Living in Germany
Germany is not only an ideal place to be a student but is also a fantastic place to live!
Original content kindly provided by DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst)
Edited by Finnian Durkan
Published July 21, 2010
From affordable housing and extensive public transportation networks to cultural offerings and great food, Germany has everything to make both your student and social life as exciting and fulfilling as possible. Let us help you plan your German Alltag (day-to-day life).
Life in Germany is incredibly diverse. Over 12% of the student population is international, and German society in general is a melting pot of cultural diversity. You can have your breakfast in a middle-eastern cafÉ, pop down to the local delicatessen for your peanut-butter fix –a hard item to find in many other European countries—and then catch a French film after you’ve finished studying for the night. Germany not only has a welcoming and diverse population but its central location means that you are only a short distance from dozens of other countries if the mood for a weekend getaway by train ever happens to strike you.
When it comes to where you want to live, Germany has the city or town to match both your personality and what you want to get out of your graduate experience. From the bright lights and frenetic energy of cities like Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne to quieter university towns like Freiburg, GÖttingen or TÜbingen, Germany has something for everybody. Even once you do decide on a city or town in which to live, the autobahn, Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) and EU-Rail will make sure that you aren’t cut off from the rest of the country no matter where you are a student.
Once you’ve got your living situation squared away and have figured out which classes to take (based on which Teacher’s Assistant you would like to try to date), you can choose from a myriad of social and athletic activities on or off of campus with which to further distract yourself from your studies. You can get involved in activities on your campus through intramurals or in local club teams in virtually any sport from football –yes, you’ll have to stop calling it soccer now-- and fencing to badminton and handball. If your extracurricular pursuits lean more towards outdoor adventure, then you will find a happy home tromping through the Alps or taking a detour to one of Germany’s many picturesque lakes. Whether it’s skiing the expert runs at Bischofsmais, windsurfing on the Baltic Sea or getting your sea legs on Lake Constance, there are plenty of opportunities for you to unwind to take a break from cramming your head full of knowledge.
Dorm or apartment? Alone or with roommates? These can be tough decisions already, and even more so when you’re starting a life as a graduate student in a new country. Before you start packing your bags it’s important to decide what living situation is best for you and will also fit your needs once your plane lands and you begin your student-life in Germany.
Most students at German universities either live in a university-sponsored dorm or in a private apartment not affiliated with a university. Unlike most U.S. or Canadian universities
, you are not automatically assigned or guaranteed a place to live upon admission to the university. This doesn’t mean that you’re left out in the cold, scrabbling all on your own in your search for a place to rest your weary head; there are numerous agencies and resources to help you find the best living situation for you individually. Who knows, they might even be able to hook you up with a flat near that Teachers Assistant that we talked about earlier. Here’s some info about the different housing options for students in Germany:
Shared apartments (Wohngemeinschaften, or WGs)
Private shared apartments (called “WGs” in German, for short) are the most popular housing option for students in Germany. Just like in undergrad when you and your friends set out to find a place of your own for the first time after tiring of dorm life, with WG’s several students share a single flat or house. Each person has their own room and everyone shares a common kitchen, bathroom(s) and living area, so bone-up on your cleanliness and relearn your ability to come up with a viable dishwashing/showering/laundry schedule for multiple roommates. Sometimes already existing WGs will advertise one or two rooms, and you may interview for one of the openings if you aren’t able to find a group of people to go house-hunting with. Depending on where you study (big city, university town, rural area, etc) you should expect to pay around €150 to €350 per month in rent.
The upside: You immediately get to know some nice people, and the rent's not too high. This is a great way to meet other students and, if you live with German students, an excellent way to practice your German.
The downside: As in any shared living situation, WG’s are fraught with the same difficulties that arise from sharing space and living in close proximity with other people. Pick your roommates carefully and prepare to make concessions as not everyone else will be likely to share your views on laundry, clutter, sharing of shelf space or when it is or isn’t appropriate to blare techno music and have an impromptu party in the living room. Think undergrad, but with older people who aren’t financed by their parents anymore.
Where to look for a room in a WG:
· Online portals such as:
· The International Office at your university
· Bulletin boards around campus (called Schwarzes Brett in German).
If you’re looking to enjoy the on-campus type of life, the Student Services office at your University can make living in a dorm a pretty easy option. Many offer a "Service Set
" for between €158 and €358 per month which guarantees you a place in a residence hall. Depending on the university, the Service Set can even include health insurance, semester fees and a Semesterticket
for using local public transport.
The upside: Most rooms in hall are already fully furnished and often have TV and internet connections, so that’s two fewer bills that you won’t not-pay every month.
The downside: Less freedom than in off-campus housing. More than likely you will have to adhere to noise policies and be okay with the occasional visit from campus security when some half-wit on your floor throws a mattress out of their window… or was that just my college experience?
Your own apartment
If you need to have your fridge to yourself, can’t stand someone else’s mess encroaching on your own personal mess or just need a lot of peace and quiet, you can consider renting an apartment on your own. But beware: While rooms in WGs and dorms are good value alternatives, a place of your own can be a lot more expensive. You not only have to pay the rent, but also a deposit to the landlord/lady. If watching 1980’s comedies has taught me anything it is that landladies can be an ornery bunch, so caveat emptor.
The upside: You're the boss and do whatever you like, without having to worry about others. You also don’t have to worry about a roommate playing X-Box on the couch when you come cruising in at 3am with your Teaching Assistant.
The downside: Everything is your responsibility and everything falls on your shoulders. That means more bills to keep track of and being solely responsible for any problems that should arise. Pick your apartment and landlord carefully, based on how much you are comfortable taking on and whether or not you feel comfortable with the management of the building itself.
Whatever accommodation you choose, this advice counts for all three: Find a place to live as soon as possible, preferably before your departure and not via wi-fi in the middle of a trans-Atlantic flight. If all else fails and you don't have a place confirmed when you arrive in Germany, hostels and guest houses offer a good alternative until you find your German home.
Since more and more degrees are offered in English in Germany, you may not need German for your studies. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t at least possess a rudimentary grasp of the language. While you may be able to survive without knowing any German, it is probably a good idea –if not simply good manners—to attempt to learn the local language; the last thing you want to do is paint yourself into a corner as the stereotypical American tourist, no matter how much you like Bermuda shorts and Tommy Bahama shirts.
Also, English is taught in German schools starting at a very young age. In my experience most Germans will be more than happy to speak English with you and in many cases will actually welcome it as an opportunity to pick up colloquialisms and slang from a native-speaker. However, without knowing any German you are missing out on the fun and challenges of being fully immersed in another culture.
Autobahn of Love
How much German do I need?
Six months into living in Berlin, one American friend of mine reported that his path to German fluency was via the Autobahn of love. "Sure, I had to know German to hit on this girl to begin with and woo her," he says, "but it was when she started fighting with me and yelling at me that my German really started to improve. How else was I going to avoid getting hit by flying dishes?" Yet another reason to get to know your Teaching Assistant!
· If you’re enrolled in an English-language degree program, you generally don’t need to know German but it is still a good idea; it will make your time in Germany far more rewarding if you are able to truly immerse yourself in day-to-day life. For programs taught in German, you’ll generally need a strong level of German (as specified in the program’s admission requirements).
· When you apply to a degree program at a German university, you will have to submit certificates confirming your proficiency in German. Of course, this shouldn’t be the only reason to learn German. Even after you’ve passed a language examination or achieved the necessary test results, you should keep improving your German so that you get the most out of your time abroad. How else are you going to make Kraftwerk jokes without a firm grasp of German verb-tenses?
· This free online test helps you to determine your German level (in German only)
· Database of the "Fachverbands Deutsch als Fremdsprache", which helps you to find language courses (Database in German only)
· The Goethe Institut, the official cultural institution of Germany, offers a wide range of German courses
If you’ve got a firm grasp of the German language, maybe you’d like to earn some extra cash to travel around Germany and Europe, go shopping in the FußgÄngerzone or just subsidize your developing love of eathing reibekuchen and going to Bayern Munich football matches? Maybe you’re looking to gain some experience in the German job market that you can use to buff up your resume after you finish your studies? Or maybe you’re just looking to expand your professional network and challenge yourself by working in a foreign cultural environment? There are plenty of reasons to take on a part-time job while studying, and German law does allow international students to work a limited number of hours per week in certain areas. Here’s the low-down on working as a student:
At the library, bar and beyond
There are tons of different ways to earn some extra money while you’re a student in Germany. If you want to stay on campus, you can supplement your bank account by taking a job at a university department, in one of the libraries or at another part of the university. One of THE classic student jobs in Germany though is waiting tables in cafÉs, pubs or bars. This combines the ease and flexibility of a part-time job with social situations and opportunities that will allow you to improve your German, things that you are unlikely to get sitting in the library and checking student ID’s. Other students do temporary work at exhibitions and trade shows, or work as delivery drivers and cycle couriers, work in copy shops, as nannies and so on. Whatever you do choose, it is fairly simple to find part-time employment around the various universities since the student population is in constant flux.
Mr. Scruff flyer
How to land a job
Be sure to check the bulletin boards (Schwarzesbrett) around campus, at supermarkets, student cafes, etc. Many universities have a job agency service for students and you can also contact student services or the local job center for details (Agentur fÜr Arbeit).
What can I expect to earn?
How much you earn on the side can vary greatly depending on your knowledge and skills, the region and the business you would like to work in. Just like in the US, you can typically earn more in the larger more metropolitan cities but this will be counterbalanced by increased living expenses, etc. Office jobs, waiting tables or promotional jobs are popular, as are student assistant (HiWi) jobs at university departments, where students support their professors not unlike Teacher’s Assistants in the U.S.
It all depends on how much you want to work, how much you want to make and what jobs you think you would enjoy while you’re abroad. While you can earn around €6 an hour as a cashier in a supermarket or fast-food chain, it is not the most glamorous nor is it the most rewarding job in the world. On the other hand, working in an office or at a trade fair could well bring you up to €10 an hour and will probably allow you to stretch your German-language legs a little more as well as expanding your social circle.
Regardless of what kind of job you decide on, it's almost impossible to completely finance yourself
with side jobs while you are a student. Since you will have already had to prove to your university that you have the funds to sustain yourself over the course of your chosen degree, what you are really looking for is supplementary income and not a full-time job. Considering how difficult it is to balance a full-time job and graduate studies in the US, it is probably not a good idea to try this in Germany where you will also be dealing with adjusting to cultural and linguistic differences on top of working and going to school full-time. (You can find more detailed information about how much you are allowed to work and on the legal provisions by checking the DAAD website
Health insurance coverage is required for all students in Germany and you have to prove that you’re covered before you even think of hopping aboard that absurdly expensive trans-Atlantic flight. Getting insured isn’t all that daunting though. In fact, there are plenty ways to get yourself insured depending on your needs and budget. Here’s a brief rundown:
· Insurance from your home country: It’s possible that the insurance policy you currently have will continue to be valid in Germany. Be sure to ask your provider about this, and get a letter of confirmation from them. Note: if you choose this option you will not be able to switch to a public health insurance provider mid-stream during your course of studies.
· Insurance in Germany: If your insurance policy in your home country is insufficient or you just plain don’t have any, you will have to take out a policy in Germany. Luckily, Public health insurance coverage costs only about €50 per month which isn’t too bad considering how much damage you are likely to do to yourself each and every Oktoberfest; those cartoon-sized beers aren’t going to drink themselves, genius.
· University service packages: At many universities the Studentenwerk will offer various service packages for international students which include accommodations, meal vouchers and a health insurance policy.
Whatever the case, be sure to confirm your health insurance situation before you leave for Germany. In order to enroll at the university, you’ll have to provide proof of health insurance coverage. Your health insurance provider in your home country and the university’s International Office will be happy to help you.
Do you have additional questions? Find more details on health insurance in Germany on DAAD’s website.
No, absolutely not. Skip the hassle and expense of finding, purchasing and maintaining your own car while you’re abroad and take advantage of the bus, train, subway and streetcar system in Germany. This should be a welcome change of pace if you hail from the West Coast and your city’s public transportation consists of buses from the 1970’s and the vaguest notion of light-rail in the far distant future. If you’re from an East Coast metro area like New York City or Boston then you should have no trouble getting used to the far-reaching and super-efficient German mass-transit system.
Germany has an outstanding public transportation network
, making it easy to not only get around within a city or town, but between
them as well. Use your Semesterticket
to travel for free around town, and your student ID card to get discounts on inter-city travel
. Traveling by rail is an easy way to get around Germany and Europe, and also offers a scenic tour of the mountains and countryside from the comfort of a fast-moving train. Just make sure that your camera has an ‘action shot’ setting; no one will want to see blurry photos of what you assure them was a truly pastoral and beautiful scene just because you only have a ‘portrait’ setting.
Other options include car sharing
offers posted on bulletin boards around campus and online at www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de
. Generally these involve single trips to towns or other locations where you can carpool with various other students without having to rent or own a car. Just split the cost of gas with your carpool mates and enjoy making even more friends while taking a weekend trip.
And don’t forget about travelling by air, which has been made very affordable in recent years through various low-cost continental airlines like Ryanair, etc. Check out http://www.billigflieger.de for up-to-date information on cheap flights around Germany and the rest of Europe.
That should give you more than enough information to get you started and to help make your time as a grad student in Germany as fun and rewarding as possible. With just a little research and planning you’ll be off to the races and in for the time of your life!
Finnian Durkan is a Seattle-based writer and has a BA in Political Science from Yale University.