German laws & everyday life
Germany has some laws which might not exist in all countries, and some laws are more strictly enforced in Germany than they are elsewhere. On this page, there are some examples that you need to know about to avoid inadvertently getting into trouble.
Everyone who lives in Germany must register as a resident with the local government. When moving from one home to another, people must de-register their residence at the old address and register their residence at the new address. They must do so within two weeks (14 days) of moving.
The penalty for failing to register in time can be up to 1000 Euros.
In Passau, the office handling your registration as a resident depends on your nationality and visa status.
- If you have German citizenship or EU citizenship, or if you have a visa that covers the entire duration of your stay in Germany, you must register as a resident through the Bürgerbüro in Passau.
- If you do not have citizenship of an EU country and if your visa does not cover the entire duration of your stay in Germany, you must register as a resident through the Ausländeramt in Passau.
Every person over the age of 16 in Germany must own some form of valid and current identification. People with German or EU citizenship must own an ID card or passport. People who are not citizens of an EU country must own a valid passport.
People working in the following industries must carry valid ID cards or passports on their person while working:
- Hospitality (accommodation and restaurants)
- Passenger transport (e.g. taxi drivers)
- Freight transport and logistics
- Performance and entertainment (e.g. actors, performers and entertainers)
- Cleaning and building maintenance
- Companies that install or remove exhibitions, conventions and displays
- Meat production and processing
Everyone else is not necessarily legally required to carry an ID card or passport on their person at all times. However, police controls can ask people to identify themselves in various scenarios, one of which is "locations within 30km from the border" - which covers all of Passau and the surrounding areas. If a person’s identity cannot be easily established, police can search and even arrest that person to try to determine their identity at the police station. To avoid the risk of experiencing such inconvenience, it is advisable to always carry a government identity document on one’s person, even if it is not strictly a legal requirement.
In Germany, every household has to pay a contribution to fund the public service broadcasters. The rule is simple: one fee for every household, which includes flats, apartments or rooms in a hall of residence.
Even though many people still call it a Licence Fee, the contribution is not linked to a device: it is irrelevant how many TVs, radios or computers there are at your accommodation. Even if you do not own any device that can play public broadcasts, you have to pay the fee.
The fee is 17.50 Euro per month and is only paid once per household. Incidentally, motorhomes count as 'households' for the purposes of the fee. The fee only has to be paid by persons aged 18 or above.
There are some discounts and exemptions for registered disabled people, and students who receive BAföG funding are eligible for exemptions. See the web pages of the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice (commonly still referred to by the abbreviation of its former name, GEZ) for details:
Rundfunkbeitrag rules for student halls
Rooms in student halls usually count as individual households. However, the rule depends on the layout of the halls:
- If the room is accessible from a public corridor, it's counted as individual household and the full fee applies. This is regardless of whether bathrooms and kitchens are shared.
- If several rooms are arranged into a flat with a shared lockable door that separates the flat from the public corridors and staircases, then those rooms form a shared household. In that case, only one fee between all the rooms in the flat is due, and students can organise to share the cost between themselves.
For more information, see the Rundfunkbeitrag website (available in German only).
Cyclists are road users and subject to similar rules and drivers. In cases of accidents, cyclists who break any rules can be held liable for damage - so, for example, if you are hit by a car as a cyclist, you might have to pay for the damage suffered by the car if you are deemed to have caused the accident!
Some of the most important rules to be aware of:
- Cycling while drunk is forbidden. Those found riding a bike with more than 1.6 parts per thousand alcohol in their blood risk lose their driving license. People caught riding a bike that drunk are ordered to undergo a psychological examination colloquially known as the "idiot test" to determine whether they should be allowed to retain their driving license. However, even cycling with 0.3 parts per thousand alcohol can have consequences: if an accident occurs, a cyclist would be held liable for damages if this much alcohol can be detected in their blood.
- Traffic lights: cyclists have to obey the traffic lights for cars or, where available, the special traffic lights for cyclists. Pedestrian traffic lights do not apply to cyclists.
- Cycling on pedestrian pavements (sidewalks) is prohibited for adults, unless a sign explicitly allows it, or unless they are accompanying cycling children.
- Using a mobile phone (or other electronic device) with your hands is prohibited while you ride a bike
- Cycle paths: Cyclists can usually choose whether they wish to use a bike path or the road. However, if a blue sign with a white cyclist is present, this means cyclists must use the bike path, or risk a penalty of 20 Euros.
- Bikes must be roadworthy and fully equipped.
E-bikes and pedelecs
German laws stricly regulate various types of motorised bikes, with different requirements for the rider - including requirements for driving licenses, insurance plates and more, for some categories. If you can read German, the ADAC page about bikes is a good resource.
For your convenience, here is a translation of the key information (as of January 2020):
A few sample fines and penalties:
- Riding a bike that has no bell: 15 Euros
- Riding a bike without a lamp or with a broken lamp: 20 Euros
- Riding a bike with insufficient brakes: 10 Euros
- Cycling side by side with another cyclist in a way that hinders traffic: 20 Euros
- Using an electronic device while the bike is in motion (unless it is hands-free): 55 Euros
- Ignoring a red traffic light:
- 60 Euros (and a penalty point on the driving license) within the first second of the light turning red
- 100 Euros (and a penalty point on the driving license) after the first second of the light turning red
- Crossing a railway line when the barriers are down: 350 Euros (and a penalty point on the driving license)
- Ignoring a cycle path that is mandatory: 20 Euros
- Riding the wrong way on a cycle path: 20 Euros
|Vehicle Category||Maximum Speed||Max engine power||Helmets||Driving Licence requirement||Insurance Registration License Plate||Private liability insurance||Using bike lanes|
|Pedelec without starting assistance||0 (without pedalling) & 25 km/h (while pedalling)||250W||Optional||Not required||Not required||Sufficient||allowed|
|Pedelec with starting assistance||6 km/h (without pedalling) & 25 km/h (while pedalling)||250W||Optional||Not required||Not required||Sufficient||allowed|
|Fast "Pedelec"||20 km/h (without pedalling) & 45 km/h (while pedalling)||500W||Mandatory||Class AM Driving License||Mandatory||Not sufficient||Prohibited|
|E-Bike up to 20 km/h||20 km/h (without pedalling)||500W||Optional||Moped License||Mandatory||Not sufficient||Only on bike lanes allowing e-bikes|
|E-Bike up to 25 km/h||25 km/h (without pedalling)||1000W||Mandatory||Moped License||Mandatory||Not sufficient||Only on bike lanes allowing e-bikes|
|E-Bike up to 45 km/h||45 km/h (without pedalling)||4000W||Mandatory||Class AM Driving License||Mandatory||Not sufficient||Prohibited|
Most Germans sign up for a voluntary private liability insurance. Typically, this includes cover for cycling and, as indicated in the table above, pedelecs.
However, for fast pedelecs and all e-bikes, a separate vehicle liability insurance is mandatory, just as it is for driving a car. It is a crime to ride such vehicles without dedicated insurance cover, punishable by fines or up to a year in prison.
Airwheels: currently illegal
Airwheels are still new, so at the moment, laws for other vehicles would awkwardly apply to airwheels. That means:
- Currently (January 2020), the use of airwheels in public & traffic is not permitted in Germany.
- They are only legal on private property that is isolated from public paths and roads.
- Users of airwheels require a full driving license (Class B)
- Using airwheels on public roads or paths is a crime that could lead to prosecutions in a criminal court, as they would require a vehicle liability insurance, which is not available for airwheels in Germany.
For more information, see the ADAC's legal advice about airwheels.
Hoverboards & e-skateboards: also currently illegal
As of January 2020, there are no specific regulations for hoverboards and e-skateboards. Therefore, laws for other vehicles would awkwardly apply to them, with potentially serious consequences. For the most current information, see the ADAC's legal advice about hoverboards (available in German only).
- Currently (January 2020), the use of hoverboards and e-skateboards in public & traffic is not permitted in Germany.
- They are only legal on private property that is isolated from public paths and roads.
- Users of hoverboards and e-skateboards require a driving license. However, none of the current classes of driving license are suitable for hoverboards. Therefore, anyone using such a vehicle in public risks being prosecuted for driving a vehicle without a license.
- Similarly, a vehicle liability insurance would be required, but no such insurance is available in Germany.
- Using hoverboards and e-skateboards on public roads or paths is a crime that could lead to prosecution in a criminal court.
E-scooters and segways: rules and regulations
In June 2019, Germany introduced the first regulations for "Elektrokleinstfahrzeuge" (electrically driven micro-vehicles), which were defined as vehicles that have an inbuilt stick for support and/or steering, and which cannot go faster than 20km/h. That means the rules apply to e-scooters and segways.
A quick summary of the rules:
- Maximum speed must be limited to 20 km/h
- The vehicle must be road-worthy. Among other things, it has to have lights (a white light in front and a red light in the back), a bell, and two independent brakes.
- Using e-scooters is permitted on cycle paths and bike lanes
- If no bike path / lane is available, riders can use them on the road
- In pedestrian zones, using an e-scooter is prohibited
- The same alcohol rules apply to riders of e-scooters as to drivers of cars. 0.5-1.09 parts per thousand alcohol in the blood incur fines of 500 Euros (for the first instance), a temporary driving ban and points on the license. Anyone with more than 1.1 parts per thousand alcohol in the blood while riding an e-scooter is committing a crime that can lead to prosecution.
- A vehicle liability insurance is mandatory, and the scooter must be equipped with a vehicle insurance plate.
- Those using scooters should obey the same traffic lights as cyclists (i.e. bike traffic lights first, then car traffic lights. Pedestrian traffic lights do not apply)
It is currently illegal to use e-scooters that do not fit the rules above on public roads and paths in Germany.
There are rules determining whether you can drive a car in Germany with a driving licence you acquired abroad. Rules for people who stay in Germany for more than 187 day per year are very different from the rules that apply to tourists and visitors, so don't rely solely on information from tourist guidebooks.
Please see the ministry of transport's Validity of foreign driving licences in Germany web page for details.
For information about insurance, road tax, and other considerations, see the Driving in Germany pages on the How to Germany website.
A few things worth being aware of:
- Wearing seatbelts is mandatory.
- When driving, holding a mobile phone in the hand is not permitted while the motor is running. For cyclists, it is not permitted while the bike is in motion. The ban includes activities like checking the time, using a navigation app installed on the phone, or holding it in the hand for any other reason.
- In Germany, it is a crime to leave the scene of any accident, including minor fender-benders with parked cars. In such cases, the driver has to wait for at least 30 minutes for the owner of the damaged car to return. After 30 minutes, they would have to phone the police, who then record all necessary details.
- It is illegal to leave the motor running while the car is parked / not moving.
In Germany, traffic lights for pedestrians are not merely advisory, but as binding as the traffic lights for other road users. Pedestrians who cross a road while the pedestrian traffic light is red can be subjected to fines (if spotted by the police), and tutted at quite vocally by bystanders (especially if any children are nearby, as it sets a bad example to them). The rule applies within several meters on either side of the zebra crossing.
Pedestrians crossing a road at a place where there is no regulated pedestrian crossing are expected to do so in a manner that does not slow traffic or risk accidents. Any pedestrian causing an accident by crossing a road within 50 meters of a regulated crossing can be held liable for the damages caused by the accident.
Downloading, sharing, or streaming copyrighted content in Germany illegally carries a much larger risk of being caught and punished than in most countries. Penalties for breaking copyright law can include significant fines and even prison sentences.
German laws empower copyright holders (and legal firms representing them) to obtain the personal details of users who break copyright law. Once they identify a suspected culprit, legal firms contact the person with an 'Abmahnung' letter. These letters include details of the alleged violation(s), a form letter for the recipient to sign which admits their guilt and promises not to do it again, and a sizeable bill for the investigation that has taken place. Finally, the letters also threaten court proceedings if the recipient should ignore them.
• Don't watch, listen to, stream or download anything illegally!
• If you do receive an Abmahnung letter, seek advice immediately to minimise the damage.
In Germany, states and communities can define 'Ruhezeiten' (quiet periods). In addition, federal laws restrict the times during which certain machines (including noisy devices used for garden maintenance) can be used.
You should check whether the house you are living in has defined quiet periods during the day as part of the house rules. These should be observed in addition to the general quiet periods.
The near-universal quiet periods are:
- From 10pm to 6am (or 7am in some areas). This is the so-called 'Nachtruhe' (night time quiet period)
- All day on Sundays and public holidays
Additionally, some communities define a quiet period around mid-day. However, in Passau, there are no city-wide restrictions on noise around mid-day.
During quiet times, any noise should be limited, i.e. no sound from your home should be audible from outside. This includes things like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, TV sets, or lawnmowers. Some people call the police over noise disturbances during quiet times.
During quiet periods, loud noises outside your home are also frowned upon. For example, it may be forbidden to throw glass bottles into your local recycling containers during these times. There should be signage on the recycling containers informing you of any applicable noise restrictions.
The quiet periods on Sundays and on public holidays are generally more strictly regulated. See further below for information about dancing bans, which apply on those days.
However, church bells, noise from children and noise caused when taking a bath or a shower are not deemed a disturbance. With regards to animals, a dog that barks occasionally is not usually deemed a disturbance, but a dog that barks continuously or excessively can be deemed a disturbance.
Finally, a law that might seem a little peculiar and possibly amusing to outsiders: In Germany, there are so-called Tanzverbote ('dancing bans') on certain days.
Dancing bans are primarily there to restrict organised events, rather than individual people bouncing around to the sound of music. While they are colloquially known as 'dancing bans', the bans can also apply to sporting events or the playing of music (without dancing), or general entertainment events.
The maximum penalty for violating a dancing ban is 10,000 Euros. So make sure you don't organise a party at any of the times listed below!
The following prohibited under the dancing bans:
- Any avoidable noise in the vicinity of churches and places of worship.
- Any public entertainment events (unless the event has an appropriately serious atmosphere that is suitable for the day in question). Sporting events are usually permitted, unless specified otherwise.
- Organised hunts with hounds and/or beaters
For details and exceptions see Bavaria's Law for the protection of Sundays and Holidays. (Available in German only)
The list of times when dancing bans apply varies between the different German states, and even within the states, some bans vary between different communities, depending on the registered faith of the majority of residents in each community. See the Wikipedia page about dancing bans for a handy colour-coded overview.
In Passau, dancing bans apply at the following times:
- Ash Wednesday, 2am – 12midnight
- Maundy Thursday, 2am – 12midnight
- Good Friday, all day, from midnight to midnight. Note: In addition to the regular ban, sporting events and playing music in any venue that serves drinks are also prohibited on Good Friday.
- Holy Saturday, all day, from midnight to midnight
- All Saints' Day (1st November every year), 2am – 12midnight
- Volkstrauertag – German Remembrance Day, which takes place on Advent Sunday every year, 2am – 12midnight
- Buß- und Bettag – Repentance Day, which takes place on the Wednesday before 23rd November, 2am – 12midnight. Note: In addition to the regular ban, sporting events are also prohibited on this day.
- Totensonntag – German Day of the Dead, which is the Sunday before Advent Sunday, 2am – 12midnight.
- Christmas Eve (24th December every year), 2pm-midnight