It’s been a while since Wanderingmark ‘wandered’ and I thank the many guest bloggers who have enlightened my readers about their own travels during my time back at my desk in London. Recently, however, I was back on the data collection trail for ECA’s second main cost of living survey of the year.
Ninety five percent of the time my data collection trips take me outside of Europe, more often than not to the less developed locations of the world. So my latest trip was a rather pleasant change from the norm: I spent almost a fortnight covering five cities in Europe’s ‘powerhouse’ Germany.
With Germany being the key player within the Eurozone in negotiations regarding Greece’s debt relief, the country has been in the news as much as Greece’s struggles of late. But although there was a call to boycott German products at one point during my visit Germany seems to me to be a long way from strife right now.
With over 81 million people Germany is the most populated nation in the European Union and second in the whole of Europe behind Russia. Last year the country recorded the highest trade surplus of any country in the world and is only third in terms of total exports, behind the USA and China. These exports accounted for over USD 1.5 trillion – over double that of Japan, which sits in fourth place. It has the world’s fourth largest economy and 28 of the Fortune 500 companies have their headquarters in Germany including household names such as BMW, Lufthansa and Siemens.
BMW is one of many German car manufacturers which are famous the world over along with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen. In fact, German cars are so popular that the nation is by far the world’s number one automobile exporter: with almost a quarter of all global exports this is more than second-placed Japan and third-placed USA combined! When I’m strolling around a foreign city on my lonesome I often play a game whereby I name the countries of car manufacturers parked at the side of the road. It often goes something like Japan, Germany, Japan, France, USA, USA, Germany, Italy, South Korea but in Germany the game is no fun as seemingly 99 out of 100 will be one of the five mentioned above.
Right, that’s enough car talk! So, with all these impressive numbers, what is it actually like living in the country? Although my visit was brief, I would imagine that culture shock is fairly non-existent for expats arriving from anywhere in Europe or North America (English is widely spoken). Those coming from South America or the likes of China, Japan and India may need some slight cultural or language adjustments but on the whole I found the country to be a great place to visit. The people were almost always friendly and welcoming, the transport system is extensive and efficient, the streets are safe and the weather not too extreme (except maybe in the depths of winter!). Recreational and shopping opportunities abound, with world class facilities and global brands. If you’re coming from the USA and have a craving for peanut butter – no problem, if you’re coming from Japan and need miso paste for a recipe – no problem, or if you’re settling in from Mexico and want your favourite tortillas – no problem, you’ll find it all in Germany!
My previous visit to Germany was during a cold snap in January but this time the sun was shining and a heatwave was taking place in the south with temperatures reaching the mid-30s. At times this became a bit too much for my UK-weather hardened body and the lack of air conditioning in the hotels came as a surprise.
My trip started in Nuremburg, moving south to Munich and then east through Stuttgart and Mannheim to Frankfurt. Each city has its own charms and gems but I think my favourite was Munich, with its lively beer houses, colourful Viktualienmarkt and majestic gothic buildings. Not too far south of the city are the beautiful Bavarian Alps too, home to the grandiose fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle and ample outdoor activities. Whilst hopping on the excellent train network between each city I also managed to stop off for brief visits to Ulm (birthplace of Albert Einstein!), to climb to the top of the world’s highest church, and to the picturesque town of Heidelberg near Mannheim. It seems there’s always something to see or do in this country!
Many of Germany’s cities have a walled Old Town, or Altstadt, at the centre and these usually contain the pedestrian-only shopping centres – just watch out for those pesky trams! The finest of these traffic free zones I encountered was the shopping Mecca of The Zeil in Frankfurt, home to the famed German department stores Karstadt, Galeria Kaufhof and Peek & Cloppenburg. Also in Frankfurt is the blue euro symbol sculpture which often appears on international news bulletins when anything about the European Central Bank makes the headlines. A couple of days before my visit I’d read that the sign had been dismantled as the ECB had moved to a larger complex within the city but it turns out that it has just been revamped and spruced up a little. Phew – I was still able to get some photos in!
All in all I really enjoyed my trip to Germany. From a work point of view it was possibly the most straightforward country for collecting data, with good quality options for all items in the cost of living basket available. From a visitors point of view it certainly has much to pique even the most apathetic of attitudes.
My next trip is a quick jaunt up to Edinburgh in Scotland before heading off on an eight city tour to the most populated country in the world – China. Take care!