That’s it, it’s officially time to turn a page on my life in Germany. Since 2015, I live and work in Germany, in the city of Dortmund – so I had the time to get an idea of life on the other side of the Rhine. I spent three intense years with ups and downs (more up, I reassure you). I arrived in Germany at age 21, with no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I’m leaving at 25, with a certain idea of what I do NOT want to do in my life. It’s already good, isn’t it? In short, today I am giving you the 6 things I would have liked to know before moving to Germany, hoping to help you in your choice.
6 things to know before moving to Germany
Summer is short
Weather in Germany, let’s talk about it! Little disclaimer : I lived in Dortmund, in northwestern Germany, the weather is not necessarily the same in the south of the country. In short, here it is gray, it is cold and it rains a lot. The winter is rough, even if there is not much snow. The sun is very very rare in winter and the days are shorter than in France. You arrive at work at 8am, it’s dark, you leave at 16:30, it’s dark.
Concerning the summer, it is not very long and it rains a lot, even in July and August. Well, from the month of May, it is still possible to tan in a park or the pool under 30°C. But, the next day, it can be 15°C and raining. Take nothing for granted with the German weather.
Small positive point : if the days are shorter in winter, they are longer in summer. At 5am, it is already bright and until 22h.
Goodbye Baguette, Hello Pretzel
I agree, it’s a little cliché, but a nice introduction to talk about German food. Without letting my chauvinistic side speaks, the food is much better in France! In Germany, there is no real specialty strictly speaking. Ok, there is the Currywurst, but hey, we are talking about a sausage in a piece of bread with ketchup and curry. No, really, there is nothing to get crazy about.
But, as I am more a person who see the glass half full than half empty, here are some good things about German food :
- Food is cheaper than in France. Whether in supermarkets, fast food or restaurants, it is much cheaper !
- Street food is popular. Throughout Germany, there are many street food festivals, especially in spring and summer. The opportunity to try a delicious burger or Asian dishes to name a few.
- Vegetarian and Vegan friendly. In general, the more you go in northern Europe, the more popular is vegetarianism. In Germany, it is very easy to be vegetarian, as most restaurants have meatless options. In supermarkets too, the vegetarian / vegan section is quite big.
- Country of Kebab. No, No, you’re not dreaming, the döner kebab is indeed from Germany, because it was invented in Berlin in the 1970s. There are kebabs everywhere in Germany and there are really cheap (between 2,50 and 3€).
Who are really Germans?
You have three hours to answer this question! No, I’m kidding, it would take years to pin down and understand the typical German. Here is the result of three and a half years of observation in the wild. The Germans are cold and distant at first, it’s a cliché but it’s true. Do not count on big hugs, demonstrations of joys or smiles in the street. The typical German is cold, hides his emotions and keeps a certain distance.
Small anecdote : if a tipsy German becomes your best friend the time of a party, note that it is only for one evening. The next day, he will say hello to you normally (perhaps with a small smile) and completely forget to have told you all his life.
Well, you will ask me how did I survive for three years ? The Germans actually need time to discover a person and trust him. Once you have passed this stage, you will discover loyal and trustworthy persons that are always there to help you. In Germany, I met people I will never forget and who will be part of my life for a long time.
Sprischst du Deutsch ?
It is time to tackle a big issue, one that scares everyone, the German language. If one Mark Twain said ” Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German”, he was not quite wrong. Personally, I started German at school, when I was 10 years old, until my bachelor. You must therefore think: ” come on, you must be bilingual!” Nay! I understand German when it is softly spoken and I can say a few words when I need to make me understand. German is a hard language to learn, and you have to really want it.
But, good news, the Germans speak (much) better English than the French. Surely, it is not difficult. English will help you out in Germany, especially if it is spoken in your university or company. In major international cities such as Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hambourg or Cologne, you will not necessarily need to learn Freud’s language, even if some basis seems essential to me.
Let’s talk about the world of work in Germany. If I have to summarize it quickly, I would say that it follows the rules ! Personally, I had the chance to work in a young and dynamic start-up, with a flat hierarchy and a lot of freedom and flexibility. I have difficulty seeing this type of model in France without too many excesses.
In Germany, we work 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week and it already makes a difference with the 35h French model. In the world of work (and in a much more general way too), Germans follow the rules and do not discuss them. Concerning the strikes and demonstrations, the Germans look at the French with a lot of derision, because it is much (much) less common here!
Extra info : pay close attention to the difference between your gross and net salary in Germany. When you sign a contract, you will be given the gross amount and it is very different from what you will receive at the end of the month in your bank account. The main reason is that taxes are withheld here. So between the gross and the net, count at least 40% difference.
Beer and Football
I’m trying to find an image to show you how important these two elements are to German culture. I must also point out before that living in the city of Dortmund makes everything more intense. Here, people live for the BVB, wake up BVB, sing BVB, eat BVB, dream BVB. If I had the chance to go to a few games and really love the atmosphere inside the stadium, I must admit that I have my slap of black and yellow, really! You can easily understand that I’m not a big fan of football, but at least I’m catching up on the beer. In Germany, every city or region has its own beer and it is frowned upon to drink a beer from Dortmund in Düsseldorf and vice versa. Well, these rules apply only for Germans, I personally drink the beer that I prefer (or the cheapest one at the end of the month).
I also need to add that during my three years in Germany, I lived 4 German Cups, a European Championship and a World Cup (okay, I’m leaving in the middle, but still). Yes, I’m done for football and I’m ready for Rugby or Baseball in Australia :p
That too, I would have liked to know
- Punctuality : you should forget about the quarter of an hour of politeness, in Germany, time is time. If you organize a party at home and say that it will start at 20h, people will come at your home at 20h. Personally, I am someone very punctual, so it’s not to displease me. But it’s good to know before
- Credit card and cash : if in France, we have not problem to pay our baguette with a credit card, it is far from the case in Germany. First of all, you have to differentiate the credit card and the debit card. The credit card is not accepted everywhere, especially in bars, restaurants or pharmacies. Always have some cash on you, really! For the anecdote, I even had to pay my car in cash.
- German highways : this is not a myth, there is no speed limit on most of the German motorways. In addition, there are free. Going on a road trip in Germany is therefore much cheaper than in France. I also believe that gasoline is a bit cheaper in Germany.
- Drink (beer) outside : it is normal to drink beer everywhere in Germany. In the subway, in the street, in the parks … there is no real regulation. Also note that there is a deposit on bottles of 0,08€. So you can either keep them and bring them back to the supermarket to save money or leave them on a sidewalk. Many homeless people pick up each bottle to earn some money.
That’s it, you know everything now! I would say that my time in Germany is a mixed review. If iI had the chance to work in a great company and meet incredible people, that’s not everything and I do not see myself making my life in this country. Still, it is a rewarding experience that I wish to everyone and a great country to start a career as a young graduate.