Welcome to Germany
The Germany Destination Guide will provide a historic overview, scholarships, health and safety tips and identity-specific resources to ensure students feel prepared with insight and resources for their global experience in Germany. The information shared below is a bird eye’s view and meant to provide some country-specific context. We encourage students to conduct further research and chat with relevant points of contact including advisors, program leaders, international student services at the host campus, internship coordinators or peers who have traveled to Germany to gain a greater understanding of their host country and/or city.
Germany is one of the largest countries in Western Europe, and it has earned a reputation around the world for its industrious cities, stunning landscapes and charming villages. Germany’s history is rich and complex, and the country has played a significant role in global events and politics for several centuries. There is a wide range of experiences that you can have in Germany, and perhaps this is why Germany is the fifth most popular destination for global experiences for students from U.S. institutions—12,585 students in the 2016-2017 academic year chose a program in Germany. Besides, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to experience the world’s original Oktoberfest in Munich!
Germany offers something for students of all majors. Students interested in the arts or humanities have the opportunity to learn about Germany’s contributions to classical music, psychology and the arts. With one of the leading economies in Europe, Germany is also known as an innovator and leader in science and technology.
While Germany has a troubled history as an instigator of World War II, the country has since recovered, and it is now an economic powerhouse. Following the war, Germany has made significant efforts to commemorate the victims and atone for the atrocities of the Holocaust, and it maintains a high quality of life for residents of diverse backgrounds. Germany is also known for folk festival traditions and folklorists like the Brothers Grimm, classical music, and its cuisine. The combination of modernized city centers and classic European architecture has helped position Germany as a leading destination for tourists and international students.
There are countless activities and experiences for you to enjoy while participating in an international experience in Germany. It can be helpful to make a list of activities, sites and places you would like to visit while planning your time abroad. However, be sure to allow yourself the time and flexibility to stumble upon local and spontaneous excursions to make the most of your time in Germany.
Cities & Education
If you are interested in commerce, history, or culture, Germany could be an ideal destination for your global experience. Historical sites like the Berlin Wall and the Brandenburg Gate are definitely worth a visit, and cities like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg have no shortage of museums and nightlife. If your interests lie more in exploring the natural world, there are also great opportunities for skiing and hiking in the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest and the Rhine Valley are beautiful places for a walk of any length. You can also enjoy Germany’s architecture, which ranges from modern metropolis and fairytale castle to intricate cathedral.
Germany is an excellent place to study science or work with international corporations on the cutting edge of technology. While we always recommend immersing yourself in the language of your host country, you do not necessarily need to go to Germany to learn the language. Germany is a popular tourist destination, and the country has developed a robust infrastructure for welcoming international visitors. U.S. students even with low levels of proficiency in German are normally able to navigate life as a student in Germany.
Events & Tourism
There are many historical sites to visit in Germany, ranging from medieval times to the end of the Cold War. Berlin is particularly well-known for sites like the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. However, there are many major cities in Germany, and visitors in Munich and Hamburg can also expect to see many cultural sites. Germany is also home to intricate cathedrals and castles that look like they are straight out of a Disney movie. Whether you are interested in modern history or pre-industrial society, there is plenty for you to see in Germany.
Germany celebrates an assortment of public holidays each year. Some of these holidays are national, and some are regional. While many celebrations in Germany line up with similar holidays in the United States, the ways in which they are celebrated may differ. Check out the resources below to learn more about German holidays that my line up with your visit.
Diversity & Inclusion Climate
Germany is the fifth most popular destination for students from the United States—12,585 students participated in a global program in Germany in the 2016-2017 academic year. In addition to these numbers, many young people also have meaningful travel experiences in Germany through research, fellowships, and teaching opportunities, and there are several scholarships specific to Germany that can fund experiences like these. Many German institutions of higher education are well-respected, and the government’s investment in public education means that there is a wide variety of disciplines to choose from in planning a global program.
Following World War II, Germany no longer collects demographic information related to race. Instead, it is now collected by nationality, which can lead to challenges in assessing the country’s ethnic diversity. Black and Asian Germans often express frustration at white Germans’ questions about where they are from. In addition, visitors to Germany should be aware of increasing Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Generally, there are also regional differences in Germans’ tolerance for difference, and most travelers find western Germany to be more accepting of difference than eastern Germany. This information does not define what your experience in Germany will be like, but it can be helpful context for you in planning your travels.
Though Germany is generally considered to be welcoming to travelers from diverse backgrounds, rises in nationalism in several parts of Europe are affecting the social climate in Germany. There are also increases in immigration, particularly from North Africa and the Middle East resulting in anti-immigrant sentiments. In addition, Germany once upheld a policy where citizenship could only come from “right of blood” (having a German parent or parents). This means that there are lingering anti-immigrant sentiments surrounding who gets to be considered “German.”
Note: This information is intended to serve as an overview and is not exhaustive. Be sure to research your destination thoroughly as your identity can have a significant impact on your experience abroad.
Data acquired via the Cia.gov World Factbook
Population in Germany:
80,457,737 (July 2018 est.)
German 87.2%, Turkish 1.8%, Polish 1%, Syrian 1%, other 9% (2017 est.)
Note: data represent population by nationality
German (official), official minority languages Danish, Frisian, Sorbian, Romani. Some recognized regional languages (Low German, Danish, North Frisian, Sater Frisian, Lower Sorbian, Upper Sorbian, and Romani)
Roman Catholic 28.2%, Protestant 26%, Muslim 5%, Orthodox 1.9%, other Christian 1.1%, other .9%, none 37% (2017 est.)
Immigration & Emigration
Following World War II, Germany has been a consistently popular destination for immigrants. Initially, migration was primarily between West and East Germany, and the majority of the inbound population was ethnically German or from other parts of Europe. After the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, Germany experienced a labor crisis, and instituted a guest worker program to fill empty jobs. While this policy was initially designed with the intent for workers to return to their home country, many of the guest workers gained residency and brought their families. The majority of the people who came to Germany as a result of this program were from Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece and former Yugoslavia. Despite the increase in resident workers, Germany maintained a policy of “ius sanguinis” (or “right of blood”), which meant that the vast majority of the guest workers and their families were not granted citizenship.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s, there was a significant increase in asylum seekers to Germany, mostly from continental Europe. This sparked some xenophobia and violence against those perceived to be foreigners. Near the end of the decade, a change in government led to political leaders declaring Germany to be a country of immigrants, and helped shape Germany’s place as one of the more immigration-friendly countries in Europe and the development of integration policies.
Most recently, Germany admitted over one million refugees in 2015, the majority of whom were from North Africa and the Middle East. The German economy continued to thrive, which helped with the degree of acceptance of newcomers, but despite this, there are some rising political tensions about the future of immigration to Germany. Like other countries in Europe, there are rising populist and xenophobic beliefs in Germany, and conversations about what it means to be German are increasing. Though the majority of Germans continue to value immigrants’ contributions to German culture, events both in Germany and around the world are challenging some of these views.
Staying Healthy and Safe in Germany
You cannot always predict the hiccups that may occur during your time abroad, but taking the proper measures to ensure your health and safety in Germany will help you be better prepared to deal with unplanned situations.
Health insurance is mandatory for all international students in Germany. Students participating in a global program of any duration are required to have international health insurance, usually included in the program costs and provided by your academic institution or program provider. If you are traveling independently, research international options available to you within your current health care provider. You can also look into international health insurance companies that provide various plans and choose one that best suits the type and duration of your travels in Germany. In the case of an emergency, be sure this information is easily accessible by storing your insurance card in a transportable and secure place, creating a copy of your health insurance card or storing the information in your phone. It is also helpful to be aware of nearby hospitals, clinics and pharmacies in case you are in need of these services or resources. Here are a few of the EU and Germany emergency numbers to keep in mind:
112 - European emergency number; also used in Germany for Fire Brigade & Ambulance
110 - Germany Police
No matter where you are in the world, whether it is your hometown or a new city, it is important to be alert and practice awareness of your surroundings. Germany is a fairly safe place, however there are a few precautions any traveler should take while navigating the country.
Pickpocketing is common in city centers, near popular tourist attractions and on public transportation, especially after dark. There are many giveaways that can signal someone is a tourist, from accent and German language proficiency to something as subtle as mannerisms and the way one walks. The goal is not to mask that you are a visitor, but to protect your belongings and ensure you do not fall victim to theft.
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Leave valuable items at home whenever possible and only travel with your necessities
- Avoid being flashy or careless with valuable items
- Ensure your bags and pockets are tight and completely zipped
- Have a travel partner when possible
Aside from petty crimes, such as pickpocketing, most travelers can expect a safe and comfortable experience in Germany. However, at Diversity Abroad, we acknowledge that experiences can vary by identities and others’ perceptions of them. To access identity-based resources regarding health and safety view the Diversity & Inclusion Guides below.
Funding & Scholarship Opportunities
There are many scholarships to fund your education abroad experience. Here is a list of Diversity Abroad scholarships available for study in Germany, some of which can be applied to other types of international experiences:
Diversity Abroad Overseas Ambassador Scholarship
Diversity Network Summer Consortium Scholarship
In addition, many institutions and program providers offer scholarships for students participating in their programs. Be sure to check with your home institution’s study abroad office and your program provider to find more scholarship opportunities.