Dear Americans Moving to Stuttgart
As you probably expect, there are many ways in which life in Germany is different from life in the United States. We’d like to introduce you to some aspects that other Americans have commented on as surprising or difficult to get used to. That way you can be as well prepared as possible for your transition! These tips are focused on what you can expect in and around Stuttgart, although you’d probably find most of these are true for other parts of Germany as well.
Unless you’re from an American city like New York or San Francisco, you should expect much smaller living spaces in Stuttgart. Apartments are not very large and the housing market is very competitive. It’s common in Stuttgart to pay an additional monthly fee for parking, even if it’s just for an outdoor spot. Your best bet if you prefer to live in a large house with a private garage is to go looking in the countryside villages further out from the city.
In Germany, buildings are constructed to hold in the maximum amount of heat, which has the side effect of trapping in a maximum of moisture as well. That’s why Germans have a habit of opening windows to let stale, moist air out and allow fresh air in. Even when there’s no particular odor to get rid of, this helps prevent mold. Many German rental contracts even include a requirement for tenants to open their windows fully for at least ten minutes each morning and evening.
That’s also a useful habit in the summertime, since air conditioning is quite uncommon and central cooling is almost unheard of. Fortunately, by letting in cool air at night and early in the morning, then lowering the blinds or closing curtains, your well-insulated home will also stay fairly comfortable. That said, heat waves are becoming a more normal occurrence in summer, and it’s a good idea to buy a fan before the next one hits! (Click here for more tips for staying cool in summer.)
German apartments tend not to have built-closets; you will need to buy cabinets and wardrobes for storage. It’s also quite normal to have a shoe cabinet at the entry to your home and switch to slippers for the indoors. You can expect a movable shower head in most bathrooms—check to make sure that it’s set up to stay in place even when you turn up the water pressure.
In the Stuttgart area, there’s a Swabian custom you may encounter if you live in a smaller apartment building or Mehrfamilienhaus (multi-family house) called the “Kehrwoche.” Essentially, the inhabitants take turns cleaning the common areas of the building, such as the entry and stairwell. In winter they also take turns clearing the sidewalk and/or drive of snow and ice. Check with your landlord to see if this happens on a regular schedule or if there’s a calendar where you should sign up.
It’s also important to inform yourself about the quiet hours in the building. The Stuttgart area has quiet hours mandated from 10:00pm to 6:00am every day and all day on Sundays. During those hours you should be careful not to make noise at a level that would disturb someone’s sleep; playing loud music, using a drill or a hammer, or speaking loudly out on your balcony could result in a visit from the police. In addition, apartment buildings may have their own rules for these hours and perhaps for the afternoons.
Speaking of Sundays, one big adjustment Americans coming to Germany will need to make is not being able to go shopping on Sundays. All shops and grocery stores are closed on Sundays, as well as some restaurants. Gas station convenience stores remain open, and pharmacies take turns being on duty, but otherwise you just have to wait until Monday.
Many shops also close relatively early in the evening, although larger grocery stores often stay open until 10:00pm or even midnight. Shopping malls also occasionally have special shopping nights during which all the shops stay open until midnight. (For more information on the main malls and grocery chains in Stuttgart, click here.)
There is a separation in Germany between pharmacies (Apotheke) and drugstores (Drogerie-Markt). Pharmacies are usually fairly small: they offer a limited range of beauty and wellness products out front, and both prescription and over-the-counter drugs behind the pharmacist’s counter. Drugstores are where you can buy all your toiletries, as well as cleaning supplies, makeup, baby items, and some health foods.
Customer service expectations are very different in Germany. Although most store employees are happy to help answer a question and show you where something is, you can’t expect an attitude of “The customer is always right.” Making returns is not always possible, or only under strict conditions, especially for anything edible. That’s also true in restaurants—servers are well known for being rather brusque and impatient with special requests, and they will not be amused if you try to send a dish back.
Germany has an excellent network of public transportation, and Stuttgart is no exception. You’ll often hear residents complain about punctuality and crowded trains during rush hour, but for most Americans, the system will seem like a marvel of efficiency. There are buses, trams, and trains to take you almost anywhere you want to go. Delays on city transport are infrequent and rarely worse than a few minutes. When it comes to longer trips, the Deutsche Bahn offers compensation to any passengers delayed by an hour! Check out our articles on public transportation and getting around Stuttgart for more information on city mobility.
Stuttgart is known to be an automobile city, which makes sense since it’s the home of both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. Like any city, though, it can be tricky to find parking, particularly for larger vehicles. It’s a good idea to choose a smaller vehicle if you can, particularly since some apartment complexes may not have any spots suitable for SUVs and vans.
There is an unfortunate stereotype about German people in the Stuttgart region: namely, that they are fairly closed off or even unfriendly. However, this has more to do with cultural differences than people’s nature; you’ll find the same proportion of warm, lovely people in Stuttgart as you would anywhere else!
First, people here tend not to be interested in making superficial small talk. Idle chit-chat is more often reserved for people they already know well enough to care about. People are apt to help explain something if you ask politely for help and they have time to offer it. Depending on the area you live in, people may or may not be used to smiling and saying hello as they pass each other on the street or on a trail in the forest. To some extent, you can actually understand this as a way of respectfully offering each other the freedom to carry on enjoying your walk or your own conversation without needing to be interrupted by greetings. That also holds true in bars or restaurants: you can expect to speak with the people you came with and not have much interaction with other patrons.
Second, people from the area around Stuttgart are very community minded, but that may not come across in a friendly way. Neighbors will complain to you if you are being too loud or if you’re sorting your waste incorrectly. People on the train will let you know if you’ve stored your luggage too precariously or remind you not to put your feet on the seats. Cyclists will yell at you for walking on a bike path and pedestrians will shout if you’re riding on a sidewalk meant only for pedestrians. However, this comes from a place of respect for a well-functioning community and it has several advantages. It tends to be peaceful enough for everyone to sleep well at night. People also chase bike thieves away from your bike and might even leave you a note encouraging you to buy a more secure lock. Fellow passengers will call after you if you’ve dropped your gloves and will turn a forgotten jacket into the lost and found.
Finally, it may at times be difficult to make new German friends—not because they are unwilling to befriend foreigners, but because they may not have time and space for new friends. German people in this region tend to be very loyal friends and often have “Freundeskreis” (social circle) built up from the time they were in kindergarten. The best way to make German friends is to join some kind of social activity, club, or sport. Shared interests and activities will often lead to new friendships. And the best part is that once you have a German friend, you will likely have them for life!