Cologne or Köln is Germany's 4th largest city with a population of just over 1 million. The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) has always been the heart of this 2,000-year-old city and it's biggest tourist attraction. With over 30 museums and more than 100 galleries, Cologne's art scene is thriving. As an expat in Cologne, you'll drink Kölsch, eat Himmel un ä Ääd (heaven and earth) and enjoy some of Cologne's other local specialities. Cologne is very close to Bonn and Dusseldorf. Expats can take many quick trips from Cologne. You can reach Belgium in just over an hour, Brussels in 2.5 hours, the Netherlands in 1.5 hours, Amsterdam in just over 3 hours, Luxembourg in 2.5 hours and Paris in 3.5 hours on the high-speed Thalys train.
Here are 5 tips for newcomers to Cologne and expats living in Cologne:
Meeting People in Cologne
"Newcomers to Cologne will probably find the easiest way to make friends is to attend some sort of course at the Volkshochschule (adult education) located near Neumarkt. German courses are good ways to meet people, but not necessarily Germans. The announcement boards at the university (located at Albertus-Magnus-Platz) are a good place to put up notices for Stammtische (regular meetings in pubs and cafes)," suggested one expat living in Cologne. "One thing is sure is that Cologne, as evidenced by Karneval, is a very open and welcoming place for all and a smile on your face will, like anywhere in the world, open doors and bridge the gap to new understandings," said another expat.
Safety and Uncertainty in Cologne
"Cologne is a very open if not international city and you will fit in well with a broad accepting attitude. However, we have recently had a shock to that freedom at the New Year's tragedy at the main train station with women being attacked by potential migrants and other foreigners. This has created a new reality of uncertainty in the local community. Read as much as you can from all viewpoints to better understand the 'ground conditions' before you arrive," confessed one expat in Cologne.
"Please do not be afraid, even with the shocking events of New Years, Cologne is still one of the safest cities you can live in and does not compare to anything of similar size in the USA (I come from Detroit and I think I can see that safety here is generally not a concern). The real shock is the relative change, when I came here I became used to the freedom of 24h safety and no concerns for violent or even petty crime, now the bar is raised a bit higher due to more variety in the makeup of the populace, but that is normal. So the bottom line is that things here are still very easy and you just have to be more aware of your surroundings, especially in a large crowd (pickpockets and such)," described another expat in Cologne.
What to Pack When Moving to Cologne
"You can get all you need here (except things like canned pumkin and only in America stuff). Don't bring tools (English system) or Electrical (220V) things. Depends a lot on whether you are paying or a company. If you, consider leaving more at home, although consider that you pay VAT (19% or so) on purchases so big ticket stuff might be worth shipping," explained one expat in Cologne. Another expat recommended, "Wish I brought? Food mostly: Cheerios, mac and cheese, pluots, dried peaches, freeze-dried fruit, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, pumpkin butter, sun butter, certain kinds of crackers, salsa, chocolate chips, brown sugar. What do you wish you had left at home? Tools and excess summer clothing; it never really gets all that warm here."
Karneval in Cologne
Karneval is a big part of life in Cologne. Kölner Karneval starts on the 11th of November and runs through Ash Wednesday, but is suspended during Christmas and Advent. Rose Monday, two days before Ash Wednesday, is the highlight of the Karneval season. "Karneval is very different here. You can go to it all if you can get tickets, but unless your German is really good (I have been here 10 years and still can't follow all the jokes), some jokes are even in the local dialect Kölsch, you should ease into it. It is also not for everyone, your age may play a role in how long into the night you want to party. I would say just walk around the streets and watch some of the 'Sitzungen' on TV to get the feel," said one expat in Cologne.
"Now that Carnival is going on and you are probably in Cologne, you can see that everybody is welcome to attend Carnival on the streets and in the pubs. People here are pretty open and welcoming. No need to go to a Sitzung or to spend lots of money for a costume. Hope you are enjoying it! :-) 2,500 additional policemen were hired for security in the streets," described another expat.
Expat Schools in Cologne
When asked about international schools in Cologne, one expat answered, "The lay of the land is that in Cologne there is only this International School (Cologne International School) with additionally an English school (St. George's English International School plus here and there a French, Italian and Spanish centric school or two."
Other schooling options in nearby Bonn and Düsseldorf include the International School on the Rhine, which is located just outside of Düsseldorf, International School of Düsseldorf and Bonn International School.
Expat Health Insurance in Germany
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Expat Guide to Living in Cologne