Willkommen in Deutschland!
Starting a new life in a foreign country isn’t easy, whether you’ve made the decision to move for employment, education, or for family. Simple things you took for granted back home are more difficult – finding a place to live, learning where to buy your groceries, figuring out how to find a doctor. We’ve now been through this exhausting but rewarding process twice in just over a year and hope that some of these resources in Germany will be helpful to other foreigners who’ve chosen to call it home, even if only temporarily.
- Airbnb – Great site for finding quirky, inexpensive, and intimate lodging options all over the world. Booking online is easy, hosts (in our experience) tend to accurately represent their lodging and provide services that are often above and beyond hotels. Plus, customer service from the company is excellent!
- Göttingen Local Tourism Office – These folks came to the rescue quite unexpectedly when they found not one, but two separate “holiday guesthouses” where we were able to stay while we were looking for an apartment. Since we don’t speak German, we were able to book and communicate through the tourism office. They have English-speaking staff and are incredibly helpful. We were dismayed at the high prices we were charged for both rentals, but we were grateful to we didn’t have to spend the night in our car in November.
Traveling with pets? Take note that many accommodations are not pet-friendly.
- ImmobilienScout24 – This quickly became my favorite site to search, mostly because they have more listings than any other site. Plus, they offer commission-free listings.
- Immowelt – We found our flat on this site, so it’s worth checking as many sites as you can as often as you have time.
- WG-GESUCHT – If you’re searching for a flat share, either because you need extra roommates for your flat or you’re looking to join other folks in a flat, this is a great source.
- H+G Göttingen – They don’t have many listings and they don’t typically have photos, but you can always stop by their office right downtown.
- Gottinger Tageblatt – Offers online ads placed in the local paper. You can also check the paper copy which often has listings not posted on their website.
If you’re moving to Göttingen, I’d recommend scheduling your arrival NOT to coincide with the start of the University of Göttingen school semesters. If you can arrive in July or even August before the students return at the end of September and October, you’ll have a much better chance of finding not just affordable housing, but any housing.
- Real – Stores that offer “one-stop shopping” with inexpensive groceries, clothing, and housewares. They’re located throughout Europe and accept Visa, including American credit cards without a chip. All of the Wal-Marts in Germany were bought by Real’s parent company and now operate as “Real.”
- REWE – Huge supermarket chain that was founded in 1927 and has over 3,000 stores in Germany. They also accept American credit cards that don’t have a chip.
- Edeka – Largest supermarket chain in Germany with over 4000 stores ranging in size from small shops to hypermarkets.
- Lidl – This German-based discount chain has over 10,000 stores and offers some of the lowest prices for groceries. They don’t take Visa or other main credit cards, however, so plan to pay with cash or a local bank card. Besides groceries, they offer misc. discounted seasonal items, clothing, and household goods. Unfortunately, many of their locations don’t show up in Google searches but if you go to their website (which is only in French, German & Italian), you can search for the store nearest you. Need groceries in Romania? Lidl is there as well!
- Aldi – Inexpensive store similar to Lidl that sells groceries and limited discounted household goods, sporting goods, and non perishables.
- Bon Prix – We bought the most perfect clearance curtains on this site! Despite the low prices, they tend to have decent quality. Shipping is fairly inexpensive, and delivery is fast. I don’t personally hold them responsible for my misadventures in German underwear shopping.
- OTTO – Touted as the largest mail order company in the world, you can buy everything from housewares to large appliances. Unfortunately their website is only in German. We haven’t purchased anything from them, so we can’t personally recommend them.
- Möbelino – After checking out several thrift stores in Göttingen, we were a bit disappointed at the high prices and lack of variety, particularly with furniture. Still, this one is probably the best and biggest in town.
- eBay Kleinanzeigen – It walks like eBay but talks like Craigslist! The site doesn’t have user fees or seller fees, and sellers straight up list their things for sell. You contact them by phone or online, they send their address, and you go pick up your new couch or bedroom set. Prices tend to be low, and you can find just about anything for sale.
- Curbside – It’s common in Germany for people to leave furniture and household goods on the sidewalk in front of their house. City services will pick up these items for disposal, either as rubbish or recycling. While it technically is against the “rules” to take these items, it’s commonly done.
- General – Helvetia offers everything from mandatory renter’s and accident insurance to car and life insurance. We used them in Switzerland and were happy with them. We weren’t able to find a local agent in Göttingen, but would still recommend them to folks who live near any of their offices in Germany.
- Auto – HUK is one of the largest insurance companies in Germany, they tend to have decent reviews online, and they have some agents who speak English. For €25 a month, we bought basic car insurance and roadside assistance through them. The customer service with our particular agent in Göttigen left something to be desired, but he was fast and efficient. Note that you can’t register your car in Germany until you can provide proof of insurance.
- Medical – This is mandatory insurance in Germany. We chose TK, one of the country’s largest public insurance carriers, since several of Trav’s co-workers recommended them. The application process is fairly easy, and they’re known for their ability to provide services, forms, and agents in English. So far we’ve been pleasantly surprised and fairly happy with TK. Though we have the standard plan that doesn’t include dental or vision coverage, some dental work is still covered – porcelain fillings on front teeth, amalgam fillings on back teeth, X-rays, and even root canals if there are no complications. Cleanings aren’t included; expect to pay about €95 out of pocket. TK also covers a whole host of recommended travel vaccinations – adult polio booster, DPT, Hep A, rabies, and typhus – at 100%. For those living in or visiting southern Germany, you might want to consider getting vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis. It should also be covered by your insurance and available from any general practitioner. If you’re struggling to find a doctor or schedule an appt, TK even has a hotline you can call, as well as an online form, for you to request they schedule an appt for you. We’ve used it, and they’re very helpful.
- ATU – We took our car to ATU for oil changes, TUV repairs, and tires for the first year or so we lived in Germany. They’re a big chain with stores in lots of cities. We finally switched to a different mechanic shop and wouldn’t recommend ATU. Despite the size of their shop and number of employees, we rarely spent less than 30 minutes waiting in line just to get to the counter and ask our question or schedule an appointment. They typically offered us appointments fairly quickly, but these appointments seemed to be unnecessarily lengthy and communication was poor. They did offer us a 10% discount on a set of expensive repairs shortly after our car passed the TUV inspection, but we’re still doubtful that the repair was even necessary.
- Kfz Hermeier – This mechanic gave us a quote for over €1000 to do auto repairs required by TUV. We got a second opinion, took our car there instead, and permanently switched mechanics.
- Vöhri Tech – We switched from Hermeier to Vöhri Tech. The guys at Vöhri Tech gave us a quote for TUV repairs that was between €300-400 vs the €1000 we’d been quoted by Hermeier. They told us we could just drop off our car without even making an appointment, and they had the repairs done by 5 pm. On top of that, the final cost was even cheaper than their own estimate, which is practically unheard of. The total came to just over €300. We’ll take our car there for the remainder of our time in Germany.
- Zahnarztpraxis Dr. Egert was recommended to us by a fellow expat in Göttingen. We’ve seen three dentists in the office for a variety of work – cleanings (paid-out-of-pocket), fillings, root canal, and crown – and would recommend them for fillings and basic dental work. Some of the hygienists are pretty rough on your mouth, so if you have dental phobias or sensitivities, this office might not be a great option. If you need a root canal, we’d recommend seeing an endodontist instead. If you do visit this practice for dental work, we recommend Sandra Klipp. She’s young but friendly, thorough, gentle, and she speaks English.
- Dr. Klaus-Achim Sürmann – Both of our roommates went to this dental office and recommended it to us. We actually see a different, female doctor in the clinic, but she’s fantastic. The staff members are friendly and even those who don’t speak English are very accommodating despite the language barrier. The office is located in Nikolausberg, but it’s worth a quick trip up the hill from Göttingen.
- In General – Options for qualified English-speaking doctors in Göttingen are lacking, imo. After unexpected medical issues arose during our second year, we unfortunately became very familiar with the German medical system. Based strictly on personal experience, doctors in town I absolutely do not recommend are Dr. Ralf Henke and Dr. Sroka (both GPs in the same office), Dr. Marianne Lückerath in Nikolausberg (GP), Dr. Andreas Hilden (Internal Medicine), Dr. Wolfgang Apel (Gyno), Dr. Bettina Fleckenstein (Gyno), Dr. Anje Maltzahn (Rheum), and Dr. Christine Heppner (Rheum). Doctors I do recommend are Dr. Peter Krug (GP), Dr. Christian Loweg (vascular surgeon), Dr. Heide Siggelkow (Endocrinologist), Dr. Westfal (Neuro), and Dr. Stephan Born (Gyno). Our experience has been that doctors in Germany rely almost solely on lab testing for diagnosis, almost never do even a rudimentary physical exam, and imaging such as CT Scans and MRIs are typically booked up a minimum of 3 months. Clearly this does vary quite a bit across Germany.
- UMG Klinikum – Another option for care is to seek treatment from doctors at the UMG Klinikum, which is the main hospital in Göttingen. It’s not uncommon for doctors in a given specialty to work not only in their own clinic, but also a certain number of hours at the Klinikum. So there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to see a more experienced or qualified doctor at the hospital, but they tend to offer a wider range of more advanced testing capabilities and if it’s urgent, can often see you quickly.
- Referrals – Some specialties require that you first get a referral from your GP to a non-Klinikum specialist (for example, a neurologist), and that if that neurologist is unable to treat you, that that specialist then give you a referral to the hospital. Others don’t require this. It is common that the doctors and even your insurance company will give you incorrect information regarding this. It’s best to be proactive and simply go to the Klinikum and request an appointment in person. They will correctly tell you what you need, and you can sometimes schedule the appointment without the referral, then get the referral from your GP prior to that appointment. It’s also worth mentioning that referrals (at least with TK) are only valid quarterly (Jan-Mar, Apr-June, July-Sept, Oct-Dec). If you get a referral from your GP to a specialist on December 21st and your appointment with the specialist is scheduled for January 4th, you’ll have to get a new referral from your GP dated no earlier than January 1st. It’s an incredibly cumbersome and inefficient system for doctors and patients alike.
- Vaccinations – You have a couple of options. You can request them of your GP, but be warned that they will possibly require you to track down the vaccines yourself. This involves the GP writing you a “script” to take to a pharmacy where you pay out of pocket for the vaccine, then you need to return with the vaccine to your doctor to have the injection. It’s inconvenient, time consuming, and inefficient. Particularly if you’re traveling abroad, your GP quite possibly won’t know what vaccinations you’ll even need (this was our experience with two different doctors). A better option, particularly if you’re planning to travel abroad, is to visit your local medical office that specializes in infectious diseases. In Göttingen, it’s the Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie Zentrum Hygiene und Humangenetik, or the Institute for Medical Microbiology. Their hours are limited so call ahead or stop by at 8 am on a weekday to schedule an appt for your vaccinations. Staff members are friendly, efficient, and exceedingly competent.
- Prescriptions – Even common painkillers like Ibuprofen are only available through pharmacies in Germany. Many have limited business hours but they are absolutely everywhere. Most pharmacies are closed on Sundays and evenings. It’s typical for larger towns to have at least one pharmacy that’s open 24-hours for emergencies. This information should be posted at each pharmacy or you can ask your doctor. It’s also possible to search the Apotheken.de site to find an open pharmacy near you. If you have basic public health insurance (as we do – not private), expect to still only pay about €5 or €10 for basic prescriptions.
- Emergencies – The emergency number to call for medical assistance, an ambulance (Krankenwagen), or fire services in Germany is 112. Residents can access emergency medical assistance by dialing from anywhere in the EU. If you’re in Goettingen and need to see a doctor after hours, you can visit Urgent Care from 0800 to 2300. It’s located at the main hospital in town, the Universitätsmedizin Göttingen (UMG). For emergencies when Urgent Care is closed, the ER is located just down the hall from Urgent Care in the ground floor of the west side of the hospital. If you need to call the police, dial 110.
- 24-Hour Medical Service – This is another option for medical assistance if you can’t reach your doctor and/or Urgent Care. Dial 116117 from anywhere in Germany and you can speak to someone about your illness/symptoms. The call is free. They will assess your symptoms and instruct you on how to proceed. The service has been available since 2012. Germany is the only country in the EU to offer such an option.
- Taxes for Expats – Tax firm based in New York that specializes in filing US taxes for Americans living abroad. We hired them to do our taxes for the year we lived in Switzerland. They are not cheap (we paid about $400 for very few forms filed), but they are exceedingly responsive, professional, and competent.
- TurboTax – Who hasn’t used TurboTax? In the US, we always filed our state and federal taxes with this popular software. During our second year in Germany, we opted to use TurboTax to file our own US taxes. Combined Oregon State and federal cost about $110 minus a 15% coupon from Oregon Community Credit Union.
- Fressnapf Göttingen – This is our go-to pet store in Göttingen. It’s bigger than Zoo Busch with more variety in pet supplies. Plus, they have a great central location near Real and free and ample parking.
- Zoo Busch – Popular pet store with lots of locations in Göttingen. Website is only available in German but they often have staff who speak some English.
- Veterinarian – Dr. Ulrike Scupin provides ongoing vet care for our two cats and dog. The office is located outside Göttingen in the village of Nikolausberg. It has multiple vets available, staff speak English, and they’re helpful and friendly.
- TripAdvisor – A great site to check out popular attractions at different travel destinations and to read reviews from other travelers. Be on the look-out for “Traveler’s Choice” Winners from previous years.
- Germany Travel – Germany has a vast and confusing array of tourism websites and offices, including official sites. While a few of the larger ones offer information in English, many are only in German. This site is one I’ve found quite helpful for travel ideas.
- “Germany for Tourists,” The German Way & More – Particularly for expats living in Germany, this site will likely answer any question you have about your time as a resident.
- Toytown – English-speaking forum with info about life in Germany. It’s similar to Switzerland’s English Forum, though the info is usually only useful for folks living in larger cities and the online community isn’t as active.
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