There are a lot of practical tips I could give about life as an expat in Germany, about things like getting a bank account, finding an apartment, taxes, etc., but the purpose of this post is to advise on how to enjoy your life in Munich, to make friends, and feel at home. My tips are probably slightly slanted toward the young professional, rather than the family man or woman (in which case I suspect that advice about how to meet other parents at the playground, or how to find the best school for your kid, might be more important to enjoying life in Munich, and I’m probably not the best person to turn to on those issues). That said, I do think that even if you aren’t young, single, and already a skier, for example, these tips can help you to embrace and enjoy life in Munich:
1. Familiarize Yourself with Toytown
Toytown Germany is the online forum for English-speaking expats in Germany, and is a really good resource when you are new in Munich. It’s a great website for finding an apartment, buying furniture or other small items, getting advice on issues like how to register in Munich or what you need to know about salaries and taxes, or more mundane things like where to find your favourite sweet or soda pop that you can’t get in the regular grocery stores. The Munich community is particularly active on the forum, and there are endless opportunities to meet up with other expats and join in different activities around town.
2. Learn the Language
Most Germans speak excellent English. It is very, very easy to live in Munich and never learn to speak German, or only to learn the very basics (e.g. schoenen Tag, ein Helles bitte, wo ist die Toilette?), but taking the time and expending the effort to learn the language will pay huge dividends. First, it will make you feel more settled in the city and less frustrated by daily exchanges or the never-ending administrative tasks that are more easily navigated in German (visa issues, registering your residence, driver’s license, etc.), and second, your social life will become more varied when you can also converse in German, and your understanding of German culture will have more depth. Learning German is simply a matter of committing the time—there are many affordable classes offered at the local Volkshochschule (it’s like a national community college system that offers adult education courses in a variety of disciplines, including language classes). Last, language classes are a great way to meet new friends.
3. Get a Bike
Munich is actually quite a small city and is easily navigable by bike. A lot of social activities in the summer are conducted by bicycle – friends arrange to meet other friends at X place and time on bicycle, so having a bike ensures that you can join in these activities. Also, having a bike is an excellent way to quickly familiarize yourself with the city and explore many of the neighborhoods that you might otherwise not naturally stumble upon.
4. Buy Lederhosen/Dirndl
For a newbie, the wearing of Tracht (traditional clothing – Lederhosen for men, and Dirndl for women) may appear to be an extremely contrived, and uhmmm… uncool, attempt to ”fit in” to German culture, but the truth is that stubborn resistance to the wearing of Tracht is actually what sets you apart as a newbie in Munich. Locals of all ages love their Tracht, and indeed it has even seen a huge resurgence and become trendy in Munich, and is widely embraced as the appropriate clothing for all beer festivals, many bachelor parties, and even weekends in the beer gardens. It is quite normal to see all manner of folk wandering around the streets of Munich in Tracht, crammed onto the U-Bahn in Tracht, or attending sporting events in Tracht. During Oktoberfest, people even go to work in Tracht, prepared to head straight from the office to the Wiesn (Oktoberfest grounds).
5. Learn to Ski
Munich can be dark, cold, and grey in the winter. And that means that it can be depressing. However, there is a very simple solution to the winter doldrums, and that is learning to ski. One of Munich’s most attractive characteristics is its proximity to the mountains—there are around 100 ski areas within two hours’ drive of Munich. Many people move to Munich and take up skiing as a new sport, so you are in good company as a beginner skier. Deutsche Bahn runs a ski train on weekends to Garmisch Ski Resort, and there are easy train connections to several smaller ski resorts in Bavaria and Allgäu There are also several ski bus services on weekends to Austria, including Autobus Oberbayern and the Munich International Ski Club. Plus, you don’t really have to be that committed to the actual skiing part of the day; the truth is that for many people the après-ski culture is the bigger attraction than the actual skiing (I can’t believe I’m admitting this – on behalf of other people of course).
6. Live Centrally
Where you live in a city has a big impact on how much you actually get out and enjoy the city and what it has to offer. Make it easy on yourself, particularly if you are only temporarily in Munich, and live somewhere central with easy access to public transportation. You can’t love a place unless you actually get out and experience it, and the temptation to sit at home on a rainy day can be overwhelming when it also requires a trek through the rain and a 30 minute train or bus ride to get anywhere. So even if your job is outside of town, it might be a smart decision to live in town and commute to work rather than to social activities. At least in the beginning.
7. Like Beer
This one shouldn’t be that hard… even if you aren’t already a beer drinker, it just kind of happens.
8. Break the Rules
This might seem counterintuitive, but just don’t stress so much about all those German rules of order. When the situation calls for it, go ahead and break the rules, realize that someone will yell at you for it (every time), but don’t let it bother you. I mean, don’t do anything major… but all those small things like never crossing the street on a red light or putting paper in the regular trash bin? It may not be very “correct” of me to say this, but I know a lot of Germans that break those little rules occasionally too.