currency

MONEY MATTERS

Currency & Exchange

In 2002, the Euro replaced the Deutsche Mark as the official currency of Germany. The Euro is the common currency of the European Union.

A useful currency converter can be found here.

Germans use cash for most purchases, reserving credit or debit cards for travel and for very large purchases. Checks are rarely used in Germany.

Banks

As a rule German banks are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursdays to 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. Some smaller branches shut at lunchtime.

A Girokonto is similar to a basic U.S. checking account, while a Sparkonto, or savings account, accrues interest. However, German banking methods may take some getting used to. When opening a Girokonto, ask for an EC card (debit card) with a PIN code which will allow you to pay for  goods and services directly.  Many stores in Gemany will now accept this debit card as form of payment. Cash is still used when making purchases in smaller shops and restaurants.

Most monthly payments, such as for rent and insurance, are not made by check but rather by an automatic direct transfer from your bank to the party who should receive the payment. This usually eliminates the "float" period. You will have to sign a contract and give your Girokonto number for this direct transfer when you move into student housing.

Reportedly, some major German banks will waive service fees for students. Stadtsparkassen (city savings-banks) are popular among students because of their low service fees and many branches.

Credit Cards

Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Euro-card are all widely accepted in Germany and throughout Europe. However, it is best not to rely completely on credit cards; carry cash in manageable denominations for smaller purchases. You can access your German or home bank account through ATM machines.

Sources of Information

http://www.campus-germany.de/
Multilingual Web site with information on studying in Germany.

http://www.germany-tourism.de/
German National Tourist Board.

http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/Startseite.html
Official German Information Center

http://www.daad.de/
German Academic Exchange Service.

http://www.dwelle.de/
Germany's International Broadcasting Service.

http://www.bundesregierung.de/Webs/Breg/DE/Homepage/home.html
German Federal Government Press and Information Office.

http://www.tatsachen-ueber-deutschland.de/de/gesellschaft.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1047864.stm
BBC Country Profile.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

*All links below will take you to the Amazon.com Web site for content and purchasing information.


Guides

Frommer's Germany 2008 (Frommer's Complete)

Insight Guide Germany (Insight Guides Germany)

Lonely Planet Germany


Culture, History, and Politics

Breuilly, John, ed. The State of Germany: The National Idea in the Making, Unmaking and Remaking of a Modern Nation-State

Childs, David. Germany in the Twentieth Century

Barkow, Ben and Stefan Zeidenitz. The Xenophobe's Guide to the Germans

Flippo, Hyde. The German Way : Aspects of Behavior, Attitudes, and Customs in the German-Speaking World

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s, A

Hafner, Katie. House at the Bridge

Hall, Edward and Mildred Reed. Understanding Cultural Differences: Germans, French, and Americans

Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia

Lorenz, Dagmar and Gabriele Weinberger, eds. Insiders and Outsiders: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Germany and Austria

Pond, Elizabeth. Beyond the Wall: Germany's Road to Unification (A Twentieth Century Fund Book)

Schlink, Bernhard. The Reader

Schneider, Peter. The German Comedy: Scenes of Life After the Wall

Storti, Craig. Old World/New World: Bridging Cultural Differences - Britain, France, Germany and the U.S.

Watson, Alan. The Germans: Who Are They Now?


Traveler's Health

International Travel Health Guide

CDC Health Information for International Travel 2008 (Health Information for International Travel)

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