The "Fast Lane" Answer
Deutsche Post AG, also known as Deutsche Post DHL, is Germany's primary postal delivery service. It is also the world's largest courier service. With a rich history that reaches back even further than Britain's organized postal couriers, and having struggled through some of history's most difficult political circumstances, Deutsche Post has come a long way to finally become king of the hill. And with an infrastructure that spans the world—they serve over 200 countries—they're poised to keep their spot.
Deutsche Post, like some of its fellows, started as a public-owned institution of the state. However, in the 1990s it became a private company, with the state only retaining a fifth of the shares. Since then, Deutsche Post has expanded significantly, absorbing multiple companies into its infrastructure and ultimately becoming the postal behemoth it is today.
If you're here trying to find out how to address a letter or envelope for shipping to Germany (believe us, we know how hard it is to find the answer to that particular problem), here's a brief example demonstrating what an address should look like:
Wittekindshof [institution / company name]
Herrn David Hasselhoff [form of address, first name, last name]
Schulstrasse 4 [street address]
32547 Bad Oyenhausen [postal code + city/town]
The "Scenic Route" Answer
A Very German Post
Let's start with the name. "Deutsche" (doy-chah) is the feminine form of the word "Deutsch" (same pronunciation, minus the "ah"), which is German for, well, "German." Some of you may now be making the "Deutschland" connection for the first time: that's the German name for Germany. And a Deutsch land deserves a Deutsche post. But it's not just for Germans by Germans. It's a remarkable company whose reach extends across the globe.
"Just How Big is it?"
The company Deutsche Post AG uses the simple and traditional "Deutsche Post" for its domestic handlings, but it's not only a domestic company anymore. For a more generalized umbrella name, Deutsche Post usually works under the name Deutsche Post DHL, which is a name it gets from one of the companies it's acquired in the last 20 years. In the late '90s DP started picking up some stocks in DHL, a tactic that steadily escalated until DP wholly bought out DHL.
DHL was a US-based business that focused primarily on transcontinental and international shipping. It became a focus for DP shortly after the company went private-owned and was looking to expand its international offerings. Now, DHL shares its name with multiple other services provided by DP (more on that later).
Now, largely because of acquisitions like DHL, DP is veritable titan in the industry. Operating out of its headquarters in Bonn, Germany, DP is a conga line of over 467,000 pairs of feet in over 220 countries. In 2014 alone, they pulled in a revenue of €56.63 billion (over $60 billion USD).
All that money and manpower requires organization to keep it running like clockwork, so Deutsche Post wisely segmented its company to better manage its size. The structure of the operation, as of 2008, breaks down into the following categories:
- Mail Communication: manages mail that originates from Germany
- Press Services: does things like magazines and newspapers for the domestic market
- Retail Outlets: runs the "retail outlets" (read: post offices) on the domestic front
- Dialogue Marketing: runs things like market research and address verification/validation (a passion we share)
- Parcel Germany: currently part of the DHL brand; Parcel Germany handles parcels...in Germany—that includes the Packstation network (a pretty slick feature that we'll be talking about later)
- Global Mail: part of the DHL brand; Global Mail runs the mail that originates outside of Germany (this includes "domestic" items that aren't German but never leave their country of origin)
How to Format for Deutsche Post
We'd like to preface this section by saying that there are some conflicting reports as to how addresses are supposed to be formatted for a German destination. The format we present here, as well as the following tips, can be found on the Deutsche Post website.
- Only label the front of the envelope
- Top left is for the sender's address
- Put the recipient's address in the bottom right
- Postage goes in the upper right corner
- Don’t put things like sticky notes on the envelope—they can be confused with postal labels
As for the actual addresses, there are two more things to remember. First, don't list apartment numbers. It's understood that mail carriers look for the matching name on the mailbox. Second, don't put the letter-based country code (such as "US" for United States, "GB" for the UK, or "DE" for Germany) in front of the postal code; it's apparently no longer necessary.
Now, about those addresses. A German address tends to look something like this:
Herrn David Hasselhoff
32547 Bad Oyenhausen
If we were to write that out in "insert name here" format, it would look like this:
Form of Address (like Mr./Herrn or Mrs./Frau), First Name, Last Name
Street, House Number
Postal Code, City/Town
PO Box ("Postfach") addresses follow a similar format, with the street/house number line being replaced with something like this:
Postfach 10 01 65 ["PO Box" + its number]
And that's pretty much it. As for those crazy-cool packstations, keep reading to know how to format an address for one of those.
German Postal Codes
Postleitzahl are what the Germans call a postal code. The literal translation is "postal routing number," and they abbreviate it to PLZ for short. Deutsche Post has used postal code systems as small as two digits in the past, but they've been rocking a 5-digit code (just like the US) since 1993. With each code, the first and second digits refer to a regional area (one that more easily ties to geographical boundaries than US ZIP Codes do). The remaining three digits denote the postal district where the destination is located.
PLZs are drawn along districts and delivery lines, just like in the US, which means that sometimes you can have the wide area indicated by the first two numbers be the size of several states, or it can be a section of Berlin. In some cases, like customers with significant volumes of incoming mail (called Großkunden), an individual or organization may get their own PLZ (just like unique ZIP Codes in the US).
That's all there is to German postal codes. Unlike some nations, PLZs are very simple and straightforward, both easy to use and understand.
Alright buckle up, because with a postal carrier as big as DP, there's an offering of services big enough to match it. Here's some of the things on their list.
The heart and soul of the company, "Deutsche Post" is the brand name used for all domestic mail services in Germany. This is the traditional name that's been in use for years, and the one most closely tied to the German people. Deutsche Post handles everything shipped within Germany, excepting only express mail, which currently falls under the DHL umbrella.
This one's an interesting one, if for no other reason than it operates entirely outside of Germany and even outside the European Union. Power Packaging is a packaging and manufacturing company that contracts itself out to North American companies that produce consumer goods. This branch of Deutsche Post AG has proven fundamental to the growth and evolution of the packaging industry, and it has a reputation for successfully juggling multiple factories and customers.
DHL is an umbrella label that covers a significant portion of DP's holdings. In brief, DHL handles all logistics and parcel services. In specific, DHL is responsible for international shipping, express shipping, supply chain/logistic services, and a few other services.
A subgroup of DHL, these guys handle international express. They do it with quite a bit of panache too, considering DP's bread and butter as the world's largest logistics company is sea and air mail. DHL Express runs parcel, courier, and express post transported primarily via ground and air. It's responsibilities are broken into four geographical destination regions:
- Asia Pacific
- Europe, the Middle East, and Africa
With over 220 countries serviced, you'd better believe that if you need to get it there, DHL Express will make it happen. We ought to know—we help make it happen.
Supply Chain/Corporate Information Solutions takes care of the logistics side of things. They offer warehousing and transport for goods and supplies, along with a host of bonus features to sweeten the deal. They also do "information solutions"—things like data entry and digitalisation, storage and archival services, and more. It's pretty much a business's best friend.
This is the arm of DHL that gets to play with all the cool toys. Forwarding/Freight is the boat/wing/rail division—they conduct pretty much all transport that doesn't happen on wheels. It's divided into two business units: "DHL Global Forwarding", which handles any vehicle that gets a captain (the boats and the planes), and "DHL Freight," which covers any transport where someone gets to shout "All aboard!" The network run by DHL Freight has a reach that includes Europe, Russia, and some parts of the Middle East.
Now let's move on to some features; things that are less of separate divisions of the company and more functionalities offered to enhance services already in place. The first of these we'd like to mention is called "Garagenvertrag." It translates to "garage agreement" in English, and it's only offered to German customers. The agreement establishes a place where the postman can leave letters and packages. This place could be anything from the customer's garage to a nearby neighbor willing to take the delivery in their absence.
The upside here is that it means the customer doesn't have to go fetch their package from the post office if they aren't home to receive a package. The downside? Garagenvertrag deliveries count as delivered once they’re dropped at the predetermined location. After the drop off, they are no longer covered under the post's insurance. So if someone walks off with your collector's edition Star Wars chess set you ordered off of eBay once it's been dropped in your garage, you’re out of luck.
Packstations are mini post offices scattered throughout Germany. They offer easy package delivery for people who spend large amounts of time away from home and aren’t available during normal delivery hours to receive packages. It works pretty much the same as a regular post office, where mail is dropped in a box and left for the customer to pick up.
It's a free service that you sign up for online. Once you're all signed up, DP gives you a Goldcard, an access card with a magnetic strip, not unlike your debit or credit card. That card comes with a PIN, also not unlike a credit card, and both are required to access the customer's packages.
They've also recently added another level of security with something called "mTAN." It’s a temporary confirmation code that is texted or emailed as part of the confirmation notice sent to the customer upon delivery. The customer then has seven business days to use all three—Goldcard, PIN, and mTAN—to unlock the bin at the appropriate booth and receive their package. If it's not picked up after the seven days, the package is removed and delivered to the post office.
In the event that there are no free spots at the booth designated by the address on the letter/package, it is taken to the nearest booth that has open bins, or to the nearest post office. The package is also sent to the post office if it's too large to fit in the compartments.
In case you need to ship a package to one of these, this is how their addresses are formatted:
Max Mustermann (First Name, Last Name)
12345678 (Recipient Number)
Packstation 123 (Packstation Registered Identification)
12345 Berlin (Postal Code, Town/City)
Here's a fun one. A few years back, DP started something they call "E-Post." Now we know what you're thinking. You're probably saying to yourself, "Isn't that just email? Why wouldn't people use something like Gmail instead?" Let us tell you that DP found ways to make even something like that unique to them.
E-Post offers several different services. Here are some of the big ones:
Cloud storage, first 5 GB free
- This service includes encryption and virus protection of the stored documents/files
Receive and send mail (not email, actual post) electronically
- They scan your letters and email them to you, even storing the document for you
- All communications are encrypted for security
Free fax service
- As in, you use an online service to fax digital documents
Semi-automated bill pay service
- Saves your entries in files and forms, so that any time you pull up a new online bill, it fills in all the information for you, and all you have to do is click "pay"
- Pay for postage online
They started this gig back in the early ’90s as an email service. As you can see, it's a little more comprehensive now.
Prohibitions and Restrictions
Ok, it's time to talk about some of the things you're not allowed to put in a box and ship to Germany (at least through this postal service). The list we have here isn't exhaustive or even lengthy. We figure you're pretty smart. For the most part, you can just imagine that you shouldn't try to mail a thing if a) what's in the box could send you to jail, or b) if it fell out of the box it would ruin a postal worker's day (like those darn British balloons).
What we've listed here are just the items we found...interesting. You know, the ones we thought you'd actually enjoy reading about. Here's our list, representing items pulled both from Deutsche Post, DHL international shipping, and DHL international shipping that’s Germany bound:
It seems (with good reason) that no one finds Nazi paraphenalia more distasteful than the Germans. This isn't even limited objects that can be shipped; you can also apparently be penalized for things like being caught doing the Nazi salute in public.
Hazelnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, and figs are all food items that aren't permissible. In trying to understand this line of prohibitions, we can tentatively imagine a scenario consisting an inexplicable accident involving a box full of Planters and a postman with some unfortunate allergies. We're having a hard time envisioning something similar regarding figs, however.
Evidently you can ship the flammable, habit-forming stuff, but these are off limits.
How would this even survive an international trip?
Here's our favorite. Bullion is bars and ingots of precious metals. You're not allowed to ship them (though the postage on something that heavy would be ridiculous anyway). It's important, however, to make sure you're not confusing "bullion" with "bouillon". The words are similar, but the distinction is important. Mostly because you would be confusing your silver and gold with one or all of the following:
- Broth cubes
- Croatian soups
- A style of traditional French restaurants
- A French wine grape
- The Lords of Bouillon, which included Godfrey de Bouillon, the leader of the first crusade
- Francis Bouillon, a Canadian hockey player
- Bouillon, a province in Belgium that contains a population of over 5,000 and a castle. This can't be mailed for an entirely different reason, and one that should be apparent.
So, while we know you're excited to share, you should probably keep your ecigs, figs, and your castles to yourself.
Undeliverable Deutsche Post Mail
We discuss elsewhere some more universal details on why a postal carrier might not be able to find an address you're trying to mail to. Deutsche Post in specific lists a couple of items, though, that bear noting. These are reasons they point to for mail being undeliverable.
DP points out that in recent years it's been very difficult to deliver mail to people who don't "live" anywhere anymore. We don't think this is necessarily a new problem, but it's apparently become enough of an issue lately that they felt it was worth mentioning. If your recipient has passed away, DP may be able to deliver your postage to a next of kin, but it's not going to reach its intended target.
No Forwarding Address
Sometimes people move, and when they do, they often write down where they've headed to, and give it to the post office. That way, until everyone gets the hang of the new address, people who still mistakenly ship to the old address will still get their letters where they need them to go. Sometimes, though, they forget or fail to fill out the paperwork, leaving the postal system to think they either still live there, or just don't know where they live now.
As with the above example, it becomes rather difficult when a recipient doesn't live somewhere anymore, and don't leave a forwarding address (hard to do that when you're not sure yet where you're going). So if the individual hasn't indicated to the postal system where they live now, it will be hard for you to put something in their mailbox.
This one's unique to businesses and organizations. DP keeps lists of people who don't want bulk mail advertisements (in any format, from paper mail to text messaging). These "No Mail" lists prevent companies from spamming recipients who really don’t want it. So if you’re looking to send out advertisements, flyers, and the like, you can expect there's a chance that the "No Mail" list will keep them from getting it.
All in all, Deutsche Post is a well-oiled machine serving a significant portion of the world. They have a variety of offerings that are likely to meet your needs, and there’s nobody better for delivering the mail you send to your good friends in Germany.
If you want to make sure an address in Germany is real/correct before you hand it over to DP, you can check with us, and we'll help you out. Likewise, if you have any questions about DP and how the whole international shipping thing works, we'd be happy to talk to you about it. Just give our customer service crew a call.
And here's a pro tip*, in case you want to skip the whole automated-robot-phone-answerer thing: just say "SmartyStreets is awesome" into the phone while it's ringing, and it will route you straight to one of our techs. We'll answer your questions, and help you find what you need.
*Disclaimer: no action is actually necessary to bypass the phone-answering robot because we don't use any. We just like having people call us awesome.