A complaint I hear often from people who’ve recently arrived in Germany is how difficult it is to find friends. If you’ve had this experience too, you’re not alone. Germany consistently scores badly for ease of making friends.
People from more welcoming countries such as, well, most other countries, may be shocked at how difficult it is to make friends. If you’re from a warmer climate especially, it will come as a shock. Germans have a reputation for having a hard shell and soft interior (harte Schale, weicher Kern). They can be difficult to crack, but once you do, you will have a friend for life.
When I first moved to Berlin, I had very few contacts. I had to make a concerted effort to expand my social circle, and I’m thankful for the skills I developed during that period. After battling through the Berlin winter and coming out the other side with more friends than I started with, I feel confident that I can arrive in a new city and find friends quickly. Let me share with you my best tips for making friends against all odds in Germany.
Take out a “friendship loan”
I’m going to share my best tip first. It’s a simple one but it’s also the most powerful. After having spent time in many cities where I didn’t know anyone, I’ve used this trick more times than I can count.
You see, friends are like money. The rich get richer but the poor stay poor. It’s easy to get friends if you already have friends. The trick is to leverage your existing friends and contacts. If you only have one or two friends, get them to introduce you to their other friends. If you get on well with someone, chancees are you’ll like their friends too.
You can also go out with your friend and meet new people together. It’s much easier to attend events or go to bars and clubs when you go with somebody else. Lots of people don’t feel comfortable going alone (although I would still recommend it if you feel up to the challenge).
It’s not exactly stealing friends, more like… taking out a friendship loan. It’s always nice to pay people back by introducing them to new people later on once you have built up a network.
The problem with this method is you need at least one person to start off with. But what if you don’t know anybody?
Leverage your existing network
If you’re in a large city like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich or Cologne, it’s very very likely that you already have contacts in the city, even if you think you don’t. What!?!? You heard me right! Just ask your existing friends whether they know anybody in the city. It’s likely they do. Your friend will be happy to connect you.
Imagine if one of your friends was moving to another city where you already knew someone. You’d be delighted to put them in touch. The good thing about this method is that you both benefit from the trust of your mutual friend, and you’ll probably have a lot in common. You even get a free conversation topic to break the ice.
Never say no
When you’re first building your social network in a new city, it pays to always say yes to everything you’re invited to. Try to go out as many evenings as you can. You never know when you might meet someone who will define your social life forever. Most of the people in Berlin who ended up defining years of my time there were met on random off-nights when I didn’t really feel like going out, or at events I thought would be boring. Seize every opportunity!
Join a Verein
One suggestion you’ll hear a lot is to join a Verein. This is basically a club that meets weekly or monthly and where you can engage in a common interest with others, often a sport or outdoor activity. Germans like things to be organised. The prospect of making friends with strangers makes most people uneasy, but the Verein provides the perfect environment for planned yet incidental friendship.
Facebook / Meetup groups
Another easy way to meet people is to trawl Facebook or Meetup.com for groups in your city relevant to your interests. There are usually countless groups for language tandems, internationals, sports, hiking, cycling etc. Just be careful if you’re female because unfortunately I’ve heard countless stories about these groups.
This one’s a bit hit and miss, but I’ve often made friends with other people in my Airbnb. If you’re traveling alone I recommend taking a room rather than a whole apartment. Not only is it cheaper, but you might also make friends with some of the other guests. They’ll often be other people that are new to the city and open to meeting people.
Table tennis or “ping-pong” as Americans call it, is extremely popular in Germany, and Berlin in particular. It’s often a much more social affair than in other parts of the world, with large group games played around one table.
Everyone starts in a circle and the ball is hit back and forth, with each player taking a turn to hit the ball. If you screw up, you’re out. The circle gets smaller and smaller until there are only two players left, who then play a match.
It’s easy to meet the people who are out and waiting to play again, which will probably include you unless you’ve played this variant of table tennis before.
Bars and clubs
Nightlife is also a great way to meet people. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ended up having deep conversations about the universe with new friends at 4am.
As far as Berlin is concerned I recommend techno clubs, and especially clubs with outdoor areas, as the clientele is generally more international and open to meeting new people.
This one is very obvious and presumably why you are on this website. If you don’t speak German, you will find it very difficult to be accepted and make long-term friends here, so get learning. You can even find yourself a tandem partner who will both help you learn the language, and potentially become your first native friend. From there you can take out a friendship loan and before you know it you will be the one people come to when they want to meet new people.
Remember that it takes time
Remember that friendships take time to develop naturally and can’t be forced. They need frequent sunlight and nurturing, and over time they grow by themselves. When it comes to Germans, a friendship is like an oak tree – it grows slowly, but once it’s established, it will weather the fiercest storm and last a lifetime.