Germany

Germany-flag-240German business culture

Did you know about business culture in Germany? Watch this video animation to find out some interesting facts:


Business Culture in Germany is characterised by: business communication, business etiquette, business meeting etiquette, internship and student placements, cost of living, work-life-balance and social media guide.

The following is a very short introduction to Germany. External links at the end of this page provide you with more in depth information concerning different topics.

Germany is located in northern central Europe and covers an area of 356,750 km². Sharing its borders with nine other European countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland), it is strategically positioned in the middle of one of the world’s most active trading zones.  From its position on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea in the north, Germany has easy access to the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom. Germany’s capital is Berlin which is the country’s largest city in terms of area and one of the most influential centres in European politics and culture.

With a population of more than 80 million people, Germany is the largest European economy and one of the largest economies in the world in real terms. Germany is also one of the world’s top three exporters.

The official language is German. Including variations it is spoken by millions of people in other countries such as Austria, Switzerland, and parts of some Eastern European countries as well. This makes German one of the top ten most spoken languages in the world.

Approximately 1/3 of the German population is Protestant (predominantly in the northeast and central regions) and another 1/3 is Roman Catholic.

Germany is in the time zone of UTC+1. However, during summertime (March to October) the clock is changed to UTC+2.

The climate and temperatures vary according to region and season. However, all four seasons are experienced throughout Germany. In the south in particular, winters can be cold and clammy, with lots of snow, especially in the mountains. Summers tend to be moderately warm and pleasant.

Today Germany is divided into sixteen States (in German these are called Länder).

  1. Baden-Württemberg
  2. Bayern
  3. Berlin
  4. Brandenburg
  5. Bremen
  6. Hamburg
  7. Hessen
  8. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
  9. Niedersachsen
  10. Nordrhein-Westfalen
  11. Rheinland-Pfalz
  12. Saarland
  13. Sachsen
  14. Sachsen-Anhalt
  15. Schleswig-Holstein
  16. Thüringen

Germany is further subdivided into more than 400 districts (Kreise) and cities (kreisfreie Städte). However, the history of the country and how it was established is a long and bumpy road that has included wars and occupation.

Politics in Germany functions within a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Federal Chancellor is the head of the government, and of a pluralist multi-party system. As mentioned above Germany is a federation consisting of 16 States (Länder), all with their own constitutions, governments and parliaments. The States are primarily responsible for policing and education, and for the implementation of most federal policies. Most issues of economic policy fall under the jurisdiction of the federal-level institutions.

Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament. The federal parliament is made up of a directly elected lower house (Bundestag) and an upper house (Bundesrat), which is made up of representatives of the state governments. Since 1949 the party system has been dominated by the conservative Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

For further information, please see below:

Xenophobia: being a foreigner in Germany

In recent years, the German-speaking countries of Europe have been confronted with demographic changes due to decades of immigration. These changes have led to renewed debates (especially in the Federal Republic of Germany) about who should be considered German. Non-ethnic Germans now make up around ten per cent of the German population, mostly the descendants of guest workers who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s. Roughly one in every five foreigners living in Germany was born abroad and is thus a second- or third-generation immigrant. One third of the Turkish, Italian and Greek citizens living in Germany were born there.

In addition, a significant number of German citizens, although traditionally considered ethnic Germans, are in fact foreign-born and thus often retain the cultural identities and languages of their native countries in addition to being Germans, a fact that sets them apart from those born and raised in Germany.

There are four national minorities in Germany: the Danish minority, the Friesian ethnic minority, the German Sinti and Roma and the Sorbs. All four groups come under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which Germany ratified in 1997. The minorities’ languages – Danish, North and Sater Friesian, Romany, and Lower and Upper Sorbian – are promoted under the terms of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which Germany ratified in 1998. All four national minorities enjoy a rich cultural life, which is supported financially by both the Federal and State governments.

Integration is a long-term process intended to ensure that all lawful and permanent residents are included in German society. Immigrants are encouraged to take part in all areas of society, as fully and as equally as possible and are required to learn German and to be familiar with Germany’s constitution and laws and to respect and abide by them.  The Federal, State and local governments all share the responsibility for ensuring this although it is acknowledged that integration also requires a major effort on the part of society.

General Education

Germany has one of the world’s highest levels of education and many famous universities. But university attendance still lags behind that in many other European nations. Germany prohibits home-schooling; however, this is still practiced by a number of people and there has been some campaigning for government prosecution of this practice.

German educational ideals differ considerably from other countries’ educational philosophies. The emphasis is on socialisation, debate, vocal participation in class and critical faculties. With the “mittlere Reife” after the 10th grade (usually at the age of 16), German pupils can also begin an industrial education instead of choosing to go on until the 12th or 13th grade. This vocational education is called the Dual Educational System (“Duales Ausbildungssystem”) and consists of education at a company as well as attendance at a vocational school (“Berufsschule”). For a period of three years, you are an apprentice in the company. The practical parts of your job description are taught at the company, while the theoretical parts are mostly taught at vocational schools. After three years there are exams held by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (“Industrie- und Handelskammer”) after which companies are normally expected to employ their former apprentices or at least some of them since they have been expensive to train. However, unfortunately, because of the subsidies given to companies taking part in the dual educational system, some companies have begun to train the apprentices for three years and then exchanged them for new apprentices with the attendant subsidies.

For higher qualified work, German companies expect German universities to complete the education of their potential employees. Training-on-the-job is either uncommon or simply an introductory activity for students, as companies demand ready-to-go employees from the educational system. Common job offers demand 2+ years of work experience, a young age profile and better than average skills.

Most German universities are State-owned and are very nearly free of charge. Only a student fee of about 100 to 300€ per Semester (6 months) needs to be paid. Additionally, university students are often supported by the so called “BAföG” (which is dependent on  parental income), and is a federal subsidy, going up to €290 per month as interest free credit plus €290 as a direct payment.

In Germany there are several academic degrees. Traditionally, the lowest degree has been the Magister (in Arts) and the Diplom (in Science and Engineering). Over the past few years the traditional degrees are gradually being replaced by European standard Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. A Diplom (University), Magister, or Master’s student can proceed to a doctorate. Sometimes incorrectly regarded as an academic degree, the Habilitation (Professur) is the highest academic title in Germany.

For further information, please see below:

Educational standards

The Basic Law of 1949 grants every German citizen the right to self-fulfilment. In theory, citizens are able to choose the type of education they want and are given access to their preferred occupation or profession. The goal of educational policy is therefore to provide each citizen with opportunities to grow personally, professionally, and as a citizen in accordance with his or her abilities and preferences. The 16 German “Länder” provide equal educational opportunities and quality education for all, through a variety of educational institutions and training programmes.

Other Issues such as transportation infrastructure

Transportation

When setting up a business in Germany, it is imperative to be aware of all the relevant distribution channels, transport options and accommodation choices available to you and your business. Germany is the largest EU country located at the heart of the continent and is therefore an important transport hub for north/south and east/west routes.

Travelling By Public Transport

Major cities in Germany have an integrated transport system that includes a fast rail network (“S-Bahn”), trams (“Straßenbahn”) and in many cases an underground system (“U-Bahn”). All these modes of transport run to a strict timetable, and outlying areas are well-served by bus connections to over ground services. Before you travel on public transport in Germany, buy your ticket either from a machine, named “Fahrausweise”, or a ticket desk the “Fahrkartenschalter”, to avoid incurring a heavy fine. Your ticket is only valid if you have stamped it before you start your journey. The stamping machine is called an “Entwerter”.

Travelling By Train

Germany’s nationwide rail network (mostly run by Deutsche Bahn) features tracks of a total of 36,000 km in length. Long-distance and local rail timetables are coordinated to ensure good connections. For details contact the following: www.bahn.de [de] [en] [fr] [es] [it]

Travelling by Taxi

Taxis are cream-coloured and plentiful and can be hailed in the street or hired at one of the many taxi ranks. A tip of 10% is normally given on top of the fare.

Travelling By Car

Germany has quite a good road network. Along the Autobahn in particular you can find many gas stations, motels and kiosks which are open around the clock. Unless road signs indicate otherwise, there is no speed limit on the German Autobahnen although the recommended top speed is 130 kph. In built-up areas the speed limit is 50 kph and 100 kph outside cities. Germany does not have autobahn tolls. Seat belts must be worn by law.

Travelling By Plane

Over 100 international airlines fly in and out of Germany. The global network of routes connects the 18 international airports in Germany with over 800 destinations in the world. The largest airports are in Frankfurt/Main, Munich and Düsseldorf. All airports boast prime connections to the local and regional transport network.

Cultural taboos

There are no real taboos in Germany that do not apply in other Western countries. Northern Germany (especially Berlin) is more relaxed about etiquette than Southern Germany. However, there are a number of issues considered inappropriate that you should be aware of in order to avoid insulting your German counterparts and disrespecting their views and ideals:

  • Do not be afraid to approach Germans. They are very direct and honest people: if they can or want to help you, they will, if not, they will tell you so.
  • It is important to bear in mind that Germans speak in a curt manner – this is just the way they are and is not meant as an act of rudeness.
  • When making or answering a phone call, first introduce yourself by saying your name (most people use only their last name, but you can also use your first name). It is considered impolite if you do not give your name even when you use other polite greetings such as “hello” or “good morning”.
  • It is impolite to cross your arm over people who are shaking hands
  • It is rude to chew gum in business environments.
  • Talking while your hands are in your pockets is also considered impolite
  • When having a meeting or visiting a restaurant men should always take off their hats.
  • Be tactful with regards to the subject of the Second World War. The legacy of the war is well understood by Germans and jokes about it are looked upon as improper. What might appear from an outsider’s perspective to be “an innocent joke” might actually go down in a much more awkward and offensive way.

Understanding and respecting these issues will make a significant contribution towards understanding German culture and building and maintaining strong and solid business relationships.

Do you want to learn more about business culture in Germany?