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FRIENDS

‘Keep putting yourself out there’: The best ways to make friends in Germany

Finding it difficult to make friends in Germany? You're not the only one. We asked readers to share their tips on forming friendships.

'Keep putting yourself out there': The best ways to make friends in Germany
Taking friends can take a long time in Germany. Photo: Depositphotos/SerbBgd

A recent survey touched upon the loneliness that many internationals feel when they move to Germany.

In the survey by Internations, immigrants said they found it hard to make friends in the Bundesrepublik. In fact, Germany was in the bottom five of the Ease of Settling in Index in the latest edition of the Expat Insider Survey for the third year in a row.

As The Local reported, some people believe a lack of small talk – and even rudeness in some cases – makes it harder to engage with people in Germany.

Others said internationals needed to put a bit of work in and study the German culture and way of life in order to make friends. 

So we asked you for the best ways to make connections in Germany – and for your experiences on forming friendships. 

READ ALSO: 'It's difficult to make new friends': Germany ranked one of hardest countries to settle in

How hard is it to make friends in Germany?

The majority of readers who got in touch with us said they found it difficult, but not impossible, to make connections in Germany.

Goutam, 26, in Dresden said he’s been living there four years and hasn’t made “a single German friend”.

Anna, 23, who’s from Russia and lives in Munich said she found the experience hard, especially in Bavaria.

“People are more closed and usually do not let you into their circle,” she said. “However, Germans which have travelled a lot and lived abroad tend to be more open-minded”

Basit, 18, in Offenbach, said Germans are not really open, adding: “It’s just so awkward to make friends here.”

And in Berlin, Hady Yacoub, 32, said it was “hard but possible” to make friends in Germany.

Only a few readers said it was quite easy to make friends in Germany. 

Sarah James, 31, who’s from the UK and lives in Berlin, said: “I have lived in a number of countries (India and Spain) and have found Germany easiest to make friends. Maybe Berlin is different but I find people are more open to meeting up and have met friends via social media and meetups.”

Khanysa, 42, from Mozambique and also living in Berlin, said: “It has been relatively easy for me to make friends through activities I'm engaged with, such as the German language course, yoga and Chi Kong classes, although all of the friends are foreigners as well.”

Another reader, Abdulla, 29, from Iraq and based in Heidelberg, agreed: “According to my personal experience, it's (making friends) effortless with most people. The Germans are easy-going people and thus easy to befriend”

But most people said it takes time to build lasting friendships in Germany.

“It takes time, but once made friendships are close and very sincere,” said Ian, 52, who’s from the UK and lives in Göttingen, Lower Saxony.

Try going online to find meet ups. Photo: Depositphotos/GaudiLab

Some respondents emphasized the importance of having German language skills.

Yomi, 30, who’s from Nigeria and lives in Nuremberg, said: “My first two years were difficult as I didn't speak German. As my German skills improved, I made more friends (at work and outside). German culture is not particularly known for being super friendly, but learning the language, not staying indoors and making efforts to meet people has helped me a lot.”

Dee o Keeffe, 50, who’s from Ireland and lives in Baden-Württemberg, said it’s “not easy” to make friends, adding that it’s “impossible unless you speak the language”.

READ ALSO: 'They don't do small talk': Why foreigners in Germany find it hard to make friends

Top tips for making friends in Germany

Join a club or Verein

Not surprisingly, this was one of the most common pieces of advice from our readers. All you need for this is a hobby that you love and to find a club or meet-up that caters to your interest. 

Perhaps you enjoy reading and want to join a book club, or maybe discussing politics is your thing. If you’re into something more creative then why not look for a glass blowing association or a pottery get-together?

With over 600,000 Vereine (associations) in Germany, there is something for everyone from environmental or human rights organizations, or sports clubs to garden allotment gatherings. 

And how do you know if something is a Verein in Germany? You'll see the letters e.V. (which stands for “eingetragener Verein”) after the name of the club and that means it's a registered association. 

If you don’t find a Verein you like, you can start one yourself. Read our story on that here.

Join a Stammtisch 

This is a great way to meet people with similar interests or in the same career field as you. Stammtisch translates to “round table” or “regulars’ table” and refers to an informal meet-up held on a regular basis, usually in a pub or restaurant.

Often associations will organize a Stammtisch and it’s a good way to go along and see if you’d like to make the committment and sign up to become a member of a Verein.         

Do sports

Even if you don’t join a club, try doing a fitness class or just head along to a gym. If you go somewhere regularly then it's perfectly acceptable to make conversation with other regulars. 

Just be aware that small talk isn't Germany's strong point so you may find people are a little frosty to begin with but if you have a common interest then people are much more likely to engage in conversation.

Doing some exercise will give you something to do, make you feel good and if you meet any interesting people or have an interesting chat – or maybe even get to practise your language skills – then that’s a bonus. 

Doing exercise can be a way to meet people. Photo: Depositphotos/rawpixel

Go online 

To make friends in real life you have to get away from your laptop or computer screen. But connecting with communities online can be a good way to find events and likeminded people. 

Facebook groups were recommended by our readers for helping with this task. You could also try Meetup, Couchsurfing and Internations.

Use the Internet as a tool to find exhibitions, talks, flea markets or anything else you're interested in. The more things you attend, the more likely you'll meet people.

Try ‘dating’ apps

Okay, hear us out: dating apps are not just for finding a partner these days. They’ve evolved and lots of these apps now include a friendship, and even a business networking option. 

For example, some of our readers recommended Bumble BFF.

Mohsin, 30, who’s originally from Pakistan and now in Freiburg, said: “I didn’t have any German friends in the first three years (of living in Germany). Only later I met some people through some other friends and dating apps.”

If you are using dating apps to try and find a partner, remember that no romantic spark isn't a disaster – perhaps it's a potential friendship?

READ ALSO: Dating apps: The unlikely tool that helped me settle in Germany

Do language classes and find tandem partners

Almost all respondents agreed that learning German will help you integrate and make it easier to form friendships.

If you're looking to polish up another foreign language, then try taking a class, where you're likely to meet mostly Germans. As a bonus, you might even learn a new word in that foreign language and German at the same time. 

A one-on-one tutor is great but a class will help you meet others. The public Volkshochschule is cheaper than private classes.

Khansa in Berlin said:  “Going to events related to learning German (or any language) or to know more about the city. For example the language learning app Duolingo organizes events and there it is easy to connect with people with similar interests regarding knowing the city better.”

READ ALSO: ‘Language is a huge barrier': What it's like for internationals working in Germany

If you don't have the money for classes then a tandem partner is a good choice to practise languages with.

Universities like Humboldt and local Goethe Institutes will often offer services to arrange Tandem partnerships (as well as classes).

There are also websites like TandemPartners.org that allow you to set up a profile, describe what you're looking for, and find someone who matches you.

Try a course for anything

Lots of our readers said studying in general is a great way to meet people – and it doesn’t have to be a language course.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to try creative writing, life drawing or teaching. 

The great thing about Germany (especially in the big cities) is there are also a lot of English-language courses out there if you don’t feel comfortable enough doing it in German. 

If you have children, get to know other parents. 

Some respondents to our survey said having kids helped them make friends in Germany. Perhaps it's a case of going along to parent-teacher meetings or inviting families round for play dates.

Khanysa said: “I have also connected with some people in playgrounds while playing with my little ones. The latter relationships have not developed yet into friendships but have the potential to go that way.”

Stick to plans and be proactive

The Germans are generally quite reliable and won’t break plans when they make them. So try not to be flaky. In fact, Germans have a specific term for being committed to attending an event – verabredet (arranged or fixed). And they take this seriously.

Plus don't be afraid of inviting people to things or organizing events yourself.

Umar, 26, in Berlin, said: “Keep in touch with your connections actively and take initiatives to organize party or events.”

Be patient and don't get stressed

Lastly, it can take some time to make friends in Germany. So in the meantime, don’t feel bad about it. Be kind to yourself and do things for yourself.

Julie Pardi, 37, from the US and living in Hamburg had these wise words: “If you feel exhausted or like you need a break – take one. Spend a day binging Netflix, going for a walk by yourself, relaxing at the sauna, shopping or whatever. 

“It's ok to take a break and spend a day alone if you feel stressed by all of the effort of meeting new people. When your batteries are recharged, go for it again and just keep putting yourself out there.”

And sometimes all you need is comfort and to feel close to home. Perhaps that means going to a restaurant that serves your favourite dish or it could mean a trip to the cinema to see your favourite film, or having a long phone call with your parents.

As Rajnikant Shukla, 35, who’s from India and lives in Hamburg, said: “Leaving the home country is always painful but if you get the same atmosphere far from home then you will feel more comfortable and warm.”

Thank you to all our readers who replied to our survey and helped us with this article.

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For members

RETIREMENT

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?

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