Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

New Irish in Germany

Derek Scally talks to some of the 2,000 Irish who moved to Germany last year

Sat, Apr 6, 2013, 11:51


Derek Scally

With a jobless rate just over 5 per cent, the second-lowest in the EU, Germany is becoming a magnet for people from euro crisis countries seeking work.

The rise in new arrivals is most pronounced from countries where unemployment is the highest — Greece and Spain — with 11 and 15 per cent rises in arrivals to Germany recorded last year respectively. When the phenomenon of crisis migration is picked up by the German media, the focus tends to be on arrivals from southern European countries. Irish jobseekers are rarely referred to, possibly because they are not arriving in the same numbers and also because Ireland is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy.

Over 2,800 people moved to Germany from Ireland last year according to statistics, up from annual averages of around 1,800 a decade ago. This figure includes around 800 German citizens moving from Ireland back home. The statistics give no further information about nationality of new arrivals. Either way, the Irish community in Germany appears to be rising steadily and is now nudging towards 11,000. The actual figure of Irish arrivals in Germany is likely to be higher than official numbers when you include many who don’t get around to registering their residency.

In Saturday’s Irish Times, I interviewed some new arrivals about their reasons for moving to Germany, their experiences since getting here and their advice to others considering making a similar move. Here are some additional interviews with new Irish in Germany.

DARYL WALSHE: Dublin-born engineer now living in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, with his Irish wife and four children

I was born in the Coombe but grew up in Britain. I moved to Germany in 2001 where a cousin had an Irish pub in Frankfurt. I’d done some German in school and eventually found work with an insurance company. My wife is Irish and our first two children were born in Frankfurt before we moved to Mayo, where my wife’s from, in 2006. We stayed there for five years but there no was nothing happening, there was no work. I did an upskilling at Sligo IT, a mechatronics course and got a good result.

I knew if I didn’t get something in the following six months I would go back to Germany, which is what happened. I went over to Frankfurt to scope out some job agencies and got some positive feedback that there was work coming up in Siemens. I got straight into a job there, it wasn’t great work but it was a start.

After three months with Siemens I got a better job at Integrated Dynamics Engineering based outside of Frankfurt. It started as agency work but on Wednesday they made me permanent. I am getting more money that I could dream of getting in Ballina. We install active vibration gear into sensitive equipment like electron microscopes, our equipment helps with semiconductor manufacturing.

I was a bit worried about moving over with children but the schools were perfect. The eldest was going into third class and I felt he might be going in the deep end but the headmistress was great. When she heard we were Irish her eyes lit up. That happens a lot in Germany. I didn’t know the children were going to be so good learning German. They are fluent after a year and a half so I’m confident they’re going to be bilingual. Their mother tongue is going to be English, so there won’t be a barrier to them getting work in the English-speaking world, but they will have the German too.

What made the move easier was knowing we were going to the same area we had lived before. We had a small circle of friends already and through the Internet, particularly the expat website were able to get lots of furniture and things for not much money.

I keep going back to IT Sligo and always say that anyone who needs any help should get in touch. People don’t need to have perfect German to get by here: many high-tech companies are actually looking for people with English. When I do an install and write reports everything is in English. I only use German with my boss.

I live on the river in Offenbach (near Frankfurt) and there is a big huge carpark nearby. Most weekends there are flea markets and there are always buses pulling up with Spanish kids and backpacks. I don’t think they’re doing an exchange, I think they’re looking for work. If Irish people could learn a few sentences of German to get by, they could really get on. I know lots of people who work in pubs to learn language, there are always ways and means of getting started.

SHANE BRENNAN (35): IT specialist living in Berlin since March

I’m from Kilkenny city and was based in Dublin for about the last 15 years. I did a PhD in Computer Science in Trinity and was working for one of the big IT companies in Dublin. I was looking for a new start and did a few preliminary interviews over the phone. A few companies wanted me for an on-site interview so I was lucky enough to get a job here in about a fortnight.

The Irish boom happened while I was in college so there was no possibility of getting a mortgage or a house so, by pure chance, I avoided getting onto the property ladder. When I came out of college in 2011, I’ll thought I’d see how things went in Dublin. I had a well-paying job but you could see a lot of social services feeling the strain. I just decided for a fresh start in Berlin. I knew Hamburg a little better but the flight connections between Dublin and Berlin were better. Of my the 35 computer graduates from my class almost all have gone abroad, almost all to the UK or US

I came to Berlin because I was very interested in the web startup culture. It seemed to be very innovative place, interesting things going on. It’s a two-hour flight away and I like a bit of a challenge. I have fluent Spanish but am now learning German from scratch. It’s slow going but I’ve started writing an app to learn German on an Android phone.

The biggest problem is that the locals speak English, so the possibilities of learning German are somewhat curtailed. There is no problem speaking English but that’s bad if you’re trying to integrate. People are very nice and there are no complaints I have about the system it is safe and relaxed.

I didn’t have any friends here per se, I just decided to take the plunge. But I’ve had no problems meeting people through work, a data analytics company. It’s an international mix

The extra challenge of the language attracts a certain kind of emigrant. The fact that you don’t have German means you have to apply yourself, you can’t sit back in your new home and effectively go on holidays for a couple of months or years. Anyone who comes out here is probably of the same mindset want to learn and get ahead. You wouldn’t put yourself to that challenge. I’m not trying to denigrate anyone going to Sydney, but with the shared (English) language it is easier to get into that culture, to move in a group. Here you have to get out there on your own and that is what appealed to me.

I tracked down a nice apartment through an agency which is a bit more expensive but I was looking for something fully furnished. otherwise you get a shell with just a kitchen sink. You have relatively good wages in my field and cost of living is much less. I would be well-paid if I worked in London but you would have to live outside and have a high cost of living. Here I can live in town, in a lovely place five minutes’ walk from work.

SUZANNE MOLONEY (32): Architect living in Cologne for the last six months 

I’m originally from Kimmage but moved from Dublin to Cologne six months ago. I studied as an architect in Ireland and I had a job but there isn’t much of a future in that field in Ireland for now. You’re lucky to have a job but that’s that. There were personal reasons for moving here, too: my boyfriend’s German, an academic, and he got a job here. Our plan was to move anywhere in the English- or German-speaking world.

As soon as we decided we would go I did an evening course in Dublin and since come here I spent three months doing a fairly full-time language course. Then I started getting job applications together and sending out CVs. I was lucky enough to get a proper architectural job. I had myself expected with language barrier that I would end up working in an Irish pub. But I am in a small office that is quite well-established with a nice crowd of people. It’s a step down from what I was doing in Ireland, but quite happy with that, happy to be in own field with a foot in the door. Being an English-speaker as opposed to speaking another foreign language I feel you get different – better – treatment here. People are more willing to hire you as, even if your German is not that good at the start, they are willing and able to communicate with you.

Back home I think people are curious about Germany and find it funny that I’m here. I think it is not the first choice of places that people would choose to go to. But I think Cologne, like Munich, is subconsciously a good fit with the Irish because they are Catholic.

It is a big adjustment and it has been pretty tough but I am settling into things now. I had no experience before of not being able to communicate or be your normal self because of the language. That can be a bit difficult to get a handle on at the start and there are definitely troughs and peaks. You go through a phase of feeling you’re not getting anywhere, then you have a big improvement. Now I am adjusting my expectations of where I want to be and what I want to get out of being here. I think Germans just expect foreigners to make mistakes, their grammar is a little harder to handle than others.

I couldn’t imagine being as far away as Sydney. I have a brother there, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do that now, not long-term. You’re completely disconnected, you can’t come back for visits very often. In Europe you can just hop on a flight and come home a couple times a year.

TERENCE KELLY (37): Energy trader living in Düsseldorf

I’m from Leixlip and studied partly in Trier in western Germany, then I worked for a German bank in Warsaw, where I met my Ukrainian wife. We moved back to Ireland in 2006 and worked for Anglo Irish Bank and AIB. I think I’m one of the few people who left Anglo during the boom.

My wife was very happy in Ireland we had a daughter in 2009 but decided to leave again for a mix of personal and career development reasons, in particular the arse falling through the floor of the Irish banking sector. I didn’t want to spend five years dealing with bad property loans when I could go to the continent and work on something more appealing. Now I’m living in Düsseldorf working for an energy trading company

I don’t see a lot of young people coming over here. You’d need to have the language to a certain extent whereas you can go to Canada or Australia. But being English-speaking only actually reduces your options to move, it blocks off coming to closer places like Germany. Particularly for the younger semi-skilled or unskilled people I don’t think they stand much of a chance here. The people who seem to get on well here in Germany are an older generation that has a language or experience, something they can bring something to the party.

It’s interesting because English is the working language in the energy trading business, where you’re dealing with New York, London and Zürich. Our official corporate language is English and other international companies here have introduced English as their working language. Having perfect English is an advantage here, then you learn conversational German for day-to-day living.

I am a manager and if I see people have other languages and have lived in other countries I know this is a different calibre of person who is not afraid to try new things. If I found the right candidate in Ireland or the UK who didn’t have German – and there are quite a lot here already – it wouldn’t be a barrier to taking them on.

I’ve had two experiences of Germany – studying here and working here. When I was first in Germany the rules annoyed me, I used to get fun out of breaking them. Now I have a daughter I like the fact that there are rules. German culture suits an older person from a macro perspective where you’re relying on hospitals and childcare. It’s a better-run place as a result so, if you’re looking for that in your life, it’s a good home. You won’t spend most of your visit to a hospital on a trolley.

Watching rugby matches in the Irish pubs here you don’t see the groups of young guys getting pissed in the corner that you might see in Sydney. You see guys in their 30s or 40s who have either just arrived or been here 10-15 years.

We don’t really feel we’ve moved far away, what with cheap flights and Skype. We genuinely feel we’ve only moved to Cork or Galway. And yet, living here, you notice that you do more with your free time. In only 3-4 hours you can be in Paris, Amsterdam, Zürich.

My wife is Ukrainian and we are living in Germany. I have a Norwegian friend here with a Spanish wife. I wonder if in a few years we will realise that these are the perhaps the first generation of children who will really call themselves European?

Read Derek Scally’s full article The new Irish Gastarbeiter find their feet in today’s Irish Times Magazine.