You’re having a lovely time on holiday, and then you remember: gifts! There are your mates at work, the dog walker, the neighbour that watered your plants… what to buy in Germany that would make a thoughtful gift? As a long-time resident in Germany, here is what I fill my own suitcases with when I head to Canada for a visit.
Make time for the museum gift shops
Skip the cheesy souvenir shops, but don’t miss the museum and gallery shops. Leave yourself some extra time at the end of museum and gallery visits to thoroughly check out the gift shop – there’s often some beautiful and unique things to be had, and their sales support these organizations. Look for region-specific traditional pottery, tote bags, exhibition-specific art pieces, jewellery, and books of photography.
Beer mugs and wine glasses
I know when most people think of Germany they think ‘beer stein’ but I’d like to stop you right there! It’s not a ‘stein’ in German, that just means rock, and asking for a beer stein in Germany won’t get you anything but a funny look. The vessel you’re thinking of is a ‘Bierkrug’ in German. These can be beautifully detailed with pictures of the local area painted on them and a fancy lid for safe outdoor drinking (no dying wasps in your beer). If you’d like to find one of these, sometimes the nicer tourist shops will have them, but every large secondhand shop I’ve been in has them too for relatively cheap.
The very very large beer glasses you see at Oktoberfest and other beer festivals are called a ‘Maß’, and they hold a litre of beer, smaller ones are just a ‘Bierglas’. You can buy these at the local breweries, and they make a good gift for the beer drinkers among your friends and family. Look for the ceramic or stoneware ones, they naturally keep beer cold for longer (pictured above).
For wine glasses, look out for the beautiful traditional Riesling glasses with green stems (pictured at the top of this post). These glasses can also be found in local secondhand stores, but a local department store will also carry them. These glasses are more common in the southwest of Germany where most of the vineyards are, so they might be harder to find the further north you go.
Pens and stationery
This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Germany, but if you are into nice pens and notebooks, think of some of the popular brands: Staedtler, Leuchtturm, Lamy. They are all German! A trip to a stationery store will give you so many gorgeous gift options, from ink made of Pinot Noir wine (for real) to a fountain pen that changes colour over time. Good places to check are the large Drogeriemärkt like Müller, department stores like Galeria Kaufhof, Manufactum, or any smaller stationery stores you happen to see.
Secret place for the best German souvenirs
Still need a few small gifts? The best, and cheapest, place to get German souvenirs that are actually good is the grocery store. Look for a big grocery store, and inside you will find a section of local products, often labelled as ‘aus deiner Region’. REWE (pronounced RAY-va) is one of the big grocery store chains in Germany, and I’m using them as an example because I know they have a well-marked local products section. Some shelf-stable things to consider bringing home:
Germans are big on their mustard, and there are many kinds. They also package mustard in these beautiful metal tubes with interesting labels. ‘Mild’ is self-explanatory, but ‘scharf’ means spicy, so choose accordingly. The mustard is in its own aisle with mayonnaise, and mustard in German is ‘senf’, it is usually on the signs because it is that important! Everyone knows German mustard, but for some reason they don’t add it to their What to Buy in Germany list.
Each region has their own liquor, and they are often in a small bottle so they shouldn’t trigger any duty charges. In the south, there’s lots of Kirsche (cherry) flavoured ones. This should be in the regional section.
Germany claims the invention of the gummi bear, and the Haribo brand of gummified candies are from Bonn. There are special gummi bear shops where you can get flavours like pilsner and mulled wine, but even the average grocery store selection of Haribo, and other brands, will blow your mind. I love the ‘salted herring’ ones, they are just liquorice but it makes my friends laugh to think of fish-flavoured gummi candy.
Ah Germany, the land of Liebniz cookies. The Liebniz-Keks have been in production since 1891, and are available in the cookie aisle of any grocery store. They are quite plain, so you may want to go for the Kakaokeks, the ones with chocolate on one side. There are bags of mini ones as well. If you’re in Germany during the Christmas season, there will be endless seasonal varieties to choose from too.
Unique gifts from Germany
Not generally found in the grocery store but worth keeping an eye out for in your travels:
Bicycle seat covers
The strangest places sell these things, often they are mounted on a piece of cardboard and look almost like shower caps, labelled ‘Sattleschutz’. These keep your seat dry when you have to leave your bike out in the rain, and anything is better than a plastic bag. I brought a colourful polka dot one home from Germany once, and I must have been asked about it 300 times.
Cloth and reusable shopping bags
Germans have taken the minimization of plastic bags seriously, and there are reusable bags for sale everywhere. Some are bog standard and ugly, but there are plenty of nicer ones. The department store Galeria Kaufhof often have some nice city-themed ones by the cash desks.
Wooden Christmas decorations
This is a bit tougher, as there are lots of crap ones, but it’s definitely what people expect to buy in Germany. However, if you happen to be visiting near or during Christmas, there will be markets everywhere and always at least three stalls selling them. These are really worth checking out, because the craftsmanship can be incredible, and the prices very reasonable. Look for little houses to create your own Christmas village on your mantle or windowsill, and beautiful Christmas pyramids that rotate, driven by the heat of a small candle. If you’re in Heidelberg or Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Käthe Wohlfahrt shops are your year-round Christmas wonderland, though their heirloom-quality decorations are quite expensive. However, if you’re keen to invest, they will ship your purchases for you, so you don’t have to worry about making space in your luggage.
If you have kids to bring things back for, or your own kids want something, try and hold them off until you can get to a proper toy store. The amount of beautiful wood toys makes my heart hurt every time I go in these stores. Beautiful ball runs, smoothly running little cars, jaunty little horses and people. It’s so worth going into one of these places, even if you don’t have kids to buy for, to be honest.
A note about cuckoo clocks
Don’t buy a cuckoo clock unless you have at least €300 earmarked for the purpose, have done some research, and plan to ship it back. I know people mention cuckoo clocks on their what to buy in Germany lists, but it should be a beautiful handcrafted object and priced accordingly. If you’re not into making the investment, take a video of one in a shop instead.