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12 Expats Talk about What it's Like Living in Germany

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats talk about living in Germany. From meeting people to adjusting to the German culture, expats offer a glimpse of life in Germany.


With its thriving cities, historic towns and quiet villages, Germany offers something for everyone. German culture can be a challenge for some, but Germans are true and loyal friends once you really get to know them. Expats answered a series of questions about life in Germany and here are some of the highlights:

Deciding Where to Live in Germany

When we asked expats living in Germany to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:

"We have a large family, 4 kids, so had to have a free standing house. Looked and looked and found a house in a small town that we could afford," said one expat living in Hillerse, Germany.

"Primarily, our relocation agency found this particular house for us. But, during a Look and See trip, my wife and I identified neighborhoods and towns that we liked. First, we wanted to be close to my work, and to Heidelberg (closest major city). Second, we were looking for a "small-feel" town that had a nice pedestrian zone. Third, there had to be playgrounds within walking distance. With that, our relocation agency found 7 homes in 5 different towns. We settled on this particular home because it was a single-family home versus a twin," mentioned another expat in Germany.

"We had our company choose an apartment for us first. We where there 1 year and where able to explore all the areas around us. After that we choose a realtor to find an apartment for us. It was expensive but we really liked the apartment and where able to choose an area closer to the friends we had made and the places we liked to frequent," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"I asked future co-workers who lived in the area then I visited those areas they suggested," remarked another expat living in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Meeting People in Germany

Expats living in Germany talked about meeting people in Germany and local clubs and organizations:

"Deutsch-Amerikanische Gesellschaft, Volkshochschule (Adult Education classes), Univ of Erfurt (can also sign up as an auditor)," said one expat living in Erfurt, Germany.

"Women clubs, sport clubs, International school: other mothers. Our Relocation agent in Munich was very helpful (Relocation Nanda Leick) in getting accommodated," mentioned another expat in Germany.

"Hamburg Network www.hh-network.de Hamburg English Pages www.englishpages.de There are some relevant links on the above sites. Also try: www.britishday.com," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"If a woman, American or other English-speaking, and there is an American women's club in your area, then I would HIGHLY recommend it. See their umbrella organization's - Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas - website (www.fawco.org) for those clubs (www.fawco.org/fawcoweb/clubs) and links to their websites. Currently over 17,000 members from 76 clubs located in 34 countries worldwide," remarked another expat living in Duesseldorf, Germany.

"German course at the VHS or the university, tandem programme which germans (usually students) use to get to know native speakers and exchange conversation, language skills etc. DAI is also the german american association with a library and courses, lectures etc," added another expat in Germany.

Expat Life in Germany

What is it like living in Germany? Here is what people had to say:

"Life revolves around work as an expat. Most families are here for 2-3 years. Travel is very important also," said one expat living in Hamburg, Germany.

"In Munich: Socializing in Beergardens, in the summer lots of outside activities. Sports: Golf, Mountain biking. Work is important but familly and friends is first priority. Lots of holidays, Maximum working time till 8:00 p.m," mentioned another expat in Germany.

"It's a good mix and depends very much on making the effort to learn the language. Once you start making contacts and friends life can be enjoyable. There are many chances to socialise, although a few do not try to mix with the locals and tend to keep to themselves and their own language which can prove to be a mistake. Those that do this tend to start blaming the locals," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"The locals can be quite scarey! Not always open or friendly, tend to think an Asian or African looking person must be a cleaner or factory worker, they don't open their homes easily so takes ages to get to know them, luckily there are lots of foreigners here so best to just leave the locals alone and mix with the rest," remarked another expat living in Tubingen, Germany.

What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

We asked expats in Germany what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"Americans are often fake in friendships. We'll 'friend' anyone and not take it seriously. Germans take longer to establish friendships but they are solid friends. Germans work to live, where Americas live to work. We put job as a high priority, Germans put the holiday as a high priority. You can laugh about the 30 days of vacation, but they have similiar productivity output as the USA," said one expat living in Heidelberg, Germany.

"I found the love of my life and he balances and compliments me 100%. No men in the USA come clsoe to him," mentioned another expat in Germany.

"I know that most people say Germans are not open and friendly, but I have found that most people are willing to give me the chance. Maybe that is because I am married to a German, and therefore have an 'inside contact'? I also LOVE how punctual everyone is," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Germany

Then, we asked expats in Germany what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"Finding the right job! It is not the tasks but the people that are making the difference," said one expat living in Frankfurt, Germany.

"Becoming friends with people is seemingly difficult. Also mannerisms and conversation topics are much different and difficult to adjust to," mentioned another expat in Germany.

"All of the regimen especially in regards to education is hard for me. I finished American high school and have then been a working adult for 8 years, and to arrive here in Germany where I am no longer 'qualified' simply because I do not have a degree is rather frustrating," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

Crime in Germany

"Where we live there is hardly no crime. But in Cologne, which is some 55 Kilometers away, there is quite a bit. In all the big cities here, especially Berlin, there is a large amount of crime. Where there are migrational community, i.e. Turkish, there is a lot," said one expat living in Eifel , Germany.

Diversity in Germany

We asked expats about diversity in Germany and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:

"Not many people are religious but most of the Bavarians are Catholics. Not many foreigners, but people are eager to try their English and get to know you," said one expat living in Munich, Germany.

"Hamburg is a multi-cultural city. Most foreigners are great. A minority though have proved to be a real thorn in the side for the authorities who, due to recent history, have their hands tied when comes to taking action. There are many religions here and an English Church. Recent elections proved that something must be done against foreigners who cause serious problems, but most people from Hamburg are reserved, but friendly and willing to accept diversity," mentioned another expat in Germany.

"Slowly, as above they don't tend to expect an Asian Indian for example to be a doctor as in the UK, and if you don't speak German they are often very impatient although there are a lot of academics here so it is not as bad as out in the surrounding villages," commented one expat who made the move to Germany.

"Cologne, for German standards, is culturally and racially very diverse. About 10% of the student population is from abroad and the city's permanent residents are perhaps even more diverse," remarked another expat living in Cologne, Germany.

International Schools in Germany

"Student applications are possible throughout the school year for immediate enrolment," said one expat whose children attend Erasmus International School near Berlin in Potsdam.

"I would say to be prepared to fight for your childrens rights. We had to do a lot of complaining until they added classes and time to my daughters school day. Things have improved but it took a lot of meetings to get there," added another expat with kids at Mengede Market School in Dortmund.

"If your children have spent time in German Grundschule, they may have a chance of suceeding at this school. German secondary school can be a significant problem if you happen to be American family with children older than 10 living in an area without an English speaking school. My husband accepted a job in Ludwigshafen a year ago. Because we had a 10-year old and a 13-year-old, we moved to Heidelberg, hoping to be able to use the Department of Defense schools. Since there has been a lot of consolidation in the military in the past few years, there was not space for my 10-year-old. The thought of going to a school with all instruction in German was daunting, because we had not had any exposure to German language. We also wanted to keep our children in the same grade because we only have a 2-3 year assignment. We decided to try a smaller private school, hoping for a little more understanding and accomodation. I must say that the parents and children from the school have been very kind and helpful. My children have many German friends. However, the teachers and administration were a huge disappointment and major source of stress for our entire first year in Germany. Very few of them spoke any English, so when my children had tests, they couldn’t get any clarification on questions. There was constant nagging that the children weren’t learning German fast enough, in spite of language tutoring of 1-1.5 hours 3-4 times a week for each of them. The principal even suggested that they spend all of their vacations “intensiv Deutsch lernen”. At this school, class participation counted for 20% of your grade, so my children started with base grade of 6 (F) in every class. They ended the first half of the year with 3’s, 4’s and 5’s (C’s, D’s and E’s) in subjects and 6 in German. This was quite disheartening because my 10-year-old was an A-B student in the U.S. and my 13-year-old was an A+ student with a 1078 combined score on the SAT when she was 12. From our experience, it appears that gymnasium is not about helping anyone realize their potential. It is about weeding people out before university. Teachers are only at school to present material and critique student work, not to help anyone. I must disagree with the European observation that "In general, American schools are not as scholastically rigorous as European schools.". My 13-year-old covered no new or exceptionally difficult material for grade 8, not even in Mathematics. Most expats we have met that are not military are upper level management personnel and their children have had access to some of the better U.S. education systems or private schools. They don’t fall into the “In general” range. My children’s difficulties were primarily the German language and lack of flexibility on the part of the school staff. I’m not sure if this will be helpful to anyone else, but I feel a little better. We are praying that we get in the Department of Defense school for the next school year, so that everyone will feel happier and less resentful about living in Germany. P.S. Just a footnote – the ages of children in German secondary school range from 10 to 19. This can be quite a surprise for Americans accustomed to segregating children by age. It can also be intimidating to your 10-year old, because all grades in a school have their breaks at the same time – your 10-year old will be out on the playground with 18 & 19-year olds," commented one expat when asked about The English Institute in Heidelberg.

"Follow the life of the Website and do not hesitate to ask questions, make one or several appointments for visits and visit the school with your children," remarked another expat living in International School of Duesseldorf with children attending International School of Duesseldorf.

Expats living in Germany interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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First Published: Jan 19, 2018

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