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Time in Germany


Date26 Mar 2022


The most persistent stereotype about Germans is that they take punctuality very seriously. And that’s probably true - at least to some extent. At formal meetings, at work or at events you should be on time. But do you have difficulties with telling and reading time the German way? And to make it even more complicated there is what is called summer time and winter time in Germany. Confused? No worries, we got you! In this article we explain everything around German time. Telling time, being on time, setting the right time - time to get started. 

Wanna learn more about Dos and Don'ts in Germany? Read our articles about addressing people the correct way and why you should not call Germans Aunty or Uncle!

Telling German Time 

In Germany we use what’s called train timings or military time. That means we don’t indicate morning or afternoon by adding am or pm. We use the 24 hour system. It starts with 1:00 Uhr (1 o’clock am), goes on to 13:00 Uhr (1 o’clock pm) to 24:00 Uhr, which is mostly referred to as 0:00 Uhr (zero hour). So it’s a must to learn the numbers from 0 to 24 to be able to tell the time. To make it even more difficult, we use the minutes - just like in English - from 1 to 60. So better learn them, too. 

In German we tell the time like this: Es ist 13:12 Uhr (speak: dreizehn Uhr zwölf) - it is 1:12 pm. If you have trouble remembering the numbers after 12 o’clock just add 12 to the number you’re used to. See the list below for reference: 

1 pm - 13:00 Uhr - dreizehn Uhr 

2 pm - 14:00 Uhr - vierzehn Uhr 

3 pm - 15:00 Uhr - fünfzehn Uhr 

4 pm - 16:00 Uhr - sechzehn Uhr 

5 pm - 17:00 Uhr - siebzehn Uhr 

6 pm - 18:00 Uhr - achtzehn Uhr 

7 pm - 19:00 Uhr - neunzehn Uhr 

8 pm - 20:00 Uhr - zwanzig Uhr 

9 pm - 21:00 Uhr - einundzwanzig Uhr

10 pm - 22:00 Uhr - zweiundzwanzig Uhr

11 pm - 23:00 Uhr - dreiundzwanzig Uhr 

12 pm - 24:00 Uhr/ 0:00 Uhr - vierundzwanzig Uhr/ Null Uhr 

It may seem difficult at first, but practice makes the master! You will get used to it soon. And for your relief, sometimes even Germans use the timings you’re used to. When speaking colloquially a lot of people say “Es ist um drei” (it’s 3) - afternoon or morning has to be inferred. 

Something a lot of Germans get confused with as well is telling time by using half and quarter hours. There are two ways to use this method. The more common way is to do it the same as in English. So quarter past 3 is “viertel nach drei”, quarter to 3 is “viertel vor drei”. But be careful with the half hour! Whereas in English half past 3 means 3:30, in German we say “halb 3” indicating 2:30. The logic behind it is that half of the third hour has passed already. 

That leads us to the less common way of telling the time because it gets confusing for some people. When you think of the hour from 2 to 3 as the third hour, you can also say “viertel drei” (2:15), “halb drei” (2:30) and “dreiviertel drei” (2:45). That means a quarter, a half and three quarters of the third hour. 

Change of time in Germany

Germany has adopted a system of changing the time twice a year. In that the clock will be either turned ahead an hour (to summer time), or turned back an hour (to winter time). The reason for that is that the sun circle changes during the seasons. To make sure that 12 o’clock noon is when the sun is at its highest point, the time has to be changed. The change of time in Germany was first introduced during World War I to save energy. Because when in the summer the clock is turned one hour ahead the sun is out longer in the evenings and then you wouldn’t have to use artificial light. After the war the change of time was abolished but it was introduced again in World War II in 1940.  

What does that mean for you? 

On the last Sunday in March the clocks are turned ahead. At 2 am they will be turned to 3 am. To reverse the summer time, on the last Sunday in October the clocks are turned back. At 3 am they will turn back to 2 am. Usually digital clocks or your phone will do it for you. But if you still have analogue clocks you have to be aware of the change of time in Germany. 

Do you find this rule rather complicated? Then you’re not alone. Critics want to abolish the change of time in Germany. They say the psychological and physical health effects are concerning as well as the consequences for agricultural processes, people who work in night shifts and even for those practising religious rituals. Currently there are discussions to abolish the change of time in Germany. 

But until a decision is taken, your clocks will be turned back this Sunday, 27th of March 2022 from 2 am to 3 am. 

Being on time in Germany 

The mentioned stereotype should be taken seriously when you’re living in Germany. Germans consider it rude to show up late for a meeting. If you’re late often you might be considered unreliable and even unprofessional. So especially in a professional context you should be careful to stick to the fixed timings. It’s advisable to be there 5 mins early - at least that’s what a lot of Germans do. Excuses about missed buses, personal emergencies and too much traffic are not valid in most cases. 

If you know you will be late due to whatever reason, send a message to the person you’re meeting before the fixed meeting time. Then the person has the chance to reschedule and use the extra time. If you make the person wait on the spot for half an hour they will probably be quite upset. 

But of course Germans made up a loophole. So the ones who are constantly late refer to being late within the academic quarter (which is 15 mins). This stems from the timings in university. When a lecture is scheduled to start at 2 pm it usually starts at 2:15 pm. You’ll sometimes find a note which says c.t. after the timing. That’s Latin and means cum tempore - with time (so you will have 15 mins until the lecture really starts). Look out for the exception when the schedule says 14:00 s.t. (lat. sin tempore - without time). That means the lecture is starting at the given time.  

We hope all your questions regarding time in Germany are answered in this article. If there are more please write them in the comments below, connect with others in the New2 FORUM or send us a direct message at [email protected]

Written by: Tanja Holbe 

Cover Photo: Icons8 Team - Unsplash

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