Can you guess which country is full of beers as cheap as water, bread considered to be the best in the world, castles straight out of fairy tales and fast cars (and even faster highways)? These are some, but not all, of the reasons people want to move to Germany.
Tourists are not allowed in Germany at the moment, but you can at least plan a trip to this beautiful country after the pandemic. For now, we will be living this journey remotely thanks to Kieran Strachan-Steel, from Saskatchewan, Canada. She lives, travels and works in Würzburg, Germany.
How Long Have You Been in Germany and What Type of Visa Do You Have?
“I’ve been in Germany for about two years now. For the first year, I had a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), which allowed me to work and travel in the region for up to 12 months. It is available to Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35. It’s amazing, like the best-kept secret. I could work as much as I wanted, which gave me time to travel. Now I am at university in a small town in southern Germany.”
How Did You Prepare for Your Experience in Germany Before Going There?
“There are two ways to experience the Working Holiday Visa (WHV). You can apply for the visa before going abroad or while you are there. Given the evolution of the pandemic, you should probably apply first. But I was able to get the visa when I was already in Germany. The key is to always have the correct documents with you, whether you are applying for a visa, finding a job or looking for accommodation. Germany is a well-oiled machine. The country is full of very organized people, and they expect you to be like them.
So I made sure I always had the right documents with me. As I was well prepared, the visa process was straightforward. I had an appointment, sent my application in the mail, and within a month, I was ready to find a job. Finding a job was easy for me as I spoke French and English and wanted to learn German. It’s not a prerequisite for every job, but it certainly helped. One of my coolest experiences here was learning the language. It has enriched all of my travels and made it easier for me to make friends. I have been able to meet so many amazing people with different perspectives because of the language I learned while working.”
What Kind of Job Can You Expect to Find If You Don’t Speak German?
“It depends on the city. Many big cities like Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt are full of tourists. Not knowing how to speak German is therefore not a problem. I was able to find a job in a café in Würzburg, despite a population of only 130,000. I just picked the most popular cafe that all tourists go to. I introduced myself, saying, ‘Hey, I don’t speak much German, but I’m ready to give it a try. I want to learn. When customers come in and want to speak to someone in English or French, I’ll be there!’ My boss thought that was cool. And, of course, I learned more German at work.”
Which City in Germany Is Best for a WHV?
“If you’re an artistic person or interested in history, Berlin is the place to go. There is no other option. If you love the outdoors, you might prefer a small town. Würzburg, Stuttgart and Munich are all located in southern Germany, closer to the mountains. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I love the outdoor lifestyle, hiking and skiing that I have here.”
What Are the Main Differences Between Living in Germany and Living in Canada? Did You Have to Adjust?
“At first, I thought it was all the same, apart from the language. But I was pleasantly surprised by the differences. It’s a very organized country! I’ve had some fun experiences. For example, there is no chit-chatting at the grocery store. No talking about the good deals you got on the apples or anything. The clerk scans your items like it’s the grocery bagging Olympics. You have to throw everything into your bag as fast as possible. And then boom, boom, boom, out the door. So efficient. At first, it was a bit of a culture shock, but now it’s easy. I know what to expect.
Another thing is the weather. Würzburg is in a valley, surrounded by vineyards. The city is therefore protected from the wind and the cold. This has been the mildest winter of my life. It’s a big shock coming from Canada, where I used to shovel every day and warm up my car before going somewhere. Winter is so easy here!”
Do You Have Any Tips for Making Friends in Germany?
“I didn’t make any friends at the grocery store, haha! The best place to start is where you live. There are many cool websites like wggesucht.de or immobilienscout.de where you can find friends near your area. The Germans use the lovely word Wohngemeinschaft (WG for short), which means living in an apartment with roommates. I found a roommate and a friend this way. Thanks to her, I was able to learn the language and discover the culture.
Language cafes are trendy in Germany and are another great way to make friends. The concept is a bit like speed dating because you can move around from table to table. Each table represents a different language. When you sit there, you commit to speaking that language. At first, I only sat at the English table. Finally, I had the courage to sit down at the German table. Language cafés attract like-minded people who are ready to learn. So that’s a good place to start.”
Where Did You Go in Germany During Your Working Holiday Visa? What Were Your Favourite Places?
“Germany is, at least for the Germans, the heart of Europe. Located in the center, it borders many different countries. Everything is only a few hours away, whether by bus, train or plane. It can be very affordable to visit other countries if you know where to look. Many websites publish last-minute flights. My favourite mode of transport was the government train, the Deutsche Bahn. For 60 euros, you can buy a pass allowing you to get 50% off on your train tickets for one year. So for a whole year, your train tickets will be half the price. This encouraged me to take day trips to Munich and longer trips to Paris, Prague and Berlin.
Italy provided my most well-rounded experience. In the winter, we went skiing in the northern areas. In the summer, we visited the beautiful Amalfi Coast and went to Garda, one of the most beautiful places I have visited. And of course, you can never go wrong with Italian cuisine.”
How Did You Find the Cost of Living in Germany?
“I applied for a minimum wage job, so I didn’t expect anything fancy, nor did I need it or want it. But in the end, I made more than enough money. You can make yourself enough to make a living. Germany is a country that places a lot of emphasis on the well-being of its people.
There isn’t enough space in Europe for everyone to have their own house, so it’s common for people to have roommates. At first, I found the idea a bit daunting, considering that I have never lived in an apartment before. But it’s super cool. I can live comfortably in my apartment with my roommate. Things would cost double if I lived alone.
Fortunately, groceries are much cheaper in Germany, and there is fresh produce always, thanks to the European Union. Also, beer is considered essential, so there is no tax, at least in my state. You can get a full pint full of beer for a few dollars.”
“It’s a lot cheaper to live here than in Saskatoon. And ten times the fun!”
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Who Wants to Do a WHV in Germany?
“My first tip would be to make sure you’re ready. Second, it’s about trusting yourself and going for it in every sense of the word. Make friends, go out and be yourself. There is a place for everyone in Germany. Be authentic and let your Canadian hospitality shine through. Also, expect everything to be like in the movies – pretzels, beer, traditional clothing. They really do love Oktoberfest here. It really is something to try.”
Kieran is optimistic and hopes she can still experience the Oktoberfest of her dreams. Last year the signature German event was cancelled, but don’t put away your lederhosen just yet! If you’re interested in working and travelling in Germany after the pandemic, be sure to check out the International Experience Canada website for more details. Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 have the opportunity to obtain a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) in more than 30 countries.
▶ ️ For even more inspiration, listen to our #NomadTALKS series on YouTube, where we talk with other Canadian travellers who have gone abroad.
Do you want to move to Germany yet? Which destination makes you most want to take a WHV?
The original interview was conducted by Emilie Robichaud and compiled by Britney Claveau.