Tips to help newcomers ease into life in Stuttgart

Susan Triesch, local volunteer and member of the USAG Stuttgart community, donates her time to stock shelves during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Rick Scavetta

USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs

Life in Germany can be very different than in the U.S., and it’s often the little things that make the big difference. These tips may help to ease some of those little daily challenges.

Germany is part of the European Union, a collection of European nations that have extensive legal agreements with one another. Travel across borders in Europe is usually not restricted and is similar to travel between U.S. states. However, anyone on leisure travel (not official orders) must have a tourist passport on them at all times. Service members should also be aware of their organization’s policies on cross-border travel. A leave or pass status is often required when crossing borders.

Due to increased force protection measures, regulations and policies concerning the wear of the uniform off post are more restrictive in Europe than the U.S. Become familiar with your organization’s policies and follow them.

Electricity and communications

Germany uses a 220-volt electrical system which means many appliances from the U.S. require an electrical transformer that will convert 220-volts to 110-volts. Using transformers tends to use more energy than using 220-volt or dual voltage appliances, and some appliances won’t work properly even with them. Some 220-volt appliances are available for long term loan from the Furnishings Management Office.

It is important to check wireless devices brought from the U.S. to ensure they are legal for use in Germany. Many brands of baby monitors, remote control toys, and some cordless telephones made for stateside use operate on frequency bands reserved only for emergency services and other providers in Germany. The German telecommunications regulator strictly enforces these rules, even within housing units on U.S. installations, and using unapproved devices can result in hefty fines for violators as well as problems for first responders. You can check your device for specific markings to determine whether it is usable: there should be an FCC label, a C.E. marking, or both. If a C.E. marking is present, the device can be used in Germany. However, if a device only has an FCC label, its use in Europe is prohibited.

Look for a range of voltage on your devices (instead of just 110V) to ensure they will work properly and safely in Germany.

Landlines and cell phones are both readily available throughout Germany and are offered by a variety of service providers, as is the internet. Contracts are (usually) initially two years and automatically renew unless canceled well in advance. Unless specifically included in the rate plan, all outgoing calls incur fees, even local calls. Most incoming calls do not incur a charge for the recipient. Cell phones in Germany are available with a variety of rate plans for outgoing calls, messages and data downloads. Flat rate plans may include local and national calls throughout the German landline network.

Internet is available from the telephone or cable companies located in the Panzer Kaserne Exchange. Availability of internet can vary widely depending on location. In larger cities, broadband access is very common and compares to broadband access found in the U.S. Internet access can be much slower in outlying villages. If living off base, it is often a good idea to look into the available internet options when choosing a location in which to live.

The American Forces Network (available through TKS located at the Exchange) offers English language cable television services on base and to some off-base locations. German cable and satellite providers may offer some limited programming in English, but many off-base residents depend on online sources for streaming video programming. Be aware that U.S.-based subscription streaming services may not work, or have different content selections, when connecting from Germany due to copyright restrictions. Do your research before signing up for an online video streaming or movie download service. Also, be sure not to participate in any illegal downloading or uploading of copyrighted material.

Quiet hours and ‘rest days’

German states have laws concerning ‘noise pollution,’ and in Baden-Württemberg, ‘quiet hours’ generally apply from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.; some towns and cities may also have local ordinances. Since specifics may vary from town to town, a good general rule is to observe quiet hours nightly from around 9 p.m. until about 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and all day on Sunday and German holidays. During these times, keep loud noises to a minimum and do not engage in activities that inherently create loud noises, such as lawn mowing, using power tools or playing loud music.

Germany observes a quiet day on Sundays and public holidays. Most retailers, including grocery stores and many other shops, are closed on Sundays and holidays, with the exception of some at large train stations and airports. In larger cities and along the autobahn, fuel stations will often be open, though some may have limited hours. Most restaurants and culture/leisure activities such as museums and spas/swimming pools remain open. Heavy trucks are even banned from the autobahn on Sundays, with few exceptions.

Banking and mail

Banking services are offered to the Stuttgart military community by Community Bank and Service Credit Union. Payment of many German bills, and occasionally retail purchases, is often made through a direct bank transfer system (Überweisung). German transfers can be processed through SCU and Community Bank, both of which are connected to the German banking system.

Command-sponsored service members and civilian employees will get an Army Post Office mail box for personal use. Because it is part of the U.S. mail system, U.S. mailing rules (and prices) apply, and some things may not be mailed through the APO. Also, you may be exempted from customs fees when importing items from the U.S., even when shipped outside the military postal system. Those considering importing items for personal use not through the APO should check with the customs office. For more information about using the APO system, see page 9.


Tipping is handled differently in Germany than in the U.S. Restaurant servers are paid higher hourly wages than their American counterparts, so tips are smaller and less significant to overall earnings. Leaving some “trinkgeld,” or ‘drinking money’ at restaurants, however, is increasingly expected. Tipping is based on the quality of the service, and excellent service can be tipped with about 5-10% (more than 10% would be considered excessive). For smaller checks, rounding up to the next even euro amount is appropriate, such as rounding up to €20 for a bill of €18. If paying in cash, it is common to tell the waiter/waitress “stimmt so” (this is fine) rather than receiving small change back and then returning it to them again. The “rounding up” method, and a tip of around €1-2, also goes for food delivery.

Also, tips are usually given directly to the receiving person as part of the payment transaction and not left on the table. If paying with a credit card, be sure to tell the server the full amount to be paid (including tip) when handing the card over, as credit card machines in Germany do not provide a receipt that allows for a write-in gratuity.

Bicycling and the commissaries

Germany is ranked the fifth most bike-friendly nation in Europe by the European Cycling Federation (27 total nations ranked). Getting around by bike is safe and easy throughout Germany and makes a great way to stay healthy as well. Cycling paths are abundant and well-marked. While Germany does not have a bicycle helmet law, most U.S. installations do have a mandatory helmet policy for cyclists. German law requires safety items such as lights, two brakes and reflectors.

Finally, the Defense Commissary Agency offers a wide variety of American brand name foods, fresh produce, beauty and health products and other groceries can be found throughout the Stuttgart military community. The main commissary is on Patch Barracks, with smaller commissaries on Panzer Kaserne, Kelley and Robinson Barracks.