September 10, 2013

8 things I wish I knew before moving to Munich

I moved to Munich two years ago and although I knew Germany (and Germans), to make Munich my new home was not easy. After the painful and stressful process of finding a place to live, a few more surprises came along. Some were good, some not so much.

Click to read about Munich is expensive but safe

Looking back I believe that I would have managed much better at the beginning,  if I had had the experience and information that I now have. So if you are planning to move to Munich or you have just arrived, I believe that my "8 things I wish I knew before moving to Munich" will be very helpful for you.


1) They don't speak English 

You are moving to Germany, where the official language is German, which means that they speak German. The young generations can usually speak English but the older ones don't.

Some Germans have never learnt a word of English, so when you pop in a local Bäkerei or you want to buy cranberries at a street stall or at the market stand, they don't understand you if you speak English.
The German school system is very flexible and offers a high-quality education. (Click here to read about the School system in Bavaria in English). Usually one foreign language is taught since the age of 10. Although these days more and more schools are introducing some lessons in the Grundschule (as of the age of six).

Screen shot: School system in Bavaria. Source: Bayerisches Staatsministerium

In today's schools the most popular foreign language is English. Germans in their late 20s - early 30's have had 8 to 9 years of compulsory English lessons during their school time and so they usually speak English. However older generations studied French instead, which was the primary foreign language back then and as a consequence, they usually won't speak English, or if they do, it will be very basic.

In June 2013 the German newspaper Die Zeit published an article: "Germans speak bad English" (source: Wall Street English school). According to it: only 2.1% of the employees in Germany are business fluent and 65.5% have little knowledge.

2) Everything is closed on Sunday

Sunday is "Ruhe Tag" in Germany, which means that everything is closed. There are however four exceptions to this rule: 1) the churches, 2) the ice parlors, 3) the gas stations and 4) the "Biergarten".

Also a few cafes open on Sunday mostly the ones located in the tourist areas of Munich and a few (very few) bakeries also open and close when they are sold out. 

As a consequence, plan your grocery shopping well, so you are fully stocked when Sunday comes. Otherwise you are left with no options outside the following two stores that open on Sunday and should only be used in emergency cases due to the exorbitant prices and the very limited range: the Minimark in Hauptbahnhof and one Edeka at the airport. (To read more: "the Grocery List 1/2")

3) Recycling is a sport

And you better learn the rules soon otherwise it will cost you money (Germany has a Pfand system to "motivate" citizens to recycle) or you will get reprimanded by one of your lovely neighbors.


4) If you don't have a bike, you don't exist in Munich

There are many European cities where the bike is a popular means of transport. In Munich this has been taken to the extreme: Munich is the "Radlhauptstadt" = capital city for the "Radl", which is the Bavarian equivalent of "Rad" (short for "Fahrrad") so a bike.


My bike: Lola
There are 1200km of bike lane in Munich and parking facilities overall. Besides the taxis and metro (U- and S- Bahn) are extremely expensive. People bike to work; mums bike their kids to the Kindergarten in front and back child bike seats; fathers tow child bicycle trailers across the city etc.,

If you drive a car you'd better grow a third eye on your back and learn the new driving rule, which basically summarizes in: in Munich cyclists ride like they own the city.

I did not buy "lola" (my bike) until a year after moving to Munich and during that initial time I disliked many of those on a bicycle, simply because they don't even respect the sidewalks! 

On my second year here and with "lola", I am now one of them, because at some point I realized that I had no choice: "if you can't beat them, join them".

To read more about bikes in Munich.


5) Get ready to be given a reprimand 

I recently read on a blog/forum about one expat's impression talking about living in Germany. One of the things she said was that every German has a police officer inside him/herAnd I agree. 

In Munich strangers have given me more than one reprimand over the past two years. In some cases with a reason, in some others just for the pleasure of reprimanding someone. For example:

  • on the street, when I happened to accidentally wait for the traffic lights on the bike lane;
  • in the supermarket, when I forgot to use plastic gloves when selecting the fruits and vegetables and
  • at a cash register, when it was taking me more than a minute to pay, because I could not find my purse.
There are also situations when strangers have given me a nasty look. For example: 
  • in some cafes or on the train when I spoke louder than a regular German or my mobile rang longer than 10 seconds and
  • when my friend's baby started crying non-stop and loud in a store.
There is also a worse case scenario, which is when you get both the look and the reprimand, together with a phone call to the police. For example: by parking if you accidentally touch the car behind you. Then all the strangers that see you, will suddenly stop and dedicate their full attention to give you the look and start calling for a traffic officer.


6) German is difficult and it will take you years to be fluent

Many people think that with online courses or weekly lessons, they will speak fluent German in a year. Some are even more optimistic and they expect to reach that level in 6 months. Well my friends, this won't happen. German is a very difficult and complex language and it takes time to learn it.

When I started, I learnt fast and the feeling of achievement was immense. During the A1, A2 and B1 level, I even got the impression that German was going to be" easy" for me. Well, it was not.

When I completed these first basic levels, I then started level B2 and it was then when things got really complicated and my motivation diminished. But since I had no other option, I kept on. For me to jump from the B2 to the C1 level required a superhuman effort. But to move up from C1 to C2 was stressful and painful. 

If you are not familiar with the standard levels when learning a language check the European Framework of Reference for Languages.


Screen shot of Global scale. Source: Council of Europe

Also a recent article of the German magazine PM reporting on the most difficult languages in the world states that:

  • English-speakers need at least 750 class hours to reach an intermediate German level. This means that even if you had 3 hours of German every day, every week during a single whole year, you still wouldn't be intermediate.
  • German needs more hours of study than the Danish, the Swedish and the Norwegian languages.

In my experience the best you can do is to be aware of the difficulty, accept that it won't happen tomorrow and keep going. Determination and persistence are key to master the language.

If you get depressed in the process (and unfortunately you will) I suggest you order a copy of "The awful German language" from Mark Twain


Screen shot of Amazon.de
To read more about this topic: check


7) There is a different between a Bier- and a Wirtsgarten

A Biergarden is an outdoor area attached to a bar or a restaurant, set with approx. eight seat wooden tables and benches without a back that has a self-service area. In a Biergarden you are allowed to consume outside food (for example brought from home or bought in a close street stand). 

A Wirtsgarten, on the contrary, is set with table cloths and waiters or waitresses get the table orders and all you eat and drink should be ordered there.

Wirtsgarten in Munich city center

8) Surviving the Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest is fun and so good for the books of the city and local businesses … But the truth is that living in Munich, life must go on no matter what: you still need to get up early to go to work; you still need to do the weekly grocery shopping and you still want to enjoy life in this safe, clean and cozy city that is usually ranked as a top place to live because of its quality of life.

Unfortunately during the Oktoberfest your quality of life in Munich will be diminished.


Photo of the Oktoberfest parade of tradition costumes
Above all if you live in the city center or close to the Oktoberfest, mainly because the Wiesn means for you that:  
  • the streets are not as clean and safe as you are used to; 
  • the supermarkets and shops´ shelves are emptier than usual;
  • there are longer queues everywhere, including in the U/S-Bahn stations; 
  • your bike is no longer safe without a lock while you pop in that store;
  • and if you decide to go for a walk in the park on the weekend, you will hardly enjoy some quite time with the kids/family/boyfriend because the green areas (unless it's raining) are full with tourists drinking or sleeping on their hangover. 

I am not an old cranky lady, I am just describing what I see and experience myself in Munich and through my friends´ eyes.  I know some people who make their holidays outside Munich coincide with the Oktoberfest, so they can scape the avalanche of people.

I am not saying that you need to run away like my friends, you can stay and enjoy the festival, but if you do, just remember to be more careful and more patient than usual. After all, during the Oktoberfest Munich receives an influx of over three times its population in tourists.


Are you from Munich or have you been living here for a while? what other things you wish you knew before moving here?

29 comments:

  1. I am so glad I was able to meet a lot of Germans through work fairly easily, and I wísh other expats I met had been able to do the same. There is nothing more important than integration in a new country, and most people who ended up hanging out with other Americans/Australians/Brits have since returned to their home countries.

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  2. Believe me, your german is great! I enjoy chatting with you ;-)) Kisses Dorothea

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  3. Thanks for the useful information as i am also planning my visit to the country next year.

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  4. We are spending 7 nights in munich 28 bis 4 january and i found your info very useful. Although i have studied German for 5 years in my counrty still here is very difficult to communicate with german people

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  5. Thank you for this delightful and truthful blog! I found it entertaining and useful. Who knows where my hubby's and my retirement travel will take us (long-term stay perhaps). Thanks!

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  6. This is an absolutely lovely post. I'm in Munich for the first time (I was in Heidelberg for a month last summer) and considering moving my family here for nine months to a year in 2015-2016, as I am an academic and will need to carry out research here in Germany. I really enjoyed your insights! Alles Gute. :)

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  7. Good, none of this was unexpected, have gone through similar but different difficulties in Berlin.

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  8. Excellent piece of advice! I wish i would have known about German grocery stores, but also about the lack of flexibility before moving there. I thought a lot of things would be much easier than they actually ended up being! However needless to say, what really matters is to improve the language skills asap. Once I felt comfortable speaking, the city went from an ok place to be, to a city I'd love to spend years in. Takes some time to get used to the German way of doing things, but it's absolutely worth the effort.

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  9. Great article! Can we include these information on our removals to Germany? Just in case families need to know before moving to Germany so we could give them some advices. Thank you very much for the informative article! By the way we provide Removals to Germany service so you could give out the stress of moving your belongings overseas :)

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  10. Such a good article. Been to Munich countless times and visited the Wiesn on 15 occasions so really love the place. Currently we're travelling the world and living just outside the city in Zorneding for 4 weeks. Didn't know the difference between a biergarden and a wirtsgarten so will remember that now. Going to get on and read the rest of your site now, looks very interesting. Jonno.

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  11. What a terrific post, thank you! My husband and I have been to Munich 3 times and we love it there! One of our most favorite spots to get coffee, or an Aperol Spritz, is at the Cafe Nymphenburg. Just reading your post makes us daydream about returning someday soon :)

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  12. Your blog is so helpful!! I'm moving to Munich October 1st from Chicago. I'm hoping to learn German but I know it will take some time. It helps that I'll be living with my German boyfriend. My questions would be more about banks to use and easiest way to obtain a visa if I can't find a job right away.

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    1. Erin!! Hi!! I'm also living in Chicago and planning to move to Germany hopefully next year (depending on how long the process would take to get a job). Would love to hear about your experience! Thanks!

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  13. I'm heading to Munich for Oktoberfest and was advised to try and wear the authentic Bavarian clothing to "fit in" but am having the hardest time figuring out a good location to find a proper Dirndl in the city. Any suggestions or tips for finding something moderately priced and easy to get to? Thanks for all the info on the blog.

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  14. Your post's quite helpful for me. The information you've shared is hard to find normally, only people who have lived in Germany can share their experience. I'm preparing moving there in the middle of the next year, and things you've shared are essentials indeed. thanks!

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  15. Your blog is so helpful!! I'm shifting to Munich Oct 1st from Chicago, Illinois. I'm expecting to understand In German but I know it will take some time. It will help that I'll be residing with my In German partner. My concerns would be more about financial institutions to use and simplest way to acquire a charge if I can't choose a job right away.

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  16. Such a piece of content. Been to Munich plenty of times and frequented the Wiesn on 9 times so really like the place. Currently we're traveling the world and residing just in a suburb in Zorneding for a month. Couldn't know the main distinction between a biergarden and a wirtsgarten so will keep in mind that now. Going to get on and look the remaining of your site now, looks fascinating.

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  17. I wonder if it is easy to get a job as a handyman or man with a van in Germany? thanks for sharing info about Germany

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  18. Im debating whether to move to Munich ina few years, what advice would you give?

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  19. Very good article about Munich Germany! Thanks for sharing!

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  20. I am looking for a German tutor for my 12years old son.Can any one suggest a course for my Son.He is having hard time cooping with the new language.Thank you.

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    1. I would recommend you to give your son some private german lessons, its the best way since the teacher will be able to adapt his teaching style specific to your son :)

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  23. Thanks for this post, it was really eye-opening. I am planning to move to Munich, but I am a bit hesitant because I get so much different information about the living costs there. Do you think these numbers are correct or not? https://teleport.org/cities/munich/cost-of-living/

    Thanks in advance
    Otto

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  24. Thanks for the great tips. I will be moving to Munich in a couple of weeks, and though I've been in Germany (Hamburg) for over a year, it's good to see familiar experiences as well as learn about local differences.

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  25. Thanks for post. I have been to Bremen as student for exchange ( student exchange) so we can learn their language and they coming to us to learn ours. Germany is really beautiful and great country and if I could I definetly would live there, but as you mentioned there are some key things to know before moving there. Thank you for sharing and I think this post definetly will help someone to think before moving to foreign country.

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