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South Africans in Germany: How many are there and where do they live?

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South Africans in Germany: How many are there and where do they live?
South African and German football fans celebrate before the 2010 World Cup. Image: DPA.
16:57 CET+01:00
Just over 6,000 South Africans call Germany home. With a presence in each of Germany’s 16 states, we look at what brings South Africans to Germany, what they miss from home and what keeps them here.

The historical and contemporary connections between Germany and South Africa are strong. Many South Africans have German ancestry somewhere along the line or a connection to neighbouring Namibia, a former German protectorate. 

In the present day, South Africa is Germany’s largest African trading partner.

In total, there are 6,090 South Africans in Germany, according to Destatis, Germany's official statistical office.

Compared to their commonwealth cousins, there are far fewer South Africans in Germany than Brits (117,225), Canadians (14,530) and Australians (13,500). 

At least the South Africans can take bragging rights over perennial rugby rivals New Zealand, who only contribute 3,210 to Germany’s population. 

There are some suggestions that the numbers may be higher. Where South Africans list themselves under their German passports, they are officially counted as Germans rather than South Africans for the purposes of official state data.

Carla Thiessen, a South African charity worker and business owner living in Germany, told The Local that South Africans are attracted to the order of Germany. 

"I think they love the way that everything works well here. Back in SA, traffic lights are the biggest nightmare, always being non functional," she said. "Here I haven’t seen one traffic light faulty, and if it is, they have a replacement on the side doing the same function."

Thiessen, who runs one of the prominent Facebook advocacy groups for South Africans in Germany, says 'Saffas' like the security and the freedom of living in Germany. 

"I think they love the fact that there are rules and with those rules comes security and obedience. I have no plans to return to South Africa as I love the freedom Germany has to offer," she said. 

Where do they cluster?

There are South Africans scattered across all of Germany’s 16 states, although there is a considerable imbalance. Most are found in the populous states of Berlin, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia. 

Bavaria is the most popular state for South Africans, with 1,235 residing across Germany’s largest geographical state. 

Bavaria is followed by North-Rhein Westphalia (980), Baden-Württemberg (920) and Berlin (640).

There are 580 South Africans in the central state of Hesse, with 465 in Lower Saxony and 445 in neighbouring Hamburg.  

Where is a braai (South African BBQ) hard to come by? 

On the other end of the spectrum, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania is the loneliest state for South Africans. Just 30 are dotted throughout the northern Baltic state. 

Saarland, Thuringia and Sachsen-Anhalt each have 45, while 60 South Africans are likely to be enjoying a Beck’s somewhere in the Hanseatic City of Bremen. 

Safety and security a drawcard for ‘Saffas’

The Local spoke with Luan van der Mewe, the moderator of the South Africans in Germany Facebook group and a Software Engineer who has lived in Germany for 20 years. 

Van der Mewe said that the number of South Africans in Germany is increasing. Safety was a primary concern for South Africans moving to Germany, who are also drawn north for the quality of life. 

Image: DPA

“Safety and security issues I would say are the biggest factors. It’s a better life for the kids,” he said. 

“The security (is the major reason) and the fact that taxes are used for something," he said. "I love the weather and the people. "I also think that the numbers are increasing,” he said. 

With the help of van der Mewe, The Local collected 40 responses from Saffas across the country explaining why they’ve made the move, what they like about Germany - and what they miss about the Republic.

Occupations 

The diversity of the Rainbow Nation was reflected in the wide variety of jobs South Africans came to Germany to do.

From software developer to store owners selling South African wares - along with plenty of students and teachers - South Africans are seen in all areas of German society. We broke them down based on the responses we received.

Length of stay in Germany

When asked as to their length of stay, the results were similarly diverse. Some had been in Germany for less than six months, while others had done a far longer stint in the Bundesrepublik - including a number who have made Germany home for more than 30 years. 

Why Germany? 

While there were a range of diverse reasons for making the move to Germany - from job opportunities to access to education - the overwhelming response was safety. 

Almost every respondent indicated that safety was either a primary or major motivation for making the move to Germany. 

One respondent, Samantha Gross, highlighted the sometimes dangerous nature of living in South Africa.

“I met my soulmate in South Africa, who was born in Romania but (was a) German national. I wanted him to move to South Africa - Johannesburg - but then got robbed at gunpoint and that brought me to Germany”. 

South African and German football fans celebrate before the 2010 World Cup. Image: DPA.

Others indicated the potential for travel through the EU alongside tracing back their German heritage as reasons for making the move. 

Shaun Moolman said that the move gave him a chance to connect with his roots. 

“My partner was offered a career-changing opportunity which we decided to pursue. However before coming to Germany, I knew quite a bit as my great grandfather was born in Berlin and my grandfather in Munich,” he said. 

“So we often heard of stories and were taught some history as children in school.”

Planning on staying? 

Not only were the respondents satisfied with Germany for the moment, but that they planned to stick around. 

The respondents indicated an overwhelming preference for staying in Germany as opposed to returning back to South Africa. 

Brett Cocking, who recently opened up a store in Berlin selling South African goods, said that Germany was becoming a more attractive destination for South Africans.

“I think the safety and security of Germany appeals to a lot of people. It’s also very organised and they seem to look after people here (job centre, Krankenkasse, etc),” he said.  

“In the past few months have met a lot of South Africans in my shop in Berlin, and there seems to be more Saffas wanting to make the move.”

What do you miss about South Africa? 

While it sounds like a cruel question to ask in February, the most common lament of South Africans is predictably weather-related.

The majority indicated they missed the weather of the Republic, as well as the ocean, the scenery and the connection to nature. 

Gerda Fischer, who moved to Germany for love, said she knew little about Deutschland before she moved here - and what she did know wasn’t particularly positive. 

“I got married to a German in 2000 had to move back to Germany because of his work. Didn’t know much about Germany, just that the food is not great and that the winter is very cold and long,” Fischer said. 

Moolman said he missed the South African sense of humour, along with the “amazing climate, delicious food, nature and beauty, the stunning beaches, the beautiful wildlife and of course my family and friends”. 

Thiessen agreed. "I miss the people mostly, South Africans are kind happy people. I miss the smell of the earth after a rain storm. I miss Woolworths. I miss weekend braais at friends houses, but mostly I just miss my family," she said. 

Other responses included Test cricket, open spaces, safari, easy-going people, rugby - and whatever an ‘ocean basket’ is. 

South African culture in Germany

While almost every supermarket is likely to carry a selection of relatively cheap South African wines, there are comparatively few specialty stores selling wares from the Republic. 

Der Südafrikaner, a South African wine bar in the centre of Hanover, sells a range of imported South African goods including wines, liquors and German-made biltong beef jerky, while a number of other stores across the country sell a range of South African and Namibian wares. 

Bigger cities also boast a few South African restaurants. The popular Shaka Zulu in Cologne, which TripAdvisor lists as the 13th out of over 2,000 restaurants in the Cathedral city, features South African street food and is run by a Saffa native, now living in Germany for a number of years.

Not surprisingly, ever multicultural Berlin also hosts a South African stand (Amandla) at its bustling Markthalle Neun market.

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The Local is not responsible for content posted by users.
carolynw - 28 Feb 2019 20:36
As a fellow South African, I really enjoyed reading this post! Thank you so much for writing it!
Valeska von m - 12 Apr 2019 23:00
Lekker, lekker article. I havent moved to Germany yet - expected arrival with husband in tow is September 2019. Any advice on what to bring with us. Also please help with cv production as i need to apply for work online from SA as we cannot afford to move if i don"t have work first - i am German passport holder, fluent in German (written grammar sometimes problematic though) with Master's degree in International Communications (from an Australian varsity) etc etc.
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