Living in Germany

All the insights for your comfortable life


Student Life in Germany

Student life in Germany is generally a blast. Almost all students settle into their communities and higher education institutions quickly and smoothly, without any complications. And when they do, they discover a wealth of food, festivals, sports, literature, music, and art.

Germany offers all of these things, and a lot more. It’s a country with a high standard of living, which at the same time offers for students an opportunity to live surprisingly cheaply. It’s a place where bureaucracy is ever-present, but actually quite simple when you master it. And it’s a place where the language seems strange and complex but becomes second nature in no time.

In this article, we’ll look at what life in Germany has to offer, focusing on tips for living, ways to enjoy German culture, practical solutions to save money, and various approaches to learning German language. Fitting in is easier than many people think, but let’s start with a few tips to make the transition as easy as possible.

 

10 Tips for Student Life in Germany

  1. Take advantage of your Semesterticket. Every semester, students in Germany can purchase a Semesterticket. This handy document allows students to ride S-Bahn (overground rail), U-Bahn (subway), and bus or tram services at very low rates. 
  2. Think about prepaid German SIM cards. If you want to keep phone and internet bills low, and you’ve kept your international smartphone, buying prepaid German SIM cards is a good option. Blau.de and O2 are good options, offering prepaid cards from most major grocery chains.
  3. Make health insurance a top priority. In Germany, the health system covers everyone who has insurance, and taking out an insurance policy is required for visitors on student or work visas. So make it a priority to find a suitable insurer – preferably before you arrive.
  4. Engage in the community of like-minded people to find new friends and get accustomed to the country faster. It can be a student community like DeGiS, your national community or sports club.
  5. Liability insurance can save a lot of hassle. Germans often hold general liability policies (Privathaftpflichtversicherung) covering eventualities like breaking someone else’s computer or cellphone. Available for €50 per year or less, or included in packages, it is a must-have.
  6. Save money with student flatshares. Rental costs can be high in popular German cities, but sharing the rent can ease the burden. Check out notice boards at your Student Information Office to find whether anyone from your university is already looking for a flatmate, and don’t be afraid to make contact. Flatshares are common among German students.
  7. Be aware of student work limits. If you need to work during your studies, go right ahead. But be aware that limits apply under your student visa. Generally, students can work 20 hours per week during semester time, and a total of 120 days or 240 half days every year.
  8. Paperwork is your friend. In Germany, you’ll have to deal with a fair amount of bureaucracy, so don’t rebel against it, make it work for you. Well-organized students keep files and copies of key documents and familiarize themselves with important offices before the term begins. That way, you can stay ahead of the system, and ensure life runs smoothly.
  9. Get to know free museum days. Germany is crammed with amazing museums, but they often have admission fees attached. Fortunately, almost all will have certain days of the week or month when admission is free, so check them out.
  10. Take time to learn the language. If you really want to thrive in Germany, fluent German is a must. So use the courses on offer at your university, take preparatory courses and – most importantly – dive into social life with German citizens. You’ll soon be up to speed.

 

Facts About Germany

With 82.8 million inhabitants, Germany is Europe’s largest country, and it’s an intellectual and economic powerhouse. It keeps Central European Standard Time (GMT +1), uses the Euro as its currency, and has a GDP of around €46,500, making it the 4th richest country in the world per head of population.

The country has a Federal political system, with its capital in Berlin, where the legislature is divided into the Bundestag (the Parliament) and the Bundesrat (which represents the regions). The Bundestag chooses the Chancellor, who acts like a Prime Minister, while a President acts as Head of State, and is elected from a combination of the Bundesrat and Bundestag.

Germany’s economy is heavily based around high-tech manufacturing, with the automotive, aeronautics, medical, chemical, and construction industries all playing major roles. But finance and services are growing as well, with Frankfurt now being a global hub for investment.

 

German Culture

Culture is hugely important to German identity and has multiple aspects. Let’s run through them.

Traditions and Celebrations

Germany is a country that loves to celebrate. “Fasching” is Germany’s carnival and sees massive parades across the country (as well as innumerable smaller celebrations). Christmas is a huge event across Germany as well, bringing quaint markets and characteristic foods like stollen cake. In some cities such as Munich, Oktoberfest has become an annual site of pilgrimage for beer lovers with steins and bratwurst in abundance. While Hamburg celebrates its heritage as a port city once a year, it also hosts one of Germany’s oldest festivals three times a year, known as The Dom, lasting a month at a time.

Lifestyle

Living well is important to Germans but in a certain way. German people love to work hard and remain productive, but they also take recreation seriously. For Germans, a weekend without outdoor activity is a wasted weekend, and the country’s forests, lakes, and mountains are popular destinations. Food and socializing all matter too – just as much as working 100% during the week.

Literature

Germany’s literary heroes are celebrated like gods. For instance, the playwright, poet, novelist, and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lends his name to the country’s cultural diplomacy. Heinrich Heine, Friedrich Schiller, Rainer Maria Rilke, Günter Grass, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Heinrich Boll are almost as venerated by one of the most literate nations on earth.

Music

Germany without music is unimaginable, and we don’t just mean oompah bands. Richard Wagner may be the most famous German composer of all, and the performances at Bayreuth attract classical music lovers from across the world. But Johann Strauss, Johann Sebastian Bach, Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, and Robert Schumann are just a few more world-famous melody makers that Germany produced.

Art and Architecture

German Expressionism revolutionized art in the 1900s, via groups like the Der Blaue Reiter. The Bauhaus movement did the same for architecture in the 1920s, birthing a global modernist style that helped to define the 20th century. And German creators have continued ever since, ensuring that the country is at the forefront of the visual arts.

Sports

German soccer is legendary, with the national team claiming the World Cup on four occasions, but sport in Germany goes beyond the soccer field. From tennis greats like Boris Becker to major champions like Martin Kaymer or Nils Langer, and motorsports icons like Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, the nation’s sporting heroes are rightly known across the world.

Religion

Germany was once a religious battleground, as Catholics and Protestants fought for supremacy. Nowadays, tensions have eased, and the country celebrates its diversity – along with an endless succession of gorgeous churches and cathedrals. Christianity dominates, but Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism all have their place, along with plenty of non-believers.

 

The German Language

Germans love their language, but it can be a little complex for outsiders when they first encounter it. German has four cases (the accusative, genitive, dative, and nominative), as well as three genders (neuter, male, and female). This trips up many English speakers, who are used to genderless grammar. There are also some letters and grammatical signs that only Germans use, such as ß (which functions like a sharpened “s” sound). A multitude of umlauts which make vowels much more flexible than in many other languages, while Germans also love to combine shorter words together, resulting in lengths that bemuse some newcomers.

All of this is easy to work around and master, but it makes German very different from the tongues that visitors are used to. And the grammatical nature of German also means that solely learning how to hear and converse is often not enough. You need to master the nuts and bolts of how the language is structured if you want to succeed. This makes German language courses more than just an enjoyable experience. They are often required for students to matriculate at German universities, and will usually repay any course fees several times over.

When learning German, set aside time to master the grammar, and keep talking to your German friends (don’t rely on English). Watch German films and TV, sing German soccer chants, learn the lyrics to German pop songs, and turn on German radio while you make breakfast. It all adds up to fluency in the end.

 

Living Costs

Germany isn’t the most expensive country in the world, but living costs can mount. On average, it is recommended to have at least €850 per month for living expenses – well below what would be needed in the UK or Scandinavian countries, but well above the amount, you would need in Poland, Spain, Italy, or Bulgaria. The amount of €850 per month is also reflected in the German blocked account which oftentimes is a visa requirement for students coming to Germany.

Costs vary in different parts of Germany as well. Wealthy western cities like Frankfurt, Munich, or Cologne will be more expensive than eastern cities like Leipzig, Dresden, or even the capital, Berlin. Smaller cities will usually be cheaper than in large metropolitan areas too. But what contributes to the cost of living in Germany? Here are some core aspects that are hard to avoid.

Housing

Almost everyone has to pay for accommodation, and it’s usually a significant chunk of student expenses. Universities may provide affordable rents in their own accommodation, but many students choose to rent privately. Rents vary from property to property, and in different locations. 

Food and Groceries

German supermarkets offer affordable groceries for students, and with a bit of planning ahead, meal costs can be kept as low as €10 per day. Expect meals at cafes or restaurants to start at around 10-15. As a student you can often get a yummy subsidized meal at the University’s Mensa. Overall, grocery costs tend to be low compared to other developed nations, including the USA.

Transportation

While gasoline costs are relatively high compared to countries like the USA, getting around German cities generally isn’t that expensive. That’s because most cities have excellent public transit systems that are cheap to use – and even cheaper for students with a Semesterticket. Bikes will cost about 150, if you buy a second hand one, and offer an even more affordable (and eco-friendly) transportation option that’s very popular with students.

Health Insurance

Everybody in Germany needs to take out health insurance, which has to be factored into monthly living costs. It is also essential for obtaining a visa. Fortunately, student plans shouldn’t add too much to the total. Monthly premiums for public providers like Techniker Krankenkasse will add up to around 100.

Mobile Phone

Almost all students rely on their smartphones to socialize, get around, book tickets, and make the most of their lives.  Students can take out contracts, or use prepaid SIMs (useful if you are bringing a phone from home). Contracts tend to last for 24-48 months, making short term solutions useful for many visitors. Prices vary by data and network, but a standard monthly rate for contracts would be around 25, while SIM-only plans would be about 13.