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Where to Live for Expats in Germany

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: September 2013

Finding the right place to live in Germany depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as accommodation prices, the cost of living and availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.

According to the 2011 census, there were approximately 6.2 million non-Germans living in Germany, or 7.7% of the total population. Understandably, most expats go where the jobs are, that is, Western Germany. Less than 5% of people in Eastern Germany are of foreign origin.

As is normally the case, most expats live in the larger cities. Berlin, Germany's capital and largest city, has recovered well from the trauma of being politically divided for decades. It is a tolerant and cosmopolitan city that is exciting to live in, as it is dynamic and still undergoing post-reunification changes. Berlin is also an international centre of fashion, culture and art. It is also a very green city with many parks and open spaces. Accommodation is often spacious and cheaper than most other German cities, especially in the increasingly popular parts of former communist East Berlin such as Frederickshain.

Hamburg in the north-west is the beautiful second largest in Germany. Being a port it is also cosmopolitan. Accommodation here is extremely spacious – around 30m2 per person, in fact. Hamburg is a well-watered city, with many canals and more bridges than Venice. As Hamburg is the economic hub for northern Germany, there should be plenty of employment opportunities for expats.

Frankfurt (in full, Frankfurt am Main) is a modern city with many skyscrapers. The city is Germany's financial capital, which means if your career is in a sector related to finance, the chances are you will relocate here. Frankfurt has one of the highest liveability ratings for a German city. However, there is a shortage of housing, so finding accommodation in the city centre will be tough. New apartments, built to help plug the gap, can be found in Riedberg, Rebstockpark and other areas.

The Rhine-Ruhr conurbation is the largest industrial centre in Europe. Düsseldorf on the Rhine is probably the most picturesque, with the highest liveability rating. Cologne has some areas of cultural interest, and its celebrated cathedral.

Munich (German München) in Bavaria is rated in some surveys as one of the most liveable cities in the world. It is also very popular with tourists, especially around Oktoberfest time. However, it has become a victim of its own success to some extent, because, it is by some distance the most expensive German city to live in. Nevertheless, Munich is still cheaper than several other cities in Europe.

Living in a smaller German town may involve putting up with some rather bizarre local restrictions. However, many of them are charming and offer a picture of traditional Germany. This is because large, strategically important German cities were heavily bombed during World War II and have lost much of their character, while smaller towns were left untouched.

Nearly all of the cheapest cities are in Eastern Germany. They include Chemnitz (called Karl-Marx-Stadt in the communist era), Dresden and Jena. Some of these cities, such as Magdeburg, are up-and-coming and may be worth considering as a place to work and live in.



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