Finding your way around Germany
If you are looking for an internship in Germany, there are quite a few places to find them. Being the largest economy in Europe, and home to many internationally renowned companies, the country offers many different opportunities for students and graduates who want to get to know the German “Arbeitsleben” (working life). At the same time, the often cherished diversity of the country can be quite confusing in the beginning when you want to figure out where it is best to look for that perfect internship. So, here is some help for a first orientation.
Germany’s population of roughly 81 million people is spread across the nation’s 16 federal states (“Bundesländer”). The home of Germany’s most famous exports - the car industry - is for the most part in the south of the country. Daimler and Porsche have their respective headquarters in Stuttgart (in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg), while BMW and Audi are placed in the neighbouring federal state of Bavaria. Due to those major players, one can also find many small- and middle-sized enterprises in the southern region that have devoted their business to car manufacturing. As an exception to the rule, the biggest German carmaker, Volkswagen, has its headquarters in the city of Wolfsburg (in Lower Saxony). As employers the car manufacturers account for a sizable part of the economy: It is estimated that every 7th workplace in Germany is directly or indirectly dependent on the automotive industry.
However, there are also plenty of options for those who cannot muster enough enthusiasm for cars. With employers such as Adidas, Siemens, Bosch, Bayer, Deutsche Bank or Beiersdorf the range of possibilities for young talents in Germany is actually a lot broader - and that does not even include the sizable amount of successful smaller companies in lucrative niche markets. Due to its specific history, the German economy runs quite decentralized. The capital Berlin in the eastern part of the country is the largest city in Germany and serves as its political power hub (and tourism magnet). It is also home to a lively startup scene that focuses on digital economy. In the north, the city of Hamburg prides itself on having the second-biggest harbour in Europe. Frankfurt am Main in the center of Germany is famous for its financial district and in the west, the cities Cologne and Düsseldorf are home to many consumer goods companies.
A short guide to internships in Germany
Regarding formalities, if you are a citizen of another EU country, moving to Germany for an internship does not require much of an organizational effort. But if you are not from the EU, special visa regulations may apply - and German bureaucracy can be quite nit-picky.
Also, German law requires that interns are enrolled as students in a university somewhere, with the exception of when you are filling a gap between finishing your Bachelor and starting your Master studies. Furthermore, the law about when an internship falls under minimum-wage-regulations is quite complicated and still hotly debated, so be sure to gather some additional information that apply in your individual circumstances.
When applying for an internship in a German company, one should keep in mind that working life in the country is still comparatively conservative. Hierarchical structures are taken rather seriously, as are punctuality and reliability - so if you are invited to an interview, make sure to arrive early and conduct yourself in a formal manner, unless the company environment strongly indicates otherwise. In recent years, German employers have become more comfortable with conducting interviews via phone or Skype, in case you cannot make the journey for a face-to-face interview. However, they may not suggest it directly when inviting you for an interview, so you'll have to ask about it.
Internships for English speakers are becoming more frequently offered as companies start looking for talent internationally. However, German language skills are still essential in many positions and in the day-to-day routines of the workplace.Therefore, it helps to have some knowledge of the language. In their favor, one has to say that Germans are aware of how difficult their language is to learn and are eager to help you be understood, so don’t be shy about trying to speak. At the same time English speaking skills of Germans vary greatly: while you can find people who have lived abroad and are more or less fluent in English, this is usually restricted to certain environments, such as academia and the tourism sector. In everyday life many Germans are not used to speaking English and find it rather a challenge, so some knowledge of German also comes in handy when asking directions or dealing with the bureaucracy.
Tip 2: Be aware that the requirements for job applications in Berlin may be different from what you are used to. So spend some time finding out how a standard German CV looks and be prepared for some of the peculiarities of the German job market.
Living and culture
There are a lot of stereotypes about the German work ethics. While there is at least a grain of truth in most of them, there are still some caveats. Yes, Germans work a lot, but the country also enjoys one of the highest number of public holidays worldwide. Yes, Germans like their work to be efficient - and so is their way of communication. Still, most of them will never refuse a friendly chat, a good laugh or an after-work drink, and lunch hour is holy in most companies.
While doing your internship, be sure to take weekend trips through to discover the diversity of the country to its fullest. Germany offers both beach and mountain vacations, as well as many great city trips and the tourism magnet Neuschwanstein castle. The trains and city-hopping flights can take to many different locations within Germany as well as the rest of Europe. Daredevils can always rent a car to see what it’s like to speed down the Autobahn - but only if you are very sure about your driving skills.