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MOVING

Moving house in Germany: 7 things you need to know about setting up utility contracts

If you’ve just moved into a new place in Germany, the first thing you’ll want to do is get your basic utilities like energy and Internet sorted. Here's what you should know.

A gas metre in a Berlin flat
A gas metre in a Berlin flat. Photo: DPA

There are about a million studies out there that have found moving is one of the most stressful life events out there – and even more stressful than divorce. For anyone who’s experienced moving in a foreign country, these stats won’t come as much of a surprise. 

To minimise stress after moving into your new pad, it’s a good time to think about your new energy, gas and internet contracts as soon as possible. The good news is that this part is no way near as hard as sorting through years of accumulated junk or having a panicked car-boot sale hours before the move. Nevertheless, there are a few things it can be helpful to know before you .

1. Not everything is privatised 

If you’re from a country where there are countless providers for gas, water, internet, and electricity, it may come as a surprise to find out that, in Germany, the water supply is still owned by the state. This means that, if you move around in the same locality, you’ll be using the same water supplier as before – although different suppliers are responsible for different districts. 

For the most part, energy and gas are owned and run by private entities, but in recent years a few city states – most notably Hamburg and Munich – have brought their power grids back into public hands. The idea of renationalising the energy supply is currently gaining ground in Germany, but so far, this has only been done on a local level, so in most cases you’ll still be dealing with private energy providers. 

With companies competing for customers, you can expect to find numerous bonuses for switching or staying with an existing energy providers, which can include money off your bill in the second year of a contract, or free gifts such as bikes an electronics. 

READ ALSO: The things you need to watch out for when you move house in Germany

According to Check24, two people currently using an average amount of electricity per year can currently expect to pay around €50 per month for their contract, and anywhere from €20-40 for their internet and landline. Gas for a two-person household, meanwhile, could set you back around €65 per month. 

Moving can be a stressful experience, but is perhaps more fun with a dog. Photo: DPA

2. You may need to give a lot of notice to cancel old contracts 

If you’ve opted for a long-term contract at your old apartment, you’ll likely have to observe a minimum notice period (or ‘Kündigungsfrist’) when you cancel it. For 24-month contracts with internet providers such as o2, this can be anywhere between four weeks and three months, after which time the contract will automatically renew for another 12 months.

Energy companies operate much the same way as internet providers. When you sign a contract with them, they usually stipulate a minimum contract period of 12-24 months. Once again, the notice period can be incredibly punishing for the disorganised, ranging from four weeks to three months before the end of your contract period. 

When signing up with a new provider, it’s a good idea to read the small print or ask a German-speaking friend to look over the T&Cs for you. If you’re not sure whether you’re going to be in your latest flat in the long-term, it could work out cheaper to opt for a slightly pricier, but much more flexible, rolling contract instead. 

3. A lot depends on your rental contract

Before you rush to a price-comparison website, it’s worth checking whether your landlord or letting agent has already taken charge of organising an energy or gas supplier. 

In many cases, your energy provider will be chosen by your landlord for the entire building, and you’ll receive a summary of utility costs at the end of each year. This document, which is known as a ‘Nebenkostenabrechnung’ (a summary of additional costs) can tell you whether you’ve overpaid and are in line for a refund (yes!), or whether you’ve used more energy than expected and will be paying more next year (uh, oh). 

In almost all cases, you’ll be expected to organise your internet and landline provider yourself, and in some, you’ll also need to take charge of organising your own energy. 

If you’ve just bought your own property, you may have the option to transfer the old tenant or owner’s contract over to your name. Most people, however, prefer to just start from scratch and scour around for the best deal. Which brings us to our next point…

In recent years, Germany has become a mecca for sustainable electricity, with 46% of the country’s energy coming from renewable sources in 2019. With a generous dose of state subsidies poured into this sector, choosing green energy – or Ökostrom – can also be an incredibly cost-effective option, generally costing the same or less than the environmentally unfriendly options.

If you look at the websites of eco-friendly energy providers such as NaturStrom, Greenpeace Energy or Entega, you can get an estimate of your annual costs and check out any bonuses you can get for switching, such as free bicycles, tablets or money off your next bill.

5. Getting set up is insanely simple

Unlike many aspects of German life, getting started with a new electricity, gas or internet provider is surprisingly simple. Much like in the UK or USA, price comparison sites can make it easy to get a good deal and find a new provider in minutes, with many expats using sites like Check24.de or Wechselpilot.com.  

“I find changing electricity companies very easy and do it every year to get the best offer possible,” says Paul Bitmead, who lives near Hanover. “I use Check24, but there are other places to do it. Speaking German is, of course, an advantage and if – you are going to be here a while – a must.”

The process of signing up with an energy provider online takes about five minutes, and you’ll need to supply the company with some details, including your bank details and home address. They’ll also ask you for the number on your electricity meter (normally located in the hallway), so they can measure how much energy has been used previously, and how much you’ll need to pay in the future.

READ ALSO: Seven things you should know when looking for a flat in Berlin

6. Yes, there is such a thing as “default” energy

If you don’t take any steps to sign up with a new energy or gas provider after moving into a new house or cancelling an old contract, you won’t find yourself reading by candlelight – but you may find yourself saddled with a pretty hefty bill. 

In Germany, tenants or property owners who don’t sign up for gas or electricity contracts themselves are automatically put on a Grundversorgung, or “default” contract with a local provider – often at a much higher cost than they would otherwise pay. 

That’s exactly what happened to Alisa Le, an expat in Frankfurt who got stuck with a provider she couldn’t locate. “When my landlord cancelled the old contract, it reverted to the local de facto provider,” she said. “It was impossible to find out who that de facto was as well – and our new provider, when reaching out to that old provider, was told we were not with them. It was a whole mess for about two months.”  

7. As always, it pays to shop – and ask – around

Doing some research before signing up for your internet, gas and electricity contracts can really pay off in the long run – and not just financially.

While electricity in Germany tends to be highly reliable, internet speed and connectivity can fluctuate wildly across different regions and providers. With many providers insisting on a 12- or 24-month contract, this means you could get lumped with an unreliable connection for longer than you’d like.

For Martin Bruus Hansen, an expat who recently moved from South America to Frankfurt, Germany’s network coverage has been a constant disappointment. 

“With internet and phone coverage, let me tell you that there is better and faster connection in El Salvador than there is in Germany,” he said. “We have to restart our router several times weekly and sometimes our connection drops to 20% of our contracted speed.”

By asking your neighbours which providers they’ve had luck with – and which to avoid – you’re much more likely to find yourself with an internet provider that you’re happy to stick with in the long term. You’ll also avoid awkward home office moments like getting booted out of Zoom calls time and time again.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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