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Where Should I Study Abroad in Germany: Berlin or Munich?

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Germany is a country known for its rich culture, beautiful castles, great beer, and perhaps above all, its political history. Europe’s largest economy and the world’s fourth largest overall, it is a major power player that is also renowned for its advancements in science and technology. Located in the heart of Europe and bordered by a whopping nine countries, Germany provides easy access for traveling. Don’t forget to enjoy your time within the country as well, as there is something for everyone: natural scenery for outdoors lovers, impressive museums for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike, and festivals including the world-famous Oktoberfest, to name a few.

Are you considering studying abroad in Germany? Awesome! Then there’s the next decision: where should you go? Many students are usually choosing between two cities: the lively capital Berlin, known for its alternative culture, or the traditional Munich, also known as the beer capital of the world. Both cities offer their fair share of history, culture, festivals, and events, and will help even the most beginner student perfect their German language skills. Luckily, whichever city in Germany you pick for study abroad, you won’t be disappointed! Read on for things to consider when choosing between Berlin and Munich for study abroad.

Population, Climate and Location

Berlin Wall

Berlin’s facts are quite impressive: Germany’s capital is also the largest city in the country, with over 3.5 million inhabitants. Berlin is located in the northeast, only a half hour from Potsdam and less than one hundred miles from the Polish border. The city is well-connected to the rest of the country and Europe: in addition to the Berlin-Tegel international airport, the Hauptbahnhof (central station) is connected with all of the major cities of Germany by long-distance rail.

Munich is the capital of the Bavaria region in southern Germany, where beer gardens, traditional lederhosen (dirndl for females), and castles fit for a fairy tale still exist. Munich is the third-largest city in Germany, which is surprising considering its small town feel, and has an estimated population of 1.5 million people. Access to the rest of Europe is at your fingertips thanks to the international Munich Airport and Munich Central Station.

Both share a similar climate, without extreme temperature changes between winter and summer. Winters are cold but bearable, with high temperatures averaging in the mid- to high 30s. Summers are mild and pleasant, with average highs in the low- to mid-70s (ideal weather for relaxing in a biergarten!). Be prepared for rain, as it is consistent throughout the year with precipitation averaging two inches each month, even more in summer. Overall, Berlin tends to be slightly warmer throughout the year while Munich sees more annual rainfall, especially during the summer when average precipitation more than doubles.

Cost of Living in Berlin versus Munich

In terms of cheaper cost of living, Berlin comes out on top whereas Munich has consistently been considered the most expensive major city in Germany. According to Mercer's cost of living survey for 2012, Munich ranked at #90 in the worldwide rankings of most expensive cities, whereas Berlin was ranked lower at #106. If this sounds expensive, don’t panic just yet; both cities are still cheaper than many top study abroad destinations such as Paris, London, and Florence.

Daily expenses are typically higher in Munich than in Berlin. For example, the price of a 1.5 liter bottle of water is around 0.44 € in Berlin, but costs twice as much in Munich. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs around 6.00 € in Berlin, but you’ll pay 8.00 € for a similar meal in Munich. Rental prices are also more expensive in Munich. If you plan to rent an apartment, a one bedroom in Berlin’s city center will cost 450.00 €, while you’re looking at paying 800.00 € in Munich.

Food costs in Germany for bratwursts

One additional note: Although transportation costs are similar, Munich is a smaller city and most sites in the center can be reached on foot. Berlin is a sprawling metropolis, and walking everywhere is nearly impossible. Be sure to budget more for transportation costs or plan to buy a bicycle to get around (note: only recommended for experienced bicyclists!).

Universities in Berlin and Munich

Germany is known as the land of ideas, gifting the world with important inventions like the modern automobile (thanks, Karl Benz!). It is also nicknamed the land of poets and thinkers because of famous figures like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Germany is home to some of the world’s top universities. Is there a better country to study abroad in and expand your knowledge as an American college student? We'd like to think not!

Berlin has Germany's largest concentration of universities and research institutions, which means more options for studying abroad and for pursuing a full degree. Two popular universities are The Humboldt University of Berlin and The Free University of Berlin. Humboldt University is the oldest in the city and offers 185 degree courses in a diverse range of subjects. There are forty Nobel Prize laureates affiliated with this university, including Albert Einstein. Free University offers over 100 degree programs in fifteen departments. It is one of Germany’s largest universities with 34,000 students. Both universities rank within the top two hundred in the world, coming in at #99 and #128 respectively, based on reputation, teaching, research, and international outlook.

Although Munich does not have as many universities, it has notable ones with great prestige. Ludwig Maximilian University, one of Germany’s oldest, is included in the top fifty universities in the world. It has the honor of being distinguished as an elite university under the German Universities Excellence Initiative. Technical University Munich also ranks highly at #105. To boast to you further, it is included in the nine most prestigious German universities that focus on engineering and technology.

Taking photos in Germany as a study abroad student

Things To Do

Both Berlin and Munich are top destinations in Germany, but they couldn’t be more different.

Berlin is fast-paced and vibrant, with endless events and activities to keep you occupied. It is a modern city that is constantly growing and reinventing itself. Berlin is perfect for history buffs, particularly those interested in World War II. Wander museums and memorials that pay testimony to this tumultuous period of Germany’s history, such as the Holocaust Memorial and the East Side Gallery. Berlin is also a cultural powerhouse: home to over one hundred museums and galleries, three major opera houses, and more than fifty theaters. If nightlife is important to you, Berlin’s night scene is legendary.

Filled with world-famous clubs such as Berghain/Panorama Bar, the “Best Club in the World” in 2011, anyone looking for a good time won’t be disappointed. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle, take a relaxing stroll in the Tiergarten, the famous public park that spans 520 acres. If you fancy a day trip outside the city, head by rail to nearby Potsdam or the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

Contrasting with Berlin, Munich is historic, traditional, and charming. There are no skyscrapers to be seen, as no building is permitted to be taller than the main cathedral. Munich is very bike and pedestrian-friendly, both of which contribute to the small town feel of this big city. Spend a few hours shopping or pass time at a café in Marienplatz, one of the main squares. Don’t miss the world-famous beer festival Oktoberfest, which is held from late September to the first weekend in October. Although it is not as crazy as Berlin’s, Munich has its own thriving nightlife scene, most notably the Kultfabrik area which has twenty-five clubs and bars.

When the weather warms up, spend a few hours in the English Garden, where outdoor activities include surfing. If you need a vacation from Munich, take a day trip to the village of Hohenschwangau to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, known as the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. Due to its location in southern Germany, Munich also provides easy access for international trips to neighboring countries like Austria and the Czech Republic.

To learn more about this beautiful city, visit Munich’s official webpage.

Many students are usually choosing between two cities: the lively capital Berlin, known for its alternative culture, or the traditional Munich, also known as the beer capital of the world. Both cities offer their fair share of history, culture, festivals, and events...

Decision Time… Where will you go?!

Featuring world-class museums, historic sites, great cuisine, and outdoor activities, both Berlin and Munich are major cities with a lot to offer. When it comes down to it, you need to consider what type of environment YOU will thrive in. If you’re a city person who loves a fast-paced lifestyle and nonstop nightlife, Berlin is the place for you. If traditional European cities are more appealing and you would rather know a smaller city well, head to Munich. Whichever you pick, both cities are well-connected by train and plane, and there will certainly be enough time to visit the other city for a weekend!

Photo Credits: CEA and Citoyen
Jennifer Moy

Bitten by the travel bug in 2009, Jennifer wants to continue traveling the world and hopes to become involved in international education. She spent a semester studying in Barcelona, Spain before backpacking throughout Europe. She maintains her own travel blog while also working with Students Gone Global, a new blogging community where student travelers can share their experiences. Find her on Google+.