German Homes vs. American Homes

by Brea

Updated 1/15/2020

The way a German home looks, feels and even operates is much different from an American home. I love our German row house (townhouse) but every so often I find myself thinking about our home in the U.S. and some of the conveniences I miss. In Germany, though, there are many things I much prefer over a U.S. home.

Here are some of the main differences I’ve noticed. This is all generally stated, and will differ depending on where you live, but in general this is what you will/will not find in a German house.

1. Storage, or lack thereof

The most noticeable thing I found when looking at potential places to live was the lack of storage. In Germany there aren’t closets, not in the bedrooms, not in the hallways, and there isn’t any under the sink storage or any cabinets in the bathrooms either. You have to purchase your storage or build a closet if you want somewhere to put your stuff. We easily spent over $2000 on furniture storage when we moved here. This can be frustrating if you’re used to your hallway closets, linen closets, walk-in closets…etc. On the flip side, your home is like a clean slate that you can modify however you like.

In the same regard, many German homes do not come with kitchens or light fixtures. We had a kitchen, but had to put in our own lights.

In the photo below there is no place to store our stuff. The cabinet on the right we bought from IKEA and it eventually went under the sink so we could have some storage.

2. Walls

Most German homes are built of concrete. This is something I absolutely LOVE about our German home and is especially the case in the summer. Having thick concrete walls means that our house stays fairly cool in the summer. It also stays pretty quiet inside our house; even with the planes flying almost overhead (we live by the airport).

3. Windows

The windows in Germany operate much differently than in the states. This is a bit of an adjustment but is another thing I really like about our German home.  The windows are thick and sturdy, and do not slide open and shut like most do in the states. They have three different functions: fully closed, can open up completely like a door, or when the handle is flipped up the top of the window opens to let air in (at a slant). I love this because it allows for a good draft of air to get in. I remember before we left the states I was worried about the strangest things, one of which was the fact that none of the windows have screens to keep the bugs out. I imagined them easily finding their way into our home. Well with how the windows operate that’s not an issue.

4. Heating

Many older German homes (and some new ones) are heated with radiators. The house we’re renting isn’t an old place, built in the early 2000’s, so it surprised me that they still used this type of heating. To me it seems bulky and a bit outdated.

Another popular and much more attractive heating method is in floor heating. The upside to having the radiators is that you can choose which rooms you want to have heated, although I would suspect new homes with in-floor heating have temperature control in each room.

5. Rolladens

Of all the things I wish I could bring back to the US, rolladens are first on the list. These are metal shutters that slide up and down vertically to cover the window. They’re on the outside of the house and are operated either manually or automatically. The new homes have really nice automated ones that adjust and move up and down depending on where the sun is and the strength of the sun. They do this to maintain the optimum temperature in the home. How nice is that? Rolladens are also common for doors; our back patio has a glass door, and it’s nice having that extra layer of security at night (although it’s really not necessary here, some Americanism’s just don’t go away).

6. Washer/Dryer

The washers and dryers are much different in Germany! You actually need to read the manual to figure out how to use it. The most noticeable difference is that they’re smaller, but on closer inspection you’ll see that some of the dryers do not have a hose attachment or anything similar. For these dryers the water is removed from your clothing and put in a large container that you must empty after each time you use the dryer. Luckily for us we have a sink next to our dryer. There are also two areas to remove the lint. There are other dryers that do operate similarly to the ones you find in the states.

Our washer has about 25 different settings to choose from to wash your clothes. I still have no idea what 99% of them do. I’m not even sure I know what the one dial I use every time does. All I know is that I choose the setting with the shortest time to wash, which by the way is two hours!

Did I mention that laundry day really takes at least a full day in Germany?

7. In the Kitchen

Kitchens are often smaller in Germany, and everything inside the kitchen is smaller as well. In our kitchen the sinks are smaller, the dishwasher is smaller, if you’re lucky enough to have a freezer it will be much smaller too. The pantry is small (again, if there is one) and the oven is small too.

The most obvious difference from American kitchens is that the appliances are much smaller. I had to put many of our baking sheets in the basement because they were too big for our oven. When we first moved here this was a big culture shock, but after living here for a year and a half I realized that I really do not need a bigger kitchen, especially with just the two of us. There are times when we have friends over that I wish our galley style kitchen was just a bit larger to accommodate more people, but in general I’ve found I prefer it. Anything that does not require much cleanup is a winner in my book. Even our smaller fridge and freezer works for us (although we do have a designated beer fridge which gets the overflow of food when we buy too much at the store). When we lived in the states we never filled up our refrigerator. We eat pretty clean so most of the time whatever is in our fridge is only going to last a few days anyway. This is especially true for Germany, the food is amazingly fresh!

In Germany you’ll also need multiple trash bins to separate your trash. Germany is a very green country and as such takes care of their environment. I love this about Germany, and am glad that recycling is mandatory. However, this is sometimes frustrating trying to figure it out in another language. Even now I have items that I am not sure of – does it belong in the plastics bin, the regular trash, or is it paper? That seems easy, but what about a cardboard box with colors and writing on it? It may not be paper.

On the right the two cupboards at the front of the photo are our fridge and freezer. The long cupboard is our pantry. It slides out and has shelves.

8. Doors, Doors Everywhere!

This is German efficiency at its finest. Every room has a door and I mean every room. When you walk into our house you basically walk into a room and have to open another door to get to the main part of the house. The kitchen has a door to section it off. A lot of the reason for this is to conserve energy. When you open the front door heat escapes and that is bad. This also ties into having the radiators in every room. Each room could have it’s own temperature with all these doors! For the kitchen I had a friend tell me that that’s to keep the smells in the kitchen and prevent your furniture and other items in the house from smelling like whatever it is your cooking. I thought smelling up the house with enticing aromas was part of the fun of cooking, but I do see their point!

Luckily the doors are very easy to remove. They’re merely sit on top of the hinges so you just lift the door and off it goes! We’ve taken off many doors in our house!

9. Quiet Hours

Quiet hours apply inside your home as well as outside your home. For us this means no use of the lawn mower on Sundays. For other people they can’t do laundry or vacuum on a Sunday either. Basically anything that is really loud is prohibited. The exact rules vary by state, and in my experience our neighbors are pretty relaxed and haven’t had any complaints about their noisy American neighbors (heh).

10.Ventilation

Many American houses have forced air. The bathrooms have vents as well. In Germany, however, there aren’t any vents. This came as a surprise for me when we moved here. I just assumed all homes had vents. In Germany, the way to ventilate your home is to open a window and let the fresh air in – even in the winter. I love a nice cold breeze so this hasn’t been a problem for me. I also prefer the fresh air over the stuffy ventilated rooms, but on the flip side there is quite a bit more concern about mold. Germany isn’t terribly humid, but there is a decent amount of humidity here (especially coming from Alaska!), so it’s important to open up those windows and ensure everything stays dry!

11. Sauna

While sadly we do not have one in our house, many German houses have a sauna in their basement. I am jealous of these people.

12. German Staircases

Everyone I know seems to have the same stairs as us; a spiral staircase that is airy (or isn’t good if you have a puppy or toddler!). I think this is to save space but I think it’s funny how most homes share soo many of the same features. I wonder if people think that when they go to the states?

13. Garbage Disposals

Garbage Disposals, simply put, do not exist in Germany. This may be one of the more inconvenient things about living here, but after living without one for years, I’ve adjusted.

14. No a/c

I absolutely love Germany’s take on protecting the environment, and really appreciate that they don’t blast air conditioning all summer. However, for that one month in the summer when it’s around 95-100 every day and there isn’t even a hint of a breeze, I get really sad that Germany doesn’t really ‘do’ a/c. The only places that run a/c are gas stations and grocery stores. The malls don’t have a/c, restaurants don’t have a/c, and you guessed it, homes don’t have a/c. And even though those big concrete walls and rolladens do a tremendous job at protecting us from the heat, it usually isn’t enough to keep our place under 85 after weeks of a heatwave.

Those are the main differences I’ve noticed about our German home. It would be fun to take ideas from both the US and Germany and meld them together to make my perfect home. Maybe someday!

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20 comments

Alex Butts March 11, 2013 - 12:02 pm

haha love this post. I always think of German homes just like Germany… practical (Except for the storage thing). Generally, I like American homes MUCH more – they always feel more homey and when comparing upperclass homes, the variety and taste in America is much more various and aesthetic. There are some pretty neat modern homes in Germany though

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Brea Darnell March 11, 2013 - 7:39 pm

Yeah Germany definitely lacks when it comes to variation. It still amazes me how all the walls come in standard chalk white : ). And thanks! Glad you like the post!

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Traveller March 31, 2017 - 9:59 am

That’s simply because white is neutral. Would you wanna move in a house with all black or pink-dotted-piss-yellow walls?
If you move in you can paint the walls in the colors you like tho.

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Brea Darnell May 29, 2017 - 6:21 pm

True, you can paint, but I don’t see what is wrong with having a nice beige or off-white color throughout the home instead of stark white. I never said I wanted black walls, haha

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Katie @ Domestiphobia.net March 11, 2013 - 12:03 pm

I love this post! I find I’m constantly imagining what it would be like if we were to get stationed in Germany, so it’s so cool to see what the houses are like. Those stairs make me nervous, though – we have two dogs! 🙂

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Jennifer Thomson March 23, 2013 - 9:44 am

Everything I would’ve listed – minus two things: 1. The lack of garbage disposals drives me nuts. I think they’re banned due to it raising the cost of taxes to clean the water or it contaminating ground water or something. 2. Yeah, the white walls is definitely another one. I loved our house when we first moved in, until my sister said, "How very white. So German." So I painted the walls! I don’t need my home to feel like the inside of a hospital. Not sure why they shy away from color – it’s it’s done tactfully, it’s very homey and warm.

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Brea Darnell March 24, 2013 - 1:27 pm

That’s funny, I have an entire post dedicated to the lack of garbage disposals…should’ve added that in here! I’ve also read that they are illegal here. And yes, the dreaded white walls that infect all the homes in Germany. It’s one of the first things you notice when moving here. Unfortunately for me (and my husband!), I really don’t like painting so I decided to just deal with it for a few years! hah

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D.T.Rush March 24, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Look at you doing something with your life living abroad. Seems like all is well

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Brea Darnell March 24, 2013 - 1:28 pm

Hah, thanks Tyler. Things are well, can’t complain about living in Europe ; )

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Sami Veloso April 25, 2013 - 4:00 pm

This brought back memories of the house we rented in Germany. I too remember the quiet hours around lunch time – the kids had to have a nap then so they wouldn’t make a noise, as the neighbours might complain…
I also remember being told we couldn’t hang washing out on a Sunday! Why not I queried? I had 2 small kids in nappies/diapers (cloth ones, not the disposable ones used nowadays) so I was going to do washing when and if I wanted to. Hanging clothes doesn’t make a noise, so it shouldn’t disturb anyone!

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VISNJA September 18, 2013 - 8:33 am

There is a law that all walls have to be freshly painted white when leaving a rented house or apartment, for sanitary or hygienic reasons. That way you get a clean slate an choose any wall colour you like as long as you repaint everything at the end. I think that’s grea.I’d hate to move in a place and have to breath old smoke and smells from the walls.garbage disposals are indeed forbidden due to poluting the water, and I actually called Amt and checkedabout hanging laundry on Sundays and that one isn’t true, at least not where I live. We can do everything on Sundays as long as we are quiet. Oh and I’m from Germany and dream about having a beutiful yellow american house 🙂

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Alexander Ewering April 26, 2014 - 9:58 am

I have to say that as non-typical German (one that moves often), I absolutely hate the fact that you essentially rent a bunch of empty space, and I think it’s pretty ridiculous – and expensive – too.

After all, EVERYONE needs a kitchen, EVERYONE needs storage, EVERYONE needs a washing machine, EVERYONE… the list goes on. So, instead of buying, assembling, disassembling, moving and selling expensive and huge and heavy stuff all the time (which is btw not very "green" at all), I do think that each and every home should have all of these amenities pre-installed and nonremovable. Because everybody needs them anyway.

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Ava March 15, 2016 - 2:00 pm

We actually have a forced air ventilation system in our German home and I’m SO thankful because I was afraid of the place getting really stuffy. I don’t like leaving our windows open because of the noise level outside.

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Brea Darnell March 16, 2016 - 10:02 am

Wow that is really nice to have over here! We are planning to finally purchase a window a/c unit for next summer since last year was way too hot for me. My German neighbors from our last apartment even pointed out that they should install a/c for the top units (and honestly was one of the main reasons we moved from that 3rd story apartment). It’s nice to know that some places are starting to add a/c for the hot summer month(s).

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Hank June 11, 2016 - 6:03 pm

Brilliant. I’ve been living in Germany for years and always wondered if anyone was making the same observations I had.

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Brea Darnell August 30, 2016 - 7:36 am

Thanks! I wrote this a few years ago and have lived in a few different apartments since then so I’ve noticed some new things, but for the most part this still all holds true.

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SortingHat June 25, 2017 - 2:23 pm

Where are the door knobs?

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Lotte Fleck September 12, 2017 - 3:46 am

Being German,having lived there for 30 years before coming to the US 21 years ago,I think I have a pretty good idea about the main differences 🙂
Number one is space…..Germany is a very small,densely populated country. Outside of towns,villages and cities,the land is mostly public.That means you can’t just buy huge properties from private owners as a developer and do whatever you want.
That also means very often smaller lots,smaller houses,smaller appartments,smaller kitchens,smaller appliances etc.
Number two is more difficult to grasp,maybe a cultural difference. Germans don’t move as much as their US counterparts.That means that quality is a high priority,since you might only build ,or move into, a house once or twice in your life. German houses are built to last.From the shingles to the door knobs,everything is high quality. Of course, there are cheap rentals and fixer-uppers…..German housing might on first sight not be as spectacular as some Mc Mansions here,but after ten years,you will notice the difference.
What I saw in the author’s photos very much looks like a run-of-the mill rental.That doesn’t mean it’s cheap,depending on where you live.Just like NYC compared to Gilette,WY 😉
In modern single-family houses,the kitchens,bathrooms,appliances,windows,doors etc are of higher quality and more modern than here in the US.
As much as love my old colonial,and the space that comes with it,I miss the windows that can be opened and cleaned like a door.I miss the light switches and outlets that don’t seem to be out the 50s 😉
On the other hand,when I’m in Germany,I miss the welcoming front porches and,though only rarely,the A/C

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Susanne January 10, 2020 - 12:50 pm

Hi, I’m German and this was very interesting. I‘ve seen many great houses in the US, but there is one thing I will never understand: why do Americans like it that their front door opens right away into the living room? As you mentioned German houses and apartments usually have a hallway after the entrance. This is not only for keeping the heat inside, but there is also mostly a storage for jackets and shoes. But the most important reason for me is the privacy. If my teenage kids bring their friends in the evenings I wouldn‘t like everybody to see me snugging on my couch in my pajamas. Or if I open the door for the postman I wouldn‘t like him to see if my house is tidy or not. Another big difference is that German living rooms open up to the backyard, while in the USA you often find the living room towards the front. In my opinion this different layout is really a big difference between German and US houses.

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Brea
Brea January 20, 2020 - 8:08 am

Hi Susanne! I completely agree, I much prefer the German layout where the living room isn’t right as you step into the house. I like having a separate entry (and honestly I like having an additional door like many do. In Alaska it’s called an Arctic Entry) and then having the living area toward the back of the home, where there is possibly a patio and it’s also more private.

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