Wiesbaden: A Resident’s Guide To A Pre-War Jewel

I lived in Wiesbaden for a couple of years with my wife as she completed her Masters’ studies.

We had great (and cheap!) food, intimate moments in our favorite parks, fine walks, the best dance and martial arts classes, opera tickets for five euro, creative discussions while strolling through the forest, the highest paying jobs of our lives so far, and even found a fine house to live in through one of my wife’s friends, whom she met at the company where she earned the highest pay of her life so far.

I’m eager to share with you the most useful tips and enchanting gems of this town to enhance your experience within it.

Wiesbaden’s Architecture

Wiesbaden Architecture
Wiesbaden Architecture

I fell in love with Wiesbaden at first sight due to its classical architecture dotted with romantic decorations. I felt grateful to live in a town with its pre-war architecture still intact, instead of the concrete monsters that are today’s standard throughout most other German cities.

The variety of architectural styles across Wiesbaden is illustrated by its numerous cathedrals. Those range from the Russian Orthodox church atop the forested hills at the town’s outskirts, to the neo-Gothic Protestant church perched in the commercial hub at its center.

There are many details that contribute to the city’s unique feel, from ornate doors of massive wood to statues carved in the brocade of old buildings, and from the neatly arrayed pavement stones to the frequent rows of trees.

Transportation in Wiesbaden

Thanks in part to its small size, you can be anywhere you want in Wiesbaden within fifteen minutes.

The lack of a metro or tram is not a disadvantage, because the buses are doing a better job thanks to the fluid traffic. This benefits not only car-owners but bike-owners (such as myself) as well.

Wiesbaden has numerous bike lanes, which are clearly marked on most streets, and respected on all.

It is a very safe town to drive, cycle, or walk.

As a student, you have access to the Semester Ticket, which allows you to travel for free in the entire region of Hessen using every means of public transportation, including regional trains. Higher education is basically free in Germany, the meager semester fee barely covering the transportation gratuity while offering many other benefits, such as discounts to cultural events.

This is a benefit that long-term travelers and residents can take advantage of. You can apply to become a student at any university and receive free public transportation and much more for less expense than you would otherwise incur for limited transportation privileges alone. You don’t need to actually attend class to enjoy a student’s privileges, at least for a while.

Housing In Wiesbaden

Finding a place to stay as a student is no easy task, especially if you want a private flat.

You can apply for and easily get a room in students’ dormitories or in a shared flat. The students’ room I stayed at with my wife was superb, quite spacious, and granted access to a gigantic shared kitchen and two shared bathrooms, all equipped to modern standards. The punchline? It had only cost 250 euros per month!

If you want to live in a studio of your own, however, the requirements get a lot steeper.

The demand is much higher than the supply, making the chances of finding a decent home of your own pretty slim. The difficulty is further compounded by Wiesbaden being a vacation resort for American soldiers (don’t worry, they’re nice!).

As a result, most landlords demand a minimum income of over a thousand euros, giving preference to those whose money comes from non-governmental sources.

Also, the higher your income, the higher your chance of winning the bid over your preferred housing. Therefore, couples with a private-sector work contract tend to fare better.

Tips To Find Housing in Wiesbaden

There are a few workarounds to this situation:

1) At the beginning of each school semester, the supply increases due to the end of previous students’ rental contracts, making it an ideal time for scouting out a new place to stay.

2) Those who do sub-contracting are more likely to not care about your income details. Ditto if you have access to closed-circle opportunities.

It’s a numbers game, and you should definitely find something once you contact a hundred people or so (this also applies to getting a job).

Knowing people gives you access to otherwise-hidden opportunities, in the housing market no less than in the job market. If you don’t know anybody, you could at least join a group of your nationality. Facebook communities of ‘(nationals) in Wiesbaden’ regularly present in-group opportunities for jobs and rentals.

I found my best apartment through a friend from work, which enabled me to move out of a poorly-tended shared flat.

The German People

You can definitely learn German better by speaking with the locals, and finding friends is possible among natives and ex-pats alike.

The natives of Germany are polite and professional, and unlike Southern European prejudices, can also be quite friendly and warm.

At my wife’s workplace, it was actually commonplace to hug upon meeting one another.

Armed with the most useful of German phrases – “Wo Ist?” (“Where Is?”) – you won’t even need your smartphone to get directions around Wiesbaden. 😉

Food in Wiesbaden

Thai Banyan
Thai Banyan

Prices for food in Wiesbaden – as in Germany in general – are very low, so you can spend barely 25 euros per week per person if you are a passionate cook like me, even if you follow a specific diet (e.g. vegan). Half-cooked packed meals or fast food could be even cheaper, and many Germans take advantage of that during their lunch break.

The restaurants I most highly recommend are oriental: Thai and Lebanese. They have the largest selections of meals, you can expect an exceptional meal regardless of your selection, and they have particularly appetizing decors and an eye for interior design with a timeless, romantic, exotic feel. They are not as expensive as the European ones, the meals are always beautifully arranged on the plate, and the taste is absolutely incredible.

One Thai restaurant that stood out to me is Thai Banyan, with the best-cooked tofu and curries that I have ever tried. Among Lebanese restaurants’ meals offer, do try out the falafel balls with tahini sauce!

Fun in Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden has a surprising amount of amenities for its rather small size. You can find almost anything you want in Wiesbaden – and all within walking distance.

Wiesbaden is full of places to spend your leisure time, accommodating many tastes, from forests and parks to gyms and pools to cinemas and theatres to dancing and martial arts classes, but I will focus on just a few of them.

Forest

The surrounding forest and hills make an excellent spot for a romantic walk or an adventurous hike, with many paths marked for beginner to medium level hiking enthusiasts.

During rain, the forest looks timeless and ethereal, inspiring deep thought and creative insight, and making a perfect place for meditation.

During sunshine, it makes a fine spot for plein air painting.

There is a special shortcut to the heart of the forested hill: a water-powered gondola ride.

Parks

Kurpark
Kurpark

Of the many green areas in Wiesbaden, my favorite is the Warmer Damm and the Spa Park (Kurpark), lying immediately behind the Kurhaus building and very close to the Theater building, which I visit regularly. The entrance to the parks is marked by a promenade of trees whose unique branch structure makes them look like many-faced statues. The surrounding scenery includes lakes and ponds, one inhabited by friendly wild ducks, and another where boats can be rented during warm seasons.

Other beautiful green areas include the cemetery park, Nerotal Park, or Schloss Park.

As a writer, I enjoyed the habit of visiting the Rhein river for inspiration and the occasional boat trip.

Gym

An important part of everyday life, sport is at home in Wiesbaden.

In the student dormitory, the laundry room served as a gym substitute for students who didn’t want to pay money for a gym subscription, instead choosing to use their own equipment and video sessions. You can do the same at home.

For those who prefer a professional arrangement, the gym offers in Wiesbaden may seem a bit expensive, but accommodate a wide range of styles, from Yoga and Stretching to Zumba and machine training, are very well equipped, have quality instructors, and are available almost every day from 7.00 am to 22.00 pm.

In my experience, the gym staff is friendly and helpful; they even helped me find a backpack I had lost on the premises, and recover a bike to which I had lost the keys.

The gym owners, on the other hand, are not so helpful, putting clauses in my German-written contract that made me pay another six months after my membership ended, which, apparently, I had to announce myself at least three months (!) in advance of my subscription’s end time to avoid. Many other ex-pats report similar extortive techniques in use across gyms in Germany, so be careful when signing your gym contract lest you get a hidden extra 50% slapped on top of the already-high price tag.

Swimming pools

Pools abound in Wiesbaden, granting relaxation and fitness alike.

As a town renowned for its thermal waters, you can enjoy a luxurious bath at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, an Irish-Roman Bath decorated in the style of a classical thermal bath with intricate ornaments. They also have a wide range of treatments on offer, from aromatherapy to various massages.

If you would rather swim for sports, you can try the indoor and outdoor swimming pools open for people of all ages. The one I used had two warm-water pools for small children, one inside, and one outside. Both pools had varying heights of jumping platforms. The outside pool had a big water slide and other toys, and as well as grassy, green surroundings where you could set up a picnic while the kids play.

Cinemas

An off-putting issue for foreigners is that most movies are dubbed in German without as much as English subtitles, and you can find few movies in their original language. Otherwise, going to the cinema is an inexpensive option on weekends.

Opera

Wiesbaden Opera House
Wiesbaden Opera House

Both the Theater and the Opera House are located close to each other and to Kurpark.

The Opera offers students tickets at a great discount; you can buy one starting at 5.5 Euro. A fine perk is that often you can sit in the front lines regardless of the ticket type you purchased if the higher-tier ones are not already sold out. Nice!

The performances are high-quality as well.

Dancing Courses

I had the best dancing course I ever took in a mixed beginner’s class at Tanzschule Weber. This is a dancing studio just across the street from Kurpark.

The instructor was skilled and entertaining, helpful yet respectful; truly one of the best.

The intermediate class had balconies facing the park, which made for a romantic spot during breaks.

It was a very fine couple’s experience.

Martial Arts Courses

I frequented an Aikido dojo on Adelheide Strasse, with a real gem of an instructor, honoring the philosophy of Aikido as much as its practice.

The mental and emotional stability of participants made it a very safe space to learn. Nobody engaged in dangerous bravado as happens in some Karate dojos.

Mixed classes of advanced and beginner students provided further learning opportunities.

Other masters would sometimes visit, giving lessons of their own.

Studying in Wiesbaden

RheinMain University
RheinMain University

My wife studied at the RheinMain University, which has campuses in other cities, and is well-known for its Social Sciences and Communication Design study programs.

According to my wife, the schedule was relaxed, the projects were always completed on time, and the learning decisions were handled democratically. The teachers often conceded to the students’ requests, while providing invaluable guidance on handling projects. The teachers themselves were practicing professionals in their fields, adding the insight of their experience to the curriculums.

Working in Wiesbaden

As in many places, how easy it is to gain employment in Germany depends on your qualifications.

Working in Germany has a few benefits, which far outweigh the drawbacks given the alternatives.

Advantages of Working in Germany:

  • It pays well. Very well.

Given the low costs of living, German wages enabled me to enjoy a high standard of living with plenty of fun activities while also putting serious money aside.

Fresh out of college and after her internship, my wife had a salary of about 2700 euro, of which she got to keep almost 1900 in hand. The employer even allowed her to work part-time remotely from Spain for 1700 euros. There were also Christmas bonuses which paid as much as a thirteenth salary.

It is one of the few countries where the combination of low living costs and high salary enables you to put serious money aside. It’s a liberating economic experience.

  • Contract-based work is secure.

So long as it is contractually bound, you will get your money.

Be wary of accepting long-term freelance contracts; they basically employ you without full payment or benefits.

Without a contract, it can get risky.

I had a German employer who paid me in full on time, every time for over five years without a contract.

But I also heard stories of people being ripped off for ‘under-the-table’ deals.

Disadvantages of Working in Germany:

  • You’re expected to work. As in, to actually work.

No hour-long coffee breaks.

Or staring at the screen and ‘thinking’.

No hiding in your cubicle and doing ‘research’ with a movie running in the sidebar.

Or two-page report that takes a week to write to ‘cross all the ts and dot all the is’.

Spooky, huh?

On the flip side, companies actually reward a good work ethic; it’s not (all) about office politics here.

  • The German work-day is nine hours.

Those are supposed to be eight for work, one for a break, but peer pressure usually makes it a full nine. When people look at you as if you’re idling about at work for daring to actually relax during your break, you tend to forfeit said break.

Do get this: the German people have a cult of work; they worship work, they adore work, they happily sacrifice their personal lives for work. And they expect everybody else they pay to not only do likewise but to do so gladly.

Parting Ways: A Pre-War Jewel

My wife and I had an awesome, romantic time during our stay in our little nest in Wiesbaden, and we thoroughly recommend it to travelers both long and short term. The experience which nourished our desire to have many more journeys throughout the world, to live in various places for a while and compare the impressions. I guess we’re on our way to being digital nomads!