Life in Germany
Germany is a diverse and fascinating country, lying at the heart of Europe. It has a rich history, breath-taking landscapes, vibrant cities and an open-minded, multicultural society. Germans enjoy a high standard of living, strongly supported by a prosperous economy, and German cities are regularly ranked among some of the most ‘liveable cities’ in the world.
In many ways, daily life in Germany is no different to life in other western European countries. Political and economic stability, robust infrastructure and a caring society mean that you can concentrate on enjoying the more important things in life. However, life in Germany also has its quirks and individual charm, as Germany boasts a unique and regionally diverse culture. Discovering this is all part of the appeal, and makes a move to Germany a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.
|Population||80 million, including 7 million foreign nationals|
|Surface Area||357,112 km²|
|Language||German, although English is widely spoken|
|Main Cities||Berlin (3.4 Million inhabitants), Hamburg (1.7 Million), Munich (1,4 Million), Cologne (1 Million),|
Frankfurt am Main (0.7 Million)
|National Holiday||3rd October (Day of German Unity)|
|Time Zone||Central European Time|
|Climate||Temperate, Continental or alpine, depending on region|
German is the most widely spoken first language in Europe and one of the top 10 most spoken languages in the world, with over 120 million speakers spread over Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Sadly, German is neither renowned for its beauty nor the fact that it is easy to learn. Fortunately, this is more myth than reality. German shares a lot in common with the English language, which gives English speakers a head start. German courses are widely available within Germany, suited to all levels and with adaptable time commitments. For those that want to learn before arriving in Germany, a range of on-line or audio courses are available. The Goethe Institute is also active in many cities across the world and can provide a sound basis in the language, or extension for more advanced learners.
Many Germans have an excellent understanding of English and it is entirely possible to get by in Germany without speaking the language. However, it is always useful to have a grasp of the basics, just in case!
Food and Drink
Forget what you think you know about German cuisine! Germany is a cosmopolitan, multicultural society, and the average German has a sophisticated palette. In any city, you are likely to find more Italian or Asian restaurants than traditional ‘Brauhäuser’. There is something for every taste.
Of course, Germany does have its culinary traditions, but with strong regional variations. Take, for example, the ubiquitous Wurst. Germans have a seemingly endless list of sausage varieties. It can be white, dark, short, long, thin, fat, boiled, grilled or smoked, depending on where you are in the country. Germany also boast over 300 types of bread, and with over 1,300 breweries, there is a different beer for every day – for more than three years!
Germany stretches from the Baltic in the north to the Alps in the south. It borders nine countries, including Scandinavian Denmark, Mediterranean France, Alpine Switzerland, and the Bohemian Czech Republic. Two of Europe’s mightiest rivers carve through its landscapes – the Danube and the Rhine, and one of Europe’s largest lakes – Lake Constance – forms its southern border.
Germany’s geography is therefore hugely varied and its landscapes merit discovery. The country is divided roughly in two, between the ‘flat’ north and ‘high’ south. The northern coast is dotted with islands, and home to sweeping beaches, broad mudflats and chalky cliffs. The north has a strong seafaring tradition and is a popular holiday destination for families and those seeking the fresh sea air.
Central Germany is the land of rolling hills and majestic rivers. Vineyards cling to the slopes and produce some of the country’s finest wines. In the south west, the Black Forest entices visitors with its spectacular scenery, cuckoo clocks and cherry cake. Icy lakes nestle in Bavaria’s hills, formed from the melting snow of the Alps, which rise up on the southern border and provide endless opportunity for outdoor pursuits.
Germany has a predominantly temperate climate, with continental influences. There are four distinct seasons, with warm summers and mild winters. Continental influences can cause periods of extreme heat or cold, but average temperatures are moderate. Snow is common at higher elevations during the winter months, but the lowlands are typically milder, with only the occasional snow flurry.
It is impossible to summarise Germany’s rich and diverse culture in a few short words. However, lying in the centre of Europe places Germany firmly at the heart of European cultural tradition. Germany broadly shares much in common with its neighbours, and for those moving to Germany from elsewhere in the western world, much will be familiar.
On the other hand, due to Germany’s long existence as a group of loosely allied micro-states, German culture is highly regionalised, and there are marked differences in language, customs and culinary traditions across the country. Travelling from one city to another can feel like travelling to a different country, which makes Germany such an interesting place to discover.
Germans have a great appreciation for their own culture and customs, as well as culture in a broader sense. The typical German has a strong affinity to their home town or region, and local festivities are celebrated with pride. This means that many ancient traditions are kept wholeheartedly alive beneath the shiny veneer of this modern nation.
Cultural activities are abundant, and even small towns and cities typically have a wide array of cultural outlets. Museums and the Arts are well supported, and you do not need to look far to find something to suit any interest. This is the ‘Land der Dichter und Denker’, or nation of poets and thinkers, and Germans celebrate their rich literary, philosophical and artistic heritage.
Cologne - Germany’s oldest, and fourth largest city – is a dynamic and vibrant cultural centre, with a large and diverse international community.
Situated directly on the river Rhine in western Germany, Cologne is an ideal location for discovering Europe. The city is an important road and rail hub, and destinations in Belgium and Holland are less than an hour away. High speed rail links connect Cologne to all major German cities, as well as destinations further afield, including London and Paris. Cologne-Bonn airport serves a wide range of European and long-haul destinations.
Cologne was founded in 50 AD by the Romans, and developed into a thriving trade centre. Vestiges of this ancient past can still be found beneath the city’s streets. The medieval city leaves its mark in the winding streets of the old town, and the walls which still line the city’s ‘Ring’. The Middle Ages also saw construction begin on Cologne’s impressive cathedral, which took over 600 years to complete. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture now towers over the city, and, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one Germany’s most important tourist attractions.
Almost completely destroyed during the war, Cologne rose from the ashes and the modern city is a lively metropolis with a proud sense of tradition. ‘Karneval’ is the high point of the calendar, a weeklong festival during which the city’s population doubles in size. This is one of many events that punctuate the year, all of which are typically accompanied by a ‘Kölsch’, the local beer, served in tall thin glasses.
Today’s city offers something for everyone, with a busy shopping district, a host of museums, theatres and concert halls, not to mention thousands of bars and restaurants. For those that prefer the quieter life, there are many peaceful suburbs and the ‘Eifel’ and ‘Bergisches Land’ – areas of great natural beauty – are only a short commute away.
Weekends offer the possibility of discovering the wider region. The spectacular Rhine valley and the Mosel wine growing region lie just to the south, and opportunities for hiking and skiing can be found in the mountainous Sauerland area. The Neanderthal region offers a glimpse into human pre-history, whereas the former West German capital, Bonn, offers insight into the more recent German past.
Düsseldorf – capital of North-Rhine Westphalia – is an important financial and industrial centre with a proud identity and beating heart.
Situated in the sprawling Rhine-Ruhr region in the west of Germany, Düsseldorf is well located for access to a range of European destinations. Belgium and the Netherlands are only a short distance away, and high speed rail links connect Düsseldorf with all major German cities. Düsseldorf airport is the most important in the region, and connects travellers to destinations across the world. There are daily flights to cities across the UK.
Düsseldorf grew from a medieval fishing village, located where the river Düssel flows into the Rhine. Its strategic importance meant it quickly developed into a fortified town, the remains of which can be seen in the beautiful area of Kaiserswerth, the location of Emperor Barbarossa’s now ruined palace. The bustling streets of the old town still give a sense of the medieval city, chosen by the Dukes of Berg as their capital. Nowadays these streets provide a picturesque backdrop to shoppers and party-goers, visiting ‘the longest bar in the world’, consisting of the district’s 260 pubs and bars.
Modern Düsseldorf is an elegant city which boasts a high standard of living. Renowned for fashion and shopping, Düsseldorf’s grand ‘Königsallee’ is lined with boutiques and designer outlets. However, there is much more to this city, which has a vibrant cultural scene catering for all interests and tastes. Düsseldorf competes with Cologne to be the capital of ‘Karneval’, and the city comes to a standstill during the ‘fifth season’, as everyone stops to celebrate with a traditional ‘Altbier’ in hand.
Away from the bustle of the city, Düsseldorf’s suburbs are leafy and calm. As the centre of a large urban conglomeration, these suburbs stretch well beyond the city limits, meaning there is a wide range of places to live in the area, from quite village to mid-sized town, or even an alternative city, such as Essen or Duisburg. All are well connected by bus, train and tram.
Further afield, there are many places to explore. Picturesque villages dot the hills of the Eifel region and towns and cities in the Netherlands are just a short ride away. The medieval town of Zons is a beautiful spot to enjoy a stroll along the Rhine. For those interested in industrial history, the Zollverein mine offers an insight into the Ruhr region’s history, whereas the Neanderthal area provides a window on a more distant past.
Welcome to Munich, the capital of Bavaria and gateway to the Alps. Home of BMW and Bayern München, Germany’s third largest city is on one hand a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis, on the other a green idyll with a rich history, strong sense of tradition and irresistible charm.
Located in the south of Germany, Munich is closer to the Mediterranean than the North Sea, closer to Prague than Paris. Although it can easily fulfil all German stereotypes, the cultural landscape of this city is also heavily influenced by its proximity to southern and eastern Europe. Rapid transport links connect the city to Austria, Switzerland and Italy, as well as to all major German cities. Munich airport is a major international hub, and offers flights to destinations across the world.
Munich grew from a medieval settlement of monks, from which its name originates. It grew rapidly into an important centre and was chosen by the Bavarian Duke’s as their capital. The grand architecture of the city centre pays testament to its royal status, and the foundation of the Kingdom of Bavaria in the nineteenth century sealed Munich’s status as a cultural centre of global importance.
Although Munich was heavily damaged during the war, it was meticulously rebuilt and retains much of its pre-war character. It is however to all intents and purposes a very modern city, which offers its inhabitants a high standard of living and rich variety of pursuits. The city’s shops can rival those of any major European city, and its restaurants and bars account for every possible taste. On the banks of the Isar lies the ‘Deutsches Museum’, the world’s oldest and largest science museum, but just one of the many hundreds of cultural establishments in the city, including over 50 theatres, 40 museums, 80 cinemas and several concert halls.
The ‘English Garden’ is Munich’s green and tranquil heart and one of the world’s largest city parks. It is where the locals enjoy a Sunday stroll or refreshment in its sprawling beer garden. Beer lovers will however be most interested by the world famous ‘Oktoberfest’, which attracts over a million visitor to the city in late September, to sample the local speciality.
The surrounding area offers breath-taking scenery and endless opportunities for outdoor pursuits in all seasons. Lakes and rivers provide welcome refreshment from the summer heat, whereas the mountains are the draw in winter months. Whether a simple walk in the hills or something more adrenalin fuelled, the Munich area provides a vast amount to see and do, including world-famous attractions in their own right. The fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein lies in the foothills of the Alps and the majestic city of Salzburg is just across the Austrian border.