When in Rome, do as the Romans do… and be sure to follow the rules that govern their society. It is an old piece of advice that hasn't tarnished with age as societies throughout Europe continue their inexorable march into the future.
There is also a little piece of advice tucked into everyone's passports, a friendly reminder that while traveling abroad, U.S. citizens are responsible for obeying the laws of the countries they visit.
When your next adventure takes you to the Rhineland, there are some things you just shouldn't do — chief among them are raising your hand in a Nazi salute either in jest or to mock the history of a nation still coming to grips with the history of their nation. In Germany, it isn't just culturally insensitive; it is classified as a hate crime.
So, what's the penalty for raising your right arm in a Nazi salute or shouting Nazi slogans? It is more than just a slap on the wrist. Those who violate the law can face hefty fines and up to three years in a German jail.
The law is more than just window dressing to scare tourists and deter distasteful behavior. It also predates by decades the wave of anti-immigrant and anti-semitic sentiments that have sprung up in the past few years. Strafgesetzbuch section 86A was passed a long time ago with the purpose of prohibiting the dissemination of Nazi symbolism and greetings including the infamous "Sieg heil!" and "Heil Hitler!" that led a nation to commit some of the most horrific crimes in the history of mankind.
While there are caveats and allowances for the use of these symbols and greetings in the use of art, science, or education, it's not something the casual tourist should ever attempt to challenge.
The law is enforced, and this past summer a couple of Chinese tourists learned that the hard way and through a 453 Euro fine that it is a quick way to ruin a vacation. Visitors from Canada, England, and yes, America, have faced similar fines and experiences.
If you raise your right hand, you can rest assured that the long arm of German law is going to reach its hand right into your wallet. And, if you decide not to pay the fine, you could face even bigger problems.
German police are known to enter data on police fines into the Schengen Information System, and like a bad penny, this information can come up when you enter and leave the Schengen zone. At best, if it comes up you will be forced to pay the fine on the spot. At worst, you will be denied boarding your flight or entry into the country. You may also be taken into police custody. It is just not a risk you want to take.
No matter where you are, always remember the places you are visiting and what those sites represent. Dress appropriately, act appropriately, and avoid making statements or engaging in behaviors, such as taking selfies, that may be construed as insensitive.
Wanderlist Tours would love to guide you on your adventure through the treasures of Germany.
With our Quintet Tour, you get to explore Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria. Or, you can join us for beers, brats, and more on our Oktoberfest Tour!