Guest post by Dana Newman, writer and expat vlogger at Wanted an Adventure
You’ve decided to relocate to Germany. That’s great. Willkommen in Deutschland!
By now, if you’ve been diligent in your explorations, you’ve probably seen, at least from the outside, most of the big tourist attractions of your city. Perhaps you’ve been living in extended-vacation la-la land for the past few weeks, but real life must begin again at some point, and that point is now. Vacationing in Germany and living there day in, day out are two very different things. Let’s get down to the business of sorting all that out.
Learning German & Making Friends
The German language can be a tricky one to master. But at this point, we’re not suggesting you try to master it, just grab hold of the basics. Signing up for a language course at one of the many schools in your city is a great way to get started. Not only will you learn the language, but you’ll meet other foreigners as well. Nothing eases the transition into a new country like making friends.
Another way to kill these two birds of language and finding friends with one stone is to do a German-English tandem. This entails meeting up with a German who’s interested in learning English, then the two of you speak German half the time and English half the time, giving both people practice in the language they’re learning. ToyTownGermany is an expat site and a great place to start your search for a tandem partner.
You’ve probably already noticed a few key differences between the social norms in Germany and those of your home country. Germans, as a generalization, can be a formal bunch. Last names are often preferable to first names, especially in a business setting, and Germans aren’t known for going out of their way to interact with strangers. But, while it might take you a while to go from being a “Bekannte(r)” (acquaintance) to a “Freund(in)” (friend), once you’re there, you’ll find it was well worth the wait, for underneath that sometimes hard-to-crack exterior is often a hearty, jovial character.
The big exceptions to this formality are the beer gardens of Bavaria. In the beer gardens the barriers go down and you have the chance to chat with people that you wouldn’t normally interact with. The sitting arrangement is communal in style and so, unless your group is large enough to fill the whole table (10-12 people), you’ll often end up sitting with people you didn’t know, but by the end of the afternoon, perhaps they’ll become people you do know.
The Germans as a whole are pretty active. One of the questions you’ll most often get is whether or not you “do sport.” In German the phrase “Sport machen” refers not just to organized games but to any even remotely physical activity and encompasses everything from the occasional hike, to touring the city by bike, to playing in a serious soccer league three times per week. Basically, when someone asks you whether or not you “do sport,” unless you truly find zero enjoyment from any physical activity whatsoever, your answer should be yes.
Germans love the outdoors as well, so there’s no shortage of outside activities. In the summer there’ll be grilling and lounging going on in the parks and on the banks of the rivers, and in the winter sledding and skiing.
Staying in the Loop
Again, ToyTownGermany is a great place to find out about things going on around town as is The Local, which publishes German news in English. But you can also obtain a great deal of information just by walking around town and checking out the “Litfaßsaeule.” Perhaps you don’t recognize them by this name, but you’ve surely seen them. “Litfaßsaeule” are those cylindrical columns that are scattered all around town and plastered with posters. These posters advertise everything from concerts and open air movie nights to museum exhibitions and book signings.
Shopping: Where to Find What you Need
While there are usually several department stores as well as a few larger supermarkets in every city, Germany on the whole still relies on somewhat smaller stores. (That’s not to say they aren’t chains, but the actual physical size of the shop is relatively small.) If you’d like to whip up a meal of meat and potatoes or spaghetti with bolognese, you’ll probably find everything you need at the local grocery stores. But, while these stores do offer more and more international supplies every year, for specialty items, you may have to look elsewhere. Many of the department stores have a fine food section, so that’s a place to start your search. In addition, try the outdoor markets as well as looking for an international stand-alone shop in town. ToyTownGermany is, once again, recommended for assisting in the search.
Throughout Germany most stores are, by law, closed on Sundays. The exceptions include some shops at airports and train stations, as well as gas stations for travelers.
Medicine, both prescription as well as over the counter, can be purchased at “Apotheken” (pharmacies) around town. Vitamins, makeup, and toiletries can be purchased at stores such as DM and Rossmann.
What’s for Dinner?
Germany certainly has no shortage of restaurants, bars, and cafes. In Bavaria there are beer gardens as well. In the larger cities you’ll find many different cuisines to choose from, but don’t go expecting it to be the same as in your home country! The dishes in Germany are usually prepared for the German pallet, which often translates into them being less spicy. Speak up upon ordering if you want your dishes with an extra kick to them.
It’s hard to describe “typical German food” because the cuisine varies from region to region; however, it’s pretty safe to say that Germany as a whole is a meat-loving nation. Pork, poultry, and beef are the main three, but venison and rabbit also make appearances on the dinner table from time to time. Popular side dishes include mashed potatoes, potato salad, boiled potatoes, coleslaw, and dumplings. “Spargel” (asparagus) is also much loved in Germany. More popular than the green variety is the white one. “Spargel” is sold from mid-May to the end of June, during which time signs around town announce that the beloved “Spargelsaison” (asparagus season) has arrived.
Beer is beloved countrywide, but nowhere is it more enjoyed than in Bavaria, where it’s considered not just an alcoholic beverage, but a basic food. The “Reinheitsgebot” (German Beer Purity Law) from the early 1500s stipulated that beer brewed throughout Germany was allowed to be produced using only water, barley, and hops. In the 1800s yeast was added to the short list of approved ingredients. Today many breweries still boast adherence to this rule, but as of 1987 it is no longer a law.
“Freizeit” (Free Time)
The normal business week is Monday to Friday with most people having off on Saturday and Sunday. In addition, employees get between 20 and 30 paid vacation days per year as well as national and state holidays, which include January 1, Good Friday and Easter Monday, the Day of German Unity on October 3, and Christmas on December 25 and 26, just to name a few. Seasonal school breaks vary from region to region, but all students have off around Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
The main medical/fire emergency number in Germany is 112. For the police call 110.
All salaried employees as well as those married to a salaried employee can be medically covered under the public healthcare system. If you’re working as a freelancer, however, you’ll need to sign up for private insurance.
Injuries incurred while at work or on the way to or from work are covered by the employer’s insurance.
As for finding English speaking doctors, word of mouth from other expats as well as, once more, information on ToyTownGermany are the best routes to go.
If you’ve lived in Germany for more than six months, you’ll have to start paying those taxes, and your tax return is due by May 31. Your employer will deduct the income tax from your salary, but freelance workers will have to take care of paying the government on their own. For more information on who has to pay what, here’s a helpful article from InterNations, an international expat community.
Dana Newman is an expat YouTube vlogger and writer whose debut novel, entitled Found in Prague, is based loosely on her experiences living in the Czech Republic when she first moved to Europe in search of her roots. For the inside scoop on expat life in Germany (such as the truth about the German beer gardens and why the German sauna culture is like mayonnaise) as well as travel videos from around the world, check out and subscribe to her Wanted an Adventure YouTube channel. She can also be found on Twitter @WantedAdventure, sharing her international thoughts and musings in the most concise form the Internet has to offer.