When thoughts turn to moving to Germany, it’s Oktoberfest, sauerkraut, lederhosen and yodelling that may spring to mind. While these things are of huge cultural significance, especially in Bavaria, they represent a fraction of what the overall country has to offer.
Since its reunification in 1990, Germany has been made up of 16 federal states, or bundesländer (of which Bavaria is one), and each offers its own unique culture. One of the great joys of moving to Europe’s seventh largest country is that it affords an opportunity to get beyond the dirndl and lederhosen to experience some of the wider contributions that Germany has made to architecture, literature, philosophy, music, sport, art, culture and cuisine.
At nearly 50% larger than the UK and with a population of around 85 million, Germany is a big place. It’s also culturally diverse and shares borders with Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland.
Below is a sample of the ‘must-dos’ things to do in Germany for new residents can experience when getting to know the country for the first time, as well as a few ‘insider’ alternatives.
Big-ticket Germany events
Germany has one of the most successful men’s football teams on the international stage, having won four World Cups, three European Championships and one Confederations Cup. The Bundesliga kicks off at the start of August and tickets are famously affordable at giants such as Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. Major include The Invictus Games in Düsseldorf in 2023, and UEFA Euro 2024 in Berlin.
Alternative sport events in Germany
The Germans might be football mad, but they can also be seen playing ‘bosseln’ in the streets, especially across the north. The team objective is to throw a ball as far as possible using a particular throwing technique. ‘Kegel’, a nine-pin bowling game, is also popular. Swimmers should take a dip in a pool in the Spree River in Badeschiff, Berlin. It’s open May to September and offers an atmospheric bar and restaurant, too.
Germany gave the world Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Then it brought us freedom and decadence in the form of cabaret. Fast forward a few years to electronica and techno. Today it’s home to the world’s biggest rock festivals, known as ‘Rock am Ring’ and ‘Rock im Park’, which are held simultaneously in Nürburgring and Nuremberg in June.
Alternative music events
Germany has a long and strong folk-music tradition, and there are some wonderful progressive young artists embracing the genre today. Look out for bands including Die Irrlichter, Faun and Schandmaul. The Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg at the end of September is worth checking out too.
The German club scene
German nightlife has been known as a haven for all things vibrant, queer and decadent since the 1920s. In a recent survey by online travel agent Hostelworld, Hamburg was voted as having the best nightlife in the world. Visit the city’s infamous Reeperbahn for 24/7 clubs, bars and eateries. Berlin’s Hackesche Höfe, Oranienburger Straße and Kreuzkölln are legendary, too.
Alternative German nightlife
There are quirky clubs throughout Germany. But if clubbing isn’t on the agenda, a walking food tour in any of the major towns and cities will give a local insight into the best eateries and bars around. Not all entertainment has to be late night, either. A wonderful culture of ‘stammtisch’ sees informal group gatherings across the country, normally after work.
Perhaps the best-known beer festival on the planet, Oktoberfest, which is held annually in Munich, runs from mid-September until the beginning of October. Expect to see folk music, funfairs, pretzels, beer steins – and lederhosen.
Or go alternative
Bona fide beer lovers head to Bamberg in the Upper Franconia part of Bavaria for their ale action. At the Sandkerwa Festival, more than 200 breweries open their doors to revellers in mid-August. There are all kinds of entertainments on offer, too, including traditional music.
Arts and culture in Germany
Museums and galleries
There are art and artefact collections everywhere you look in Germany, with each town and city boasting its own proud collection. Try the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art in Munich, which celebrates established players like Banksy as well as emerging talent.
Or go alternative
Find out about the history of cologne at the Fragrance Museum in Cologne. Or uncover a world of espionage at the German Spy Museum in Berlin. Street art is a huge scene in Germany and can be found in all the major conurbations – perhaps some of the most iconic, though, adorns what remains of the Iron Curtain. Find Dmitri Vrubel’s Fraternal Kiss, Birgit Kinder’s Trabant breaking through the wall, and striking cartoon heads by Thierry Noir.