Home abroad – living and finding an apartment in Mannheim

In an earlier blog post, I already wrote a few lines about my experience of finding a flat here in Mannheim. In a nutshell, there are only so many dorm rooms available. It has been almost a month since the semester started, but not everyone seem to have found accommodation yet. For the sake of peace of mind, it is worth being early with the apartment hunt. There are several websites to keep an eye on, for example the portal for students of UniMa and Studenten-WG.de. Unfortunately, I have heard of a few scams during my stay in here, so I would advice to start with the UniMa portail and to be mindful about to whom and when to send money.

Studierendenwerk Mannheim is responsible for the dorms which are scattered all over Mannheim. Most of the flats are shared with one or several people (WG), but to my knowledge, there are also some studios available. The condition of the flats varies, although the most usual problem residents seem to have is related to locking oneself out of the flat. Most of the rooms are rented furnished, as was mine. I still managed to spend surprisingly high amount to home decor, wooops.

The rent is quite similar everywhere, on average between 250 to 350 euros a month for a room. The living space and the number of flat mates might vary considerably, and there are also some budget finds of closer to 200 euros per month to be snatched.

My flat is located in Neckarau, a 10-minute tram journey away from the city center and the Uni. The tram drives by every 10 minutes during the day and once in an hour in the night. Neckarau is a peaceful neighbourhood, it is easy to feel safe in here. The streets are narrow and lined with colourful houses. The Neckar river, flood dam area, a strip of forest, tennis and football courts and something I believe to be a community garden with some horses, chickens and other animals are to be found only a few blocks away. It is the perfect location to go jogging or for a walk.

From my flat, it takes only five minutes by foot to reach two food stores. If the walking time is increased to 10 minutes, the number increases to four. There are a few pubs, not noisy and disturbing at all, and some pizza and döner places. Several bakeries and a variety of other stores are clustered in the center of Neckarau. Two churches chime one after another on Sundays.

If one is into clubbing and nightlife, the optimal flat location would probably be Jungbush or the Quadrat. If one wants to be close to the nature and yet within a short commute to the centre, I’d recommend Neckarau. In any case, it is easy to move around with trams, buses and bikes all over Mannheim. And if your flatmate is as nice as mine, there won’t be any additional trouble of having a “private” contract instead of a university dorm.

Finally, some practical aspects about living here.

  • Tap water is drinkable although contains a lot of  limestone, which is why many people filter the water before use. I got used to the taste quite soon. Mannheimers seem to be fond of carbonated water, hardly a day goes by without seeing someone with a six-pack of 2 liter bottles of carbonated water.
  • Houses do not have climate control as a default. Especially people from hotter climate were surprised coming to the +35 degrees Celsius summer weather and not being able to seek shelter inside.
  • Likewise, at least in my flat the floors get cold already in +15 degrees. My flatmate changes his shoes to slippers when coming home, which I properly understand only now when the temperature drops. A good thing I brought woolen socks with me.


Thoughts about the International Summer Academy 2018

international summer academy 2018 mannheim

International Summer Academy (ISA), a month long intensive language and culture course held in August before the start of the other courses. 6 ETC:s in exchange for 605 euros. Was it worth it?

The obvious pros related to any language course like ISA are that you get to spend an additional month abroad. Since the course takes place before the start of the semester, you are already familiar with the city by then. It is also a great opportunity to make some new friends, and if you choose well, they might stay with you the whole semester. Furthermore, since you already earn 6 ETC before the semester starts, you have to take less courses later. Less stress, more time to travel.

ISA was nicely organized. The compulsory teaching hours were Monday to Friday from 9 to 13.15, but there were additional classes up to 18 o’clock almost daily. If you felt like practicing grammar, writing or speaking, there were plenty of opportunities. They provided additional history and German economy lectures which were worth attending to, given that your language skills were good enough. But if you had plans or were tired, you didn’t have to study any longer than to 13.15, when the compulsory class was over.

Before the start of the academy, we took a placement test online and were assigned to groups based on that, but could switch classes in the beginning. This way, the contents of the course were matched to our skill level. Group sizes were small, restricted to maybe 15 persons, which meant that everybody could – and had to – participate in the discussion. Every group had two teachers, each teaching us a couple of days in the week, but more time was spent with one of them. My teachers differed by their personalities and teaching methods, but both were nice. Overall, the quality of teaching was very good on all of the classes I attended to.

At least at my level (A2.2), the amount of homework was modest. We had assignments from the text book, a couple of longer writing assignments (still 100 words at the most) and one five minute presentation to prepare. We had two exams, one in the middle of the course, and then a bigger exam in the end that consisted of listening and reading comprehension as well as grammar and writing assignments.

Maybe the best part of ISA was that we got many opportunities to attend to all kinds of day trips during the month. Hiking, city tours, a trip to the local beach… I would not have thought to travel to all of the places on my own, especially to locations a few hours away.

The biggest negative side in ISA was that we had to pay extra for almost everything: accommodation and food, but also for the day trips (although they were very affordable). Besides teaching, text book was one of the few things included in the price.

When I planned my exchange, I may have had a limit of 500 euros for the language course. When the price point turned out to be higher, I still took the deal. Would I do it again? Yes. But I might check the alternatives provided by other universities – paying less for the course and staying a longer time in not one, but two different places is worth considering.

Why Mannheim?

It has been almost five weeks since I arrived here in Mannheim. It is strange to think that I might be at home somewhere else right now – Mannheim was not my first choice from the beginning.

The process of deciding where to study for a semester started by choosing the language of the destination. I wanted to get to practice and develop my newly founded German skills, so the area needed to be German speaking. Switzerland was a serious candidate for a long time, but in the end, I decided to go with a more affordable option. The exact location was not of importance to me.

Aalto BIZ has a variety of partnering universities in Germany, but not that many with an economics department. Several schools of management were eliminated right away. The list of candidates was further reduced by conflicting schedules. Most of the universities in Germany have winter and summer semesters in contrast to our fall and spring semesters. Considering my study plan before and after the exchange, it was practical to pick a destination with a similar schedule.

In the end, I chose between Köln (Cologne) and Mannheim. Köln would have been a bigger and maybe a more interesting city, but the top rating of the University of Mannheim as well as the course selection made me choose Mannheim. At this point, I did not know that the courses I was particularly interested in are only taught once a year, of course not during my stay in here.

Although the university courses have not started yet, I am already glad that I chose Mannheim. If I could do something differently, I would check the scheduling of the courses more carefully before deciding which semester to spend abroad. Even better, I would come here already as a bachelor, because the variety of interesting economics courses is far more impressive than the supply of masters courses.