Munich has one big problem: it’s just too darn attractive and everybody wants to live here. In recent years the city has been growing by almost 30,000 people per year – a record. The birth rate also keeps growing from year to year. Even the beer consumption at the Oktoberfest goes from one record high to the next! The truth is that Munich is busting out of the seams and we can all feel it: infrastructure just can’t keep up with this development.
This record growth explains many things that strike us odd about living here. For example: why is it so difficult, nearing impossible, to find a halfway decent flat? Why do I have to sign up for daycare almost as soon as I enter my fertile years? Why is the bus always full of prams and everybody gives me the looks as I try to get on as well? Why can’t I go to a popular spot without a reservation? Why do I have to take the day off if I have to go to an Amt? Why can’t I get into a beer tent without arriving at the crack of dawn? Why do I have to plan my holidays one year ahead? And why, oh why, does everybody keep telling me that I’m way too late for -well- everything?
Well, truth be told… We happen to live in one of the most popular cities in the country and that is why. In Munich overcrowded is an adjective suited to mostly everything, including public transport, playgrounds on the weekend, outside restaurant tables on a sunny day, Tollwood, the Christmas markets, the street festivals and the A8 towards Salzburg on a sunny day (winter or summer). In all honesty, this is a wonderful city to live in. But it is best to be prepared. With this in mind, here are a few tips and tricks to help you survive Munich’s growing popularity, divided into the main areas where you might run into trouble, to begin with.
Finding a flat
The housing market in Munich is highly competitive. In addition to all the people who move here and want to buy or rent a flat or a house, the area is also popular among investors. People who don’t know what to do with all their money like to buy property in Munich as prices keep rising. This investment keeps the prices at a yet higher level (yeah, thanks for that). Despite a lot of building sites in the city where they tear down half a street to build new flats, construction still can’t even keep up with the demand. Small and medium sized flats are in such a high demand that you might find yourself at a viewing with 50 others interested! So, if you are looking for a place, all I can say is:
- Don’t lose your mind: it might take a while. Or longer. And then longer than that.
- If you find a place you like (e.g. on immobilienscout24.de) be as fast as lightning: call straight away; make an appointment to view the place as soon as they let you; and, if you are interested, return the forms they’ll ask you to fill out as quickly as you can.
- Always keep looking. Even if you like your place but you want to move at some point -perhaps when a second child arrives- start looking now. Believe me, it is never too early.
- When you first move here and find yourself unable to find a place, try Zwischenmiete.de -‘interim rent’ or short term lets- as a first option. Some people go away for a couple of months and try to sublet their flat in the meantime. It might be cheaper than furnished apartments in the long run.
- Last but not least use social networks, such as your work HR department and work notice board. A good tip is to put an add in the local newspaper of the area you’re interested in. Also, don’t forget to tell friends and, why not, write a post on LMBB. Someone might be able to help you.
Finding a hospital to give birth in / a midwife
As soon as you tell someone you’re pregnant, the first thing you’ll hear after “Congratulations!” will be: “Are you already registered at a hospital?” and “Do you have a midwife?”. Some popular places, like Dritter Orden fill up very quickly, so it’s best to call right after you pee on a stick. As a rule, if you choose a hospital during your first trimester (and sign up!), you should be OK. Finding a midwife can be more challenging. The midwife service is paid for by health insurance and, therefore, high in demand. Do start looking as soon as you can but again: don’t panic, you will probably find one (unless you’re giving birth in summer and, then, you’re doomed). Keep doing online searches for ‘Hebamme München‘ (midwife Munich). If you don’t have one by the time you give birth you have two options: visit a Hebammenambulanz (midwife walk-in practice) such as Hebammenpraxis Schwabinger Kindl and Häberlstrasse 17 or, do the opposite, and do without. If you give birth in a hospital you don’t need to have a midwife as nurses and doctors will cover your care, but most women say it helps -especially for postnatal care- and choose to have one, if possible.
There are too many children and not enough daycare (Kita) spots. The city is working on it but waaaaay too slowly. Don’t let people get you down by saying “Well, you never going to get into a nursery! You’re way too late for that.” because it’s not true: you will but it’ll just take time (a lot) and effort (even more).
- Try as many approaches as possible. It is true that there’s supposed to be a system: in theory, single parents or couples where both parents work have priority and distance to the home or to your work is supposed to be taken into account as well… In reality, empirical research has until now proved that you still need to push: visit, call, get to know the places you´re interested in…
- Register at Kitafinder +, enlist the help of their Kita-Elternberatung (advice for parents) and keep browsing other nursery options. Don’t cross off the possibility of going for a Tagesmütter: some kids thrive in smaller settings & many Germans opt for this kind of alternative solutions.
- Google once a day ‘Kita München‘ and visit all of their websites. Pro tip: some browsers, including Chrome, will automatically translate German into your own language right on the page.
- If you walk by a nursery and you see people hanging outside the door chatting… why don’t you ask them if they want to look after this kid of yours? This might be successful because spots open up quite unpredictably sometimes and the Kita is left with the task to fill the spot again as soon as possible. They all have endless waiting lists because everybody signs up for everything. But, in reality, many of those on the waiting list have long found a place somewhere else, moved, cannot be reached, changed their contact details, etc. Poking your head around the door, just at the right time, and asking “Hey, happen to have a free spot?”, might just do the trick.
- Keep your eyes peeled for Tag der offenen Tür (open day) signs. This is when the meet and greet, signing up and the decision of who wins the spot, takes place even before you’ve signed up through Kitafinder. This is probably the key advice: if you’re interested in a place, go.
- Social connections are especially important if the Kita is an Elterninitiative (parents’ initiative). This means that frustrated parents just like us have decided to open their own nursery which they run themselves. They employ teachers but parent volunteers do all the administration. These folks want to see you face to face in order to decide yes or no. But remember, if you do get accepted you’re expected to also do your share of the work.
In the not-so-good news front, if you thought the finding-a-spot crisis would end one your children go to school, think again. It seems that there are just too many children and not enough spots.
Finding a table at Oktoberfest
Anyone who is new in town and is told that, in order to have a beer at the world’s most renowned beer festival, you better get there by 7:00 a.m., can’t help but wonder about those peculiar Germans and their serious drinking attitude. But, again, it is not by choice that people start piling up in front of the beer tents at the crack of dawn. Oktoberfest is, as far as I’m concerned, the most crowded place on the face of this earth. There are people from New Zealand who faithfully take the trip every year spending a fortune on tickets and accommodation just to drink beer in this agoraphobic’s nightmare! Keep in mind:
- If you’re not a morning person try reserving a table. To do so, go to the individual tents’ websites as early as February (popular ones are Schützen Festzelt, Schottenhamel, Hacker-Pschorr, Bräurosl, Marstall, Paulaner Festzelt and Fischer Vroni, among others) and look for “Reservations”.
- Most tents allow online reservations but, beware, you cannot just pick a date and time: you have to apply for a certain slot and they get back to you months later, if at all.
- You can reserve a whole table, for eight / ten people or multiples of that. If they offer you a spot, you will have to pay ahead, around 30€ or 40€ per person, which will go into a food voucher.
- No, of course, you can’t get a table on a Friday or Saturday night. These go to Stammkunden (regular customers) who have been going to that same tent since the beginning of time. Your best option is a Sunday afternoon.
If you’ve got through all the hassle and scored a table, that’s great! Hurray! Now try to make your friends commit to this date and time in order to avoid having spent 300€ in order to sit alone at your table and cry in your beer.
Hell is a place on earth: the Amt
Amt is a general term for any kind of government office and includes the passport office, the registrar’s office, the motor vehicles office, the tax office, the immigration office and much more. You may not have visited these in your home country because they don’t exist or you can do it all online. Ha! Not in Germany. Whoever came up with the idea that Germans are efficient has certainly never been to an Amt. You have to go in person for all kinds of petty stuff: register your place of residence (yep, every time you move), register your car, getting registered in order to get married, prolong your residence permit, get a work permit, apply for a German passport…
Amts have funny opening hours, like from 7:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. If you get there early -say at 7:15- you will find the place is already packed, to the very last seat. You have to take a number – yours will be something like 145 – and you’ll look at the screen to find that they’re are on number 19. You’ll sit down and wait. And wait. And wait. You’ll stare at the screen willing it desperately to make the number 145 magically appear but all it does is change to 20 fifteen minutes in…. if you’re lucky. After two hours you’ll have read all of LMBB’s posts on your smartphone and you’ll start to get anxious: “Will I ever get out of here? Should I have packed some lunch or -even better- a tent? What can possibly take so long?”
After four hours, when they finally call your number, you’ll experience a rush of euphoria as you lightly stand up and, almost, float down the corridor into an office where you’ll be confronted by a person who will bark “Whadduyou want?”. After you’ve timidly stated your case they will send you away again because you’ve forgotten to fill out form B12 without which they cannot proceed -as everybody knows. You will leave the place shaking and traumatized wondering if you’ve just been to the ninth circle of hell. It is modern torture, really. In my opinion, the Human Rights Commission should look into this. There must be a violation of some sort.
During those long hours of sitting squeezed in with my fellow sufferers, I sometimes daydream that a SWAT team will break down the doors and swing in from the windows, leading us on feeble feet back into the outside world. I squint my eyes against the sun and shout out: “Free at last!”. Or maybe someone will come along and explain the administrative staff how to use a computer. Until that day, we all have to fear the evil realm of the Amt.
Editor’s note: This article offers a brief -and cheeky- overview of the main issues product of Munich’s rising popularity, as well as some specific & practical tips that might steer you in the right direction. For more specific advice, join the Facebook LMBB community. Your new best friends are waiting to hear from you and will be happy to help you!
Karina worked as TV producer before being cursed with two kids. In her previous life she was used to writing. She’s been in Munich for ten years now but still doesn’t undertstand the menu and probably never will. As a German herself, with close ties to the expat community, she provides LMBB with a different angle on life in Munich.
Photo credit: Camilla Bundgaard