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My Cologne Experience, Tono in Germany

What's it like to live in Cologne? Do you recommend it?

I've been living here 5 years and I strongly recommend it. Here's a few reasons why:

  • The people: the people here are more open and more relaxed than other cities in Germany.
  • International city: there's a wide variety of different nationalities.
  • Weather: warmer than cities like Berlin, Hamburg or Munich.
  • Size of the city: the 4th biggest in Germany if I remember rightly. Big enough to have everything but small enough that nothing is too far away.
  • Transport: really well linked. Uninterrupted night transport on Fridays and Saturdays. Until 1:30am every other day.
  • Student atmosphere: there are 3 public unis (FH, Uni and Sporthochschule) and loads of privates ones. There's a ton of students.
  • Going out: I'd say it's the biggest party city in Germany, although some people might want to string me up for saying it. There's 5 main party areas near the city centre, separated by a couple of stops on the metro. They're all within the first ring of Cologne. A bit further on, but still walkable/bikeable there are 2 more party areas with slightly bigger clubs.
  • Carnaval: I didn't put this with 'Going out' as it's not just that, it's... something incredibly special. It lasts for 5 days and the whole city, and it's people, change completely.
  • Prices: very affordable.

What's the student atmosphere like in Cologne?

There's a real international feel, loads of groups of students from different countries, backgrounds, etc.

How much does it cost to live in Cologne?

Being a student and living in one of the halls you'll spend about 300€/month in rent.

All NRW transport (Bus, UBahn and SBahn) is included in the student card which costs 250€ and lasts 6 months (30€/month).

Food, if you eat in the halls diner, is about 5€ a day (with a coffee or something included) which works out at about 100€/month.

So, all in all, you can live as a student for about 600-700€/month. Although, as with everything, it depends on each person.

If you're not a student, it'll go up to about 900-1000€/month.

Was it hard to find accommodation in Cologne? Can you give some advice?

Finding accommodation is really complicated. The best thing to do if you're a student is to speak to KSTW (Kölner Studentenwerk) who are in charge of the halls.

But still, you have to do it well in advance and be really persistent, especially if it gets to a month before you go and they still haven't offered you anywhere. There are people that get to Köln and still haven't been given a place, if this is the case, you'll have to go and speak to them in person.

Private accommodation is even more complicated. Flats are in high demand but limited in availability, so it's pretty hard to get a flat without actually being in the country, and still even when you are. As for the the holy grail WG (shared flat) people looking for housemates will interview a lot, preferably in person and sometimes on Skype. They don't usually look for Erasmus students as they only stay for between 6 months and a year, and are usually going out more/coming back later than your usual flatmate.

Germans sharing flats usually prefer to look for other Germans (there are exceptions, especially if you've lived in Spain/South America or you're studying Spanish) and don't usually want an Erasmus roommate unless they're only renting the room for a semester/ a year (something they call Zwischenmiete).

Important things:

  • As an Erasmus, look for Zwischenmiete. This is what they call renting for a certain period of time, usually short, between a month and a year for example. It's easier to get a room and once your stay has ended you don't have to cancel any contracts or look for another person to replace you. As it's difficult to find an apartment, when the Germans go on their own Erasmus, they rent their room out so they don't lose the contract.
  • There are people who've found Zwischenmiete for 2 or 3 months at a time. You can also use them as a temporary fix while you look for something more stable if you're not an Erasmus student.
  • Looking for a flat: wg-gesucht.de for example, search Google for "wg", "suchen", "Wohngemeinschaft Köln" or something similar and you'll find some good sites.

Key Words:

  • Zwischenmiete: temporary accommodation.
  • Nebenkosten: bills; water, electricity, internet.
  • Warmmiete: nebenkosten included in the price.
  • Kaltmiete: nebenkosten not included.

What's the food like? What are your favourite dishes?

Germany isn't exactly famous for its food. But it's by no means bad, and as every city has loads of restaurants (all varying in price) there's always somewhere you can eat and find what you're looking for.

Recommended local dishes:

  • Flammkuchen: type of pizza.
  • Schweinshaxen: roasted ham hock.
  • Himmel un Äd or Himmel und Erde: typical Kölsch dish.

What places do you recommend visiting in Cologne?

The DOM: Cathedral, the pride of Cologne. Aacheneweier: also called Hiroshima-Nagasaki park. It's where students get together to have BBQs, sunbathe, etc. River bank of the Rhein. Polarwiese: island to the south, in the Rhein.

And eating in Cologne? Can you give us some of your favourite places?

  • Brauhaus de Früh: in front of the DOM.
  • Die fette Kuh: the best burgers in Cologne.
  • Caminetto: small Italian restaurant, cheap and tasty.

What places do you recommend for going out?

Any bar or club in any of these areas: Zülpicherplatz (100% students), Rudolfplatz and Friesenplatz. All within the ring. I ordered them from cheapest to most expensive.

A bit further away is Ehrenfeld. The biggest clubs are here.

For Erasmus: Flanagans, in Heumarkt - Altemarkt. Cheap Irish basement pub, they have the Student Party every Tuesday night. You've got to get there early if you want to get in, I think at about 19:30/20:00; or get there late, 23:00/00:00. Remember the last bahn leaves at 01:00 but the bar is open until 03:00.

Any advice you want to give to future students going to Cologne?

  1. Look for a room in advance.
  2. Germany is not Spain (home), adapt and enjoy yourself. Don't try to replicate what you have in Spain (at home) or do everything as you would back there.
  3. When you're here, don't only speak to Spanish people. The number of Spanish Erasmus students that don't learn, let alone try to learn German is incredible, they just stay with Spanish people. Try to make some German friends, they will help you get to know the country.
  4. Buy a bike as soon as you get there.
  5. Look for the ESN Köln group and meet up with them.
  6. If you're going to have a house party (especially in private accommodation) leave a little note warning your neighbours.
  7. If the police see you crossing the road when it's a red light, they will fine you, so watch out. Try not to cross when it's red when there are children about, their parents won't like it and will probably say something to you about it.
  8. Look for a room well in advance... yes, again. You need a lot of time and it's really complicated.

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