I've been working in Düsseldorf for some years and now I am leaving because I got job elsewhere. But before I want to share my experience and some tips that could be useful to people working (or planning to work) abroad, and in particular in this geographical area.
Düsseldorf is a wonderful place, I loved it since the beginning. The city is awesome, tidy and safe. You can survive pretty well without speaking a single word of German: in the center of the city (the "Altstadt" = "the old city" ) almost everyone speaks English. People are warm and hospitable, food is great and there are many options for trying different cooking cultures.
There are many activities during the year: from carnivals, art exhibitions, concerts, fairs, sports, etc. For ordinary evening pubs and music clubs are open till late everyday, and the streets of the center are filled with people normally until 1:00am.
The weather is quite cold but it is OK during Summer, and if you are lucky also on springtime you can enjoy some sunny days. If you have a car there are plenty of cities and parks in the surrounding that deserve to be visited.
Mercer HR firm makes a survey about best city where to live, and they placed Düsseldorf at 6th position for the quality of living. I don't know if Düsseldorf is so great to deserve that placement, but for sure I enjoyed living here in the past years and, given my limited knowledge of the world, this is for sure the best place where I have been living.
Now, let me go in detail and make an analysis on some key points about living and working here.
I start from the job topic, because it was the driving reason that lead me here, and for sure it is important to anyone to get a job in the place where he's going to move.
The reason why you may consider to work in Germany are several: from the working culture to the higher salaries, that are competitive with the UK job market (double, if compared to Italy). With Switzerland Holland and UK, Germany can probably offer the highest salaries for workers of the IT industry.
Firms. There are several international firms that establishing their headquarters in Düsseldorf. Strongest industries that lead the local economy focus in telecommunication, finance, fashion and trade. Some well known names are Vodafone (that was my employer), Nokia, Ericcson, Metro Group, Henkel, Tissen Krupp.
I saw also that Google has offices in Graf Adolf Platz 15 in the "GAP 15" tower, but afaik they are marketing division. In the same building you find other well known companies like Ernst & Young and Harvey Nash.
Vodafone. I've been working for Vodafone Global for some years trough a recruiting company. The "global" Vodafone has not be confused with the German OpCo, which is totally a different company, and of which I don't know much about. My experience with Vodafone Global is pretty positive: the work was interesting, the people I met there was great. Vodafone Global from the internal looks like a UK company: official language is English, result oriented, international teams. Work pressure is sustainable, as consultant you cannot benefit of the facilities offered to employees and the difference of treatment is quite evident, as well as infrastructures offered to consultants sometime give some headache, but everything in the norm considering the size of the organization.
The offices are positioned in the center of the city near a beautiful lake, in Berger Allee at the corner with Horionplatz. In the sunny day, lunch time it's a good chance to visit the Altstadt (old city) and some of the local restaurants where, at reasonable prices, you can get very good meals.
Vodafone hires direct employees through this website: Opportunities at Vodafone. For contractors there are many companies doing staffing and recruiting, but the prime contractor is AMS, afaik they publish job offers on http://www.jobsite.co.uk and other job sites.
Job Hunting. Recently I've been looking for job offers in several sites and recruitment agency. For the ones interested in finding a job in Europe, following links are my bookmarks. I'm not recommending, taking responsibility or providing referees to those agencies: I'm just listing some possibly useful links.
International IT Recruitment Agencies:
Hays IT, Alexander Mann Solutions, Huxley, Elan-IT, Novate IT, Computer People, Computer Futures, Kingstone Consulting, Randstad Technologies, Hurst UK, Spring Technology, MDA Resources, Venn Group, Capita Resourcing, Access DE, Absolventa (Germany)
Public transportation. Public transportation in Düsseldorf is very efficient but quite expensive. If you choose to live far from the city, let's say in the country, you may discover that after 8pm there are no more bus to bring you at home. Taxi are not very expensive.
I've not used public transportation very much. But I strongly suggest you to get a bike, as the city is very bike friendly.
Accommodation. In the country houses are cheaper, you can have a park in the backyard and live surrounded by the green. Very beautiful and quiet (take in mind that cities like Meerbusch and Lörick are near the Airport) , but not very convenient if you are young and you need flexibility on working hours, or if you simply like to be in the city for the evening.
My preferred option is to find a flat at 5 minute distance from the work place; if it is also near the hearth of the city is even better. So, for Düsseldorf, after some tries, I chosen a little studio in the very center of the city, and was perfect for my needs.
There are many company that can help you in finding an accommodation in Düsseldorf, I've used Home Company (very good), MWZ 24 (they just arranged an appointment with the landlord, never met them in person... just payed for the service), E-Rent. Those company fees are quite expensive, but they can be very helpful also if you have any complaint about the flat. My experience with very positive with Home Company, so I'd suggest you them: but be aware, they'll try to make you get the flat they are showing and you can never trust 100% the word of any seller. To pay those agencies you need a credit card, be prepared that sometime the credit limit may not cover the fees...
In Düsseldorf, rent costs are quite high, especially for furnished apartments , while the cost for buying a flat may be convenient; depends on how long you plan to stay, and the stability of your work/contracts. For a little furnished studio (25-30sq.m.) in the center of the city you may spend around 550-600 euro/month. Bigger and nicely furnished apartment can cost up to 1000-1500 eu per month.
Parking. Finding a park for your car could be a pain: in the city you have to pay for parking, almost everywhere, unless you get a park permit for residents (ask the landlord). But there are some special hidden places in the very center of Düsseldorf where you can park without paying.
Here's my map about the free parking places near Vodafone and GAP15.
View Duesseldorf Free Parking in a larger map
Language. In Düsseldorf you don't need to speak German for living... as a foreigner. In the center of the city, and also outside, people can speak a quite good English. But speaking German gives you much more freedom. Understanding the letters you receive without using translation tools or asking friends makes a real difference. If you work in an international firm, it may be not necessary to speak any German, as the official language in the company may be English. But, in times of financial crisis, it is much better to be able to work not just for the international companies, but also for littler firms. And here you find that a good level of German is required. Well, actually job ads ask for fluent English and German.
So I started to learn German. The bad news is that German is very difficult. The pronunciation is much simpler than English, but the grammar and the vocabulary is really hard. Simply, you cannot learn without a pragmatic training, possibly with a teacher.
To learn German it is possible to subscribe a German class in the Volkshochschule which is a public school organizing courses in several subjects, included German for the foreigners.
There are many other German school for business people moving to Düsseldorf for job, but they may be very expensive.
I found a great German class in GermaService, Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 45 D-40210 Düsseldorf. The cost is OK and the people are simply fantastic. WARMLY suggested.
Food. Düsseldorf offers a lot of restaurants that can satisfy any taste. There are good Italian restarants, as well Chinese, Turkish, Japanese, Korean etc.
Since the canteen in Vodafone is nothing special and quite expensive for the contractors, I got the chance to try many places.
In the Altstadt I suggest the "Enzo's Trattoria" in the market (Carlsplatz) for a good pasta with fish as side dish (ask for the Dorade). Good pasta can be found also at the restaurant "A Tavola". It looks like all my Italian colleagues agree that for the pizza "Di Napoli", is the best you can get in Düsseldorf; it is even better than many pizzerie in Italy. Also pizzeria "Matteo", just next to Di Napoli is good as well.
For steaks and meat, I suggest you to take a visit at Casa Picasso.
If you want to try some German food, try Zum Schiffchen.
For special occasions, or more classic dinners, some good italian food can be found at La Lampada or La Piazzetta di Positano.
Back to the altstadt, you can find good sushi for a lunch in Roppongi, and fantastic fish in Fischhaus.
For Chinese/Korean food I suggest Chop Chop, in Bolkerstraße, which is also very cheap; if you like spicy and hot food, I strongly suggest to try the Tom-Ka-Kay soup.
I tried also some Indian restaurants, and the best one is by far the Chanakya in Oberkassel.
For vegetarian and healthy food, Sattgrün is a good choice.
For a coffee, a drink or a snack, Bahara is a nice place where to talk with some friends. But if you need a place where you can also use WIFI for free, Woyton in Bolkerstraße near the tube entrance (in front of the McDonald's) is perfect; for quite a long period I've used this place as my office :)
If you are in Medienhafen, a nice place to visit is Tucan's Brazilian restaurant, where you can enjoy meat or a delicious buffet "all you can eat" at a reasonable price.
For a brunch in the weekend or delicious German soups during the lunch try Zicke Bistro.
Amusement. The "Düsseldorf CineStar" runs latest movies in original language, and it is great for foreigners. In Bottrop-Kirchhellen, there is the "Movie Park" where you can spend a great day on the amusement rides.
In the surrounding area there are many cities, zoo, castles and natural parks to visit. The one I visited (and that I suggest to you) are the Duisburg Zoo, Düsseldorf AcquaZoo, Maastrict, Schloss Benrath, Schloss Dyck in Mönchengladbach (strongly suggested), Xanten city and its Roman museum.
To meet new friends you can attend the meetings at the Düsseldorf expat meetup (also on facebook), and if you can speak italian you can partecipate to italiansonline activities.
For geeks there are many occasions to discuss about technology: the local Google Technology User Group, the RheinJUG, and the Mobile Monday will keep you up to date on the cutting edge technologies. In November you cannot miss the Devoxx in Belgium, not very far from Düsseldorf.
Services. Requesting internet at home from T-Online requires from 15 days to 1 month. The proverbial German efficiency is revealed to be a Myth when you enter in an T-online shop. Expensive, unreliable, poor service, and you cannot cancel the contract before two years. In a couple of occasion I had internet outage for weeks and I had to go into the shop EVERY day to complain, before to receive the visit of a specialist for fixing the problem (that of course, was on the wires and not in my router). And when I quit the contract they told me that it is impossible to quit it before two years...
Since I moved in Germany I got 3 mobile numbers. The first from Vodafone: expensive (I'm sorry to say that for the company I worked for). The second from Ortel Mobile, cheap for calling abroad but no GPRS mobile internet and no way to disable the voicemail. And it's almost impossible to use the "number portability" when you decide to use another service provider. Last, and best... O2: they have been excellent, reasonable prices, good GPRS mobile internet connection, great support (on the shop in Karlplatz) and very flexible: when I decided to quit the contract because I was leaving, I had absolutely no problem, they made everything and I just had to sign a paper, with no additional cost or penalty. They also sell "multicards" contracts which means you can have a sim in your phone ad another sim to use in your computer with an USB stick; with additional cost of 25 euro. It has been always excellent.
One day I started to receive payment requests from a company called Unitymedia, without ever subscribing any contract, I ignored them since I finally received a complain letter from a credit repair firm. I had to answer that I was ready to pursue legal actions against them for the fraud they was attempting to me, for the stress caused and privacy violation... and other legal amenities, just to get them stop it. So, beware of Unitymedia (and don't pay).
There is much more to say, and more topics to cover, for example the bureaucracy you have to deal when moving abroad. Maybe on another post; this is becoming too long.
By the way, if you have questions or you want add something, leave a comment.
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