What to Know About Living in Germany
Known across the world as 'das Land der Dichter und Denker' (the land of poets and thinkers), it's easy to see why so many ESL teachers looking for a European experience decide to teach English in Germany.
Geographically surrounded by Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Germany has attracted the attention of those around the globe. It was the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Ludwig van Beethoven, and has always been thought of as a cultural hub. Since it has become the international language of business, many Germans have become particularly interested in learning to speak English.
There are a wide range of apartments available in Germany for an equally wide range of prices. An apartment search is different in Germany than in America: bathrooms, WCs (water closets), kitchens and hallways are not included when an apartment lists the amount of rooms it has. Another challenge for English teachers in Germany is the lack of furnished apartments in the country. When a German apartment is referred to as 'non-furnished' it literally means that there is nothing in the apartment. There are no closets or cabinets, no appliances, and possibly no light fixtures or even a kitchen sink. For these German apartments, the tenant is responsible for their own furnishings. Sometimes the previous tenants of the apartment will offer to sell everything they installed for a price. If ESL teachers are willing to do an extensive amount of research, it is possible to find an all-inclusive apartment, which is known as a 'warmmiete' (warm rent).English teachers arriving in Germany will need to visit a local police station and get a 'Polizeiliche Anmeldung' (police registration). This document may need to be shown before any landlord hands over keys to an apartment, especially if applying to rent a warmmiete.Within one week of finding permanent housing, teachers will need to register their address at the 'Einwohnermeldeamt' or 'Bezirksamt' (district residence registration office). To do so, teachers need to bring their passport as well as a copy of the rental agreement in order to obtain an 'Anmeldebestatigung' (confirmation of residence registration). This document is required for many other processes, such as the visa application and setting up of a bank account. When moving, it is important to deregister at the 'Bezirksamt' and to obtain an 'Abmeldebestatigung'.
With so many teachers interested in teaching English in Germany, it is extremely rare and highly unlikely that any school will offer to pay for a flight to Europe. Luckily, there are many options for English teachers flying from North America to Germany. The Internet is a great tool when it comes to finding an inexpensive airplane ticket.
In addition to researching airline travel, it is also important to plan and make any land travel arrangements for transportation needed after landing on German soil.
Non-German and non-EU citizens will most likely have a portion of their salary deducted for Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung contributions; German schools can pay for their English teachers to be a part of the system, but this is highly unlikely to happen. Before arriving in Germany, it may be necessary to purchase private health insurance that will ensure coverage in case teachers require any medical care while teaching in Germany or throughout Europe. During the visa application process, Americans will be asked to provide evidence of private health insurance before a German working visa is awarded.
Germany's health benefit program, the 'Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung', is one of the most renowned healthcare systems in the world. Like many European nations, Germans have an option of being a member of the public healthcare system or of using private healthcare for a fee. Money for the health system is taken from a German employee's earnings and taxes; the government pays the healthcare cost for those who do not work. The plan covers most doctor visits, medical appointments, health spa treatments, out-patient care, and hospital stays. Germans are required to pay an additional 10 per day when staying overnight in a hospital bed.
When looking for medication, Germans go to the 'Apotheke', not the 'Drogerie'. The Drogerie is a store that offers its customers hygiene products, makeup, and other typical drug store items but does not sell medications. The Apotheke is a pharmacy; customers can purchase both prescription and over-the-counter medications from the pharmacist.
The current retirement age in Germany is 67 years. In 2007, the German Bundestag (lower house of the German government) voted to increase the retirement age in Germany from 65 to 67, with this change being phased in over time. Government officials fear that there will not be enough workers in the future due to the nation's low birth rates in recent years.
German workers have pension deductibles taken directly from their paychecks, and the amount is matched by the employer. Many of the nation's economists predict that today's workers will not receive all of the money they have contributed to the plan due to the high population of Baby Boomers in Germany.
Technology and Advancement
Aside from being the birthplace of Albert Einstein, one of the world's most well-known thinkers, Germany is also one of the most technologically advanced nations. Located in Berlin, the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin (German Museum of Technology) showcases some of Germany's greatest technological accomplishments. Teachers will have access to many of the same technological comforts as they do at home.
Landline telephones are fairly easy to have installed in German apartments. Germans are some of the most frequent mobile phone users in the world, with companies like Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile), Mannesmann Mobilfunk, and O2 Germany all offering German mobile phone service.
DSL Internet connections are readily available throughout most of the German countryside. Germany does have their own country code for website URLs; any website address ending with .de originates from the country. With all of these technology options available to English teachers in Germany, keeping in touch with loved ones back home can be done with ease.
The best place to find familiar American products and brands is in large German supermarket chain stores. Like many European nations, German shoppers frequent multiple shops when doing their grocery shopping. Typically, a German's food is purchased at various specialty stores such as the bakery, the butcher shop, the dairy, the cheese shop, and farmer's markets. This trend is especially evident in more rural German locations.
Many German cities have North American food at either an American-themed restaurant or at chain restaurants. English teachers in Germany can eat their dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe located in the Charlottenburg region of Berlin. Throughout Germany, it's very easy to spot American chain restaurant names like Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and Subway. English teachers can enjoy a cup of American-style coffee at either Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks.
Transportation in Germany
Germany was one of the first nations to introduce the automobile, and even today, Germany is a car lover's paradise. Germany features a total of over 400,000 kms of roadway, many of which have no posted speed limit, including the Autobahn, on which the recommended cruising speed is 130 km/h. Speed limits do exist in areas that safety officials have deemed dangerous or congested. Given Germany's central location within Europe, its roads are a popular destination for transport trucks. Some areas of Germany charge a toll to those driving large transport trucks.
In addition to driving, Germans have many transportation options available to them, including taking the train. The train is a good way to travel both short and long distances and the railway system links to other nations including Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) is the largest railway business in the nation and was once a state-owned company.
Getting a ride in a taxi cab is a fairly simple process in Germany. Finding a taxi is usually as simple as finding a taxi stand and hiring the first one available. English teachers can find taxi stands in busy areas of town where there are a lot of shoppers. Another option is to call a taxi from Taxi-Zentrale to come to any location for a pick-up.
Taxi fares in Germany are regulated by local governments and do vary slightly from city to city. Usually customers are charged for both a basic pick-up fee and for the driver's mileage. Tipping is optional, but is usually offered for excellent service from the driver. Riding a taxi in Germany will typically cost 1-3 EUR per kilometer.
Train and Subway
German commuters have the option of traveling around town on the U-Bahn (subway system) and S-Bahn (street train) systems. The U-Bahn systems can be found in Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, and Nuremberg. English teachers in Germany should not have a difficult time riding the U-Bahn, as it is similar to a typical North American subway system. The S-Bahn system covers both large and small urban areas. There are currently 13 S-Bahn with plans to build two more over the next couple years.
The bus is another easy and economic way to travel around Germany. Most German cities have public buses which are often linked to the U-Bahn and S-Bahn services. Bus stops are labeled with a large green "H" and offer the stop number, the bus number, the destinations, and a color-coded map of the city. Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg offer all-night service on some of their major bus routes. In addition to using the bus as a way to get around, English teachers can also use the bus as an affordable way to explore the German countryside on the weekend. There are plenty of charter bus companies that offer customers the ability to travel on their buses for an affordable price.
Other Modes of Transportation
German cities are very bicycle-friendly and have some of the safest streets for people to cycle on in the world. There are often designated lanes for bikers located next to pedestrian walking areas. These bike paths often feature their own stops and crosswalks. ESL teachers working in Germany can either buy or rent a bicycle in many locations throughout the country.
Though there is a relative lack of speed limits, there are still plenty of rules to follow on German roadways.
Once an ESL teacher from outside the EU lands in Germany, they are able to use their native nation's driver's license for six months. After this time, English teachers have the option of renewing their German driving status for another six months. Once a year has passed, they must get a German driving license. ESL teachers from Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, or Washington D.C. will need to take a written driver's test; all other states can just trade in their licenses for a new German one. Citizens of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand will be required to take a written test and a driving examination in order to drive in Germany.
Etiquette in Germany
In order to be successful, English teachers in Germany will need to adapt to the German way of life. Below are some examples of common German etiquette.
- Germany is a nation of hand shakers: be prepared to shake hands when entering or leaving the room after you meet someone.
- Being on time is a very important skill to master in Germany. There is little patience for being late. If running behind more than 15 minutes, be sure to call.
- If invited to a dinner party, bring a present such as flowers, chocolate, or wine. Wine can be tricky, so be sure that the wine is imported from Italy or France as this shows respect to the host.
- When at a party or event, wait to be introduced by the host before talking to strangers.
- It is polite to greet everyone in a room, even if it is a doctor's office.
- Many Germans consider it bad luck to wish someone a 'Happy Birthday' before their actual birthday.
Business Etiquette in Germany
- When entering a new workplace, the manager/owner is in charge of introducing the new person to everyone.
- Doors are often kept closed in German offices, so it is important to knock before entering someone's office.
- When someone is having a birthday, it is common for the person to bring their own birthday cake into the workplace.
- German business meetings are often very formal; however, do not mistake formal for rude.
German Eating Etiquette
- Never place elbows on the table while eating.
- When someone says they do not want a drink, respect it. Repeating the offer or giving a drink anyway is considered rude.
- Germans are known for being upfront.
- Send a hand-written thank you note the following day after attending a dinner party.
- Rolls of bread are broken apart by hand.
- A common toast with wine is "zum Wohl!" ("to your health!"); when toasting with beer, "prost!" ("cheers!") is popular.
- The dinner host should always toast first.
- Try to eat everything offered at dinner.
Language in Germany
With an estimated 100 million native speakers, the German language is one of the most spoken in the world today. In addition to being the national language of Germany, other nations such as Austria, Switzerland, and Luxemburg all use it as their primary language.
Anyone thinking about teaching English in Germany should consider taking German lessons to ease culture shock. The German language is actually the third most-learned language in the world, so lessons are fairly easy to find in any American or Canadian city. Below are some examples of common and useful German phrases.
How much is that?
Was kostet das?
I need a doctor.
Ich brauche einen Arzt.
How do I get to______?
Wie komme ich zum/zur _____?
One ticket to _____, please.
Eine Fahrkarte nach _____, bitte.
Entschuldigen Sie bitte.
To the bus station.
To the train station.
Can you show it to me on the map?
Konnen Sie mir das auf der Karte zeigen?
I would like _______.
Ich mochte _______.
When does the bus/train for Berlin leave?
Wann fahrt der Bus/Zug nach Berlin ab
Eating in Germany
It is estimated that the average German will eat 72 pounds of meat in one year, and the German love of meat is definitely reflected in the nation's cuisine. There are a wide range of dishes for English teachers in Germany to sample and food varies from region to region depending on local food resources. This will ensure that teachers will have plenty of meals to choose from.
When cooking meat, Germans usually prefer to pot-roast their meals. German meals feature meats such as pork, beef, and poultry. In addition, a large variety of traditional wild game meats such as boar, rabbit, and venison are incorporated into German cuisine.
The Germans grow a lot of root vegetables to go along with their many pot-roasted meals. Finding fresh carrots, turnips, and potatoes in a German market is a fairly easy task. Germans also love white asparagus and sometimes devote entire meals to the vegetable, especially when it first comes in season.
With an estimated 300-600 different types of breads in Germany, one could easily assume that bread is commonly served with meals. It is actually very rare to serve bread with a German meal; it is usually reserved for breakfast and for making sandwiches. German breads are reproduced around the world; arguably, the most famous loaf is pumpernickel.
Like many nations around the world, eating a meal in Germany can be an excellent way to meet new friends and learn about a new home across the ocean. Some of Germany's more popular dishes include:
- Kassler mit Sauerkraut
- cured pork chops served with Sauerkraut and boiled potatoes
- Wiener Schnitzel
- a breaded and fried veal fillet, usually served with fries and a salad
- pea soup that has been cooked in a beef broth; usually onion and potato is added to the mix
- Rote Grutze
- a pudding made of various berries with a vanilla custard topping
The most popular German food around the world would have to be sausage. Germans love the delicacy so much that it is estimated they eat 438,884 sausages during the world-famous Oktoberfest celebrations. There are an estimated 1,500 different types of sausages in Germany and many German meals are planned around the sausage. Families pass sausage recipes down through generations; with so many choices, people rarely get tired of them.
Beer in Germany
The logical drink to accompany sausages for many Germans is beer. Germans have been known throughout history as one of the world's top beer producers. Even today, the only nation to produce more beer than Germany is the United States. With brands such as Beck's, Krombacher, Veltins, Warsteiner, and Bitburger, German beer is well known around the world. During Oktoberfest, Germans drink an estimated 6,100,000 litres of beer. Many English teachers in Germany have spent countless nights sampling the wide selection of beer that the nation's pubs offer.
Climate in Germany
As a whole, Germany is a nation with a temperate climate, which involves experiencing four seasons. The German coast of the North Sea does experience warmer weather in the winter and cooler weather in the summer due to the Gulf Stream. The areas of Germany not on the North Sea receive colder winters and warmer summers. All regions of Germany receive regular rainfall.
Natural Disasters in Germany
Germany is one of the safest spots on the globe when it comes to avoiding natural disasters. Throughout its history, flooding has been the only natural disaster to cause the nation any harm. The first flood documented occurred in 1634; 2007 was the most recent flooding from the North Sea. In those nearly 500 years of public record, there have been a mere six large-scale floods in Germany.
Holidays in Germany
One of the great things about being an English teacher in another country like Germany is the fact that teachers get to experience holidays specific to that nation. With the exception of German Unity Day (October 3rd), all German public holidays are determined by local governments.
National Holidays in Germany
- January 1st: New Year's Day (Neujahrstag)
Like in America, marks the first day of the Gregorian calendar.
- Two days before Easter: Good Friday (Karfreitag)
- Day following Easter Sunday: Easter Monday (Ostermontag)
- May 1st: Labor Day (Tag der Arbeit)
A national holiday which celebrates German workers.
- 39 days after Easter Sunday: Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt)
A religious holiday based on the Christian faith.
- 50 days after Easter Sunday: Whitmonday (Pfingstmontag)
A Christian holiday celebrated in various parts of Europe, including Germany.
- October 3rd: German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit)
Held on the anniversary of Germany's reunification in 1990.
- December 25th: Christmas Day (Weihnachtstag)
- December 26th: St. Niklaus's Day (Weihnachtstag)
The day after Christmas, is also a holiday in Germany.
Regional Holidays in Germany
- January 6th: Epiphany
- Celebrated in Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, and Saxony-Anhalt.
- 60 days after Easter Sunday: Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam)
- Celebrated in Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, and Thuringia.
- August 8th: The Peace Festival (Friedensfest)
- Celebrated in Bavaria.
- August 15th: Assumption Day (Maria Himmelfahrt)
- Celebrated in Bavaria.
- October 31st: Reformation Day (Reformationstag)
- Celebrated in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia.
- November 1st: All Saints Day (Allerheiligen)
- Celebrated in Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland.
- Wednesday before November 23: Repentance Day (Buss- und Bettag)
- Celebrated in Bavaria and Saxony.