Beating the Sandwich Year Stereotype: Contracting in Germany

Sandwich years: they’re the dream fodder of many-a student, but the reality of surprisingly few. Those who take the plunge are often seen as the graduation-dodgers – the lost boys of the student world – by their peers. This is because more often than not, sandwich years turn into half-baked attempts at degrees, ending in a TEFL qualification, a new collection of singlets and a one way ticket to South East Asia.

So, how can you make your sandwich year a little less Sub, a little more Pret? Well, call me greedy, but I chose to take two sandwich years. In the second, I chose to explore Germany. Based mainly between Berlin and Munich, I adventured, learned the language and ate a quite frankly disturbing amount of bratwurst in my during my 13 month stay. The best part is that I worked while I was doing it, which meant I could afford to do everything I wanted to do, met loads of German folk, and, by the end of it I was fully ready to go back to student-dom. According to various news sources, international contracting is getting more popular with us British folk because of the credit crunch and the crippling unemployment situation. Some destinations have proved more popular with the companies offering work than others, either due to a jobs being more readily available, or because the standard of living in relation to the average wage is so good. Deutschland, as it happens, provided me with both.

More bang for your buck

The title of 4th largest economy in the world belongs to Germany. Not only was Germany left largely unharmed by the Eurozone crisis, meaning every man and his purse is a bit happier, but cities like Berlin are also quickly becoming some of the most culturally rich cities in the world. Germany’s economy has remained pretty stable, despite the devastation which has ripped its way across other parts of the continent during the Eurozone crisis. Because of this, there were lots of contracted positions up for grabs for me as an Engineer.

Willkommen to work

As is the general policy in the UK, my average working week (when I worked full-time) was 42 hours in Germany. I travelled around on weekends and took advantage of every public holiday that I could (there were 15 while I was there!). The German people like to celebrate in style (or should that be in stein?), so things get a little more raucous than they would in the UK on your average bank holiday.

The taxing part

Obviously, as I was working and living and enjoying myself during public holidays, I had to pay German tax. Thankfully I was able to sort this out as soon as I got there as English is widely spoken within the German authorities. I got work in Germany through a UK company, who announced my arrival to the relevant people, so all I had to do was confirm my details with them and fill out a few forms when I got there. To allow me to work in Germany, I (as a client for an international contractor – other jobs may differ), had to apply for a registration certificate. This was used to prove my residency in the country. Getting hold of one was fairly simple as I sorted myself out with work before moving, which meant I could prove what my purpose for being in Germany was (as far as I know, non-EU citizens have to apply for a residence permit).

Livin’ la vida Deutschland 

Practically everyone rents in Germany. This is both good and bad. Good because it means you’re less likely to get scammed by estate agents, landlords and all in-between; bad because it means that it can take a little more time to find somewhere. I managed to get a nice modern apartment with city views for a price way below what I would have paid for a shoe box next to an industrial estate in deepest South London. When I first arrived, I stayed in a hotel until I found my feet. Even hotel rates weren’t too bad and service was top notch and friendlier than all TV stereotypes of German people had led me to believe it would be.

Love pretty parks and liquid lunches? 

In fact, Germany is brimming with extremely sociable folk. I found that each city that I visited had its own unique character. Some pretty, some party-central, others arty. Berlin is known to have one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in Europe and it certainly lived up to its reputation in the time I was there. Finding decent bars to frequent wasn’t an issue, but having a perpetual hangover was. Munich, was much more high-brow and beautiful. The Englischer Garten is gorgeous and has a lovely family atmosphere to it. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a stein or two by the beautifully sculpted gardens, however…

About the Author

Laura Styles is a recent graduate of the City University London/UTas. Originally from the UK, she is well travelled with extensive experience in both Australia and Germany.