I get a lot of emails from potential expats asking where they should live in Germany. Is the city the place to be? or would a village be better? If I have experience in the place that they are asking for I feel able to give them a decent idea of what to expect but elsewhere in Germany, honestly, your guess is as good as mine. However, I have now lived in the city and in the middle of a village so I feel well placed to pass on my observations on what life can be like.
Choosing where to live when I moved to Germany was easy to start with, both my husband and I had long commutes to work in the UK and were happy to have the opportunity to try something different. Landing in one of the most bike friendly cities in Germany meant we exchanged our four wheels for two and the journey to work was less of a commute and more of a quick windy wake up every morning. The good transport links also meant exploring our new home country was cheap, easy and relatively convenient, even without a car.
Heading to a city on arrival meant that we were close to all the main attractions. Language lessons were easily sourced. By happy accident we fell into a local expat circle, unsurprising considering the number of international companies nearby, which really helped during those first few months.There was plenty to do on our doorstep. There was plenty of choice in many aspects of city life, but as with anything in life compromises have to be made too.
Accommodation, always a topic that comes up when you get a table of foreigners (and locals) together. As is probably true of cities the world over, the closer you are to the action, the more competition and the more you’ll have to pay. Add on that for the price you don’t get a lot of space inside or from your neighbours (tenants and businesses) and the general extra noise of city life. Germany is very protective of its quiet times but they do little to protect the tenants of a house with paper thin walls.
Speaking English, whilst not always met with a smile was usually accepted, especially if I attempted German first. English speaking services were available, the number of them Is always increasing which makes city life more comfortable for newcomers, short term expats and learners of German. In addition to the plentiful jobs in teaching English as a foreign language, plenty of expats make a living providing services for the non German speaking community too.
When we moved from Bavaria to Baden-Württemberg we cast our net for potential properties further than ever before. Having the confidence that comes with ‘we’ve done this before’ meant we chose differently and actively looked at places outside of the city (but still with that necessary transport link in). Yes we were back to being commuters but cleaner air and being able to see a sky filled with stars at night mostly makes up for an occasional train delay.
If you choose a village be prepared for everyone to know who you are. In those first few weeks I swear I was as famous as I’m ever going to be. The estate agent introduced us to the neighbours, the local restaurant owner (and most of the clientele), all his friends and recommended the best of the few shops on the high street. I knew maybe two of my neighbours previously on a completely ‘parcel taking in and awkward small talk’ basis, now even the post lady stops to stroke the dog and compliments my new haircut.
This acceptance didn’t happen overnight though, in a village you get out what you put in, I’ve never been so involved in community activities. You can end up feeling like rather a bunter Hund (colourful dog) ‘Er is bekannt wie ein bunter Hund’ He is known all over town. When there is less choice on offer you find out quickly where the best is (Hint always join the longest queue) and the money you saved on rent ends up being used for travelling further to find more choices.
There are of course elements that are common to everywhere, the Oma Politzei (grandma police) for one are probably the most well known. Not actually an organisation, but rather the grey haired old ladies who watch over their street, usually from behind their net curtains or well appointed balcony shrubbery, and enjoy shouting out of windows at anyone who does something wrong. Littering? ‘Pick that up!’ Listening to loud music? ‘Turn that down’ Fender bender? Guess who wrote down all the number plates?
My favourite parts of city life are the anonymity, blending in and not sticking out as a foreigner is sometimes just a necessity and the choices, the sweet sweet choices. Conversely, my favourite parts of village life are the complete lack of anonymity, yes I’m foreign and everyone knows it but it’s just a part of who I am (I’m multifaceted me) and that feeling of really belonging.
As always, if don’t like where you live, you can always move (eventually).