Before you move to Germany, there are certain things you should do in order to make your early weeks, if not indeed your entire stay, a much more pleasant experience. Remember the golden rule of living in Germany: everything is available here...at a price.
Depending on what region of the world you're coming from, your move can be somewhat light or rather more involved, heavy-duty in fact. This is especially true with regard to clothing. Germany enjoys a fairly moderate Continental climate, so clothing shouldn't pose too great a problem for those coming from similar parts of the world.
The year is characterized by four fairly distinct seasons here, so when packing, you should plan for all of them. Heavy, snow-safe winter wear is not necessary in the immediate Frankfurt area, where the winters tend to be gray and damp. But you might need winter boots and the like for the higher elevation suburbs in the Taunus. Plus, don't forget that some of the world's best skiing regions can be found within reasonable distance of the Frankfurt area, so you might also want to come ready for ski holidays.
Early on, you'll discover that Germany boasts an extremely good health care system, and just about any pharmaceuticals you'll ever need are here. After all, several of the world's top pharmaceutical companies are German. But until you get installed in the system and find your own physician, or accustom yourself to the many German non-prescription products for minor ailments, it pays to bring along any key medicine you have from home, as well as easily transportable health products that you might need to get you through the first months.
Also, bring along any gymnastic or orthopedic products you have, such as knee or elbow braces, arch supports and the like. While these are all readily available here, they can be more expensive than those you already have, and you don't want to walk around without arch supports for the first couple of months. As these items are easy to pack, it's clearly best to bring them along.
By the way, medical and dental records for every member of your family are very helpful when you start seeking treatment over here, so be sure to include these in your relocation preparations.
Regarding toiletries, cosmetics and the like, bring along whatever you can fit into a night bag to get you through the first few weeks. But don't pack a large stock of these items, as they can be a bit troublesome to transport and you can easily get just about everything you need here, often the very same products.
If you are bringing small children to the area, you should also bring along any special clothing or health care items. New children's clothing, shoes and playthings tend to be quite expensive in Germany. You will soon find that many German mothers buy their children second-hand items at bazaars, which are organized regularly by mothers' groups or kindergartens. There is no stigma in this and you should plan to do the same.
The same holds true for foodstuffs, none of which you should bring along, unless they happen to be very exotic items that you can't live without. Your favorite foods and spices that you can't find - and they will be few in number - can be replaced by new favorites that you'll discover here. There are even small grocery stores selling expatriate products so you shouldn't have problems finding most of your preferred foods.
However, you may encounter some problems turning these ingredients into specific dishes. Remember that Germany uses the metric system. This can cause problems when you set out to cook some of your favorite recipes from back home if your country is still on the "two cups of this, cup of that" standard. Measuring devices using the older cup system are nearly impossible to find here. So you either have to ditch all your old recipes or bring along some measuring cups to get just the right balance of ingredients in those delicious cakes, casseroles and stews you've grown to love. In addition, a temperature conversion chart between Centigrade and Fahrenheit will prove helpful.
Germans are absolutely crazy about sports. Indeed, just try finding someone on the streets when the national team is playing in the World Cup or European Cup. But they may not be the same sports you're crazy about. Basketball is well established here, but American football less so, while cricket, baseball, softball and the like are rare. If you like to participate actively in some of the lesser-known sports, bring along your basic equipment from home.
Also, should you come equipped with your own soccer or basketballs from home (in deflated form, of course) you might want to throw in a pump, as German pumps often don't work with foreign balls. However, soccer balls and basketballs are readily available here. If your sport is golf, bring your clubs, bag, balls and shoes. Golfing tends to be rather elitist in Germany, and equipment sometimes costs double what it might elsewhere.
If you're transporting your own bed, don't forget to pack all your bed linens. German bed sizes differ from those of many other countries, so you may arrive to find that local sheets, pillowcases, duvets and blankets just don't fit properly.
The essential point to remember in bringing electrical items from abroad is that the German electrical standard is 230 Volts and 50 Hertz. Plugs here are all two-pinned with round prongs, and these are the only plugs that fit German sockets. You can buy adaptors for your devices, but if you come from a country with different voltage standards, such as the United States, you'll also need a transformer for your appliances.
Be forewarned that these converters are prone to blowing fuses, but blown fuses are easily remedied in Germany, simply by flipping a circuit breaker. (By the way, find out quickly where those switches are in your new home.) But even allowing for easy convertibility, every electrical appliance has its own character, which either makes it a good move to bring over or good sense to leave it.
Forget the really big items, such as stoves, refrigerators, washing machines and clothes dryers. After you've calculated the costs of transport and the complicated rewiring to get them operable in Germany, you'll discover it's much better to buy them new or used when you arrive. Plus, even in so-called 'unfurnished flats' and houses, some local landlords have started putting in fridges and stoves for their tenants.
At the other end of the economic scale, hair dryers and coffeemakers or hot water heaters are so reasonably priced here, if you buy them at the right places, that you might want to forego the adjustments needed for your home models, which include adaptors along with the inconvenience of lugging them to your new residence. For good deals on small appliances, you might want to shop at the coffee chain Tchibo or the discount supermarkets Aldi or Lidl - which often run good promotions on these items.
Television sets in Germany operate on the PAL system, which is not compatible with NTSC (the standard employed in the US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines) or with SECAM (mostly in France, Russia and Eastern Europe). You could bring your NTSC equipment with you - along with a transformer - but you will be able to use it only with NTSC videos and DVDs. It might just be easier to buy a new flatscreen TV in Germany, which should function with all systems. But remember to check the specifications first.
You can also bring your DVD from home, but be aware that DVDs are region-coded and only operate in one of the geographical regions where they are sold (to protect copyright and film distribution rights). This means that a DVD bought in the United States cannot be played on a normal German DVD player.
One way to get around this is to buy a region-free DVD player. Although it is not illegal to buy a code-free DVD player (or to alter your German DVD machine to play code-free discs), this could void the warranty. Manually altering your DVD player is gaining in popularity, and there are numerous websites which provide explicit instructions on how to do it. Your laptop computer is probably equipped with a DVD player as well. If you want to watch region-free DVDs, then you will have to purchase software which runs in the background and bypasses regional codes.
It is also important to note that most DVDs available for purchase or rental in Germany almost always include the movie soundtrack in the original language. So even if you have the normal German TV setup, you still don't have to suffer through the dubbed version of your favorite film. For more information about how to receive English-language television programming, consult the chapter "Getting Connected". You can bring your cell phone with you if it uses the GSM standard that's common throughout Europe, but you will still have to sign on with a German cellular company to get service.