Germany has a reputation for being a straight-laced, by-the-books country -- but plenty of weirdness bubbles just below the surface. Honestly, "Sprockets" isn't that far-fetched. As it turns out, there’s more than enough weird and wacky going down between the Vaterland’s borders. Here are 18 eye-opening facts about good old Deutschland:
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1. On the first day of first grade, every child gets a giant cone filled with toys and candy
The Schultüte, a tradition that dates back to the 1800s, gives kids toys when they enter school to celebrate the "seriousness of life." Going back to work after vacation would be a whole lot more bearable if employers were like Germany. These days, it’s not unlikely for kids to even get video games and a cell phone in their cones, too. Germany's not alone in the practice, however -- Austria and the Czech Republic have a similar tradition, too.
2. Drinking alcohol in public is legal
Germany’s laws about boozing in general are seriously loose. In fact, by the age of 14, you can already crush beers or swig wine “in the company of a custodial person." And that means like, mom or dad, not the janitor in Billy Madison.
3. College is free for everyone (even non-Germans)
Just a few months ago, Lower Saxony was the last state to scrap public university tuition. Now getting a degree is free for international students, too. You still gotta pay for your own red Solo cups, though.
4. The government can (and will) reject weird baby names
According to German law, a person’s gender must be obvious by first name. So the civil registration office, or Standesamt, can refuse names that don’t comply. Re-applying can be a costly process, so that’s why many parents go for traditional names like Michael and Maria. Basically, Frank Zappa would never have been able to have kids in Germany.
Ya know, except church. And probably brothels, for that matter. But don’t expect to get errands or shopping done on Ruhetag, or “quiet day.” In fact, don’t think about home renovations, either – drilling on Sundays is also illegal. So that framed photo of grandma is just gonna have to wait until Monday to get up on the wall. All the more reason to partake in Sunday Funday.
7. The Chancellor has her own Barbie doll
For Mattel’s 50th anniversary, the company came out with a model of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, sporting the same practical haircut, power suit, and proportionate features to boot. Unfortunately, her beau, Joachim Sauer, does not have an analogous Ken. Probably because "Joachim and Angela" doesn't quite have the ring to it as "Ken and Barbie."
9. It’s bad luck to wish someone “Happy Birthday” in advance
There’s a saying that sums up the German mentality nicely – “Du sollst den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben”, or “You shouldn’t praise the day before the night.” It means don’t be sure of something until it happens, because then it won’t happen. So wishing someone a happy birthday early could mean they won't have one, or more precisely, that they'll die.
10. Germany is eliminating nuclear power plants
After Fukushima, Angela Merkel’s government announced it would close all nuclear power plants by 2022. Germany’s made a commitment to develop renewable energy instead. A decade from now, kids will be watching "The Simpsons" and wondering what kind of place Homer works at.
11. Sex meters are a real thing
The city of Boon has established roadside vending machines where prostitutes have to buy a ticket to work. Without one, they could get fined or banned by police. Suddenly, the job of being a meter maid is infinitely more interesting.
12. In German, “thanks” means no
If someone asks you, “Would you like a drink?” and you say, “Danke” that actually means “No, thank you.” But if you say, “Bitte” or “Please,” that means yes. So to recap: "Thanks" means no thanks, and "please" means no. Good luck ever trying to hit on anyone.
13. They make cake with Fanta
You remember that sickly sweet orange soda from birthday parties? The stuff that's basically crack cocaine for 8-year-olds? Well in Germany, it’s actually the star ingredient of a popular dessert called Fantakuchen. Which translates to Fanta cake. Very straightforward. And delicious.
14. Open windows cause illness
Or so German folklore would tell you. Don’t even think about letting that draft in. It’s a common belief in the Vaterland that fresh air through an open window can bring about ailments like achy joints or the flu. But it's still a step below Koreans' belief in fan death.
15. The middle finger is illegal
Flipping the bird is a big no-no. Another driver can even report your license plate if they see you throwing up the one-finger salute, resulting in a lovely police letter and a fine.
16. They are addicted to “Dinner for One”
This British slapstick comedy from the ’60s is broadcast every New Year’s Eve across the country, and it’s a big deal. It’s actually the most frequently repeated TV show ever, despite not showing in the UK (where it ironically comes from) or the US.
17. Oktoberfest does not start in October
In fact, if you show up in October, you'll be more than fashionably late. The inaugural keg always gets tapped 16 days before the first Sunday in October, with festivities usually wrapping up the around Oct. 2 or 3.
18. They don’t sing the whole national anthem
During the Nazi era, only the first verse starting with “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany above everything”) was sung. After World War II, the third stanza is all that remains legal. Which seems less weird when you realize the US only signs the first of four stanzas. Can you imagine what Carl Lewis would do to that?