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The 16 German States

Germany is a federal republic which consists of the 16 different German states. While the state of course does not necessarily characterize all of its people, each of them is unique in terms of how people will behave, the accent they have and their general culture.

We should not over-estimate these differences, because fundamental core values are pretty much the same thoughout all German states, but we should also not under-estimate the difference.

If you were to ask some Germans in the street how similar they think Bavaria in the south is to Hamburg in the north or North Rhine-Westphalia in the west is to Saxony in the east, I’m fairly certain almost all of them will tell you that they are very different.

The names of these German states are as follows (in alphabetical order):

English name German name
Bavaria Bayern
Berlin Berlin
Brandenburg Brandenburg
Bremen Bremen
Hamburg Hamburg
Hesse Hessen
Lower Saxony Niedersachsen
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
North Rhine-Westphalia Nordrhein-Westfalen
Rhineland-Palatinate Rheinland-Pfalz
Saarland Saarland
Saxony Sachsen
Saxony-Anhalt Sachsen-Anhalt
Schleswig-Holstein Schleswig-Holstein
Thuringia Thüringen


Posted in Travel.

The North Sea – one of Germany’s coasts

North Sea Beach

A typical North Sea beach in Germany

North Sea and surrounding countries

North Sea and surrounding countries

The North Sea is part of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the coast lines of Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

Please click the map for a general overview of its location and surrounding countries.

For Germany the North Sea makes up one of its two coast lines: The North Sea in the West, the Baltic Sea in the East. The two coasts are seperated by the country of Denmark and the Northern part of Schleswig-Holstein, one of the 16 German states.

The North Sea & Tourism

The North Sea is a popular tourist destination for travellers from all over Germany. … click here to continue reading the full article…

Posted in Travel.

Recommended article: Germany’s rap scene harmoniously divides

Germany’s new rappers are the clean-cut boys next door. But are they really rappers? Who cares! They’re selling plenty of tickets and merchandise, and even sharing the stage with their gangsta buddies.

Read the full article on Deutsche Welle.

Deutsche Welle is a public radio station and media provider, bringing news and stories from Germany to the world.

Posted in Culture.

5 Largest German Cities

Largest German Cities on a map

5 largest German cities on a map

This is a short introduction to the 5 largest German citiesys, with a map indicating where they are and general population numbers. The numbers are taken from the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), based on the 2011 census. This is an official and reliable source of information for population statistics.

Berlin (3.3 Mio.)

Berlin is number one of the largest German cities and significantly larger than any of the other towns. Berlin has been the capital of Germany since the reunification of West and East and the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1990.

The parliament (Bundestag), official residence of the president (Schloss Bellevue) and many other important political institutions are located here.

Hamburg (1.7 Mio.)

Hamburg is located in the North of Germany on the Elbe River, close to the North Sea, but not on the coast itself. Hamburg is an important sea port, second largest in Europe, and a lot of imports and exports from or to central Europe pass through the city.

The city has become an important cultural and media hub. Many TV stations, newspapers, large magazines and internet companies have their headquarters in the city.

Munich (1.4 Mio.)

Munich is the third of the largest German cities and capital of Bavaria, the largest German state by area. Many of the images typically associated with Germany internationally, like Lederhosen, Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) and Oktoberfest are Bavarian icons.

In terms of these stereotypes, Munich is maybe the most “German” city (and mean that totally unbiased). Munich, however, also has a strong economy and is home to global companies such as Siemens and BMW.

Cologne (1,0 Mio.)

Cologne is fourth in the largest German cities and also one of the oldest cities. It was founded around 50 AD by the Roman Empire as a major military castle. Cologne is situated on the Rhine River and held important strategic importance in expanding the empire across the river into the territory of the Germanic tribes.

In the Middle Ages Cologne became an important city of the Roman Catholic Church. This was also the time when construction of the famous Cologne Cathedral (which contains the relics of the Three Wise Men) began. Today the city is well-known for its carnival and arts scene.

If you would like to know more, please also read my article “Five things you should do when in Cologne”.

Frankfurt (0,7 Mio.)

Frankfurt is Germany’s financial center and an important global financial center. Frankfurt is home to the European Central Bank, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and the German Federal Bank.

Many other banks, such as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, are situated here as well. In addition to its financial sector, Frankfurt is an important transportation hub: Frankfurt Airport is home to Lufthansa and one of the busiest international airports worldwide.

Largest German cities listed

If you are interested in the population numbers of other German cities, please have look at this pdf document of the Largest German Cities (PDF) . It lists all towns with a population of more than 100,000.

Posted in People.

How to say hello in German

When I travel abroad and don’t know the language I usually like to learn at least a few basic words. It doesn’t just help you get around, but it’s also considered quite polite by the locals. They realize right away that you’ve put a little effort into learning about their culture and language.

Because to greet someone is one of the most basic functions of a language I will give you a few phrases to say hello in German.

General phrases used to say hello in German

”Hallo” – simple enough. “Hallo” is the equal to hello in German and the most versatile German greeting. It’s neither formal nor informal and not related to a particular situation. You can’t go wrong with it and if you don’t know what else to use simply go with it.

”Guten Tag” means „Good Day“ and is a more formal way to say hello in German. It is appropriate if you would like to greet someone on the street to ask for directions, address a waiter in a restaurant or ask something in a shop. If you are meeting someone for the first time or talking to a stranger on the phone you should use “Guten Tag”.

”Guten Morgen” and ”Guten Abend” are variations of the above, meaning “Good Morning” and “Good Evening”. If you want to say hello in German and refer to the time of day, this is a good expression to use. Otherwise it is the same as “Guten Tag”.

”Hi” is the same as the English “Hi”, so it is quite informal and a good way to greet your friends and people you already know.

Shortened versions: It is also possible to shorten expressions like “Guten Tag” by omitting the first word “Guten”. So you would simply get “Tag”, “n’Abend” (the n’ is just a sort of leftover from “GuteN”) and “Morgen” as alternative and more informal ways to say hello in German than the full expression.

Local phrases to say hello in German

There are also some ways to say hello in German, which are mainly used in certain regions. Just listen to the people around you and you will get a clue as to what they are using.

”Servus” and ” Grüß Gott” are being used in the South of Germany, Bavaria for example, as well as in Austria.

”Moin” or Moin, moin is used to say hello in German by people in Northern Germany. It is a variation “Morgen” but can be used any time of day to say hello.

Hello in German – Pronunciation

When I started this blog entry about ways to say hello in German, I wanted to write out how to pronounce the various ways to say hello in German, but found that it is quite ambiguous and not very accurate. What I recommend you do is go to the LEO Dictionary, type in the phrase and you will get a result with a small speaker icon next to it. If you click on that it will play a short audio file with the pronunciation. If you have any other questions about how to say hello in German just leave a message below or drop me a mail.

Posted in Travel, Trivia.

President of Germany – his role and functions

The federal President of Germany is the German head of state. On paper that makes him the most powerful political figure in Germany. His main responsibilities and actions are, however, mostly representative and ceremonial.

The President of Germany is not directly involved in making laws or political decisions which stir the country in one direction or the other. His role in German politics is rather that of a watcher or public conscience.

So, what does the President of Germany do?

Flag of the German President

This is the standard of the President of Germany. It is kind of like his own flag, depicting a black eagle, which is a German coat of arms used for example on coins or in the military.

These are his main responsibilities:

State visits and foreign representation: As first ambassador the President of Germany travels to a lot of different countries to establish and strengthen bi- or multinational relations. These relations are mainly symbolic, social and cultural, because he cannot independently sign treaties for Germany. President Horst Köhler for example was known for his commitment for developing countries in Africa while in office between 2004 and 2010.

Signing and verifying laws
All laws that are passed in parliament must be signed by the President of Germany to become effective. Only in a select few cases the president decided not to wave them through. When he did, the reason was either that he thought the law would break German Basic Law or because certain formalities had not been met.

Appointment and dismissal of the government
After elections the President of Germany suggests the Chancellor and appoints the various other members of the government. He also appoints and dismisses federal judges, high-ranking military personnel and other officials. He may also dissolute the parliament if no stable government can be formed or a vote of confidence is defeated.

Where does the president of Germany live?

Because Germany was split into East and West Germany after the Second World War, there are now two official residences. One is the Bellevue Palace (“Schloss Bellevue”), a neoclassical palace in Berlin (“belle vue” is French and translates into “beautiful view”). The other official residence of the President of Germany is Villa Hammerschmidt in Bonn. Bonn was the capital of West Germany until German reunification in 1990 and then succeeded by Berlin as federal capital for the whole country.

Bellevue Palace Residence of the President of Germany

Bellevue Palace, residence of the President of Germany in Berlin (credits: Stephan Czuratis)

Villa Hammerschmidt Bonn Residence President of Germany

Villa Hammerschmidt is the residence of the President of Germany in Bonn (credits: Sir James).

Although the two buildings are official residences, most Presidents chose to maintain their own apartments somewhere else in Germany. President Roman Herzog (1994-1999) was the only one who actually lived in the Bellevue Palace. The official residences are rather used as offices, for receptions and other official events.

Who elects the President of Germany?

To become a presidential candidate a few conditions must be met: The President of Germany must be a German citizen, at least 40 years old, and not be employed by or own any business. He cannot be part of the elected government. The President of Germany is elected in a Federal Convention (Bundesversammlung).

The Federal Convention consists of the members of the parliament and an equal amount of delegates elected from the different federal states. These delegates can be either politicians, but more often as not they are notable personalities and celebrities from all over the country. Because the President of Germany is elected secretly, the delegates are not bound to vote for the candidate their particular party favors.

More information on the President of Germany

The President of Germany has an official website with more information, current speeches and events: (information available in English as well).

Who has been President of Germany?

There have been 10 Presidents altogether after World War II. I will write another blog post, listing the names of previous Presidents and their accomplistments. I will link to the article from here once it is written.

Posted in News.

New book: Burned Bridge – How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marks the most important event in recent German history. The succeeding reunification of Germany not only reshaped the political, sociological and cultural landscape of Europe, but served as one of the milestones which paved the road to end the Cold War. Because of the consequences on a truly global scale and the permanence of change both the construction and the deconstruction of the Iron Curtain have caused, much less thought is given to the more local circumstances: the people who lived in constant threat of nuclear warfare only a few kilometers apart from each other, yet on the sides of two vastly different political systems, separated by a physical and psychological wall.

Wall of the Mind

Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain by Edith Sheffer, who is an Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Stanford, takes a closer look at the “Wall of the Mind” prior and after the construction of the physical barrier. Sheffer’s research focuses on the sister cities of Neustadt bei Coburg and Sonneberg, two cities very similar in social structure and much else, yet separated by a border after World War 2. The former fell to the West, into the military zone occupied by the United States, the latter to the East, into the Soviet sector. The author argues that it was already in the immediate post-war period, before the wall was even built in 1961, that a growing sense of alienation between easterners and westerners began to emerge. What used to be a homogenous community was slowly driven apart by images of “the other”, enhanced by propaganda and selective media communication.

Growing East-West tensions

“Very early on, people’s opinions of what east and west meant were already forming,” says Sheffer. “In as early as a year, people were beginning to see each other as either easterners or westerners.” As the years went on, local governments in the west began taking action to stem the exodus of easterners to border towns like Neustadt bei Coburg, while such migration bred resentment in the east. One woman, Sheffer recalls, found herself begging in the streets of Neustadt after being turned away from work opportunities because her father, a glass maker, had been wooed over to the west where there was greater demand and compensation for his services. Such acts of discrimination were not tolerated and marked entire families as effective traitors.

It is important to understand the far-reaching human impact of ideological policies and political decisions in general. The book presents an interesting case study which shows just that and gives a more vivid picture of what East-West tensions looked like.


There is an additional interview with the Edith Sheffer about her research:

If the video doesn’t show, here is the YouTube link:

Book details and more information

The book was published by the Oxford University Press in September 2011. 384 pages. ISBN: 0199737045.
For more information visit

You can purchase it on Amazon:

cover of burned bridge by edith sheffer
Burned Bridge:
How East and West Germans
Made the Iron Curtain

Posted in Culture.

German Holidays – Part 2

In part 1 of this article I talked about the holidays in Germany which are celebrated in all states.

This second part will talk about the German holidays that only some states observe.

German holidays celebrated in some states

Epiphany (Heilige Drei Könige) is on January 6th and commemorates the visit of the three Magi after the birth of Jesus. Throughout the day children, each dressed as one of the three Wise Men, will go from door to door and recite a particular song. They are called Sternsinger (star singers), because of the star the three Magi followed to find Baby Jesus. The children are generally given some candy and collect money for the less fortunate and in turn will leave a chalk mark on the door as token of good luck for the remaining year. Epiphany is a public holiday in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt.

These marks are left by the Sternsinger (star singers) around people's doors as a token of good luck

Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam) is one of the Catholic German holidays. Unlike Epiphany, it is not related to Jesus’ life itself, but is simply a holy day to remember the miracle of the Body of Christ (Eucharist, Lord’s supper), a sacrament and rite observed in most Catholic masses. It is celebrated 60 days after Easter Sunday, so it usually occurs some day in June, in the following states: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.

Assumption Day (Mariä Himmelfahrt) is another of the Catholic German holidays, commemorating the assumption of Mary into heaven after her death. It is celebrated on August 15th each year and a public holiday in Saarland and most of Bavaria.

Reformation Day (Reformationstag) is on October 31st each year, the same day Martin Luther in 1517 nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. In his theses he criticized many of the practices of the church, which eventually sparked the protestant reformation and lead to the separation of the church. It is one of the public German holidays in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.

All Saints’ Day (Allerheiligen) is the day to remember the various lesser and major saints of the Catholic church, their suffering and doings. All Saints’ Day falls on November 1st and is a public holiday in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.

Day of Repentance and Prayer (Buß- und Bettag) was one of the national German holidays until 1994, but then abolished to pay for the rising cost of the federal nursing care insurance. It was originally, as the name suggests, a day of major prayer and repentance. Now it is only a public holiday in Saxony, celebrated on  the Wednesday before November 23rd.

Last but not least and a curiosity among the German holidays is the Augsburg Peace Festival, celebrated on the 8th of August each year. It commemorates the signing of the Peace of Westphalia (also called the Treaty of Münster), which ended the Thirty Years’ war in 1648. What is curios is that it is allegedly the only state-protected holiday in the world which is at the same time restricted to only one city.

Posted in Culture.

Holidays in Germany – Part 1

Public holidays in Germany are particular days when employers are obliged to give their employees the day off to commemorate a certain religious or secular event. Businesses, banks and shops remain closed on these days, though restaurants are allowed to be open. Which days are designated holidays in Germany is determined by state law, so shops might be closed in one state while they remain open in another.

I have decided to split this article into two parts: Part 1 will deal only with the more important holidays in Germany, celebrated nation-wide in all states. Part 2 will talk about the remaining German holidays, which some states celebrate and some don’t.

Holidays in Germany which are celebrated in all states

fireworks on new years day

Fireworks on New Year's Day

New Year’s Day (Neujahrstag) is on January 1st and celebrates the beginning of the new year with fireworks. On New Year’s Eve (Silvester in German), December 31st, people either meet with friends to celebrate the occasion or go to one of the many parties. The biggest public party takes place in Berlin.

Easter (Ostern) commemorates the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are two holidays in Germany commemorating the event: The first is Good Friday (Karfreitag), the day of the crucifixion, and the second is Easter Monday (Ostermontag), the day after the resurrection. Easter Sunday itself is not listed as such, because it is on a Sunday and businesses remain closed anyways. Somewhat unique for Easter in Germany are the Easter fires.

Labor Day (Tag der Arbeit) is always on May 1st and an extension of the efforts of the Labor Movement into a public holiday. Unions, Labor Parties and associated organizations use the day to reinforce demands for fair working conditions and just payment and remember the previous struggles of the working class.

Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt) is 39 days after Easter Sunday and commemorates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Ascension Day in Germany is also Father’s Day.

Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag) is 50 days after Easter. It is the day after Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven to the Twelve Apostles and disciples of Jesus after his resurrection. Like Easter Sunday, Pentecost itself is always on a Sunday as well, so it is automatically a public holiday.

german flag on unity day

German Flag on Unity Day

German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) is the only of the holidays in Germany defined by federal law. It takes place on October 3rd each year and is the anniversary of German Reunification in 1990. It is the day when East and West Germany were formally reunited and brought the Cold War to an end.

Christmas Day (Weihnachtstag), December 25th, is the day after Christ’s birth and one of the most important holidays in Germany. Families usually visit church on Christmas Eve and then return home to have a nice dinner, while children find their presents under the Christmas tree. The day after Christmas Day (Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag), also called St Stephen’s Day, is also a public holiday.

So, there you have the holidays in Germany celebrated in all states. Part 2 of this article talks about the remaining German holidays here. Thanks for reading.

Posted in Culture.

German power plugs

One of the little hassles when travelling is figuring out how to use your electronic devices abroad. This is particularly true today, because it has become so much easier to bring digital cameras, netbooks and cellphones on the road. I’ve taken a few pictures of German power plugs for you, so you know what to expect when you travel to Germany.

German power plugs: socket and the two types of plugs

This is first of all what a regular wall socket looks like:

german-electric-plug-socket a regular wall socket for German electric plugs

And these are the two different types of German power plugs that exist:

the two types of German electric plugs


… click here to continue reading the full article…

Posted in Travel.