quite dark due to the relatively high latitude, and the temperature seems
to hover around the freezing point, with plenty of sleet and cold rain.
Fortunately, German travel agencies offer some of the world’s best prices
on vacation packages to sunny places like Turkey, North Africa and the
relations in the German culture – in both East and West – might be described
as “slow to warm up.” During my first six months in the country, neighbors,
shopkeepers and other local people seemed brusque and unfriendly. However,
once they got used to seeing me and learned my name, I was personally greeted
with a friendly smile – and chocolate for my kids – and when it was time
for me to leave the country, they showed heartfelt regret at my departure.
employee Frank Kothbauer and his wife Colleen ran into this phenomenon
when they moved to the smaller city of Merseburg, intent on fully immersing
their family in the local culture: “We sent our children to German
schools, and I imagined myself quickly learning German over coffee with
the neighbors and exploring the region with new German friends,” notes
Colleen. “But it took several months before people even started saying
follow the same pattern; they are comparatively slow to develop, but strong
and lasting once they are formed.
Since we left Leipzig a year and a half ago, four German friends have come
to stay with us, and several others telephone regularly, including one
who calls on each family member’s birthday.
a xenophobic undercurrent exists among some social groups in eastern Germany,
especially in economically-depressed neighborhoods and towns. There
is a widespread suspicion (as a teacher we knew was shocked to hear from
her fifth-grade students), that “foreigners” have “taken jobs
away from Germans,” although the foreign population of the new states
aside from Berlin is only some 2%, compared to 10% in former West Germany.
with a foreign population of 13.1% in 2002, is a highly cosmopolitan place,
where people of any nationality, religion, style of dress -- or degree
of body piercing -- can feel at home.
rates of about 20% in the East, combined with the German insistence on
proper qualifications (even restaurant waiters undergo lengthy training),
make it hard to find a steady job.
On top of this, unlike EU citizens, Americans cannot be hired in Germany
without a work permit (Arbeitserlaubnis). As Lucy Jacobs notes:
“It is unfortunately difficult for Americans to get work permits for
salaried positions (as Angestellte in German), unless they have been transferred
here from another company. Current German law will only grant a work
permit to an American if a German or someone from the European Union cannot
do the job. The process usually takes between 8-12 weeks, and most
companies are not willing to wait and sponsor the costs of the process.”
of the U.S. Consulate in Leipzig cautions Americans against coming to Germany
as tourists and then trying to apply for a work permit. “This is a way
to get into serious trouble with the authorities, and I know of at least
a few cases where people have come to grief by trying to bend the rules,
for instance applying for a student visa rather than a proper work visa,”
are a few hidden opportunities. Self-employed or freelance workers do not
need a work permit, and according to Jacobs, the Americans she knows who
work as self-employed consultants have usually had no trouble obtaining
permission to do business in Germany. This would also include “virtual
workers” such as the technical writer I met recently who was planning
a move to Europe, since he could complete his projects wherever his laptop
A special “green
card” program has also recently been launched to attract highly-qualified
information technology specialists to Germany. Furthermore, as Jacobs notes:
“With increasing globalization, more and more international companies
are locating in Berlin and East Germany. Looking to the near future,
with the opening up of the East Bloc countries, Berlin will be a major
hub for business between the East and West. I do believe that this
expansion will offer employment opportunities to expats from all over the
is another option, especially if you have experience and credentials in
the field. The pay is not stellar as in some Asian countries, but it is
possible to earn a modest living. Hemenway knows several Americans teaching
English in eastern Germany’s smaller cities, “because native speakers
are rarer there.” If this option interests you, Fox recommends contacting
language schools in advance in the area where you hope to live, in order
to get the formal employment process started.
There are quite
a few international schools in eastern Germany offering opportunities for
teachers of all kinds, without the prior requirement of a German work permit:
International School (www.bbis.de),
The John F.
Kennedy School (www.jfks.de)
International School of Berlin (www.sisberlin.de),
School in Potsdam (www.erasmus-is.de),
International School of Weimar (www.this-weimar.de).
study presents another possibility for adventurous Americans. There
are three good universities in Berlin alone, and the Free University (Freie
Universität) of Berlin has some master’s programs in English. Study
at public universities is nearly free of charge, making it an attractive
option for American students who are willing to learn the language.
permits for Americans who do not plan to work on the economy and are able
to support themselves (such as retirees) involve the typical layers of
German paperwork but are usually no problem.
advises that Americans needing assistance with German residency permits
or other paperwork can contact the helpline where she has served as a volunteer:
Helpline International Helppoint, at +49 (0)30 44 01 06 07. “If they
don't know something, they can at least set you on the path for the information,”
if you are contemplating a move to Germany, your first steps should include
contacting the nearest German embassy or consulate to discuss your options.
“It will save any rude awakenings and help prepare for the transition,”
as Jacobs notes.
Fox advises: “My primary recommendation for Americans thinking about
this part of the world would be either to study some German before arriving
or to be sure to make time for it once they're here -- otherwise, integration
into the larger community is really an issue.” She also offers the
suggestion, “only a little tongue-in-cheek,” that all would-be emigrants
watch the recent German movie Goodbye Lenin, “just to have at least
some idea of the changes people in this part of the world have been through.”
American-German Business Club, with a Saxony chapter based in Leipzig
information was obtained from www.statistikportal.de
Linderman is co-author, with Melissa Hess, of The Expert Expatriate: Your
Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad (Nicholas Brealey Intercultural,
2002). For more information, see www.expatguide.info
. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Tales from a Small Planet, www.talesmag.com.