A year in Düsseldorf: the good, the bad and the praktisch

Posted by on 29 Apr, 2015 in Blog, Expat life, Germany | 28 comments

I’ve officially been living in Germany for over a year now.

 

That’s right – the first anniversary of my arrival in Düsseldorf quietly slipped by at the weekend, meaning I’ve called this beautiful country home for a whole year.

Of course, the odd thing about being an expat is that, while I absolutely love living in Germany and currently have no urge to return to the UK, I do spend a lot of my time complaining about trivial things and pining for British comforts. So much so, I thought I would sum up the relative joys and disappointments of expat life in Dusseldorf into the good, the bad – and the praktisch.

I have also decided to fill the post with unrelated photos of Dusseldorf, because – well it’s a pretty little city.


The good


Obviously the vast majority of life here falls into this category, but it’d be a bit boring if I didn’t name some specifics.

Space Burger - Dusseldorf


Food

 

OK, hands down, the best thing about living in Germany is the food. German food is goooooood. Admittedly, if you don’t like the combination of meat and carbs you might struggle a bit, but once you embrace it: nom, nom, nom.

Don’t believe me? Try Currywurst. Eat Schnitzl. Then eat Jägerschnitzl (Schnitzl with a creamy mushroom sauce). Order a side salad (they are huge). Go to any German bakery. Head to any of these burger restaurants. Sample literally one hundred different types of sausage. Scoff down the best kebab of your life. You will love it.


Checkout the best restaurants in Düsseldof here.


 

The active lifestyle

 

One of my favourite things about Dusseldorf (and Germany in general) is how active everyone is. If you go to the park on a sunny day, instead of masses of sunbathers, everyone there is doing something: running, jogging, cycling, football, Frisbee – you name it. And running isn’t just for the superfit, everyone runs here.

I often feel in the UK people classify themselves either as sporty or non-sporty and if you’re non-sporty, any activity is a no-no. I’m not trying to make Germany sound like a utopia, but here sport really is a non-negotiable part of life. My gym membership (at FitX), for instance, is €14.99/month, which is the norm. Sport in Germany isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Dürenerstraße, in pretty Bilk


Cost of living

 

Living costs here in Dusseldorf is low. Really low. (Admittedly, this might be something to do with the fact taxes are really high, but hey – let’s look on the bright side). And getting by here on the average wage is generally pretty easy.

Firstly: food and drink. Eating out in Dusseldorf is very reasonable. Generally speaking, a main meal will cost €10-12 (about £8-10). A glass of white wine is normally around €4, but you can pick up a decent bottle in any supermarket for the same. (That’s right – a bottle of wine for under €5).

But the real winner is rent. I spend just 20% of my wages on rent. Not too shabby, eh?

 

Green spaces

 

I’ve said it plenty of times before but now spring has sprung, I feel reminded of it all over again: Düsseldorf is such a beautiful, green city. You’re never far from a park here. Check out some more photos of the city here.

Dusseldorf Volksgarten


Continental

 

Another huge perk of living in Dusseldorf is its proximity to other countries: Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam are all an easy train ride away. In fact, you could drive to Holland in less than 30 minutes. The city’s location, coupled with the number of multinational companies based here (L’Oreal, Henkel, trivago to name a few…) creates a pretty great international atmosphere.

 


The bad


Now, despite all those lovely, important things, life as a British expat in Germany can still be pretty difficult. And while I don’t wish to offend anyone, I feel obliged to show both sides of the story, so here we are…

 

Banking
(a.k.a. “Sorry, do you take card here?”)

 

While living in Germany, it’s often useful to remind yourself that there are futuristic countries out there where you can make purchases using contactless payment. Germany, meanwhile, is still partying like it’s 1979: it is almost impossible to pay on card anywhere and in the few places you can, most retailers will insist you sign instead of using this new-fangled ‘chip and pin.

It gets worse: if you have an account with Deutsche Bank, you can only get money out from a Deutsche Bank cash machine (*and a small list of others), otherwise you’ll be charged at least €4.75.

And what about online payments, I hear you ask. German standard bank cards don’t have a three-letter security code on the back, so a lot of online retailers are out of the question. Instead, most German companies will ask for payment by online bank transfer. That’s right: direct debit.

I’ve even heard that paying by cheque is still a common practice. Ridiculous.

Dusseldorf Medienhafen

 


Airports

 

German airports are a real pet-peeve of mine: they’re just crap. Us Brits have airports down to a fine art – Manchester Airport is like a beautiful, well-oiled machine. Here, all the good stuff is on the wrong side of security, where you’ll spot at least five people to each conveyor belt just stood around, doing absolutely nothing. Amateurs.

 

English Breakfast Tea

 

Admittedly, not being able to get a decent cup of tea is a harrowing problem faced by British expats around the world. However, the problem in Germany is a bit different: Germans think they know tea. And more importantly, they think they know what English Breakfast Tea is.

In Germany, tea is abundant. Everyone loves tea. But to Germans, tea should be herbal, green, mint, peppermint or fruity.

Anything that isn’t, they like to assume is ‘English tea.’ Which means you’ll order yourself a lovely English Breakfast Tea – as advertised – and end up with a pot of Earl Grey that you can’t even bring yourself to look at. The agony.

Dusseldorf Rheinterasse

 


Shopping

 

The German people are being terrorised by H&M. Send help.

 

Food

 

The food issue is a double-edged sword. A short summary of the food I miss most would go as follows: Sunday roast dinners, Full English breakfast, proper bacon, Yorkshire puddings, Terry’s chocolate orange, decent Chinese food, decent Indian food, Wagamama’s – and embarrassingly – I actually do miss fish and chips.

Dusseldorf Marktplatz

 

The weather

 

Let’s be honest, the weather in the UK isn’t great. It’s mild most of the year and yes – it does rain a lot more than other places. But do you know where you could find a similar climate? Dusseldorf.

Now, if you spoke to your average Dusseldorfer about the weather, you might be tricked into thinking the city is actually found in the Caribbean, such is the huge amount of shock they muster when it rains – which is often. They will even go out of their way to chat to you about the English weather the city is experiencing, that is to say, the phenomenon of rain. I once failed to make it to 9am before someone felt the need to point out to me that it was raining, as if I was somehow to blame. They’ll even talk about how grey London is, rather than how grey it is outside the office window most days.

So let’s look at some facts (via Wikipedia climate info – 1981-2010):

  DUSSELDORF LONDON
AVG ANNUAL HIGH TEMP 14.79 15.2
AVG ANNUAL RAINFALL 797.6mm 601.7mm
AVG HOURS SUNSHINE 1,554.9 1,632.6

 

Sorry, Mr. Dusseldorfer, looks like London is warmer, dryer and sunnier (which is actually fairly depressing).

 

Trains

 

I have no idea why Brits are convinced German trains are efficient and punctual to a tee. Every single train I’ve been on with Deutsche Bahn has experienced some small delay – and they’re not cheap, either.

 


The praktisch


We’ve had the good, we’ve had the bad – now it’s time for the praktisch, that is to say the little aspects of life here that are just so, well, German.

Just to explain: the German word ‘praktisch’ actually just means ‘practical’ but is used quite often to mean ‘good’ or ‘great’, to the point where someone describing your purchase as praktisch (whether it’s a jacket, a car or a bar of chocolate) feels like some small honour.

Oberbilk, Dusseldorf

 

Crossing the road

 

When it comes to inherently German things, this has to be number one. It is a cardinal sin to cross the road in Germany if the traffic light is on red. The road could be entirely devoid of cars or have not seen a motorised vehicle in years but you have to wait for the green man.

If you don’t, people will audibly tut or even reprimand you. And for some reason, doing so in the presence of a child is pure blasphemy – I lived with Germans in Leipzig who wouldn’t even joke about it.

Be warned: this is also the habit that you are most likely to take home with you to the UK, without you even realising.

 

Sundays

 

Everything is shut on a Sunday in Germany. Everything. At first, I hated this, but you soon get used to it and come summer, it’s actually quite refreshing to be forced to do something active.

 

Rules

 

This is one stereotype that is 100% true: Germans love rules. Just recently, during the city’s Night of the Museums festival, I was about to leave the Filmmuseum and head to another directly in front of the building. The door at the front was serving as the impromptu entrance and the one to the rear as the exit. As there was no-one entering and I could physically see the next museum, I asked the man on the door if I could nip through the entrance door, shaving 500m off my walk. Predictably, he told me no because ‘that’s not how it works.’

 

It’s always time for a beer

Dusseldorf Altstadt - expat life in Dusseldorf

And finally, the big love of all Germans: beer. Germany has a great beer culture – it’s not all about getting drunk, rather the genuine love of beer. Alcohol-free beer is a popular drink of choice in Germany and bottled Radler (basically shandy) is just as common as any full-strength.

Whatever the occasion, it’s always time for beer.

 

Anything else to add about expat life?
Comment below!

 

28 Comments

  1. Love this post; makes me yearn for the motherland once more. That being said, you are 100% wrong about the chinese food – Germany does a sweet and sour that no English take-away can even hope to achieve.

    – Ashliegh

    • Thanks for your comment, though you are 100% wrong. I have yet to eat even a half decent Chinese here in Germany – not one place I’ve tried could hold a candle to any takeaway in Salford.

      Prove me wrong, Ashliegh. Prove me wrong.

      • Sorry it has taken me so long to reply, I was holding back the rage at your ignorance and lie telling. Chinese take aways in Germany are nothing short of an artform…chinese takeaways in England are far too brightly coloured for my liking. You know me, I don’t like to harp on, but I have yet to find a single chinese take away in the UK where the sweet and sour is not neon pink – it’s obscene.

        In my old mothercity of Muenster we had the be all and end all of dining locations – ‘The Chindian’ it’s not hard to guess what delights this held and while at some point it did have some sort of traditional chinese/indian/german name (you know the sort) new managers accepted the squaddie’s affectionate nickname and it was renamed as appropriate. At this wonderous site you could buy chicken fried rice that, I assume for child friendly-ness reasons, was named ‘The Pikachu’. I am sure you will agree that edible pokemon alone wins me this argument.

        Kind regards,

        Ashliegh

  2. Happy 1-year Dussedorfiversary!

    A lot of your annoyances are ones I can relate to, too. The Sunday thing was once annoying, but you’re right—you get used to it and now I kind of like it. Except when I’m out of groceries!

    I do wish Germany would get its act together in regards to credit cards and banking, though. How else am I going to collect air miles?!

    • The banking situation is by far the worst thing. I just NEVER have enough cash on me – it’s been a year and constantly going to cash points just still hasn’t become a habit.

      The Sunday thing is actually quite nice in summer. Can’t go shopping? Let’s go on a bike ride. The German life, eh?

  3. I’m surprised about the banking – what happened to Germany’s famous modernism and efficiency? I feel your pain on the lack of decent tea. It happens all over Europe and you always have to ask for milk!

    • I know what you mean – Germany is Europe’s financial powerhouse and yet you can’t even pay on card in a restaurant. Supposedly it’s because Germans are too tight to pay the 8 cents per transaction…

  4. Awwww… you made me miss Düsseldorf! Not the rain though, I was so depressed last summer when Finland had the best, sunniest and hottest summer ever, and I was standing in the rain in Düsseldorf. Anyway, I still remember the day I met you like yesterday. Can’t believe it was over a year ago!

    • Haha, but the rain is an essential part of the Dusseldorf experience! Time flies, doesn’t it?

  5. Hahaha, Great read.
    Did you know that you can withdraw free of charge at a postbank or commerzbank? :)

    • I did know that but they are so rare!

  6. I come from Italy and I lived in Duss for 3 years. I agree with most of the points BUT I can’t on “German food is goooooood.” :-)
    However, I can say that the good thing about Duss is the possibility to try many different international restaurants, which is very rare in Italy.

    Good luck for your Duss experience! :-)

    p.s.which company are you working at?

    • Haha, I had a big debate at work about this: my French and Italian colleagues couldn’t believe that I liked German food, but as a Brit I think it’s great 😀

      Do you miss living in Dusseldorf at all?

      I work for trivago :)

  7. Moscow is pretty awesome but it is SO remote, compared to many European cities. It is such a sore point for me. I’m surprised Dusseldorf isnt very expensive (but then again, ruble to euro isnt a good math match right now), and I love parks, but I am never never never going to get on board with the ‘everything is closed on Sundays’ business.

    • The Sunday thing really does take a lot of getting used to… They are ending the Manchester to Moscow route from EasyJet soon – such a shame. I know so many people who want to visit MSK but the visa puts them off. I think that more than anything makes the city feel remote…

      • You have a point. My best friend and her bf were gonna come for a week in June (even paid for the invitations!), but pulled the plug at the last minute bc of the whole visa process and uncertainty.

        And Russia and EU were working really hard on visa-less travel, and then this whole Ukraine nightmare happened…

  8. Hey, thanks for the post! Out of curiosity, I’ve read that getting a kitchen in your flat in Germany is a bit of a rarity (wtf?) and I’d like to know a little bit about how much life actually costs there.

    How well would you be able to live on an annual net salary of about €22000? I really like doing my own cooking, and have pretty inexpensive hobbies (collecting music, books, going to the gym, etc.)

    Really appreciate it :)

    • Hi Sid, that thing about kitchens is definitely true, but I would say that most rental places will let you “take over” ownership of the kitchen when you move in – for a (large) price. Renting unfurnished is also rare here, but you can normally buy some furniture from the previous tenant.

      In terms of living costs, these vary hugely from city to city. I’m told that Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf are generally the most expensive places to live, while Berlin and Leipzig are the cheapest. Whereabouts are you looking?

      • Thanks for the reply! Dusseldorf is where I might be moving. How do you think that would be?

        • I’d say you’ll be fine – I started off on a similar salary when I first moved here and didn’t face many problems. I would opt for a shared flat instead of a studio and look at areas around Flingern and Oberbilk where the rents tend to be lower, but all in all I think you’ll be fine!

  9. A gym membership for €14.99 a month? I just arrived for study year in Germany and I’m struggling to find any membership for under €35. Where is this gym in Dusseldorf exactly?

    Saoirse

    • I’m a member of FitX – they have gyms all across Northern Germany. You can find your closest one here: http://fitx.de/studios

      I think Fitness First are also meant to be a good budget option?

  10. Good day John,

    I see that you have had a great experience relocating to Dusseldorf, I found your blog searching for more information about Dusseldorf because an opportunity knocked on my door to apply for a job at Trivago, for what I have seen it looks like a great place to work, would you recommend a relocation like that for a family of three? everything seems great but even if I heard about a salary I wouldn’t even know how much is needed to sustain a decent living in Dusseldorf, hope you can help someone like me to make a difficult choice :)

    • Hi Eduardo, thanks for your comment. Unfortunately I’m really not in a position to advise relocation for a family of three – I’m a single 25yo currently living in a shared flat so my lifestyle and outgoing would be very different to yours. My advice would be to check out sites like salzundbrot.com and immobilienscout24.de to see how rent would shape up for a family flat.

  11. Hi John!

    I also found your blog when researching some info on living in Düsseldorf :) …. I have been living in Berlin for the past four years and I love this city! It’s hard to imagine moving somewhere else in Germany but my partner could be getting a job there so our family of 4 would be movin’ on over there! The rain thing tho… Uh not cool. But everything you’ve said seems to be spot on about the Germans haha. And for sure no good Chinese food! I’ve had Chinese once in the 4 years I’ve lived here. Never again. But we have tons of other great Asian food here in Berlin so I survive. My question is – could you maybe break down the best few areas to live in!?

    Thanks a lot!
    Britt

    • Hi Britt,

      Thanks for your comment! There’s a few good places to live in Dusseldorf: *Bilk* has a lot of cafes, boutique shops and bars and quite a popular area and *Flingern* is the heart of Dusseldorf’s ‘hipster’ scene – but I’d say Pempelfort or Derendorf have probably got the most family-friendly feel. Both have a handful of shops and cafes, but there’s some parks too. I see a lot of families around these areas.

      Hope that helps!

  12. If you bank with Deutsche Bank you can withdraw money from Postbank, Commerzbank, Berliner Bank and HypoVereinsbank Automaten for free.

    • This is true, Yikucha – I just there was more of them around!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

- ww5 - top3