This autumn marks my four year Berliniversary—four years living in Germany. Oh mein Gott.
Though I’ve lived abroad a few other times as a student and a “slow”
traveler, this has been my first real experience living abroad.
Without question, it’s been a learning experience and I’ve come away with a lot of great stories.
Everything from the process of moving to a new country, embracing a
new culture, learning a new language and a million other things.
I never expected to live in Germany, but four years on, here I am. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way …
Special thanks to Claire who has helped put together these fun illustrations. Check out: http://clairikine.blogspot.de/
it might seem like a monumental task at the beginning, learning the
language will make your life easier and way more fun while living in
Germany. Sometimes you find yourself in a club and the guy on the dance
floor next to you whispers in your ear. This is an instance when knowing
German is helpful. (Trust me: this comes from personal experience!)
Of course, the language is also important for finding jobs, getting
visas, visiting all the Amts and dealing with the bureaucracy of living
abroad. Even though people in bigger cities (hallo Berlin!) tend to
speak English, it’s not always the case. Plus, a language that has a
word like bitte which can be used for just about any situation,
it’s really not that difficult to pick up essential words to know.
It’ll help you get further in your expat experience.
In every city across Germany you’ll find Volkshochschule which are
local community schools which offer classes in everything from art &
web design to language classes including German. Another good way is to
attend language exchanges and meet-ups. The InterNations website
organizes regular meet-ups in most major German cities, making it a good way to try out your language skills—plus meet other expats.
2. Germans Love Their Bikes (and So Should You!)
Getty Images/Sean GallupGermans
are avid cyclists, and for a reason. The city infrastructure is usually
built with cycling in mind, meaning bike lanes can be found almost
Germans are avid cyclists, and for a reason. The city infrastructure
is usually built with cycling in mind, meaning bike lanes can be found
almost everywhere. When moving to a new city, cycling is usually the
best and the cheapest way to get to know your surroundings. Used bikes
aren’t usually expensive, and several cities have bike-sharing services
where you can use the public bikes for a small annual fee. Bonus:
they’re emission free and will help to burn those extra calories from
all the beer and sausages you stuff in your mouth.
Germans don't like debt. Businesses don't encourage debt. So do
not ever assume that your card will work at any shop, restaurant or
ticket machine. No matter if it’s credit or debit, German or
international, much of the time it just won’t be accepted, and that's final. Many places
don’t accept EC (electronic cash/debit) below a certain amount (usually
5€ or 10€). -- Grocery stores are one of the few places I’ve found where credit cards are almost always accepted for any amount.
4. Electronic Music Is What You’ll Hear
Germany is famous for its techno music scene. You might think it’s a
stereotype, but I dare you to go out to a club in Berlin and not hear
some form of electronic music. Even smaller clubs tend to have at least
one night a week with techno, but really: it’s the bigger nightclubs
that you’ll want to experience for electronic music. I don’t know why
electronic music is so popular in Germany, but it is. Maybe it’s the
country’s history, or the fact that so many of the world’s best techno
DJs have come out of Germany (sorry, Bristol).
Even if electronic music isn’t your thing, give it a chance. In the
right club atmosphere, you’ll find yourself swept away by the beats and
5. German Food is More Than Just Wurst & Bier
Saying that, as an expat, at some point you’ll probably start to
crave your favorite foods from back home. Luckily, Germany has a
relatively diverse cuisine—more so than you might initially expect! Even
if you can’t find your favorite international foods quite as easy,
there are specialty food shops and international supermarkets (plus more
than a few online services) to get what you might miss from home.
In Germany, though, you’ll also find a lot of Italian and Turkish
food options. American-style burgers are currently all the rage
throughout the country, as is vegan & vegetarian food. And even when
you’re craving German food in Germany, know that your options extend
beyond sausages, beer and potatoes. Käsespätzle is a sort of mac &
cheese perfect for the winter (or as a vegetarian option in most German
restaurants) and the huge variety of meats make it easy to try new
6. Fizzy Drinks Are Awesome
I’m not 100% sure why, but Germans have a fixation with carbonated drinks. Water is always sparkling, unless otherwise specified. When you want to order water without the bubbles, ask for stilles Wasser (or Leitungswasser if you want it from the tap—but be warned they might not offer it to you for free!).
I won’t lie—I didn’t like sparkling water or many fizzy drinks before
moving to Germany, but now it’s a staple of most of my meals out.
Germans don’t just make their water fizzy, though. It’s also in their
beer. Beer in Germany is generally excellent, perhaps predictably. Even
the smallest village seems to have their own brewery. And in the summer,
nothing is better than a Radler (a mix of beer with lemonade) or even a
Diesel (a mix of beer with cola). There are also a variety of hipster
soft drinks of every stripe available. Try the German brand Fritz Kola, out of Hamburg but widely available in Germany (and even across Europe).
Germans have a predilection for Ordnung,
or order/discipline. And anyone who’s been to Germany will attest to
the fact that everything can be organized—especially the trash. Glass
bottles are separated by color. Organic waste goes in its own special
bins. Paper and electronics are separated. Everything has its place. All
the grocery stores have places to deposit bottles where you’ll get
change back, ranging from 8 to 15 cents. In some cities, it’s quite
common to leave beer bottles out on the sidewalk for the homeless and
other bottle collectors to pick up.
The longer you stay in Germany, the better you get at organizing
things. It’s actually quite a comforting thing—knowing that your trash
is going to be recycled. You will be a fan of green energy too, it is
simply contagious: I am nuclear-free. Plus, wind turbines are an
essential part of Germany’s landscape, and you will love to see them
from your train or your bus while crossing the German countryside.
8. There’s a Place for Everything
It’s not just your plastics and papers that can be sorted, but just
about everything else in Germany has its own special place and rules.
You might think the stereotype of German bureaucracy & paperwork is a
myth, but it’s not. Rules are followed to the letter in Germany.
There’s an Amt (office) for everything—from registering your address at the Bürgeramt to dealing with the Ordnungsamt.
The rules go so far that even jaywalking is considered a serious offense. Trust me: try to cross an empty street when the Ampelmännchen
is red. Just don’t tell people I told you to do it! (I have seen people
screaming “children killer!” to someone who crosses the street with a
red light, because in good German logic, children see you breaking the
law and will follow your example.)
9. Social Media Will Always Help
I don’t think I could’ve effectively made Germany my home without a
network of friends, those people that had moved here around the same
time, or those long-time locals who I was lucky enough to meet in my
early days living here. Starting out in a new country, you usually don’t
know many people in the beginning. I came to Berlin and knew no one.
And while Germans can be a bit formal, it’s definitely possible to
break through those tough exteriors. If you’re relatively social, using
social media you should be able to connect with new people wherever you
are in Germany. Facebook and meetups connect you to local events,
and through them it’s easy to find out about cool things to do. I’ve
also found it helpful to connect with other international people living
in Germany—those that are in similar situations and probably have dealt
with the same issues of bureaucracy. I couldn’t have made it here so
long without a strong network of other expats. Free networking websites
make it pretty easy to connect—they’re one of the biggest expat
communities worldwide and a good resource for asking questions. Sign up here for free and maybe see you at one of the many Berlin meet ups!
10. Get Comfortable in Your Birthday Suit
There’s a stereotype about Germans and nudity (and a more
free-spirited approach to sexuality—but that’s a different story!) and I
can tell you after living in Berlin for four years, it’s definitely
true. Nudity just isn’t an issue in Germany. That first summer when I
went to a lake for a day of suntanning, the crowded beach was a bit of a
shock: there was a lot of droop. Quite a
shock for this American!
But after that initial shock, I’ve come to realize the Germans really
know what’s up. Nudity shouldn’t be an issue—when you separate clothing
from sexuality, it’s actually incredibly liberating.
* * *
I can write lots of other stuff that you need to know before moving
to Germany, from the (self-)imposed silence in public transportation to
the surrealism of German television (and their weird taxes). I believe
that Berlin made it easier for me to move here because the city is
truly international. There are always lots of different people around. I
sometimes dream of moving to a new city, a new country—somewhere like
Barcelona or London, but I sincerely think I would miss Germany. Once
you get in tune with the mood and the German-style, you can conquer the
world (metaphorically, of course!).