It can be hard to get to know Germans on a social basis, but hobbies, sports and music-making can be a great way to make friends.
Whether or not it’s true, I’ve heard many people claim that it’s hard to meet Germans as a foreigner living in Germany.
So what can you do? My answer was to use hobbies that require some socialization. What follows is my experience in using hobbies primarily to have fun, but with the nice side effect of getting to know some like-minded people who happen to be native speakers of German.
Many English speakers seem to want to avoid meeting people from their home countries. It’s difficult and sometimes also necessary to have some exchange with people who really understand what you are going through. That said, you do need to make a conscious effort to get to know Germans. Spending time with locals definitely helps with integration and language learning. So how do you start?
Whether or not you were a sporty type before you moved to Germany, sports are big here! So why not use it as an excuse to stay fit and meet people at the same time?
Team sports are probably the best way to make friends. And the Germans will love you even more if the sport you play has a special connection with your home country (i.e. a Canadian playing hockey or an American playing baseball).
But I’ve never been a team sport kind of guy. So the obvious choice for me was kung fu.
I’ve met a lot of great people through kung fu, even though it’s not exactly a team sport. Even other non-team sports like boxing, mountain biking, yoga and cross-fit will help you meet people. Try to find out what kind of clubs and private schools exist in your area. Try a Google search for “sportvereine+(your city)”. Who knows, you might discover a sport you love as much as language learning!
Before I move off the sports topic completely, you really should at least once go on a serious German “Wanderung”. You may think that sounds rather aimless, but it is actually the German word for “hike” and there is almost always a very clear destination. A classic Wanderung will be a loop, starting at a train station close to some trails.
Hiking is not a difficult sport and requires no training really. You usually don’t even need special shoes. You should bring water with you and maybe a picnic, although many popular trails will have a place or two along the route to stop for a bite to eat. These are called “Einkehrmöglichkeiten” and all that means is more or less “possibilities to go inside”.
Here’s a website to introduce you a little to the whole concept (beware of iffy English translations!): http://www.top-trails-of-germany.de/en/philosophy.html
In any case, there could not be a sport more ideal for getting to know people (especially German-speakers). Give it a go!
For those rainy days, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument. Or improve your rusty music skills. You can find schools and teachers everywhere in Germany. And since your teacher will speak to you in German (something you should insist on), you’ll be improving your German at the same time.
If you already play an instrument, look for open jam sessions at local bars or find some people to play with on musiker-in-deiner-stadt.de
Whether you’re a newbie or experienced musician, you’ll also benefit from joining retreats. Music retreats for all kinds of instruments and styles can be found all over Germany. They’re a great way to get both linguistic and musical immersion at the same time.
In Germany, I started playing American Old-Time Music on clawhammer banjo (i.e. not bluegrass). It’s a minority style of a minority instrument, yet still I was able to find someone in my city willing to jam, talk music (in German) and help me learn. I’ll also be going to the “banjoree” retreat for the first time this year.
Just in case you don’t know what old-time music is: watch this video!
Prepare by reading
One of the most important tips I can give is to read about your hobbies and interests in German. You can buy books, but there are so many free resources on the web. Look for blogs, online magazines and forums. The latter will even give you the opportunity for some writing practice.
Reading for pleasure is one of the most painless ways to improve your vocabulary and comprehension skills. Plus, it’s great practice for communicating with people about your favorite topics, especially if you are preparing for a trip to Germany.
What are you passionate about? What have you always wanted to learn, but never got around to? Brainstorm a list of your current and potential future hobbies, and then look around to see what you can find in your area.
Oh yea, I almost forgot. Your friends don’t all have to be native speakers. You’ll also learn a lot by socializing with other non-natives with a different mother tongue.
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