Tips on moving to Germany
May 24, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

I will be moving from Canada to Germany later this year, and would like to gain from your collective experience. Do you have any tips on making a long-distance, semi-permanent move, or things that you wished you'd known ahead of time?

I'll be moving there as the spouse of a German citizen. My German is comically bad, and I'll be taking the Integrationskurs (integration/language class) as a part of the process.

While I have a plan outlined, and already know people there other than my wife, I'm happy to hear even trivial suggestions.
posted by frimble to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One quick recommendation: extra copies of your birth certificate. Now. You'll be needing them.
posted by likeso at 7:27 AM on May 24, 2012

Toytown Germany has a massive expat forum which would be worth checking out. From the sounds of it you are already in a good position though.

Have fun (and have a pretzel for me!!) Germany is great!
posted by EatMyHat at 7:45 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: Take some things you wouldn't normally think to pack for a move like this - old mementoes from your childhood bedroom or a knicknack or painting or photo that is in your current home but you are thinking "minimal minimal just two suitcases" (unless you have the entire household moved through some professional firm). It helps in the wholly new and strange place you will be in for a while - also read up on culture shock, regardless of how well adjusted you may feel. Just knowing the cycles and stages to expect will be a great help when 3 to 6 months down the line, when the excitement passes and you're wondering why you feel bloated and cranky and whatnot.
posted by infini at 8:25 AM on May 24, 2012

It would be helpful to know where in Germany you are moving?

Try to find some ex-pat community that you can do things with, get advice from, connect to in the first couple months.

This book, living and working in germany, is very thorough.

This online dictionary is excellent: leo and is a good "craig's list" equivalent

Food: We can find almost all foods, flavors and spices here - except fake cheese products (no doritos, no mac and cheese, no cheese goldfish). Aldi Supermarkt has different themes every week and there is typically a North American themed week were we buy our Kanadischer Ahornsirup - if you like maple syrup - and other things for the year (we buy our Heines Backen Bohnen/ Baked Beans for 6 months on the Brit week). You end up with crazy lists - the Netto carries marshmellows, the Rewe carries cheddar cheese, the Turkish fruit and veggie market sells "exotic" spices (whole nutmegs, whole red chillis), etc. You can also buy ex-pat specialty foods in the basement level of most Karstadts - but it is expensive. You can, if absolutely desperate, buy food on Sundays and public holidays (as you know there are a lot of these) but only in the train station.

I recommend setting up a credit card (with no money exchange fee or percent of purchase charged - we use a capital one no hassle card) that deducts out of a Canadian account for your overseas purchases.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 8:37 AM on May 24, 2012

Response by poster: It would be helpful to know where in Germany you are moving?

Weimar, with the possibility of later moving to Osnabrück.
posted by frimble at 8:45 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: I don't know what your age is, but a good way to immerse and integrate is to mingle with the local university students. If you're just a bit older than them, I think they wouldn't mind, many even prefer having North American/Anglophone friends so that they could practice their English. In exchange you could also learn German, and even their culture.

In practicing the language, it's a good habit to watch ZDF's Nachrichten in Hundert Sekunden and their weather forecast. These habits would take less than 5 minutes a day, contain important information for the day, and a good way to pick up new words and the nuances of the German language.

Nature is very important to the Germans. If you're a nature person, go ahead and join some trekking/climbing/cycling/camping clubs. Good way to meet like-minded individuals, and a good way to explore the country this coming summer!
posted by vastopenspaces at 9:30 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: If you go to Weimar, try to stay. If you absolutely must move, don't do Osnabrück -- stay in Thüringen! Go to Jena or Erfurt ;)

Make the effort to become proficient at German. Things are different than they used to be, and many people's English has become good enough that it's very easy to become lazy. Two reasons to do this:

- People appreciate it when strangers make the effort to speak in their language.
- It will help you understand your wife better.
- It really is a beautiful language, despite what many other Europeans say.

Okay, so that was three reasons, but deserved ones!

Here's a good habit to get into for improving your language and cultural sense: watch "Tatort" on Sunday nights. Everybody else will be, too. You can watch it together with your wife and ask her questions when you don't get something.
posted by rhombus at 5:39 PM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: One quick recommendation: extra copies of your birth certificate. Now. You'll be needing them.

I'd debate this. Anywhere that needs a copy of your birth certificate will not need to keep the original, and it is also very unlikely that they want you to bring in a xerox from outside unless you bring it with the original so they can certify that the copy is identical to the original. So, bring the original and then find out exactly how any authorities or organizations or businesses will want to receive a copy (if they do) and then get the copies made in that way.

An Amt or Behörde that is constantly asking people for copies of things will have a pay copy machine on the premises in most cases but you can also call them in advance and find out what documentation they will want to see when you come in and whether they will take regular xeroxes of things (which you can then get made in advance). I definitely never needed more than my one original copy of my birth certificate in all my years in Germany and I've experienced basically all the bureaucratic and capitalistic processes that are on offer here. I mean, not everyone even has a birth certificate so there are always supplementary procedures.

At one point I had to get a notarized translated copy of my birth certificate (that was as expensive as fuck) but that was not for basic life stuff like getting a visa.

Here is an awesome related tip that I just came across after ages in Berlin: sometimes a bank or other commercial institution will demand a xerox of something by mail, but it has to be a notarized xerox with an assertion that it's identical to the original. You're thinking "OK, I'm going to go to a notary and spend €40 and get my copy" but you may be wrong -- a German Notar can in certain cases be very expensive. Notar != notary. What's more, the other big career who is allowed to notarize a copy of something, a bureaucrat, will often not be allowed to, or wish to, certify a copy of evidence for a commercial transaction, although that would only cost ~€15. Stuck in one of these dilemmas recently with a distant bank who wanted a document from me that I didn't want to drop >€100 getting notarized, I learned that the desk employees (you know, the ones in the back who you talk to about complicated issues) of basically any bank are able to make copies of things and stamp the copies and sign the stamp as the copy being identical to the original. Other banks will accept this assertion. It is possible that other organizations besides banks will too -- you can ask if a signed copy by a member of a financial institution will be OK. If it's your bank they might not charge anything, if it isn't your bank we're talking €10-20.

And one more thing on the topic of banks: if you think there is any chance that you may at some point need to deposit a US check in your German bank account (I see you're in Canada but maybe you work with folks in the States who will want to send you funny little pieces of paper), pick a bank upfront who is known to be able to cope with this with a minimum of teller drama and within a check-clearing timeframe that is reasonable. Toytown Germany is the best place to ask about people's experiences with their banks (everyone will complain but some complaints will be more serious than others). I used to hate my bank's guts for various reasons, but lately they have improved quite a bit and they clear US checks in about 6 business days, which is faster than my old bank in the US did it, and they give me the real bank exchange rate with a flat fee of only €12. I use Targobank which used to be German Citibank (more or less unrelated to US Citibank) before the German Citibank concern was purchased by a French bank in the 2008 crash. The teller only flips out about one time in five that I present a check, which anyone will tell you is unusually good for German bank tellers.

My last tip is that people hugely misunderstand German bureaucrats. At first every expat expects them to be unrelentingly brittle. Later they get really sloppy because nothing bad has ever happened. The truth is in the middle: they can be really unexpectedly flexible about almost anything as long as you get your ducks in a row before talking to them and bring a German person for the discussion. (If you are from a first-world country) you can always ask for more: more time on your visa, more time for your taxes, more things (or all things) disregarded for VAT that you are importing into the country in your initial overseas move. There is a very good chance that your request will be heeded if it is polite, a little persistent (always ask two times for what you want -- the second attempt to make an identical request will sometimes get a "ja" where the first request got a "nein"), and backed up by a little bit of source material (¶ is your friend). But eventually, if you flout the rules, they will enforce them because it's a fairness issue. So, you know, go ahead and ask for a longer visa, but don't let your visa lapse. Ask for an extension on your taxes but then make that deadline or request another extension in time. I've never had a terrible bureaucratic experience here despite being a minority, but I think it is related to neither assuming they are evil/vindictive nor assuming that they don't really care about enforcing the rules.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 1:33 AM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Clean up your German as much as you can. This was one of the hardest things for me to manage as I get a lot of my sense of being somewhere from the little interactions with the people around me. My limited German has meant I've missed out on one of my favorite ways of relating to people. Also, it just makes everything else easier the less you have to fight against language.

You'll still need an "Aufenthaltsgenehmigung," though you're married to a German. There's actually about two weeks of bureaucratic filing to do when you first arrive. It's not that bad unless you decide it is. Be patient, have your stuff organized, be pleasant and it's no big deal.

The other problem I've had and other German/Not-German couples I know have had is that suddenly the German half of the couple has a whole lot more to take care of just by virtue of being the 'native'/native speaker. The whole dynamics of your relationship can get torqued hard and that surprised me, how extreme that was.

Watch 'Tatort,' absolutely, even though you'll probably think, "Wow, that sucked." It does provide a point of connection with other people, and that's good.

One other thing we noticed was that to get quality food - produce and baked goods and meat and etc, we go to the local daily markets. The Supermarkets stink. The produce is often mediocre. This was surprising and a bit of a bummer but with a bit of careful research we were able to find good, often local produce.

Everything is closed on Sunday. Like, everything and Saturday people run around like crazy doing their shopping because everything is closed on Sunday. Everything.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:23 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing, very hard, From Bklyn's point about the fact that the German half is going to have a lot of new responsibilities for two people's business, and that especially in the first years it adds relationship stress. She will have more bureaucratic stuff to deal with that is mutual (marriage certificates and related filings) and more that only has anything to do with you (helping with bank account setup, registering your home address at the Amt or police station, figuring out where that one specific thing that you need can be purchased.) This levels off once your German is up to the task but it's a long way from being able to go to the supermarket and ask how much the unmarked bananas cost to being able to explain to a plumber exactly what the issue is and asking for an estimate, and asking about why a line item is in the estimate.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:35 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses. You've given us things to think about even when the specifics of the answer don't apply directly.

Working on my German is definitely a high priority, and while I can't claim to be gifted at language, only speaking two fluently and having honest difficulty hearing umlauts (lustig vs. lüstig), I'm generally self-aware, but not self-conscious, about screwing up when speaking, and appreciate being told that I'm saying things wrong or misusing a word, phrase or idiom.

So, that will take a while, but happens to be something around which I have coping strategies, which mostly boil down to being friendly to people and not taking myself too seriously.

The stress associated with responsibility and cultural/language barriers is something that we're aware of, though that's not the same as being immersed in the day-to-day aspects. Thank you for mentioning it as it's a reminder to keep it in mind going forward.

Also, while Weimar is currently most likely, is there a specific reason to avoid Osnabrück? Or, put another way, a specific awesomeness that you associate with Thüringen?
posted by frimble at 10:10 AM on May 25, 2012

Thüringen is in the former East. Billions have been pumped into infrastructure and building restoration. The culture sector is booming, the places are beautiful, and -- in general -- the rents are affordable. Lots of young people, students, etc. If you're from Canada, you'll find adjusting to it easier, because it's not as crowded.

Osnabrück is also pretty, but it's... Osnabrück. I've always found that part of Germany a bit milquetoast.

(Before you ask what the catch about the east is, it's the higher unemployment rate and the lower pay.)

This, of course, is a personal taste thing. But I've been around and I think if you see Weimar, you will know what I am talking about :)

Best of luck!
posted by rhombus at 7:13 AM on June 13, 2012

Response by poster: Just to provide a conclusion here, we're staying in Weimar. I got a job there, and we're in the last stages of renting a lovely flat. I leave next month. Thank you all for your help.
posted by frimble at 9:35 AM on June 14, 2012

Response by poster: Also, as a followup thanks, have a silly picture I made when last in Weimar.
posted by frimble at 10:43 AM on June 14, 2012

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