Culture

The most common Religions in Germany

The most common Religions in Germany - religion in Germany
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Since the early medieval period and the formation of what became the Holy Roman Empire, Christianity has been strong in the lands we now know as Germany. However, even with trade, politics, and other considerations shaping its history, religion in Germany is still an interesting subject.

Religion in the Constitution

The Basic Law solidifies the right to freedom of religion in modern Germany. This takes two aspects: both the negative freedom of religion (the right to not have to confess your faith, or any lack thereof, unless legally required to do so; also, the freedom not to be exposed to religion while in a state of subordination, for example) and positive freedom of religion. There is also no state church in Germany, though there is a thing called a church tax. More on this in the next section.

The two major Churches

Due to historical and cultural reasons, the largest religious organizations in modern Germany are the Protestant Evangelical Church in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church (both Christian movements). These churches are organized into legal corporations under public law, and enjoy certain benefits such as being able to provide religious education in state schools – for example, one denomination gives a lesson for members registered under their own denomination (Catholics would go to the Catholic-organized class, and so on). For smaller denominations or religious minorities, they may cooperate with these denominations or conduct classes outside school. Those who do not wish to participate in religious education at all must attend an alternative class called “ethics”. So the practice is a bit different from other countries, in this regard.

The Church Tax…

The church tax comes from a longstanding practice of a ruler maintaining churches, graveyards, and so on throughout history. Because of this, while Germany has no formal state religion, it devolved the church tax onto religious organizations – the tax goes towards upkeep of religious buildings, gravesites/cemeteries, salaries for clergy, and so on. Only people registered under the denominations (which are registered as legal corporations under public law) have to pay church tax, with the idea that Catholics would then help to pay for the maintenance of their own (Catholic) churches, and so on. The Jewish faith is also considered a taxable faith, depending on the German state, due to the large population of Jewish people there (third-largest Jewish population in Europe). However, this also means that smaller denominations or those without a strong organizational system (such as Muslims) may not be included in this system of taxation and maintenance, as the system favors large well-structured religious organizations.

…and how to avoid it.

If someone does not wish to pay church tax, they can make an official declaration that they are “leaving the church” – in this case, leaving the religious organization. It may be that the number of people in Germany who do not self-identify as religious may be partly due to this church tax, as more people over time have filed to not be considered members. (You can see what it would cost, and how to file, at this website (German langua only). However,  Catholic and Protestant clergy may refuse to bury someone who has formally left the faith, even if the person in question is still a believer. Currently, the issues revolving around church tax – who can administer it, who can distribute it, who has to pay it and why – are hot issues when it comes to matters of religion and the state in Germany. But as more people within Germany no longer identify with religious organizations, the religious organizations and churches in question are facing dilemmas about how to maintain themselves and how to change.

Islam and Juadism

Islam is notably the largest non-Christian religion in the country. Historically this was because of trade relations with the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century; nowadays, because of the postwar period and the inviting of foreign workers into Germany (notably from Turkey), German Muslims are not too uncommon, but find themselves in the midst of a tide of political debates in Germany, in Europe, and worldwide.

Many Jewish people also returned to Germany, notably after German unity, due to seeing German cities such as Berlin as more welcoming post-war than cities in ex-Soviet bloc countries.

The most common Religions in Germany - religion in Germany.
german history

Why do some Israelis have German-sounding names?

Why do some Israelis have German-sounding names?
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The brief answer to this would be “because Ashkenazim” – Jewish people who settled in the lands of Germany, Austria, even Poland who kept the predominately Eastern European rites and traditions of Jewish practice.

In history, Jewish people settled into the Holy Roman Empire and were even invited to England by William the Conqueror, partly as a way to jump-start education and boost the local economies. They were physicians, translators, administrators, merchants, lenders, and more, even with religious and secular restrictions imposed on their communities. Over time, the Jewish communities that had been based primarily in continental and eastern European lands became known as the Ashkenazim, and they primarily used the Yiddish language (a language which developed from Hebrew, German, as well as languages like Russian and Polish) as a method of communication. They developed their own rites, traditions, literature, and customs. When naming laws were implemented throughout Europe, many Ashkenazim took on surnames that reflected the language of their location – most often, the German-speaking areas they were already based in. By the time of World War II, estimates place Ashkenazim at about 92% of the Jewish world population (and consequently as the vast majority of Jews in Europe) with Yiddish speakers worldwide at approximately 11 to 13 million, with Poland and Germany as major cultural centers.

With the advent of the Holocaust, many Ashkenazim (along with Jews practicing other rites such as Mizrahi and Sephardim), as well as ethnicities, other religions, and other people deemed a danger to the Nazi regime, perished. Jewish people sought refuge in other countries, such as the United States. With the end of World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, and consequently the establishment of Israel’s Law of Return in 1950, the newly established Israel saw a flood of Ashkenazim.

Further Reading: Non-Jewish Victims of Persecution in Germany (Yad Vashem)

Why do some Israelis have German-sounding names?
german customs and traditions

The Beginning of May – May 1st in Germany

The Beginning of May - May 1st in Germany
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A Holiday for Workers as well as Welcoming Spring!

The beginning of May has long been celebrated across Europe as the start of summer, with festivities ranging from the street carnival-like atmosphere of Finland to Morris dancing in areas of England. In Germany, May 1st  has been a public holiday since the days of the Weimar Republic.

May Day – another name for May 1st – intertwines two movements. As mentioned, it is traditionally the start of summer in European countries, and so flowers are in bloom, songs are sung, there may be a May Queen contest in some areas, and so on. It’s common for families to enjoy the fresh air outside on this day, and so there may be a lot of picnics or general festivities outside on this day. In Germany the festivities may start on the night before (April 30 – May 1st), which is the night known as Walpurgisnacht – sometimes fires are lit to await the arrival of warmer weather on Walpurgisnacht, and in some of the rural areas, pranks may be played. Different towns might have slightly different traditions for May Day festivities, so please make sure to ask what your town does!

The political Meaning of May 1st

But the second movement is that of workers’ rights and political agitation. May 1st was declared a day to celebrate labor and work by members of various socialist and workers’ parties at the Second International, and so it has been associated with political agitation and celebrating the working classes in some form since approximately 1889. Before the German unity, both East Germany and West Germany held May Day celebrations, but the flavor of them varied; in East Germany, workers were pressured to participate in state-organized rallies and parades. In West Germany there was agitation and demonstrations by the workers’ movements and other movements (such as anarchists and so on) –  notably in 1987, there was major unrest in the area of Kreuzberg and violent riots occurred.

Because of that area’s experience with riots and unrest around May 1st due to anarchist movements and political tensions, alternative festivals and observances in Berlin have been supported as a way to not only hold the traditions of May Day observances, but also as a way to decrease tensions and promote peace. Police also have a policy of de-escalation in place, to help protect lives of the citizens.

So go out for May Day and enjoy the festivities or rallies, but make sure to take care as well!

The Beginning of May - May 1st in Germany
Studying in Germany

The Master’s Degree – Studying in Germany

The Master's Degree in Germany
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If you plan to study in Germany at the level of the Master’s degree, in some ways it’s easier than trying to apply as an undergraduate at the Bachelor’s level: If you are an English speaker, you’re in luck! There are more programs at the Master’s level that are taught in English, with more and more expected soon.

 

General Requirements for your Master’s degree

To clarify here: The Master’s degree is the second university degree, and is done either after the Bachelor’s degree is awarded or after a few years of professional experience. At the Master’s level, classes are generally more intensive and specialized, so it is useful to study at the Master’s level if you wish to specialize in a particular field, or if you want to bolster your previous studies with a related field. Some programs of study at the Master’s level do not require the study of a related field first, such as the Master of Business Administration degree (MBA), so it is best to carefully review your options well in advance.

 

Which Documents do you need?

However, you will still need your documents. This includes transcripts and translations of credentials for your Bachelor’s degree. If you are applying to the Master’s level courses without having yet graduated from your Bachelor’s degree – such as applying in your final year of Bachelor’s degree classes to study in Germany for a Master’s degree the year afterwards – please make sure to indicate this in your documents and send all unofficial or interim transcripts you may have, noting that your degree is still in progress and has not yet been awarded. Also make sure to include your expected graduation date with your materials. When in doubt, or if you have any questions about the courses you are looking at taking, please contact the universities you are looking at directly: it is always best practice to contact their Akademisches Auslandsamt / International Office first, but at the Master’s degree level, it is also a good idea to contact the departments that interest you for more information on the program of study you might be interested in. For example, if you are interested in enrolling in a program related to history, you may want to contact that university’s history department for more information about the program.

 
Funding, however, can become more of a problem at the Master’s degree level depending on your country of origin. The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) can help international students in finding scholarships, stipends, and other resources in financing your Master’s degree in Germany.

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Bachelor Degree in Germany

Bachelor Degree Germany
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So you’ve looked at our previous articles on studying in Germany, and you want to do your Bachelor’s degree at a German institution. But how?

We have already covered some of the documents you’ll need, such as getting your passport in order as well as making sure your educational documents are translated and verified. But aside from that, the Bachelor in Germany degree depends on the university – and if you plan to study in English or in German.
But here are three general tips that may make things a bit easier!

1. Get applications/documents in on time.

Like with universities in your home country, looking at deadlines is one of the most important things you have to do. Please check with the universities you are interested in to find out their application deadlines. For example, Freie Universität Berlin lists their major deadlines for upcoming semesters on this page.

2. Check the language skill requirements for your Bachelor program of study.

Generally, proof of German language proficiency is required, except for certain programs of study taught in English. It is useful to check the student admissions or student center of the university you are interested in applying, to get the most up to date information on what is required. If your native language is neither German nor English, make extremely sure you have language proficiencies documented and recorded! For example, five years of English instruction at school may be enough for some programs, OR a certain score on the IELTS or the TOEFL tests. Please make sure to check!

3. Please make sure you have enough funding to make it through your Bachelor degree.

This is required in order to apply for an entry visa or a residence permit for studying within Germany. For a Bachelor degree in Germany, normally a tuition fee is not charged. However, living expenses still incur for you, and so it is recommended you have approximately 600 – 800 Euros (or equivalent) per MONTH at your disposal to take care of these expenses such as housing, groceries, clothes, and more while you are in Germany. This amount must be independent of any job you take. We will discuss funding in more detail in the next article.

Hope this helps you!

Bachelor Degree Germany
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What to do when your passport gets stolen?

What to Do if Your Passport Gets Lost or Stolen
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To add to the already stressful situation of losing your passport, you may not know what to do when you lose it in another country. Admittedly, there is some variance based on what your country of origin is, and where you may have lost your documents (or had it stolen), but these are some tips you can follow.

In any case, it is a good practice – even if you still have your passport! – to retain a photocopy of the first page of your passport for your records. Store this copy in a safe place. This way, if your passport does get lost or stolen, you can more easily replace it (see Step 3).

First: Inform local Authorities, if possible.

Second: Inform your nearest Embassy/Consulate of your Country of Origin.

For the second step, obviously this depends on your country of origin, but the procedure for nationals and permanent residents of the United States of America is outlined here  and the government of the United Kingdom encourages people to cancel their passport at once to avoid identity fraud.

Third: Go through the Process to replace your Passport.

This process may vary, but the embassy/consulate you contacted in Step 2 will be able to help you. For US citizens, the documents you might need in order to replace a lost or stolen passport might include:

  • Police report, if available
  • Evidence of US citizenship (birth certificate, copy of existing passport)
  • Identification
  • Travel itinerary, if relevant

These are just some of the documents you may need, but because of these, it is a good plan to keep photocopies of important identification documents in a safe place in case a situation like this does arise. If you are a UK citizen in Germany, you may also want to check this page.

If you are a member of armed forces abroad, special requirements and procedures may apply. Again, check with your embassy/consulate, and also the branch of the armed forces to which you belong, for assistance.

What to Do if Your Passport Gets Lost or Stolen
Culture german customs and traditions

German Traditions – Christmas in Germany

Christmas in Germany
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There are a few similarities between American traditions, at the least, and German traditions for Christmas. However, even though in both the United States and in Germany Christmas is a commercial season, the season looks a bit different in Germany!
    
When I grew up (in the US), we had a glass pickle ornament on our Christmas tree, and we were told it was because of an old German tradition. As my family could easily trace their ancestry back only a generation or two from Germany, they took it to be fact.
    
Unfortunately, while these glass ornaments are often made in Germany (as are many glass ornaments for Christmas), the pickle ornament has never been a tradition in Germany by natives.

 

The Christmas tree, however, is!

While evergreen plants have been used to represent life eternal in human imagination for centuries, the tradition of the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) has been carried over from Germany to other parts of Europe and also the Americas. It is said that during the Christianization of the Germanic tribes, St Boniface used the connection between renewal and everlasting life to dedicate the fir tree (Tannenbaum) to the Christ Child, which eventually displaced the oak tree which had been sacred to Odin. However, we can trace the use of the Tannenbaum  – raising it in rooms and decorating it – to around the 1550s due to looking at carols from the time.

 

Christmas markets

Germany has other major traditions for Christmas too, though, that sometimes we do not see as easily in the United States. The tradition of the Christmas market (Weihnachtmarkt; also known by other names) in Germany stemmed from winter markets to help people get through the cold winter months, and nowadays any town of moderate size in Germany will boast at least one of these markets. In the United States we only see these markets in larger cities, especially the cities that have a large German-American population; I do see them in other cities in Europe however, such as in Guildford, in England. These markets generally start when Advent starts (though some start as early as late November!) and run for about three to four weeks. You can buy food at these markets, too – everything from currywurst to cookies to cider. These markets can be found in other places across Europe, but the market in Dresden has the strongest claim for being the oldest Christmas market (1434) as far as we can tell!

 

The Christmas season

As stated, this means Christmas has a lot of commercialism to it, but instead of going to big stores, it has a bit more local flavor in Germany. Christmas itself is its own season, with German traditions incorporating Advent (the four weeks before Christmas Day) as well as “the twelve days of Christmas” between December 25th and January 6th – that is, between Christmas Day and Epiphany, the day in which the three wise men are supposed to come from the east to visit the newly born Christ child (as per the gospel of Luke in Christian scripture). While the gift-giving date has changed over the years from the festival of St Nicholas himself (December 6-7) to Epiphany (January 6th) to the more common Christmas Eve (Germans don’t tend to open presents on Christmas Day!), the idea of Christmas as an anticipated, joyous season to combat the dreary, cold days of winter has a long history in Germany.
    
What’s your favorite part of Christmas – or do you not celebrate Christmas at all? Let us know!

Christmas in Germany
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How to address a German properly – Sie or Du

SIE or DU
Duzen or Siezen? Photo via Pixabay / Unsplash

Talking to German People Properly: Formal and Informal Speech

In English, “you” is just “you” – whether formal or informal. It’s great for when you don’t know your relative social status or want to make a point of equality; however, a lot of languages make a distinction between people, and encode social status and considerations into the language itself. German is one of these languages. Here are two of the most important examples:

Sie and du

Sie or du? Both mean “you”, but du is for your friends and family – and also children and pets. Sie is for everyone else – at least until you make friends with them! And even then, if you’re speaking to them in their professional capacity (such as talking to a professor or a teacher, lawyer or doctor), please use Sie.

How do you know when to change from Sie to du?

It used to be that people would have get-togethers over schnapps to celebrate moving from Sie formalities to using du with each other. It was a sign of intimacy – not necessarily the intimacy between married couples, but the intimacy of friendship, of knowing a person well. In fact, if you look in literature and in plays, the transition between Sie to du becomes a key plot point.

With social media being as popular as it is, though, do not be surprised if you see people using du on Twitter or on Facebook. That seems to be the trend across different languages – whether it is a function of the Internet or an influence from other languages, such as English, remains to be seen.

Titles

Even though aristocracy ended in the German speaking areas in the early 1900s, the idea of respecting authority and social hierarchy still persists. Therefore, if the person you are speaking to has earned a professional title, it is good German manners to address them using that title. Your Dr Schmidt is still going to be Dr Schmidt – she earned the doctorate or medical degree and has a degree of authority and knowledge in society. To English speakers, this can seem overly formal, but it is just a way to respect the person who received that title. This goes when you are studying in Germany also – when in doubt of their official title, ask them what you should call them. Academic ranks in Germany are very different than in the United States (or even the United Kingdom) and a professorship is a major career milestone: by law, depending on the area of Germany, it takes up to 5 years of service before an academic can use Professor as a title.

How do I address my German boss
Financing and Scholarships Studying in Germany

Financing your Studies in Germany

Financiny your Studies in Germany
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This is one of the trickiest things to figure out – even in your home country, finding out how to best finance postsecondary studies can be confusing! So let us help you with some information. As stated previously, normally at German institutions, there are no tuition fees. Students are required to pay for certain fees and contributions, such as to student unions/governments, enrollment fees, and so on, and these charges can vary per semester. Please check the universities you are interested in for further information on these charges.

Which Expenses do You need to cover?

Of course, the main expense you will have as a student will be living expenses; housing, for example, as well as food and clothing. As such, it is recommended that you find a way to have at your disposal 600 – 800 Euros (or the equivalent) PER MONTH to take care of these expenses. You will need to verify that you have sufficient funds in order to apply for an entry visa or a residence permit for studying at a German institution, so how do you make sure you get the funds?
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has a wealth of tips and information in English, including information on how you might be able to work within Germany (if you are able to do so, such as if you are from a EU member country).

Looking for Scholarships

If you are from the United States of America, keep in mind that looking for financial aid may take up to 12 months in advance. However, it can be done. Websites such as InternationalScholarships.com help in finding financing opportunities for international study. Also, do not forget that organizations and professional associations may be able to give you grants or scholarship monies – please check any associations to which you or your family may belong in case there may be opportunities there. Checking professional associations or organizations is good advice even if you are outside the United States!

Get help from the Bank

Finally, there is the option to take out loans. This should be used as a last resort, but thankfully, since German educational institutions do not charge tuition fees, this may be a way to gain a cosmopolitan education at a lower cost than in your home country.

Financiny your Studies in Germany
requirements Studying in Germany

Documents that may be needed for university

What documents do you need to study in Germany?
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Transcripts, Translations, and More: Documents For Studying in Germany

So you’ve decided to study in Germany, and have read up on the basic information; you’re in the process of getting your government-sponsored identification (such as a passport) if you do not already have one, and want to find out what else you may need to apply!

As the required documentation can take time to research, acquire, and get approved, this is the next step for you.

The following information is very dependent on where your home country is. Please make sure to research universities on your own as well, as specific instructions vary by university.

However, as a general rule, please have the following documentation ready:

  •  Proof of graduation from secondary education (such as from high school in the United States of America
  • If you have taken any postsecondary certification courses or university classes, provide transcripts or certifications of those as well
  • Include information on the grading system used by the educational institution
  • All documents must be officially authenticated by the educational institution as well (such as sealed/stamped by the university, with a school seal, notarized, etc).

The tricky part for documentation is this next one: All documents must have a sworn translation form with them. This means finding a German translator and getting the translation officially recognized, either through a notary or a translation service specializing in overseas applications.

Language Skills and Tests

You might also have to prove your language skills are at a particular level, depending on the course you have chosen to study and the university at which you plan to study. Again, please check with the university, but as a general rule:

If you are taking a course of study taught in English, English-language proficiency is required. Please look into the ToEFL, the IELTS, or confirm that your secondary education (and/or any postsecondary studies) was taught in the English language, to help with proof of English-language proficiency.

If you are taking a course of study taught in German, of course a certain level of German language proficiency is to be expected. As such, please look into the following:

  • The DSH (Deustche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang)
  • TestDaF (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache)

If your language skills or qualifications are not enough for entrance into a German university, you may have the choice of enrolling in a Studienkolleg. A Studienkolleg, such as the one used by Freie Universität Berlin and more, helps prepare you for studies in German and has an assessment test.  For information on what Studienkolleg is like, please watch this site as well.

What documents do you need to study in Germany?