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10 ways you will accidentally annoy your German neighbours

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
10 ways you will accidentally annoy your German neighbours
An angry cat. There are several ways to accidentally annoy your neighbours in Germany. Photo:Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Getting along with your neighbours is essential if you want an easy life - but there are a few unwritten rules in Germany that you may not even know you're breaking.

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Anyone who's lived in Germany for a while knows that there are rules for absolutely everything, so it's sure to come as no surprise that there are plenty of guidelines for living with (or near) other people. 

What may come as a surprise, though, is just how extensive these rules are - and how much trouble you can get in for breaking them.

Think you're allowed to garden the way you like after buying your own property? Think again. Looking forward to decking out your balcony with colourful decorations come Christmas? Tread carefully.

Incredibly, most of the dos and don'ts of getting along with your neighbours are set out in what's known as the Nachbarschaftsgesetz, or Neighbourhood Law, which every state has its own version of.

While the law won't tell you what type of cake to bake Frau Hermann downstairs before throwing a party in your flat, it does go into an awe-inspiring amount of detail on how to behave in your home or garden to avoid causing annoyance.

Of course, it's impossible to get things right all the time - especially as a foreigner - but steer clear of these common pitfalls and you should have a relatively peaceful home life. 


1. Stinking out the balcony 

The question of whether you can barbecue on your balcony - and how often - is a complicated one, and the rules actually vary from state to state. In fact, a relatively recent court case in Berlin tried to define how much barbecuing was too much, and concluded that twice a month was enough to fulfil your grilling needs. 

That said, the main rule of thumb is that you don't send billows of smoke or the obtrusive smell of meat over to your neighbour's property, and open flames are also off the cards. If you break these rules, you could even face a fine under the Emissions Control Act. 

Barbecue vegetables and steak

Steak and green vegetables on a barbecue. Photo by Edson Saldaña auf Unsplash

A similar issue can occur if you smoke on your balcony. While smoking is normally permitted, some German neighbours can get irritated by the smell.

In one particularly absurd situation in Berlin, a German neighbour demanded a full schedule of another neighbour's smoking habits - along with text alerts when the smoker went out for a cigarette.

You'll be pleased to know that smoking rotas aren't enforceable under German law, but these things can happen nonetheless.

READ ALSO: Can you get in trouble for smoking on your balcony in Germany?

2. Growing an annoying tree 

You may think that adding to the foliage and wildlife in your area could only be a positive thing, but if your favourite tree starts trespassing onto your neighbour's property, there may well be trouble ahead.

This tricky scenario used to be uncharted territory in German law, given that the tree would technically be your property, but its branches may well stray into the 'airspace' of another person's garden. 


In a ruling a few years back, however, the judgement was clear: neighbours have the right to cut off a branch of your tree if it starts annoying them too much or creating a safety hazard on their property.

READ ALSO: It’s legal to trim your neighbour’s tree (even if he doesn’t want you to), Germany’s highest court rules

3. Leaving snow on the pavement 

If you're a driver, you're probably used to changing your tyres in the winter months - but did you know you also need to take precautions closer to home?

Though your local Winterdienst - or winter road clearance - will generally take care of clearing cycle paths and roads during icy periods, you may well be responsible for shovelling snow in the immediate vicinity of your house and salting the pavement to make sure nobody slips.

Winterdienst in Saxony-Anhalt

The winter road-clearance service clears snow from a street in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Bein

That has to be done between 7am and 8pm on snowy days, because if somebody slips and hurts themselves during these times, you'll be liable.

If you've got snow in your garden, chucking it into a public walkway is also an absolute no-no - and a sure way to annoy your neighbours. Instead, you can pile it up at the side of the street as long as it doesn't block the path.

These rules normally only apply to owners, but be sure to check your rental agreement to avoid gripes and groans (or even a lawsuit). 

4. Putting plastic in the general waste

One thing that's guaranteed to offend your neighbours - and Germans in general - is putting rubbish in the wrong bin outside. In many ways, not paying attention to recycling etiquette is one of Germany's greatest taboos, so be sure to memorise the rules carefully. 

Generally, you'll need at least five bins to stay on the good side of your neighbours: one for plastic and other packaging like tins, one for paper and cardboard, one for glass jars and bottles without a deposit, one for your food waste and a last one for general waste. 

And if Herr Hoffmann should peep out of his window at an inopportune moment and see you shoving an empty can into the Restmüll (general waste), you can wave goodbye to that BBQ invite pretty swiftly. 


5. Vacuuming during the 'quiet hours' 

If you've got the day off or happen to be home for lunch on a weekday, you may think it's the perfect time to get ahead with a little bit of housework - aber Vorsicht! Getting the vacuum cleaner out for a midday hoovering session may well upset your German neighbours.

That's because German neighbourhood laws enforce certain "quiet periods" in which your cleaning, music practice and DIY plans will unfortunately have to be put on hold.

A woman vacuums her flat in Germany.

A woman vacuums her flat in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

You can fall afoul of these if you take out the hoover between 12pm and 3pm on weekday afternoons, or in the evenings after 10pm. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can't) do on your balcony in Germany

6. Going overboard on fairy lights 

Whether 'tis, or 'tis not, the season to be jolly, expressing your joy through a litany of twinkling lights should be done with caution in Germany. 

That's because neighbours have the right to complain about light pollution if they're disturbed by bright lights on your balcony at night. 

During the day and early evening, you're welcome to enjoy a cosy ambience with as many fairy lights and lamps as you like - but if you want to be on the safe side, be sure to turn them off at 10pm sharp. 

7. Cleaning your car 

In some countries, neighbours may be offended by seeing your mud-caked vehicle gathering dust in the driveway, so you may feel like the most neighbourly thing to do is to give it a regular clean.

Unfortunately, you could end up infuriating your German neighbours if you go all-out on car maintenance - whether it's on your own property or on a public street. 


There are endless dos and don'ts when it comes to car-washing in Germany, but the main one to know is that chemical cleaning agents and jet sprays aren't allowed because they can get into the water system. If you're planning on cleaning your car yourself, it has to be done the old fashioned way with water and a sponge.

You could also get some angry looks if you wash the car on a public street or during the designated "rest periods" on Sundays and public holidays. On the upside, it is a good excuse to put your feet up and forget about this chore for another few days.

8. Having an excitable pet 

Most rational pet owners will know that there isn't a great deal you can do to control a wayward animal, but in Germany you'd better try and keep Rover's howling to a minimum.

That's because loud animals can often cause conflicts between neighbours in Germany - and some of these cases even end up in court. 

A dog looks guilty

A dog looks guilty after barking for more than 30 minutes per day. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

In one such case, a court in Cologne concluded that pet dogs were allowed to bark for precisely 30 minutes a day - but only for 10 minutes at a time. Another court insisted that a German university move its guinea pigs to a more private part of the campus since neighbours had been bothered by the sounds of the little rodents having sex. 

When it comes to frogs in your pond, however, there's a clear precedent: these croaking critters are part of nature and anyone bothered by them should buy some ear-plugs.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about adopting a dog in Germany

9. Mowing on a Sunday 

By now you may be aware that Sundays and other quiet periods are sacrosanct in Germany, and resting on the seventh day is more than just a right: it's an obligation.

That means that a day of gardening chores comes with a few key ground-rules - and you should certainly avoid manicuring your lawn on a Sunday or at lunchtimes during the week. 

10. Forgetting to trim your hedge in winter 

Between the months of October and March, you may find that your neighbours are all out giving their hedges a full-on redesign. If you're wondering why they'd possibly want to garden in the snow or torrential rain, the reason actually goes back to nature protection rules.


During the summer, small animals and birds tend to nest in bushes and hedges, so trimming hedgerows during these months is generally left to professionals if it's done at all.

In other words, be sure to get your shears out in late autumn and winter - or by the end of February at the latest - if you don't want to be see the scowling faces of your neighbours. 

READ ALSO: Why you should trim your hedge in Germany this February


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