When you’re younger you don’t think about the problems of meeting new people.
Everything just happens as a matter of course. You’re thrown into a new situations and you just kind of, well…meet people. And you turn around at some point in your mid 20’s and you have a group of friends.
It might only be five people, it might be fifteen or it might be fifty. But somehow, somewhere, you got to know all of these people. It didn’t really require any effort on your part.
But then you move to a new country.
And suddenly the only people you know live in the same house as you. And the only other people you’ve spoken to are an awkward encounter with your new neighbour and beige people who help you fill out paperwork.
My Experience Of Meeting People In Germany…
I’m a freelance writer and blogger. And while that may sound fancy, it actually means I spent a lot of time locked in an office on my own looking out of my window.
There’s not a lot of opportunity to meet people when you could throw your Christmas party in a phone booth.
And while on the surface to people who know I may seem like a big, dopey, happy go lucky chap that has no trouble making friends, it’s actually an incredibly hard process for me.
Small talk makes me anxious. New social situations are terrifying. And, for what it’s worth, I’d be just as happy sat on my bed reading book or playing Playstation.
When it came to meeting new people I’d do anything I could to get out of it.
Plus I’d tell myself this bullshit story about how I already had friends back at home and I didn’t want to replace them. I was never going to meet a group of people I liked as much as my group of delinquents, so why bother?
Plus I’d heard the stories of how hard it was to break into German social circles. That people are never quite accepting of expats. And that I’d always be the ‘foreign guy’ in any room.
It just added fuel to my fire of doing absolutely nothing about.
And you know what?
Germany became a lonely place.
I was alone and, no matter how many friends I had back home, I was just going to be alone until I did something about it. And I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realise that.
The problem wasn’t that I found small talk scary, or that Germans weren’t accepting or that people didn’t want to hang out with foreigners.
The problem was me and my attitude.
So I decided the only course of action was to change my attitude and start meeting people. To put myself into situations where I had to meet people.
They didn’t need to become my best friends. They didn’t even need to become proper friends. I just needed to do something that involved me getting out of my office and talking to people.
So I started playing Rugby. Which then lead to me joining an Expat group. And then I found a language partner to speak to.
Within a few weeks Germany wasn’t such a lonely place after all.
Meeting People As An Expat Is A System
When you first move here you want to make friends and have a social circle within minutes of being here. Especially when that little voice in the back of your head is telling you it’s time to meet people.
You want it to be exactly like home, only everyone has the tinge of a German accent and has no idea where you went to school.
But the truth is that’s not how it works.
You have to play the long game when it comes to making friends as an expat. Especially because German social circles are, at times, tough to break into.
Think of it like going to the gym. You don’t go onto the treadmill once and lost 10 kilos. Instead you have to go onto the treadmill three times a week for three months before you see any change.
The same goes for meeting people. You have to consistently turn up to social events, but yourself out in the open and grab opportunities that come your way.
My own personal system looked like this:
- Attend at least two social events every week
- This could be rugby training, a party, a language meet up or something else
- Say yes to extra opportunities that come up
- For example if the rugby club is having a BBQ or a language partner has a spontaneous idea
- Ask one follow up question to someone new that I’ve met
- It can be quite normal to say, “Hey, how are you doing?” and then carry on with the activity at hand. When you meet someone new ask at least one follow up question. It’s hard to avoid a conversation after that.
And that’s a system I still use now to meet people. It’s led to some great experiences, like being a steward at an international rugby game and partying with the German national team afterwards:
You’ll need to create a system that works for you. However as long as you put yourself into those situations where you need to be social and interact with people consistently it’ll come with time.
You may only speak to two people in the first week but don’t let that discourage you. The next week you’ll speak to two or three more people. They’ll in turn lead to their own opportunities and encounters.
And never be afraid to ask someone for a beer. The worst they can say is no!
Where To Meet People?
The next important question is where do you go to meet people?
I can only really tell you about my personal experience with this, but I find whenever you go to somewhere that people have a common interest, it gets much easier.
That means going to bars and clubs isn’t quite the best place to meet people.
Instead I’ve found that for myself, and other expats, the best ways to meet people are:
- Activity or themed clubs
- Expat events
From these places lots and lots of other opportunities begin to crop up. But even within this you can find hundreds of opportunities to meet people once or twice a week.
But before I dive into that let’s answer an important question about language…
How Good Does Your German Need To Be?
Language Barriers never feel good.
You’re either scared that your skills aren’t good enough and you’ll get laughed at. Upset that you want to speak the language but you just haven’t learned it yet. Or, you just don’t want to be out of your depth and stand around with no idea what to do.
But honestly I’ve found your German doesn’t need to be that good to get by in any of these situations.
With basic German you can find your way around. Or, you’ll almost always find someone who wants to speak English with you.
This will depends on the situation though.
At a sports club you may have to listen to German instruction and understand what’s being asked of you in the moment. However if you’re at a local games night you may be able to get English instruction or someone can explain it to you after the fact.
Don’t let the language barrier stand in your way though; most of the worry is in your head!
Option #1: Meeting People Through Sports Clubs
Germans are a pretty active people (at least more so than back in England) and there are opportunities to play every sport, regardless of age and gender.
Most local city websites will have a list of all their sporting clubs in a directory on their local website (if you type in [yourtownname].de you’ll find it). For example here’s some of the page for Koeln from their city site:
I’m sure this gets a little harder the more rural you are, but there is often a rise in outdoorsy sports (like hiking and comparing blister plasters) in these areas too.
You’ll find that you’re natural drawn into the social aspect of the sport, and not unusual to find yourself in a WhatsApp or Facebook group where people are chatting away.
Plus asking people to go for a beer after training isn’t as creepy or weird as you might think it is.
Option #2: Activity Clubs
Clubs are a great way to meet people with a shared interest. And because they’re usually activity based it removes the awkward mingle stage of meeting people in bars and pubs.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what you’re interested in. Clubs are a big part of German culture and, if you can think of it, there is probably a club for it.
The most effective way to find clubs in Germany is by using MeetUp. I find Google doesn’t always give you the full picture, and Expat forums are quite hit and miss.
MeetUp is a great site where people come together to create communities. You can simply search by category or browse what’s on offer.
You can even choose the distance from your house that a club is, or select your nearest biggest city if you’re lost in the German wilderness somewhere.
Just a quick search shows you some of the examples of clubs you could join:
They have a wide range of usual clubs like photography, language learning and outdoor fitness. But they also go more niche and weird and wonderful too, like:
- Board Games
- Social Lesbians (Not to be confused with the Antisocial Lesbians club that never meets)
- Bitcoin Enthusiasts
- European Wrestling Fans United
All you have to do is create an account and message the clubs that you’re interested in.
It’s a really simple concept but it’s effective. You have the ability to bounce around from one group to another until you find people (or a concept) that you really gel with.
Option #3: Expat Forum Events
Do you remember when you used to go on holiday and they’d have those bar crawls, or club nights, that were for meeting people. But they were actually for getting drunk, having sex and being ashamed of yourself.
Well imagine that for expats. Just without the drinking, sex and (mostly) shame.
Sites like ToyTown Germany and Internations run these events regularly and you can attend them as a free member.
Mostly what happens is Expats meet in a local bar or pub, you’re given a name badge and a tacky keyring and you head out to mingle with people in the same situation as you.
Personally I don’t like these events.
They can sometimes feel a little cliquey. But perhaps it was also because I’m only 25 and the average age was in the mid-forties and they just weren’t my scene.
Plus I think it can be really daunting as a new expat to throw yourself into a room with 50 to 100 people and just start mingling. And I’ve found the staff on site don’t do a good job or making that a more open environment for chatting.
It also costs €8.
Time To Go Out And Meet People…
I hope this article helps you find your feet when it comes to meeting people here in Germany.
I know it can be a lonely place when you’re out in a new country on your own, but there’ll be a time in the future when you’re as settled here as you were at home. And you’ll have lots of new friends to go with it, too!
Also if you ever want to get some real support and advice from myself and the members of the Deutschified community you can ask all of the questions you want over at our Expats in Germany forum.