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LIVING IN GERMANY

12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

A new year doesn't have to be all about grand plans and life-changing resolutions. With these 12 steps, you can make a big difference to the quality of your life in Germany without even trying.

Cross-country skiers
Ski tourers climb against the backdrop of the Alps on their way to the Brauneck summit. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tobias Hase

New Year’s resolutions are all well and good, but sometimes the best laid plans can be hard to stick to once spring rolls around. So instead of overhauling your entire life, why not try making these simple changes which could make a surprising difference to your life in Germany? 

1. Get a bike 

Sure, if you live at the top of a mountain in the Bavarian Alps, this one may not be that appealing, but almost anywhere else in Germany it makes total sense to cycle. With extensive cycle-path systems, German cities are renowned for being well-equipped for cyclists – and if you live in Berlin, you get the added bonus of living in one of the flattest places around.

If you’ve been relying on buses and trains to get you from A to B, you’ll probably be surprised at how efficient it can be to cycle around the city instead. Say goodbye to packed-out trains, missed connections, and endless scrolling. Say hello to feeling like a superhuman and getting your daily workout done while commuting to work. 

READ ALSO: Riding the Radweg: A guide to touring Germany by bike

2. Ask questions 

This is such a simple one, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Living in a foreign country can get confusing and overwhelming – especially if you happen to have chosen one with as many rules and regulations as Germany. Give yourself a break and remember it’s okay not to know everything. Nobody will mind if you ask, and often there’s nothing a local will enjoy more than giving you the lowdown on everything you may have unwittingly been getting wrong. (I believe this is what’s known as “German small talk”.) 

Showing curiosity is also a great way to get the insider scoop on the best places to go in your city or quirky German customs. The more you learn, the more at home you’ll feel, so ask away. And if you can’t find an actual local to answer your questions, ask The Local instead! 

3. Meet the neighbours

Boiler broken in sub-zero temperatures again? Fallen ill while living alone? Council refusing to empty the bins again because they are “too full”? (Yes, this is an actual thing.) 

Knowing the neighbours can be a life-saver in situations like this. Especially in the time of Covid, creating a small community in the building where you live is a great way to ensure there’s someone there to look out for you if you need it. But even in non-Covid times, a fluent German speaker who understands the rules and is on your side is one of the best ways to reduce stress in your life. 

Elderly lady and neighbour

An elderly lady in Essen recieves a delivery of groceries from a neighbour during the pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roland Weihrauch

So next time you meet one of the other building-dwellers at the postbox or out in the Hof, why not say hello and ask how they are? After a few conversations, you could even set up a WhatsApp group to coordinate complaints to the landlord and borrowing eggs / DIY stuff / Covid tests. Trust me, after building good relationships with your neighbours you may wonder what you ever did without them. 

4. Stay informed 

Since you’re reading The Local right now, chances are you’re already pretty well-informed, so we may be preaching to the converted here. But keeping on top of current affairs over your morning coffee at the end of your working day is a great way to feel more integrated in German society and stay on the right side of the ever-changing Covid rules. 

Even better, you’ll finally have something to yabber about with your German work colleagues at your next Feierabendbier (after work drinks). 

5. Spend time outdoors

Germans are absolutely crazy about the great outdoors, and it’s no wonder: whether it’s the sprawling lakes of Brandenburg, the soaring peaks of Bavaria or the rolling hills of Hesse, Germany has a breathtakingly beautiful natural landscape. 

Snow covered mountains

A car drives through the snow-covered Ore Mountains in Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

Numerous poets, painters and thinkers have taken inspiration from these scenes and concluded that nature is good for the soul. But did you also know that two hours a week in nature is strongly linked to good physical health and wellbeing as well? The benefits improve the more time you spend in the great outdoors, but it doesn’t matter whether you get your dose of nature in one go or several small bites, so just getting out for 20 minutes a day could do the trick. 

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

6. Find German things you like

Are German grammar books making you want to move to Spain instead? We don’t blame you. The good news is, pouring over endless textbooks may not even be the most effective way to learn German. A better method is what’s known as immersion learning, which is exactly what it sounds like and is how we learn languages as children.

Now, nothing is going to beat speaking and listening with a real native speaker, but the next best thing is finding German culture you enjoy and diving right in. Whether it’s trashy TV, cheesy pop music or point-and-click adventure games, there are no “guilty pleasures” here. If anyone asks, you’re improving your German. 

READ ALSO:

7. Visit a sauna

If the long, hard winters are getting you down, a trip to the sauna could be just the thing you need to rejuvenate yourself. It’s a great way to escape the cold for a few hours and sweat out all those toxins you guzzled over Christmas, while also embracing the German attitude of not really caring if anyone sees you naked.

In the month of punishment diets and guilt over piling on the pounds, a little bit of Freikörperkultur (FKK – free body culture or naturism) could be just the thing you need to feel comfortable in your own skin again.  

8. Switch banks

With eye-watering ATM charges and punitive account fees, banks in Germany can be the complete opposite of consumer-friendly. But studies suggest we’re more likely to get divorced from our partner than switch banks in our lifetime – probably because it’s perceived as difficult.

This is a shame, because the process has become incredibly simple in recent years, and many banks offer attractive bonuses to try and lure new customers. 

Cash machine

A customer makes a withdrawal at an ATM. Cash withdrawal fees can be a major downside of many German bank accounts. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Benjamin Nolte

If you’re stuck with a bank that charges you to use most ATMs, ING-Diba and DKB could be a cheaper route. Alternatively, the mobile bank N26 is designed to be easy and bureaucracy-free for foreigners, but there are plenty of options to explore. 

9. Try something new 

From sampling local food to trying your hand at ice dipping, living in a foreign country is a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Who knows? You may find your new favourite dish or a hobby you never knew you would love – and at the very least, you could make some new friends.

10. Eat seasonally 

In our modern, globalised world, it’s easy to get out of step with the seasons and find ourselves stuck in a rut with our eating habits. One of the great things about Germany is how much of a big deal people make about seasonal produce – just visit any local restaurant during Spargelzeit if you don’t believe me.

By trying to stick to local, seasonal produce, you not only help the environment but you also support your local community. And there’s something lovely about feeling in touch with the changing seasons and having an excuse to switch up your diet and experiment with new dishes every few months. 

You can find calendars telling you what fruit and veg is in season on this incredibly helpful website (in German). 

11. Wear practical clothes

There’s a reason Germans are generally known as practical dressers rather than fashionistas: having an active lifestyle in unpredictable weather generally calls for practical clothes. Whether you’re out in the Ore Mountains in the pouring rain or running to meet a friend for coffee in the snow, there are some absolute wardrobe essentials you can’t do without if you live here. 

Practical clothing

A man walks with his dog in the snow and fog in Bavaria. Germans are well known for having practical clothes in every type of weather – and German dogs are no exception. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lennart Preiss

This winter, think like a German and stock up on high-quality gloves, sturdy boots and a warm coat. As the Norwegians love to say (but it could just as well be a German phrase): “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing.”

READ ALSO: Five German lifestyle habits you should think about adopting

12. Set reminders 

We’re sure it won’t come as a surprise to you that living in Germany involves a lot of bureaucracy on top of the general hectic pace of modern life. You may think you have the memory of Rain Man, but even he would struggle to remember all the tax deadlines, visa appointments and general admin that daily life in Germany can require. 

Our advice? Set reminders for key dates, appointments and deadlines on your phone. We’re not promising that you’ll complete avoid any angry bureaucratic letters of doom, but for the most part, it should help you keep on top of things. 

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EDUCATION

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

Germany has a number of specialised nursery schools that focus primarily on helping children with their German language skills. Here's what foreigners need to know about them.

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

What even is a Sprach-Kita? 

A “Sprach-Kita”, or Language Kindergarten, is a special type of nursery school that’s been around in Germany since 2016 under the government’s Sprach-Kita Programme. The main aim is to help young children build up their German language skills to a level that will allow them to succeed at school. 

How is this different to a normal Kita or daycare centre?

Unlike most Kindergartens in Germany, Sprach-Kitas employ staff who are specifically trained in language teaching and acquisition. These specialists are paid for through Sprach-Kita Programme funding and help to shape the environment of the nursery school, making it easier for children to develop their German skills in an everyday setting.

The schools also have access to external support and advice on catering to children with language setbacks, and may work closely with parents to encourage further language development at home. 

Since the scheme was set up in 2016, around 7,000 nursery schools have successfully applied for “Sprach-Kita” status and received at least €25,000 funding through the programme. These were mostly Kitas that had already taken in a higher-than-average number of children from foreign backgrounds, such as those in popular migrant or expat areas.

Sprach-Kitas will generally be much more diverse and focus most heavily on children’s language skills, in addition to teaching young kids about cultural inclusivity.  

READ ALSO: ‘Multilingualism is an enrichment, not a deficit’: Raising bilingual kids in Germany

Who are Sprach-Kitas for?

Any young child in Germany is allowed to go to a Sprach-Kita, but the main target audience for these specialised nurseries are the children of foreign parents.

In households where German isn’t the main language spoken, children may struggle to keep up with their classmates at school due to their lower level of German fluency. That could be because the child has two international parents – such as a French mum and an English dad – or because the child has more contact with a parent who doesn’t speak German. 

According to recent statistics, around one in five nursery-age children in Germany doesn’t speak German with their parents at home. That equates to 675,000 children in total. In addition, around 40 percent of nursery school children come from a migrant background. 

Through the Sprach-Kita Programme, government is hoping to help these children integrate at an early age to set them up fully for life in Germany. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rise in multilingual children in Germany

Do I have to pay for a Sprach-Kita? 

Parents usually have to pay a monthly fee for their child to attend a German nursery school – and the same applies to Sprach-Kitas. The fee structure is generally set by the local government, meaning it can vary widely across different regions of the country.

However, you won’t pay any more (or less) for a Sprach-Kita than you would for an ordinary nursery school. 

Where can I find a Sprach-Kita?

Around one in eight Kindergartens in Germany is currently a Sprach-Kita, meaning they aren’t particularly hard to find.

To look for one near you, the best thing to do is to hop onto the government website and look on this interactive map detailing all of the Sprach-Kitas in Germany. 

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten.

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/mauritius images / Westend61 / M | Westend61 / Mareen Fischinger

However, partly due to staffing shortages, Kita places in Germany are highly competitive right now – so securing a place may involve getting in touch with a number of them at an early date. 

READ ALSO: How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Is there anything else I need to know?

Currently, the funding for the Sprach-Kita Programme is due to end at the end of 2022 – and it’s unclear what the fate of the existing language-focused nursery schools will be after this happens.

Though the three parties of the traffic-light coalition had pledged to extend the scheme in their coalition contract, it appears that the programme was one of the first victims of savage negotiations over next year’s budget.

That means the federal government are now hoping to transfer the responsibility for funding the language support over to the 16 states.  

“Responsibility in the area of daycare for children lies with the states and cannot be permanently financed by federal funding programmes,” a spokeswoman for the Family Ministry told Welt. 

The Ministry for Families has also pledged to make language acquisition a cornerstone of its forthcoming Good Childcare Act, which will see at least €2 billion in federal funding made available for nurseries in 2023 and 2024. 

That could make it possible for existing Sprach-Kitas to remain in place as specialised centres for language support. 

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