Laws and regulations that might apply in Germany
As all GJU Bachelor students will absolve a year in Germany as part of their studies, it is important to be aware of the laws and regulations that apply in Germany. Not abiding by the law can have serious monetary consequences, or, in especially grave situations, could lead to legal consequences. While often taking your German peers as example is a good guide for what you may and may not do in Germany, it is important to be aware of some of the basic regulations that will apply no matter where in Germany you happen to go. While this list is far from comprehensive and we strongly advise to inform yourself about local laws and regulations, here are a few things to be aware of during your year in Germany:
Registering in your city:
When you arrive to Germany, every student must register with the city in which they are enrolled at the local government/municipality. This should be done within two weeks (14 days) of arrival to the city.
Registering with your city is mandatory, failing to do so could incur a fine of up to 1000 Euros.
From the age of 16, a valid identity card is required for every person resident in Germany. Persons with German or EU citizenship require an identity card or passport. Persons who are not citizens of an EU country must have a valid passport.
While it is not mandatory by law to carry an identity card or passport at all times, a police check may ask people to show identification in various situations. If a person's identity cannot be easily established, the police may search and even detain that person to try to establish their identity at the police station. To avoid the risk of such inconveniences, it is advisable to always carry official identification, even though this is not necessarily required by law.
In Germany, traffic lights for pedestrians are binding the same way they are for other road users. Pedestrians who cross a road while the pedestrian traffic light is red can be subjected to fines. Doing so in the presence of other pedestrians, especially with children, is considered showing a bad example.
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.
For detailed information on traffic rules in Germany, please see the German Road Traffic Regulations.
Even if you are not driving yourself, there are a number of rules to be aware of. For instance, if any vehicle with a siren and lights (such as police or an ambulance) is heading towards you on the road, it is required to make space for this vehicle. In the case of an ambulance needing to get through traffic, this is called a ‘Rettungsgasse’ (rescue path). Obstructing this rescue path can result in a fine between 20 EUR and 300 EUR. It is forbidden to use the cleared path to overtake traffic.
Many outgoing students will have a Semesterticket (a student ticket for public transport) as part of your university enrolment. This is seen as a valid ticket for regional transportation in an area defined by the ticket. It will include only regional means of transport (busses, trams, regional trains, subway), and will not include fast or distance trains (IC, ICE).
There are a number of other means of transport available and used commonly in Germany, however, so it may be helpful to be aware of general rules and regulations pertaining to these.
Cyclists are road users and subject to similar rules as drivers. In cases of accidents, cyclists who break any rules can be held liable for damage. Important in case of an accident is who caused the accident – the mode of transport is secondary.
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. 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 must 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 are cycling.
- 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. This means that the bike must have functional brakes, a reflector on the back and a working front light.
Every household has to pay a contribution to fund the public service broadcasters. Note that this does not apply to each individual, but each household (a shared flat of 5 people, for instance, would only pay this once).
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.
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 accommodation:
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.
Copyright violations / Internet piracy:
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 at the IO of your host university immediately to minimise the damage.
At German universities, there is a zero-tolerance rule for plagiarism. Teaching staff at your host university will make use of automatic plagiarism checkers to verify that the work you submit is yours. It is therefore important that you seek advice beforehand if you are unsure about citation rules so as not to accidentally produce any text without citing your sources.
Work that is found to be plagiarised is automatically valued as a fail and can lead to expulsion from the university.
In Germany, states and communities can define 'Ruhezeiten' (quiet periods). Furthermore, 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 Germany-wide general 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
During quiet times, any noise should be limited, meaning 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.
Disclaimer: All the information given above is not legally binding and are subject to change.