In the very heart of Europe, the fairy tale Germany of lederhosen and beer steins today exists side by side with forward-thinking, 21st-century cities such as Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt. There are an equally dynamic number of opportunities to choose from if you volunteer in Germany.
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Away from the towns and cities, the countryside has a spectacular natural beauty; you can explore the vast Black Forest in Bavaria, walk in the Mosel Valley, ski in the Alps, or cruise down the Danube, Elbe, and Rhine rivers.
Despite its reputation as one of the world’s economic powerhouses and its advanced educational, welfare, and healthcare systems, Germany is not without its social problems. It is an ethnic melting pot with an increasingly aged population added to by swathes of refugees from conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, all stretching social services to capacity.
You’ll find that there are many volunteering opportunities in Germany, from working with immigrant families to leading summer activity programs for disadvantaged youngsters.
There are many disciplines and destinations to consider when you decide to volunteer in Germany. Are you happier dealing with people? Would you prefer to work with your hands? Are you a city dweller or do you want to stay in the countryside? Consider all your options before committing yourself to a particular program.
Work With Youngsters
Ramp up your German language skills as you spend summer at a Camp Europe sports camp, where you could direct events or work as a language coach or counselor. You’ll enjoy outdoor activities such as canoeing or climbing and receive invaluable training as a youth leader.
Spend two or three months living with a German family and teaching them to speak conversational English; you’ll be amazed how much of the language you acquire along the way while you’re experiencing a total immersion in German family life and culture.
If you’re time-short but keen to learn a new practical skill, why not volunteer for a month-long project in Germany? You could be assigned to trail building, park maintenance, or organic farming, and more community-orientated options include the chance to help the elderly or work with physically handicapped children.
Planning Your Trip
With one of the strongest economies in the world, Germany is a highly industrialized and wealthy country with a developed welfare state. However, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe and in recent years has faced a considerable influx of immigration from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, so there is currently a huge demand for volunteers to help out there.
Where to Volunteer
Volunteering in Germany could mean working on an inner-city community-building project in one of the country’s vibrant, multi-cultural metropolises such as Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, or Dusseldorf.
If city life’s not for you, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer in education or healthcare in rural towns and villages, giving you the chance to explore the beautiful regions of Bavaria or the Alps.
Wherever you choose to volunteer in Germany, the fast and efficient highway and rail systems can quickly transport you to any destination across the country.
Housing & Accommodation
As a volunteer in Germany, your accommodation may well be provided by the organization you travel with. Otherwise, your best bet it to stay with a local family, in which case your language skills and knowledge of German family life will improve dramatically.
If you need to look for a flatshare, a small studio, or a hostel, give yourself a couple of months to find somewhere suitable. Accommodation can be expensive and hard to find in the major cities, so be prepared for this process if you're relocating for your volunteer work.
Language Requirements & Tips
Although you should know the basics of German before you volunteer, don’t worry if you’re not fluent; many organizations are happy for you to learn as you go along. And your language skills will come on at a fast pace once you’re immersed in your new life!
German winters can be very harsh, with temperatures as low as 35°F and snow in the mountains, so pack plenty of options for layers under a thick coat and some stout boots. June through September can be hot and sunny, so take sun cream and sunglasses for days when the mercury hits 80°F, but don’t forget an umbrella for the odd rainy northern European summer’s day.
Take US adaptors as electrical sockets in Germany are European standard types. The voltage is 220-240 volts, which is higher than in the USA.
Your passport should be valid for at least six months after your date of entry into Germany.
Wi-Fi coverage is good but beware of roaming charges; save money and buy your own SIM card once you arrive in the country.
US citizens with valid passports can spend 90 days in Germany without a visa as part of the Schengen zone visa policy.
If you’re volunteering for more than three months and your home country is outside the European Community, you’ll need a permit called an ‘electronic residence title’ (eAT, elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel), which is a biometric chip card the size of a credit card. You can apply for the permit before traveling to Germany at the German Embassy in Washington and local consulates, or after arrival by appointment at the Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Authority) office in your local town. The visa costs are US$60 for stays of less than a year or US$72 for over a year.
Health & Safety
There’s little to concern volunteers when traveling to Germany; it’s a sophisticated and politically stable country with a well-developed healthcare system.
You won't encounter any major health issues traveling through Germany, which is a European country with a correspondingly high level of sanitation and one of the most sophisticated medical care systems in the world.
Make sure you’re up to date with your routine vaccinations before travel, including chickenpox, MMR, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and your yearly flu shot.
German pharmacies sell over-the-counter medications and prescription medications as well as contact lenses. In any area, there’ll always be one local pharmacy that’s open for 24 hours; addresses are posted on all pharmacy stores, which are marked with a green cross.
If you do fall ill, you’ll need to pay straight away for treatment, so healthcare insurance is vital.
Tap water is safe to drink throughout the country.
Germany is a politically stable country with a low crime level, so you shouldn’t encounter any problems while volunteering there. However, petty crime like pickpocketing and bike theft can be an issue, so use your common sense. Exercise caution when out alone in the major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, and Cologne, especially after dark. If you have an accident or are the victim of a robbery, use your cell phone to call the police (110) or emergency services (112). Both numbers are free of charge.
If you lose your cash or credit cards, tell your bank as soon as possible. Likewise report the loss of your cell phone or passport immediately.
Scams to Be Aware Of
Always use authorized ticket-vending machines to buy travel tickets; a popular scam is for someone to offer you a discounted ticket that is already validated and therefore invalid for travel.
Resist the temptation to donate money to beggars and don’t be taken in by anyone asking you to sign petitions in the street; they often work as pickpockets and your valuables will soon disappear as they crowd around you.