Dear Americans Moving to Stuttgart

Stuttgart view

As you prob­a­bly expect, there are many ways in which life in Ger­many is dif­fer­ent from life in the Unit­ed States. We’d like to intro­duce you to some aspects that oth­er Amer­i­cans have com­ment­ed on as sur­pris­ing or dif­fi­cult to get used to. That way you can be as well pre­pared as pos­si­ble for your tran­si­tion! These tips are focused on what you can expect in and around Stuttgart, although you’d prob­a­bly find most of these are true for oth­er parts of Ger­many as well.

Accommodations

Unless you’re from an Amer­i­can city like New York or San Fran­cis­co, you should expect much small­er liv­ing spaces in Stuttgart. Apart­ments are not very large and the hous­ing mar­ket is very com­pet­i­tive. It’s com­mon in Stuttgart to pay an addi­tion­al month­ly fee for park­ing, even if it’s just for an out­door spot. Your best bet if you pre­fer to live in a large house with a pri­vate garage is to go look­ing in the coun­try­side vil­lages fur­ther out from the city.

In Ger­many, build­ings are con­struct­ed to hold in the max­i­mum amount of heat, which has the side effect of trap­ping in a max­i­mum of mois­ture as well. That’s why Ger­mans have a habit of open­ing win­dows to let stale, moist air out and allow fresh air in. Even when there’s no par­tic­u­lar odor to get rid of, this helps pre­vent mold. Many Ger­man rental con­tracts even include a require­ment for ten­ants to open their win­dows ful­ly for at least ten min­utes each morn­ing and evening.

That’s also a use­ful habit in the sum­mer­time, since air con­di­tion­ing is quite uncom­mon and cen­tral cool­ing is almost unheard of. For­tu­nate­ly, by let­ting in cool air at night and ear­ly in the morn­ing, then low­er­ing the blinds or clos­ing cur­tains, your well-insu­lat­ed home will also stay fair­ly com­fort­able. That said, heat waves are becom­ing a more nor­mal occur­rence in sum­mer, and it’s a good idea to buy a fan before the next one hits! (Click here for more tips for stay­ing cool in summer.)

Ger­man apart­ments tend not to have built-clos­ets; you will need to buy cab­i­nets and wardrobes for stor­age. It’s also quite nor­mal to have a shoe cab­i­net at the entry to your home and switch to slip­pers for the indoors. You can expect a mov­able show­er head in most bathrooms—check to make sure that it’s set up to stay in place even when you turn up the water pressure.

In the Stuttgart area, there’s a Swabi­an cus­tom you may encounter if you live in a small­er apart­ment build­ing or Mehrfam­i­lien­haus (mul­ti-fam­i­ly house) called the “Kehrwoche.” Essen­tial­ly, the inhab­i­tants take turns clean­ing the com­mon areas of the build­ing, such as the entry and stair­well. In win­ter they also take turns clear­ing the side­walk and/or dri­ve of snow and ice. Check with your land­lord to see if this hap­pens on a reg­u­lar sched­ule or if there’s a cal­en­dar where you should sign up.

It’s also impor­tant to inform your­self about the qui­et hours in the build­ing. The Stuttgart area has qui­et hours man­dat­ed from 10:00pm to 6:00am every day and all day on Sun­days. Dur­ing those hours you should be care­ful not to make noise at a lev­el that would dis­turb someone’s sleep; play­ing loud music, using a drill or a ham­mer, or speak­ing loud­ly out on your bal­cony could result in a vis­it from the police. In addi­tion, apart­ment build­ings may have their own rules for these hours and per­haps for the afternoons.

Shopping

Speak­ing of Sun­days, one big adjust­ment Amer­i­cans com­ing to Ger­many will need to make is not being able to go shop­ping on Sun­days. All shops and gro­cery stores are closed on Sun­days, as well as some restau­rants. Gas sta­tion con­ve­nience stores remain open, and phar­ma­cies take turns being on duty, but oth­er­wise you just have to wait until Monday.

Many shops also close rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly in the evening, although larg­er gro­cery stores often stay open until 10:00pm or even mid­night. Shop­ping malls also occa­sion­al­ly have spe­cial shop­ping nights dur­ing which all the shops stay open until mid­night. (For more infor­ma­tion on the main malls and gro­cery chains in Stuttgart, click here.)

There is a sep­a­ra­tion in Ger­many between phar­ma­cies (Apotheke) and drug­stores (Drogerie-Markt). Phar­ma­cies are usu­al­ly fair­ly small: they offer a lim­it­ed range of beau­ty and well­ness prod­ucts out front, and both pre­scrip­tion and over-the-counter drugs behind the pharmacist’s counter. Drug­stores are where you can buy all your toi­letries, as well as clean­ing sup­plies, make­up, baby items, and some health foods.

Cus­tomer ser­vice expec­ta­tions are very dif­fer­ent in Ger­many. Although most store employ­ees are hap­py to help answer a ques­tion and show you where some­thing is, you can’t expect an atti­tude of “The cus­tomer is always right.” Mak­ing returns is not always pos­si­ble, or only under strict con­di­tions, espe­cial­ly for any­thing edi­ble. That’s also true in restaurants—servers are well known for being rather brusque and impa­tient with spe­cial requests, and they will not be amused if you try to send a dish back.

Transportation

Ger­many has an excel­lent net­work of pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and Stuttgart is no excep­tion. You’ll often hear res­i­dents com­plain about punc­tu­al­i­ty and crowd­ed trains dur­ing rush hour, but for most Amer­i­cans, the sys­tem will seem like a mar­vel of effi­cien­cy. There are bus­es, trams, and trains to take you almost any­where you want to go. Delays on city trans­port are infre­quent and rarely worse than a few min­utes. When it comes to longer trips, the Deutsche Bahn offers com­pen­sa­tion to any pas­sen­gers delayed by an hour! Check out our arti­cles on pub­lic trans­porta­tion and get­ting around Stuttgart for more infor­ma­tion on city mobility.

Stuttgart is known to be an auto­mo­bile city, which makes sense since it’s the home of both Porsche and Mer­cedes-Benz. Like any city, though, it can be tricky to find park­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly for larg­er vehi­cles. It’s a good idea to choose a small­er vehi­cle if you can, par­tic­u­lar­ly since some apart­ment com­plex­es may not have any spots suit­able for SUVs and vans.

People

There is an unfor­tu­nate stereo­type about Ger­man peo­ple in the Stuttgart region: name­ly, that they are fair­ly closed off or even unfriend­ly. How­ev­er, this has more to do with cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences than people’s nature; you’ll find the same pro­por­tion of warm, love­ly peo­ple in Stuttgart as you would any­where else!

First, peo­ple here tend not to be inter­est­ed in mak­ing super­fi­cial small talk. Idle chit-chat is more often reserved for peo­ple they already know well enough to care about. Peo­ple are apt to help explain some­thing if you ask polite­ly for help and they have time to offer it. Depend­ing on the area you live in, peo­ple may or may not be used to smil­ing and say­ing hel­lo as they pass each oth­er on the street or on a trail in the for­est. To some extent, you can actu­al­ly under­stand this as a way of respect­ful­ly offer­ing each oth­er the free­dom to car­ry on enjoy­ing your walk or your own con­ver­sa­tion with­out need­ing to be inter­rupt­ed by greet­ings. That also holds true in bars or restau­rants: you can expect to speak with the peo­ple you came with and not have much inter­ac­tion with oth­er patrons.

Sec­ond, peo­ple from the area around Stuttgart are very com­mu­ni­ty mind­ed, but that may not come across in a friend­ly way. Neigh­bors will com­plain to you if you are being too loud or if you’re sort­ing your waste incor­rect­ly. Peo­ple on the train will let you know if you’ve stored your lug­gage too pre­car­i­ous­ly or remind you not to put your feet on the seats. Cyclists will yell at you for walk­ing on a bike path and pedes­tri­ans will shout if you’re rid­ing on a side­walk meant only for pedes­tri­ans. How­ev­er, this comes from a place of respect for a well-func­tion­ing com­mu­ni­ty and it has sev­er­al advan­tages. It tends to be peace­ful enough for every­one to sleep well at night. Peo­ple also chase bike thieves away from your bike and might even leave you a note encour­ag­ing you to buy a more secure lock. Fel­low pas­sen­gers will call after you if you’ve dropped your gloves and will turn a for­got­ten jack­et into the lost and found.

Final­ly, it may at times be dif­fi­cult to make new Ger­man friends—not because they are unwill­ing to befriend for­eign­ers, but because they may not have time and space for new friends! Ger­man peo­ple in this region tend to be very loy­al friends and often have “Fre­un­deskreis” (social cir­cle) built up from the time they were in kinder­garten! The best way to make Ger­man friends is to join some kind of social activ­i­ty, club, or sport. Shared inter­ests and activ­i­ties will often lead to new friend­ships. And the best part is that once you have a Ger­man friend, you will like­ly have them for life!