Frankfurt, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 10/03/11
Personal Experiences from Frankfurt, Germany
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - Shanghai and Phnom Penh
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
California.12 - 17 hours depending on whether you take a direct flight or not.
3. How long have you lived here?
For one year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government (U.S. Consulate General)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments and houses. If you are affiliated with the U.S. Consulate General then chances are (with the exception of a few senior staff members) you will live on the same compound as everyone else. The compound is nothing to write home about, especially if you have livedoverseas before in USG providing housing. If you are single, you will probably only get one bathroom. If you have a family, you will get multiple bathrooms, but from what I have seen, they are almost like afterthoughts and not designed well. There is no air conditioning, and while it doesn't get too hot most of the time, there are days and nights during the summer that you'll wish you had it due to the humidity (especially if you live on the 3rd floor).This compound is old, and quite unattractive from the outside. The insides are OK, but tend to be smaller than what most people are used to. If you live on the economy, I understand that the rents are quite expensive due to the presence of large numbers of bankers and other expats. From what I have been told, an approximately 1000 square foot apartment in a decent neighborhood would cost around 3000 Euro a month. Commute times vary obviously, but from the Consulate housing compound to the Consulate, it's about a 30 minute walk, 5 minute drive, or 12 minute bus ride. People complain that traffic on the autobahns around Frankfurt is bad, but compared with other major cities in the world and the US, it isn't that bad.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available, again, it's Western Europe. If you are affiliated with the Consulate the you will be able to shop at the base which is much cheaper than German stores.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
A very nice car.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I think Germans like fast food as much as or more than Americans do, but somehow don't seem to suffer from as high of rates of obesity. A full meal at McDonald's would probably cost around $12.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
I think everything.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Yellow jackets seem to be endemic during the summer, otherwise it's Western Europe - so no problems.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I use the APO/DPO.Of course, the German post is reliable and efficient. But they have been known to pull out a ruler and actually measure your envelopes to see if they meet "regulations."It's more trouble than it is worth.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Forget about it.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The Consulate housing compound has one, and the equipment (especially the tread mills) isn't that great; however, it's convenient. I have friends that go to gyms downtown, and they seem happy with them.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
German banks charge ridiculous fees to use their ATMs. You can open a German bank account, but again the maintenance fees are preposterous.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
TV - if you are on the consulate housing compound then you will have a number of options. I pay $100 a month for cable and internet though.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I didn't think I would need much (I didn't receive language training).I have been surprised though at difficult I find not knowing German is when you live here. It seems that educated Germans who work in specific professions speak English quite well. However, people who do manual labor jobs, who work in stores, gas stations, bus drivers, tend not to speak it - or at least they don't want to.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, some. While much of Frankfurt was rebuilt after WWII, there are still a lot of older buildings that are not convenient for someone with a physical disability. For whatever reason, almost all of the bathrooms are located in the basement down a narrow flight of stairs. The consulate apartment buildings all have stairs just to get inside, and none of them have elevators.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe definitely, affordable, not necessarily. If you are affiliated with the US Consulate you will get a subsidized "job" ticket that you can use any day at any time - which is a good deal if you use public transportation every day. A one ticket on a local bus or train will cost roughly $3.50, which isn't that cheap. Tickets on high speed long distance trains are often more than $200 round trip. I find renting a car to be cheaper.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Bring whatever you like, but make sure it is in good condition and not that old. All cars must be inspected, and must pass in ordered to be able to be registered (you will have to pay for the inspection).If you are going to be in Frankfurt for more than two years, and you have diplomatic status, then you can buy a new car on the economy tax free. I would recommend something that is fast enough for the autobahn.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, depends on how fast you want it to be. It will cost at least $50 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
My office provides me with one, so I don't have much experience with the matter. The rules and regulations seem to be complicated, but you may be able to get out of your personal contract if you have orders.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Probably. It is Germany, you need official papers for everything.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Maybe if you have some specialized skill or degree, but anything outside of a high profile banking job, or some other similar position at an international company; and you will definitely need German.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business casual. The bankers all wear suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really that I can think of. Frankfurt is ranked as having one of the highest crime rates in Germany. This is not entirely true since those crime statistics include the airport which: a) isn't in Frankfurt, and b) are crimes such as smuggling that wouldn't affect the day-to-day life of the ordinary citizen.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No, and very good.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Much better than most major US metropolitan areas;although, people with allergies seem to have problems.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Cold and colder?Damp and damper? To be fair, the weather this fall has been exceptionally nice, but it's only been for about two weeks. Most of the summer it was warm, but this last summer it rained almost every day. The winters are long and gray, and this last winter there were higher than normal snowfall, and below average temperatures.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No personal experience. Most kids go to FIS (Frankfurt International School).Recently some kids have gone to Stradhoff (Sp?), and from what I hear it's not really an international school,but more of a school for rich German kids with an international curriculum. It seems that it may be better for younger students, and not as good for teenagers. There is always the Department of Defense school in Wiesbaden, which is great for students who excel in sports, but terrible in academics.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but I do not know the details.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Medium to apathetic. Most people are only here because they have to be, they don't hate it, but they definitely don't love it either.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Depends on what you want to do. I actually don't care for the night life here, so I tend to go to house parties.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Definitely not bad for families and couples. I wouldn't suggest it for singles.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is no discrimination, again, it's Western Europe. Compared with other major cities in Europe, the night life isn't that great. Definitely an older crowd as well. One has to understand that Frankfurt's population is only about 660,000.The surrounding area has a another million or so, but they all seem to stay in their local areas on weekends. It just isn't a big enough city to support a thriving gay scene.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling around Europe, and driving on the Autobahn. Compare with its neighbors, I don't find Germany to be that charming, and Frankfurt as a city is very dull.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
A lot of old castle towns, wine tours, hot springs.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
A lot of beer mugs, and other such handicrafts. I don't have much of an interest in this stuff though.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Traveling from Frankfurt to other (more interesting places) is quite easy. Frankfurt International Airport has flights to many places in the world, especially far flung locations that you may have never heard of. If you are willing to drive or take a bus for about two hoursyou can fly out of "Frankfurt" (it's practically in Luxembourg) Hahn Airport - many cheap flights from here to destinations throughout Europe. If you have a car, or you like to take trains, there are many places within Germany and Europe you can get to in less than 5 hours. If this is your first time in Europe, then Frankfurt is a great place to use a base to travel from.
11. Can you save money?
Depends on how you live, but unlikely. If you have access to the bases, and you don't go out on the weekends, then you can probably save a little bit. With that said, unless you have children and a car, shopping at the bases isn't really practical. The COLA doesn't reflect the real cost of living here. In a recent survey I saw, Frankfurt was ranked in the top ten of most expensive cities in the world. If you live on the economy, then I hope you have a generous expat package with a nice six figure income (in Euro), and a generous expense account. Then and only then should you expect to save money.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Who would write about Frankfurt?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Schindler's List? Actually, that didn't take place in Frankfurt.
6. Do you have any other comments?
An assignment to Frankfurt is not the end of the world. There are far worse places to be sent to. With that said, it feels a bit like purgatory to me - neither here nor there. It of course depends on what you like to do, but even when you read the guidebooks there is hardly anything about Frankfurt. This is due in large part to the fact that Frankfurt is a city for commerce, and commerce only. It's a huge transportation hub, and it's a commuter city, so people come and go because they have to, leaving the city to feel void of life. It is a functional place to sleep and do business, but it lacks any real soul. If you end up working at the US Consulate General, then you will be forced to spend hour on an end at a former Luftwaffe hospital, which later became an Army hospital, and then the Consulate. This is by far one of the worst US diplomatic facilities I have ever been in. It's ugly, it feels like an insane asylum, and it looks like a prison from the outside (oh and it still smells like a hospital).I have talked to many expats (not associated with the USG), and the general sentiment seems to be that while Frankfurt is a tolerable place to live, they all plan on leaving as soon as they get the chance. It simply leaves a lot to be desired, and it never feels like home. I'll be happy to leave.