Expat Corner

Choosing the Right Coats for German Winters

Because There’s No Wrong Weather, Only Wrong Clothing

Ever since moving to Germany, I have struggled with staying warm in the winter.  My husband is always telling me that the coats I brought from Texas just don’t work for German winters.  We even tried to go shopping for cute coats when we were in Texas earlier this year, but he just kept circling the racks saying, “Why are these jackets all so thin?  No wonder you are always cold!”

He finally got me into a store this past weekend, where I got a crash course in coat shopping – German style.  I had no idea there was so much involved.  I’m sure this is all second nature to expats coming from the northern states, but for those of you who don’t really have experience with such cold and wet winters, this information might really come in handy.

So, first of all, you should know that most Germans have on average three coats for cold weather: an all-weather jacket, a wool coat, and a heavy duty winter coat.

The All-Weather Jacket

These are lighter jackets for the Fall and warmer winter days.  Germans wear these when it’s rainy or windy but not super cold (roughly 45 degrees Fahrenheit and up).

all-weather-jacket
A typical all-weather jacket (from Wellensteyn)

I had what I thought was an all-weather jacket that I brought over from the States, but it turned out that it wasn’t wind proof.  A really good all-weather jacket for Germany needs to be both water and wind proof.  Not all of these jackets are the same, though.  Some will also be lined with additional material to keep you warm, while others will not.

While the majority of Germans agree that these jackets have to defend against water and wind, it’s more of a personal preference on if they also want these jackets to warm.  My husband explained that a lot of people opt for the non-warming jackets here because they’re not worn in extremely cold temperatures, and people already have layers or sweaters on underneath.  So, they dress warm and just wear the jacket to protect from the other elements.

Interesting thing to note here – there are features to all-weather jackets to accomodate this question of warming or not warming.  I tried on one jacket in the store, and my husband told me to raise my arms.

“You have a zipper here, in your armpit, that you can use to cool yourself off if the jacket gets too warm.”

I looked down and sure enough there was a zipper that ran about six inches.  There was no fabric underneath it.  I mean, it exposes your shirt underneath when it’s open.  “Why wouldn’t I just take the jacket off if I got too hot?”

“Because then you would have to carry it around.  The zipper is more practical.”

A less practical feature is the dual layer that some jackets use.  If you get too warm, you can actually take off one entire layer of the jacket.  I honestly had no idea such jackets even existed.

The Wool Coat

A lot of Germans have two really heavy coats for the winter.  The wool coat is one of them.

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Typical wool coat (from Fuchs & Scmitt)

Germans tend to wear wool coats on especially cold days that are also dry as these types of coats are not very effective in rain or snow.  But they’re extremely warm, so a lot people wear them when they need warmth and not much else.  They’re also more fashionable and professional looking than the heavy duty winter coats, so lots of people use them as their work coats, too.

The Heavy Duty Winter Coat

Again, I was certain that I already had one of these, but it doesn’t keep me warm in the German winters.  Last year, while I was bouncing on my toes, frantically rubbing my arms, and complaining about how I was freezing to death in the wind and snow, my husband was sweating in his coat.

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Typical down coat (from Fjäl Räven)

I never saw anything like this in Texas.  What’s surprising about these coats is how heavy they are – I mean their weight.  These coats are no joke.  Most Germans have a heavy duty winter coat that is a down coat (stuffed with goose feathers).  Another variation of this coat is the parka.  Both are made to warm you in extremely cold temperatures, and they’re almost always also wind and water resistant.  Some have hoods, some don’t.  I’ve been told it’s better to get one with a hood, but that’s up to you.

These are not, however, every day coats.  I think my husband wore his just a handful of times last winter.  Well, German winters have been pretty light the last few years (at least in our part of the Eifel).  Germans only wear these coats when they really need to.  We’re talking coldest days of the year, and usually when it’s snowing.

This and the all-weather jacket are standard must-haves for Germans.  The wool coat you can do without, but not the other two.

What to Know if You Go Coat Shopping in Germany

If you find yourself without such coats in the winter here, and you decide to go shopping, there are some things you should know beforehand.

Winter coats are expensive.  I mean really expensive.  I bought an all-weather jacket this past weekend that cost 240 €.  I was expecting a price half of that.  When I pointed it out to my husband, he just said, “Ja, that’s normal.”  And the heavy duty winter coats?  They’re often around 500 €.  But, as my husband explained to me, they are functional.  They are investments.  And because they are made with such high quality material, they will last forever.  He’s had his heavy duty winter coat for more than fifteen years now, and you’d never know it to look at it.  He may be a bit of an exception, though.  Most Germans buy coats, expecting that they will keep them for at least four years.

Which leads to the other thing to keep in mind – the priority of function over fashion.  There are cute coats out there, but the variety of colors and designs (for women) is quite limited.  But, as people expect to keep them for so long, they tend to buy very basic colors and designs that aren’t going to go out of fashion.  Or that they’ll just stop liking in a few years.

It’s also good to know what brands are out there.  Some of the more popular brands with Germans are:

  • Fjäl Räven (from Sweden)
  • Mammut (from Switzerland)
  • Wellensteyn (from Northern Germany)
  • Jack Wolfskin (from Germany)

And while you can order them online or buy them from most “department stores,” there are also specialty stores in the bigger cities.  For example, we went to Viking Adventures in Trier.

Laden_Maerz2012_025
Photo Credit: vikingadventures.de

So, don’t freeze this winter.  As the Germans like to say, “there is no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothing!”

 

5 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Coats for German Winters

  1. Yep as a Texan I have my light jacket and a med jacket for when it’s not Summer. Can’t say we rally have a winter here. The heavy jacket would not get much use in San Antonio.

    I seem to remember the German jackets also buttoned on the opposite side (opposite flap on top).
    Thanks for sharing

  2. I’m so glad i found this post! I am very concerned about this. I’m also from Texas and don’t really have a good winter coat. But to complicate matters, i’m a smaller plus size AND have a baby due in January! So half the winter, i’ll be huge and the other half (and lord willing every winter thereafter) i will be normal size (18ish). What to DO!?i don’t want to drop $1400 on 2 different sizes of all weather and heavy duty coats! But i don’t want to freeze in Nov-Dec. Also what on earth do you do for kids who need a different size every year?? Anything like consignment shops or sales? I haven’t seen anything but Facebook sales groups. I sure don’t want to spend 700 a year on coats for each kid, holy cow!

    1. So nice to hear from another Texan! Let me start by saying, “Congratulations!” That’s a nice late Christmas present you’re getting! I really didn’t know the answer to your question, so I had to do a bit of asking around. The German ladies that I talked to said this is an issue for a lot of them as well. It seems like they do one of three things – some women wear one of their husband’s, father’s, or even grandfather’s winter jackets during the pregnancy. Some buy a cheap winter jacket (usually from the men’s department), and then layer themselves underneath the jacket with undershirts and thick sweaters. Some women buy a “Tragenmantel,” which is a maternity coat, but apparently these can be really expensive. One lady told me that she bought a “Mamaponcho” because it worked during the pregnancy and after (while the child was still young).

      As far as kids’ jackets go, the ladies I talked to said they often buy from Aldi and Lidl. You can find wind and/or rain proof jackets there. They also recommended H&M. They said to layer the kids’ clothing underneath. One example they gave was to dress them in warm clothes and then put them in a fleece jacket with either a rain coat or soft-shell coat on top.

      I sure hope that helps! 🙂

  3. This is great, moving to Eifel area in September and was looking for recommendations on winter gear since I’ve only lived HOT places. Would also love a recommendation on footwear!

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