Germany for beginners: Getting settled in
In Germany, patients with everyday medical issues or ailments first see a Hausarzt (general practitioner). Most people choose a doctor near their residence. There are also many practicingFachärzte (specialists), and the general practitioner decides whether a patient should be directed to a specialist.
Opening times vary at doctors’ offices, but most practices are closed on weekends and on Wednesday afternoons. In urgent situations, patients should head to the emergency room at a hospital. 112 is the number to dial in Germany for an ambulance in emergency situations.
Germany uses a right-hand driving system, so other cars are passed only from the left. The country’s highways are famous for not having sections without speed limits, but a good rule of thumb is not to surpass 130 km/h. If an accident occurs, the police should be notified in order for an insurance company to assume the costs. Those who want to purchase a car here can head to an auto dealer or find numerous offers online and in the classified section of newspapers. After buying the car, it must be registered at the department of transportation, known as the Strassenverkehrsamt. More information can be obtained at the city hall. For those living in Germany, foreign drivers’ licenses are generally valid for six months. After that period of time, the foreign license must be switched over to a German license, unless the driver already possesses an EU license. In some cases, this may be passing the German driving exams.
Visas for foreigners are handled by the Ausländeramt (Immigration Office). Visa applicants must prove that they are financially stable and will have enough money at their disposal during their stay in Germany. For students, that means having at least 500 euros ($660) on hand each month. Student visas also require presenting a passport, proof of health insurance, three passport-sized headshots, proof of residence from a landlord and, in some cases, a statement from a doctor. Universities’ offices for foreign students can help new students take care of these matters.
Shops in smaller towns are typically open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, but in larger cities, opening hours are generally longer. Bakers, butchers and pharmacies often open earlier in the morning. Large supermarkets also open earlier in the morning and stay open longer into the evening. Expect small businesses to close down for lunch in the afternoon – from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, for example.
On Saturdays, many stores are not open as long as during the week, and nearly all stores close on Sundays. For smaller purchases that need to be made outside of regular business hours, small convenience stores called kiosks and gas stations may be the answer.
It’s not just a stereotype that Germans appreciate punctuality. But parties are an exception; it’s okay to show up a bit later. Otherwise, Germans have a reputation for being distanced and not very easy-going. Those traits are reflected in the language: An unknown or older person is generally addressed with the formal pronoun Sie. The informal Du can be offered once two people have gotten better acquainted. Young people generally refer to each other as Du right away, though. A peck on the cheek is a typical greeting among friends, but not among strangers. Bowing when meeting someone is not customary, but a handshake is.
The German currency is the euro. Almost all shops accept debit cards, which you can apply for at a bank. You will also have quick access to his money, for example by way of ATMs. Most banks offer a checking account for students for free. Asking can pay off.
In Germany, men and women are held equal. That means, for example, that both men and women may vote and that women are not to be discriminated against in the workplace. Large companies, institutions and universities have employees whose tasks include making sure that women aren’t disadvantaged in job postings. Some companies have established quotas for women. In that case, a job posting will often bear disclaimers like: “Among candidates with comparable qualifications, women and those with disabilities will be given preference.” People also cannot be discriminated against based on their religion.
Germany has a wide range of options for Internet service. Be sure to compare the rates and conditions of various Internet service providers before selecting one. Flat-rate Internet service is generally the most cost-effective option. For students who come to Germany without their own computer, the Internet cafes usually located throughout the student districts are an option.
German residents are required to have health insurance. Both private and public insurance providers exist. International students are generally insured by public insurance providers unless arrangements are made otherwise, and special rates are available for students. Treatment by a doctor is provided without charge, and prescribed medicines are given either for free or at a reduced cost.
Costs of living
Statistically speaking, students should plan on spending around 700 euros a month. Since the cost of living in Germany is relatively high, newcomers may want to find a relatively cheap living arrangement to start out with. For students, the most inexpensive options are dormitories or shared apartments. The latter are called Wohngemeinschaften – WGs for short.
On the other hand, students often receive discounts by presenting their student ID cards anywhere from museums to concerts to the theater. Students can also save when traveling by taking advantage of special student offers and rates.
For those who encounter financial difficulties in Germany, student service unions may be able to offer some help. It’s also worth checking in with church-sponsored associations that are housed on campus.
An especially popular way to find shared apartments among students is a website called www.wg-gesucht.de. There, both apartment seekers and those looking for a roommate can place ads, send messages and browse what’s available. It’s worth noting, though, that the website works best once the apartment seeker has made it to Germany. Most people will want to meet their prospective roommates in person before offering the lease.
Of course, there are the classic ways of looking for an apartment, too – scouring university bulletin boards or the ads placed in daily and weekly newspapers. Students from abroad may also be able to find some held at the foreign students’ office on campus when it comes to finding living arrangements.
Rent in Germany runs fairly high but differs substantially from city to city. Munich is currently the most expensive, while Leipzig offers some of the cheapest apartments.
“Waste separation” may sound odd, but it’s a typical German phenomenon. Garbage and organic waste are separated at home before being disposed of. There are designated containers for paper, packaging, glass and so-called Restmüll – that is, everything that doesn’t fit into the other categories. Waste disposal differs from city to city. In some cities, public containers for glass, paper and recyclable packaging are located around town. In others, each household is given individual receptacles. No matter where you live, though, the color codes remain relatively constant: brown for organic waste, yellow for recyclable packaging materials, blue for paper and green for Restmüll.
It’s also worth noting that many containers come with what’s called a Pfand, or deposit. It signifies that if you return the empty containers to the store, you’ll receive a small amount of money back.
When it comes to sending things by mail, there are a number of options in Germany. The Deutsche Post is the most widespread post office, and its branches are recognizable throughout cities with the logo of a black horn against a yellow background. There are also mailboxes along the street where letters can be sent. Stamps cost 55 cents for a basic letter sent within Germany and 45 cents for a postcard.
Roads and rails
Getting from place to place by car is no problem thanks to a good network of streets and highways. Those who don’t want to buy a car can also take advantage of carpooling opportunities from city to city, often arranged with the help of websites like www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de.
Within cities and towns, public transportation is widely available as well. Busses and trains are generally on time and reliable, but they don’t run 24 hours a day in most cities. Traveling by taxi, however, tends to be expensive.
National and international travel is also possible by way of trains, and Germany has a strong network of regional and national railways. Deutsche Bahn is the name of the national company that operates most of the trains, but there are other options available from smaller, private companies. Depending on when and how you book a train trip, many discounts are available, so it helps to pay attention to the offers. The ICE trains run by Deutsche Bahn are typically the fastest way to travel within Germany. As such, flying within the country is generally more preferable for cities that are on opposite sides of the country. There are 40 public airports in Germany with the Frankfurt Airport being the country’s largest and the third-largest in Europe.
A majority of Germans identify themselves as Christian, with around 30 percent Protestant and 30 percent Catholic. Around 200,000 Jews live in Germany, as well as 3.5 million Muslims. Generally speaking, the adherents of various religions get along peacefully with one another. Conflicts have been known to emerge in the courts, though, primarily with respect to religious symbols. Many German states have restricted wearing head scarves in public schools, and crosses are not permitted to be hung in classrooms.
Safety in public is not a major concern in Germany, but robberies and pick-pocketing do occur. People can feel safe when out and about at night in cities, but caution is called for in more isolated areas or side streets. It’s also a good idea to pay close attention to your purse or wallet when heading to tourist sites where distractions abound. When traveling by car, parking garages often reserve spots near the entrance for women. In the case of an emergency, dial 110 to alert the police. This can be done for free from any public telephone.
German power outlets use 220 volt electricity, which means that not all electrical devices purchased abroad will be compatible in Germany. Adapters and converters can be purchased for those who want to continue using appliances brought from home.
Electricity is generated from a variety of sources including coal, nuclear power and alternative energies like solar and wind power as well as biofuel. Each household can decide which electricity provider it would like to use. And it’s not always just a question of money: Politics also comes into play. Those who oppose nuclear power, for instance, may be sure to select a provider that does not use electricity generated from nuclear plants.
Mobile phones are called Handys in German, and there’s no shortage of options when it comes to finding a provider and plan. Everything from flat-rate unlimited calling to individually prepaid calling cards is available. Students may be able to take advantage of special deals or rates, so it’s worth asking around. For those from abroad who want to call home, one option are the call shops located around many cities. Call shops house a number of telephone booths, and customers can ask about the rate per minute at the cash register. Calling cards and international calling plans are available as well.
Important telephone numbers:
Fire department/police: 110
Germany’s country code is 0049. When dialing in from abroad, the country code is followed by the city’s area code and then the number itself.
A visa is required for those from outside the European Union who want to live in Germany. There are various types of visas available, and aspiring students should make sure not to enter the country on a tourist visa and then try to switch to a student visa. Student visas are generally issued in the student’s homeland by the German Consulate or Embassy before coming to Germany. Requisite documents to receive a visa generally include a passport, passport-sized photos, proof of eligibility to begin university studies and proof that financial support for at least the first year has been secured.
Author: Gaby Reucher / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen