Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Christopher Allen Wahlmünchner

Christopher Allen after 18 Years in Munich

A Wahlmünchner is a person who is not from München but has chosen to call München home. Have I chosen that, or has it chosen me? No idea. It just happened. I've lived in Munich almost 18 years now and have rarely, if ever, written about the city--except for my yearly posts instructing people how to best enjoy Oktoberfest. In fact, I sometimes doubt if I really know the city the way someone should after an 18-year love affair. Love is a strong word.

I arrived in Munich on June 1, 1995--with my Cocker spaniel in tow--to be with my new partner. The partner was an enormous mistake, but if there's one thing I learned from this enormous mistake it's that enormous mistakes often lead to great adventures. If you're willing to take the chance of making mistakes, if you're willing to see them as life workshops, well I say throw caution to the wind. If you don't think you can handle failure, I'd leave it.

After six months of failing at my new relationship, I moved into my own flat, which I shared with my dog and some very cheap furniture. I was working at a language institute and making enough money to get by on my own. I paid my ex off (he'd loaned me enough money to pay off my credit cards in the US) and started to enjoy life in Munich. Thanks to my move to Germany, I was miraculously debtfree. I danced.

Since my difficult beginnings in Munich, I've met hundreds of expats from all over the world living in Germany. People say it's hard to meet people in Munich. And that's true. I meet expats as part of my job but rarely have contact with people socially. The times I've tried to meet people have almost completely failed to yield lasting relationships. Is this a cultural issue, or am I just not friend material? Maybe a bit of both?

But then I met Gerhard the Prussian Palm Cemetery Pfleger. He would have many nicknames in the years to come, but this was his first. We hit it off, but Gerhard the Prussian Palm Cemetery Pfleger, as his name indicates, was also a Wahlmünchner. Long story short, I stayed. And I don't mean to give you the complete history of my Munich adventure.

For my new Expat Blog readers, I'd like to talk a bit about Munich and why Munich is a great place to live. I do think it's a great place. If you can get a job here, it's worth it. Here are some things you need to know, though:

1. Munich is the most expensive place to live in Germany: a major deal-breaker for some people, I know. Expect to pay at least 1000 euros for a 2-bedroom flat a bit outside the city.  
2. Finding a flat in Munich is a trial. Some landlords, as soon as they hear an accent on the phone, will tell you Die Wohnung ist leider schon vergeben (Unfortunately the flat is already rented/let.) My advice, if your German is weak, is to get a real estate agent--einen Makler--and just pay the high fee. When you look for a flat in Munich, you'll be competing with at least 10--sometimes many more--flat seekers. Recently there was a headline in the local paper 20000 Studenten Suchen Wohnung in München (20000 Students Seeking a flat in Munich). Many of these students didn't find a flat. I have no idea what happened with them. There are lots of bridges in Munich. If your company is paying for the move, ask your company to help you find a flat.
3. You've probably researched the requirements for a residence permit in Germany, so I won't bore you with it (although you're welcome to ask questions in the comments). You need to know, though, that the German authorities are much like any authority. You have to pull a number and wait your turn. And wait and wait. And when it's finally your turn, you'll inevitably be missing some important document no one ever told you you needed. When you apply for an extension, don't forget you need to do this in German--and you'll need to check the box that you have adequate German skills. If you don't speak any German, you'll need to fix that before you come.
I needed to bring proof of health insurance and life insurance. I had to present a contract with my employer. It was a freelance contract but apparently enough. I also had to present a current HIV test. The authorities needed a passport picture and money. Every time I went to take care of these things, there was something new I'd missed. Make sure you know what to bring and ARRIVE REALLY EARLY.
I'll be talking about my home city more in the next few weeks. If you're an expat, or a potential expat, trying to decide whether you want to live in Munich, I welcome your questions. I'm also working on a book for those people interested in teaching English in Germany. But for now . . .

I must be off,


Christopher Allen  is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire).