Will apps make living in Germany easier? In a change-averse country full of red tape, it can be hard to think so. Coming from San Francisco, I really missed the intuitive app culture when I arrived in Hamburg. I mean, Germany barely lets you pay by debit card, let alone by bitcoin. It took four years in Germany and a move to Berlin (the start-up capital of Europe) to find it again. Because slowly, apps are appearing that really do help ease the German expat experience. Here are the ones I consider essential for life in Germany.
Essential Apps for Living in Germany
*I’ve noted where certain apps are city-specific, versus applicable for the whole country.
Bureaucratic Apps for Living in Germany
- Appmeldung – In addition to having the best name in the list, Appmeldung provides crucial assistance for Germany’s banal bureacracy: it helps you fill out your mandatory Anmeldung, or residency registration. Simply fill out their form in English, they translate plug your info into the releveant blanks in the German form, print it out, and voila! You’re done.
- Ordnungsamt Online – Trash or waste on the sidewalk? Streetlights out of order? A pile of broken rental bikes blocking your walkway? Ordnungsamt Online is a state-sponsored app that lets you report these problems to the only ones truly interested in them…the State of Berlin itself.
- MyHelpBuddy – designed specifically for expats in Germany, MyHelpBuddy pairs you with a German speaker (or “buddy”) to attend visa appointments, doctor’s appointments, filling out forms, etc.
Transport Apps for Living in Germany
- DB Navigator – I personally find the DeutscheBahn website to be a bit of a beast. But the app (available in English) is a breeze. It’s simple to book tickets, show your Bahn card, track your train’s progress, and get delay information.
- BvG – While this is the bahn and bus provider for Berlin, the other major cities have similar apps. BvG has a great interface which lets you order and validate tickets and longer-term passes. Plus it has real-time arrival/departure info for all the transport in the city, making it much more accurate than Google Maps.
- Google Maps – That said, Google Maps is of course useful, especially for walking directions. When I first moved to Germany, the transit directions provided weren’t always the most practical. But Maps has gotten much more accurate over time, and now I use it daily.
- FreeNow – There’s still some question about how legal Uber is in Germany. And to be honest, it’s not always cheaper than taking a real cab. FreeNow lets you call a cab by app, track your route, get an electronic receipt, and most importantly—pay by card (!!). They also introduced a “Ride” feature, which acts as an UberPool feature with discounted rates. At the time of writing, no one is using this feature, which means you get the discount without the disruption of stopping for more passengers. Win-win!
- Uber – Uber is available in most German cities, so if you’re used to it and prefer it, by all means, continue. Although, ironically, I’ve typically found it costs more to use Uber than a real taxi. I downloaded Uber solely to take adventage of Uber’s Jump Bikes in Berlin, which is definitely worth it, especially in the summer months.
What’s a Jump Bike? Check out my review of the Uber of cycling here.
- BlaBla Car – If you’re looking to travel longer distances on a budget price, BlaBla Car is the tool you need. It assigns drivers to passengers heading in the same way. All fees are regulated through the app. Tim used to drive for BlaBla Car all the time when he was visiting me in Hamburg, and we actually met some very good friends who rode with him as passengers. So there’s lots to like!
- Flixbus – Flixbus takes passengers all around mainlaind Europe for budget prices in their signature bright-green buses. It’s a great alternative to the train if you’re looking for reasonable fares—although there is also now a FlixTrain (also green).
- Car2Go – If you have valid drivers’ license for Germany, use Car2Go for wheels when you need them. Similar to ZipCar in the U.S., Car2Go let’s you pick up and drop off cars anywhere in the city.
News Apps for Living in Germany
- Deutsche Welle – Deutsche Welle is an independent German news and culture source, available online as well as through local broadcast. News is in English and German, which makes it a great language learning resource.
- The Local – Billed as “Germany’s English news source,” The Local is great for expats who want to keep up with the German and mainland European news. It also has resources for job and apartment searches.
Language Apps for Living in Germany
- Dict.cc and Linguee – All of my German friends use either Dict.cc or Linguee to translate from German to English, citing the precision of both services’ translations. Both function as dictionaries to 1-1 translations or phrasal translations. I like Linguee because they also provide examples of the phrase in English and in German, so I can get a sense of how it works in a sentence.
- PONS Translate – Similar to Dict.cc and Linguee, PONS Translate does 1:1 translations. What’s nice about PONS, though, is that you can search verbally and the app will correct your pronunciation.
- Google Translate – When you need a block of text translated (a menu, form, or map, for example), nothing beats the convenience of Google Translate. But, it’s not as precise as the apps above, so I wouldn’t use it for proper emails or correspondence.
- Der Die Das – Ever stuck on getting the right version of “the” to add to your German noun? Der Die Das is designed specifically to help you drill the proper articles through games and repetition.
- Duolingo – The ubiquitous language learning tool doesn’t help so much with German grammar, but it’s great for drilling and building vocabulary. I used it almost exclusively at the beginning to get familiar with the basic German words (groceries, relationships, types of buildings). Even just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
Finance Apps for Living in Germany
- Transferwise – If you’re transferring money internationally often, Transferwise is a must. It saved me (literally) hundreds of Euros when I first arrived in Germany and needed to move over several thousand American dollars. They use a better rate and transfer your money much faster and more efficiently than most German banks will. They’ve also opened a neutral bank account that lets you dump money in multiple currencies into one international account—which is great for expats!
- N26 – N26 was fairly new when I first moved to Germany, so I went the traditional route and set up an account at DeutscheBank. There are pros to an old-school bank, especially if you plan on staying long term (better credit for loans, etc), but N26 is unbeatable for ease of use and modern interface. I have an N26 for “play money”, and love how easy it is to transfer money to friends, set up saving pools, and monitor my money. It’s very English-friendly, although I’ll warn you, the customer service isn’t the best.
Lifestyle Apps for Living in Germany
- Lieferando – I’ll caveat this with Lieferando used to be much better. They bought Foodora and ran Deliveroo out of business, which means this app is the titan of food delivery. They have all your classic takeout options (Domino’s, KFC, etc), and have started to add more local restaurants—often of great quality.
- PickPack – Like Lieferando, PickPack lets you order food via app. But unlike Lieferando, it’s up to you to pick it up. It’s a great option for busy work days when you want a walk but can’t linger.
- ClassPass / Urban Sports Club – Keeping fit in Germany just got easier. ClassPass and Urban Sports Club are two popular programs that let you experiment with different fitness studios. At the time of writing, USC is more widely available in Germany, but I don’t doubt that will quickly change!
Looking for more fitness options? I’ve made a list of great options for getting started working out in Berlin here.
- Katwarn and Nina – Two apps that both deal with emergency notices for Germany. You can set your location to get city-specific warnings. You probably won’t need it for anything crazy, but with Germany having a lot of live bombs buried under its streets (remnants of WWII blitzes), it’s good to know when excavations are happening and what the evacuation zones (and traffic implications) will be.
- Cinestar and Yorck Kino – Two major movie houses in German. Easily book tickets (and reserve your seats) for the movies from home. Cinestar tends to have the bigger blockbuster releases, and Yorck the more artsy/independent ones, but that’s not set in stone.
Housing Apps for Living in Germany
- Immoscout / Immowelt- With WG-Gesucht, these are the most popular apartment listing sites. Both allow you to set up notifications when an apartment that fits your specifications comes on the market—ideal in Berlin’s crazy housing scene.
- WG-Gesucht – WG-Gesucht is listed separately because in addition to posts about whole apartments, you can also find flat-shares and short-term sublets.
Review Apps for Living in Germany
- Yelp – Yep, Yelp’s here! You’ll see the star reviews from any reviewer regardless of language, and can sort written reviews by German or English.
Health Apps for Living in Germany
- RezeptDirekt – One of the things that drives me crazy about Germany is not being able to havey our doctor call in a prescription. Instead, you have to do to the doctor’s office every time and pick up the slip in person. While RezeptDirekt doesn’t help with that, it does let you snap a pic of your prescription and send it to the pharmacy, so that your meds are ready by the time you arrive (and if they have to order something, they’ll send you a notification). Small wins against the red tape are still wins!
I’ll update this list as I find more useful apps, so keep the list handy! If you have a recommendation for an app I missed, leave me a comment below!
another great app for exploring Germany while driving is the MAQNIFY experience guide. This free audio guide tells interesting stories about the brown tourist information signs along the German Autobahn. This way long drives become an interesting journey with lots of little fun facts about Germany and the different regions. https://experience-guide.info/