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10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong

1. Lederhosen are traditional German dress

Just another day at the German office? Photo: DPA.

These kitschy clothes are synonymous with Germany in many foreigners’ heads. But Lederhosen (leather breeches for men) and Dirndl (traditional dress for women) are actually Alpine attire, originating from Austria, South Tyrol (Italy) and southern Bavaria.

Revellers at a beer festival in Stuttgart, a city in southwestern Germany, were mocked this year for dressing in lederhosen, as the attire has never been part of their culture.

If you see anyone wearing the leather breeches in the north of the country, you can safely assume they are flogging overpriced Bavarian beer – or got on the wrong train after Oktoberfest.

The worldwide popularity of Munich’s Oktoberfest is likely responsible for the misconception that Lederhosen are worn by all Germans. Many people seem to believe it is a German festival rather than a Bavarian one, a mistake reinforced by money-making spin-offs set up in Berlin and other cities. 

2. Everything runs like clockwork

The board reads: indefinitely delayed. Photo: DPA.

Germany is supposedly a country where everything happens on time, and where it is the height of rudeness to arrive late.

Anyone who has kept up with the delays and scandals at Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) knows though that when it comes to mega projects, German efficiency is a myth.

The airport, which was meant to open in 2011, does not have an official opening date yet. City authorities are insisting it will open in 2017, but after years of broken promises, few people believe them.

Travel two hours northwest to Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, and you’ll come across another super project that has caused major embarrassment: the Hamburg Opera House.

The estimated costs for Hamburg’s answer to Sydney’s opera house ballooned from €114 million to €323 million, resulting in an eight-month standoff between the city and construction firms in 2012. The building was due to open back in 2010, but its inaugural concerts are now planned for January 2017.

And anyone who has ridden on Berlin’s Ringbahn knows that delays on German trains aren’t as uncommon as you’d think.

Germany may also have the fastest trains in Europe, but do they arrive on time? No. On average, only 78.4 percent of Intercity-Express (ICE) trains arrived on time in the first-half of 2016. In fact, by Deutsche Bahn’s own admission, one-third of all their trains were delayed by at least five minutes in 2015.

3. People drink beer out of glass boots

“Just a small one for me please”. Photo: DPA.

Walk into a “German bar” in the US and you’ll be offered the chance to drink beer out of a large glass boot. So you might be disappointed when you walk through the doors of a pub in Germany and find the locals drinking out of very ordinary looking beer glasses.

Why this weird way of drinking has become associated with Germany in the States remains something of a puzzle.

One version of events has it that glass drinking boots began to appear in Europe in the 1800s and became a popular rite of passage for German soldiers during the First World War. They were then seemingly introduced to the US through American soldiers stationed in Germany after the Second World War.

The 2006 movie Beerfest is however the main culprit for this mistaken idea, a film in which Americans discover glass drinking boot challenges, before taking on a team of Lederhosen-bedecked Bavarians in the final scene (sorry to anyone who hasn’t already seen this fantastic film).

Das Boot actually means “the boat” in German, not a shoe. So if you ask after das Boot, Germans will probably think you’re talking about the award-winning 1981 film about a U-boat crew, and send you towards a DVD-rental outlet.

4. Germans aren’t funny

Comedian Jan Böhmermann. Photo: DPA

British comedian Spike Milligan once quipped that “the German sense of humor is no laughing matter”. And internationally, Teutonic humour has a terrible reputation – Germans came first in a 2011 poll of the world’s least funny nations.

In reality though, some Germans are too funny for their own good. 

That was certainly the case for TV satirist Jan Böhmermann who penned a poem in March accusing Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan of having sex with goats and watching child porn. Erdogan didn’t see the funny side and tried to have Böhmermann put in jail.

Fortunately for Böhmermann, the investigation into him was dropped, so he can continue proving Germans get humor as much as he wants. 

If you need further proof Germans know how to have a laugh, watch the Berlin transport company’s darkly comic adverts, or German supermarket Edeka’s surreal Supergeil music video.

5. Germany is a nation of sausage lovers

Not all Germans love sausage as much as this man. Photo: DPA.

Contrary to the picture above, Germans aren’t all about the sausage: Sausage Party wasn’t even the highest grossing film in Germany this year, as it currently sits at lowly 65th place (although it was only released at the beginning of October).

The country may consume 2.5 million tonnes of wurst annually, and have 1,500 varieties, but it is also branching out from this mainstay of German culture. The number one fast food in Germany now isn’t Currywurst or Bratwurst, but the Döner Kebab. This relatively recent addition to the nation’s taste palette arrived with Turkish immigrants in the 1970s.

A German diet also doesn’t revolve solely around meat. Nearly 10 percent of the population is now vegetarian, meaning it has the highest rate of vegetarianism of any European country. Berlin was also named the vegetarian capital of the world last year.

The wurst is still a huge part of German culture, but it is not the be-all and end-all of German cuisine.

6. Germans are unfriendly

Photo. DPA.

Germans are often stereotyped as being cold, direct and unfeeling, but perhaps at least part of the blame falls elsewhere. 

In a recent survey, expats complained that unfriendly Germans make life harder for them. Germany ranked only 55th of 67 countries in terms of overall friendliness.

But most of these expats also admitted that the language was a barrier, with 62 percent saying they struggled to learn German, much higher than the global average of 45 percent for expat groups. The study authors suggested that this might play a role in foreigners’ perceptions about unfriendliness in the country.

7. German Chocolate Cake is a thing here

An example of a real German chocolate cake: Black Forest gateau. Photo. DPA.

After you return from Germany, friends and relatives in the US may ask you how the German Chocolate Cake was. Unfortunately, if you had planned on bringing a slice back home, you’d be out of luck. That’s because this piece of confectionery originated in the US, not in Germany.

The confusion may have arisen when a crucial apostrophe was dropped somewhere along the way. This cake was actually named after an American man whose surname was German: Samuel German. The chocolate maker developed the cake recipe in the 1850s and it was subsequently named “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate” in his honour.

8. Germans think JFK was an idiot

Photo: DPA.

It is now widely believed that President John F. Kennedy told a crowd at Berlin’s Schöneberg city hall that he was a jelly donut in his famous Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner) speech in 1963.

Commentators were quick to point out that a “Berliner” is also what Germans living in other parts of the country call a type of jelly-filled donut. However, Berlin residents actually call the confectionery treat a Pfannkuchen, so the Berliner audience at the time would have found nothing strange in JFK’s remark.

The American president is still remembered fondly in Germany, with a number of buildings being named after him in the wake of his assassination the same year he gave the speech. The North American Studies Institute at Berlin’s Free University is named in his honour, and there are also several Kennedy bridges and streets across the country.

9. Germans love technology

The ongoing development of Stuttgart train station. Photo: DPA.

Germany is renowned worldwide for its technological innovation. And with BMW recently introducing the motorcycle of the future, this reputation is clearly partially deserved.

But the glamorous cutting-edge stuff is only part of the story.

Developers of Stuttgart’s ongoing train station construction project, for example, forgot to put emergency stairs into their building plans, meaning that the platforms were too narrow for potential passengers. The estimated cost of the project has now ballooned from €4.1 billion to €6.5 billion. And don’t expect it to open before 2023, two years behind schedule.

In every day life, too, Germans often reject new, shiny things.

Many Germans are also fearful of technology’s effect on their lives,  orTechnikfeindlichkeit in German. Google Street View caused a stir in the country when it launched in 2010, with almost 3 percent of households choosing to opt-out. 

Germans are also renowned for their fear of credit cards. Many places in the country refuse to accept card payment, to the bemusement of visitors, with technophobic Germans opting to walk around with wads of cash instead.

10. Germans love Hasselhoff

David Hasselhoff and Berlin: a 27-year-old love story. Photo: DPA.

What’s more popular than a Hinterhof and a Bahnhof put together? A Hasselhoff. Germans love David Hasselhoff, or so Brits and Americans tend to believe.

This idea no doubt stems from Hasselhoff’s famed New Year’s Eve gig at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989, when he performed “Looking for Freedom” to a crowd hundreds of thousands strong.

The message clearly spoke to the emotional state of Germans at the time, shortly after the Berlin Wall felt. And the easy-to-pick-up English lyrics no doubt played a part in its popularity. And Germans do still have a sentimental, semi-serious attachment to the former Baywatch star, as witnessed when he performed again in Berlin for New Year’s 25 years later.

But the disappointing truth is that that was the only one of the Hoff’s singles which ever hit the top of the charts in Germany. The last time Hasselhoff made the charts in the country was in 2005 with DJ Ostkurve’s remix of his song Limbo Dance – and that only made it to number 98.

He has also never had a number one album in Germany, with only die-hard fans buying 2011’s A Real Good Feeling, which peaked at 26 in the charts.

The boring truth is that, if you put on German radio or walk into a German pub, you are much more likely to be assaulted by the wailings of Taylor Swift or Kings of Leon than the dulcet tones of the Hoff.