I lived in Wiesbaden for a couple of years with my wife as she completed her Masters’ studies.
We had healthy, tasty, and cheap food, intimate moments throughout the many stylish streets and peaceful parks, amazing cruises across the inspiring Rhine river, the best dance and martial arts classes, opera tickets for five euro, creative discussions while strolling through the nearby forest, the highest paying jobs of our lives so far, and even found a nice house to live in.
I’m eager to share with you the most enchanting gems of this town to enhance your experience within it.
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 dense 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 (very much unlike in Madrid).
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. But that too could be fun!
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 up 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 per resident, giving preference to those whose money comes from non-governmental sources, and whose salary is at least thrice the rent.
Also, the higher your income, the higher your chance of winning the bid over your preferred housing (for which there are usually dozens of bidders). Therefore, couples with a private-sector work contract tend to fare better.
It is best not to mention that you are a couple, and especially not married. That is because many landlords are concerned that eventual babies’ cries or children’s screams will disturb the neighbors. It is best to go alone to bid, and have your spouse join you once you win.
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.
3) Knowing people gives you access to otherwise-hidden, closed-circle 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 a wonderful private apartment through a friend from work, which enabled me to move out of a poorly-tended shared flat.
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).
The German People
You can definitely learn German better by speaking with the locals, and finding friends is possible among natives and expats 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
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 an antique, 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 any kind of place you may want to spend your leisure time in Wiesbaden, from forests and parks to gyms and pools to cinemas and theatres to dance and martial arts classes. And they are all within a quick walk’s distance!
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 or a picnic.
There is a special shortcut to the heart of the forested hill: a water-powered gondola ride. It’s worth a trip!
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.
The Rhine River
As a writer, I enjoyed the habit of visiting the Rhein river for inspiration and the occasional boat trip.
The cruises are wonderful, allowing a view of both the cultivated plains and the forested hills along the river.
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 friendly nor helpful, putting clauses in my German-written contract that made me pay another six months after my membership ended, which end I would have to announce myself at least three months (!) in advance of my subscription’s end time to avoid. Many other expats report similar extortive techniques being used 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.
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. While I enjoyed the massage here, it was nothing special, and not worth it compared to another few hours of delightful bath time.
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.
An off-putting issue for foreigners is that most movies are dubbed in German without so much as English subtitles, and you can find few movies in their original language. It’s weird when the actors’ lip movements don’t match the overlaid speech sounds. If you can find original movies, though, going to the cinema is an inexpensive option on the weekends.
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. Sign me up for front-line opera tickets costing 5.5 euro!
The performances are high-quality as well, with some truly marvelous voices in the cast.
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. It is not only better, but also cheaper than more renowned schools such as Arthur Murray.
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 the participants made it a 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
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, there was always plenty of time to complete the assigned projects, 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 most places, how easy it is to gain employment in Germany depends on your qualifications.
Working in Germany has 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, though; basically, they employ you without full payment or benefits.
Without a contract, it gets 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.
- Most companies reward a good work ethic
Yep, it’s not (all) about office politics here. Spooky, huh?
A friend of mine earned a rise to five thousand euro. The company felt he was adding a lot of value and wanted to keep him. Meanwhile, before quitting back in Romania, he had been demoted for daring to suggest a more efficient way of doing things (the same way that was now making the German company hundreds of thousands of euro)!
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 writing that takes a week to ‘cross all the ts and dot all the is’.
- 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.
But hey: when you get paid your work’s real worth, when your ideas are welcomed and fairly credited, and when adding value to the company is actually rewarded, even a lazy guy like me feels like doing some good work.
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. This wondrous experience nourished our desire to have many more journeys throughout the world, and gather many more impressions to compare. I guess we’re on our way to becoming digital nomads!