Studying and Living in...Germany

This week, Science's Next Wave, in collaboration with one of Europe's top research organizations, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), continues the series of articles providing detailed travel information that will help you successfully plan your research career in an increasingly mobile scientific community.

The "Survival Package Germany" article published below is a joint effort between Next Wave's Germany editor, Robert Metzke, and EMBO fellow Gerlin Wallon. (For a corresponding article on the UK, please click here.) We have endeavored to include up-to-date information that is accurate to the best of our knowledge; however, neither EMBO nor Science's Next Wave can be held liable for any possible misinformation, expressed view, or opinion stated herein.

Skip ahead to...

Facts || Accommodation || Health matters || Science and research || Transport


  • Language: German

  • Currency: Mark (DM) and Pfennig (1 DM = 100 Pf); 1 EURO = 1.96 DM at time of publication.

    Notes in use: 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 DM
    Coins in use: 5, 2, 1 DM; 50, 10, 5, 2, 1 Pf

  • Measures: Germany uses the metric system


Furnished apartments are not common in Germany, and in the southern parts don't even expect a kitchen. Prices vary from 10 to 17 DM per square meter per month, depending on the city and the area you want to live in (obviously). The price you see in the ad is rarely the complete price; many times it will say + NK (Nebenkosten, which can include garbage collection, Hausmeister costs, and garage). And of course you will have to pay electricity and heating. So take that into account. In ads, the number of rooms is listed plus kitchen and bath: a "2 Zimmer apartment" most likely has a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It is sometimes described as 2ZKB. When renting an apartment you will be asked to leave a Kaution/deposit of 1 to 2 months rent, which you will get back in the end if everything is to the liking of the landlord. Most landlords will require that you paint the walls (at least) either when moving in or out. The period of notice is 3 months.

Health matters

If you have a work contract, it depends on your salary whether you can choose between statutory or private insurance. With a Stipendium you can only use private insurance. In Germany, every employee is obliged to have health insurance. If you have a gross salary up to 6375 DM per month in Germany's old Länder or 5400 DM in the new Länder, you have to use statutory insurance (e.g., Barmer Ersatzkasse BEK, Techniker Krankenkasse TK, Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse AOK, etc.). Your contribution to statutory insurance is legally bound to a certain percentage of gross salary (at the moment between 12% and 15%, depending on the company). You have free choice between the statutory health insurance programs, and it is worthwhile to compare the services and benefits of different agencies.

The statutory health insurance covers medical and dental treatment, granting free choice among the approved medical doctors, as well as drugs, bandages, remedies, glasses, hearing aids, etc. In addition, you are entitled to all necessary hospital treatments. The patient has to pay an excess of 8 to 10 DM for prescription drugs, 17 DM (14 in the new Länder) per day (14 days maximum per year) for stays in a hospital, and a certain part of the expenses for dentures, crowns, etc.

The statutory health insurance is a family insurance which covers nonworking spouses (up to a salary of 620 DM per month) and children without additional contributions.

Science and research in Germany

- University -

In Germany, there are 90 universities and comparable institutions (technical universities, Gesamthochschulen). Universities are not only places of education but also places of independent basic and applied research. With regard to the education the emphasis is on pure sciences. In general, the first obtainable degree is the Master of Arts or Science ("Magister Artium"/M.A., "Diplom"/Dipl.). In order to receive this degree, it is necessary to study at least 8 semesters (4 years), but generally it takes 10 to 12 semesters or more. Meanwhile, some German universities offer a first bachelor degree after 3 years, as in many other countries (such as B.A./B.Sc. in Great Britain or "Licence" in France). But you must have a Master's degree before seeking a doctorate (Doktor, typically 3 to 5 years) and, in an additional step, to qualify for a professorship the Habilitation takes another 5 to 8 years.

- Fachhochschulen -

The Fachhochschule (FH) is a German peculiarity. It is a kind of polytechnic school that offers courses in the areas of engineering, business administration, design, and social welfare. Typically, the course of studies is short, strictly organised, and vocationally oriented. The students are educated in small groups and curricula are job-oriented rather research-oriented. Because of this, the final degree of the FH (Diplom) generally does not allow students to embark on a doctorate at a German university. Nevertheless, this is possible in some other countries, e.g. in the United Kingdom. Although the emphasis at the FH is on teaching, research is also done there. Special attention is, however, given to applied research and technological development.

Besides the universities there are several research institutions engaged in basic and applied research:

- Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) -

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) is the central self-governing organization of science and the humanities in the Federal Republic of Germany. Since the DFG was founded in 1920, its statutes have assigned it the continuing responsibility of promoting "science in all its branches." The DFG supports research projects in every discipline, especially within basic and applied research as pursued in the universities and technical academies. Particular attention is given to promoting oncoming generations of researchers. In addition, it advises parliaments and public authorities on scientific matters. On an international level, the DFG has taken over the responsibility of representing German science in international organisations.

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft e. V.

Kennedyallee 40

53175 Bonn

Tel.: 0228/8851

Fax: 0228/885-2227

- Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften (MPG) -

The Max-Planck-Society is a supporting organisation for about 100 research institutes, laboratories, branch offices, and work groups of varying size, structure, and tasks. The society promotes basic research in selected areas of natural, human, and social sciences. It promotes new research fields, complementing the universities' research. Furthermore, it cooperates with universities and puts its large-scale facilities at their disposal. The MPG has an overall annual budget of about 2200 million DM (1999) and about 2900 permanent scientists. It is the special concern of the MPG to promote young scientists. Currently, 2500 foreign postgraduates and postdoctorates are employed by the MPG.

Contact address:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaft e.V.

Hofgartenstr. 2

80539 München

Tel.: 089/2108-0

Fax: 089/21081111

- Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V. (FhG) -

The 48 institutes of the Fraunhofer Society carry out applied contract research in nearly all engineering disciplines. They take on contract research for industry, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises without any research facilities. They also carry out their own strategic research projects in order to keep up scientific quality and competitiveness and to develop new research areas. Finally, the FhG offers several services, e.g. patent support for German inventors. The overall annual budget of the FhG is about 1300 million DM (1997); one-third of the contract research is funded jointly by the Federal and Länder governments.

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft

Dr.-Ing. Lothar Behlau

Leonrodstr. 54

D-80636 München

Tel: 089/2105544

Fax: 089/1205712


- National Research Centers ("Helmholtz-Centres") -

The 16 national research centres [e.g. Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe (FZK)] are engaged in high-tech basic research, especially with large-scale equipment. They have a high-quality scientific-technical infrastructure and considerable financial and staff resources. The main focus is on complex scientific-technical questions and cross-program basic research, as well as the operating of scientific large-scale equipment, technology development, national long-term programs, and national preventive research in the field of environment and health. The research centres cooperate closely with universities, research institutions, and industrial research centres in Germany and abroad.

Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren (National Research Centers)

Ahrstr. 45

53175 Bonn

Tel: 0228/37674-1

Fax: 0228/376744

- "Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz" (WGL) -

In March 1995, 76 institutes have joined the Association Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Blaue Liste (WBL), which changed its name to Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (WGL) at the end of 1997. Presently, 77 research institutes and research service institutions of national importance and interest are being funded jointly by the Federal Government and the respective Land with an input of 50% each. The institutional funding is about 1.2 million DM (1999). About 11,000 members of staff, 4200 of which are scientists, are supported by these funds. Several very different institutions belong to the WGL, such as the Institut für deutsche Sprache (IdS) in Mannheim, the Institut für Weltwirtschaft (IfW) in Kiel, the Institut für Neurobilogie (IfN) in Magdeburg, the Fachinformationszentrum Chemie (FIZ Chemie) in Berlin, the Forschungszentrum Rossendorf e.V. (FZR) near Dresden, and the Deutsches Museum Munich.

Contact Address:

"Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz"

Ahrstr. 45

53175 Bonn

Tel: 0228/30815-0

Fax: 0228/3081555

- Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) -

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) fosters academic relations with other countries, especially by promoting the exchange of students and researchers. The DAAD offers grants to German and foreign students, trainees, young researchers, and lecturers. In addition, it arranges long-term and short-term lectureships for German scientific lecturers at foreign universities. The exchange of university lecturers and researchers is promoted as well. Yet another task of the DAAD is to inform interested persons and institutions about the possibilities of studying and doing research in Germany and abroad, as well as keeping in contact with former fellows.

Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst

Kennedyallee 50

53175 Bonn

Tel.: 0228/8820

Fax.: 0228/882 444

- Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (AvH) -

Each year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation offers 500 research grants to highly qualified foreign researchers who are holding a doctorate and are under the age of 40, enabling them to carry out research projects in Germany. Furthermore, 150 research awards are given annually to German researchers for collaboration with supported foreign scientists.

Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung

Jean-Paul-Str. 12

53173 Bonn

Tel.: 0228/833-0

Tel.: 0228/833199


Getting around (transport)The public transport system in Germany is good and reliable. Buses and trains are usually on time and run frequently. (Although there have been complaints recently about the punctuality of the trains, those are matters of a few minutes, nothing many other Europeans would complain about...) All trains are run by the Deutsche Bahn (DB) and high-speed ICE trains connect all major (and not so major) cities. These trains are very fast and very comfortable, but expensive. It is advisable to reserve seats, in particular if you are traveling on the weekend or in the evening. Smaller cities or villages can then be reached by local trains. Connections can be looked up via the Web. Reservations can be made by dialing 01805 996633. You will be given a customer number, and you can then pick up the tickets at the counter in any station. You can pay cash, EC, or credit card.

Buses, subways, and trams:

Germany has an extensive public transport system, cities have buses or subways or trams or all three of those. It is rather expensive but very reliable. Buying a monthly pass makes the whole thing a lot cheaper. You have to figure out in every city whether you have to use machines to buy your tickets or whether you can pay with the driver. This can be quite annoying. There are no barriers in the subways, so you can find yourself on the platform without buying a ticket.


The Germans love cars--new cars, mostly new German cars--so they will be fairly annoyed if you nudge those. Driving is fairly civilized in the cities, but on the Autobahn (Highway), where there are parts without speed limit, and it can get outright dangerous. Large parts of the Autobahnen have only two lanes, the right being mostly reserved for trucks from all over the continent (during the week) and slower cars. Trying to pass can be quite an experience if some fat Mercedes or BMW comes from behind at 200 km/h.

Buying a used car is not problematic. It can be bought privately, through ads in papers reserved for used things, such as AVIS or Sperrmuell, though it is advisable that you speak German for that. Frequently, there is an Automarkt close by, where people drive on a Saturday morning to sell (or buy) their cars. Obviously there are used car dealers, and all brand car dealers offer also used cars, not necessarily from the brand that they are representing. If you do not speak German it may be advisable to either go to the Automarkt or to a car dealer, because you will most likely find someone that speaks at least English well enough to deal with you. You can drive with the license plate of the previous owner for a couple of days, but then you have to go to the registry to get your own. They will also want to see your insurance contract.

Car insurance can be bought at reasonable rates, The cheapest being direct brokers (no agents that you could visit and talk to).

Good luck in your travels!

For additional information, you might also like to take a look at the advice the Marie Curie Fellowship Association provides to new Fellows moving to Germany.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers