Cologne has proved a very popular city in recent years with a large student population. As a result the pressure on the housing market is intense. If you pursue several avenues simultaneously, you will find something suited to your taste and budget. For the first weeks of your stay, it may be possible to arrange a room with the Studentenwerk or private halls of residence.
There are several sites where you can search for a place to live online. Most of these sites contain rental ads for most cities in Germany --- web.de, studenten-wg.de, studenten-wohnung.de, immobilienscout24.de, immonet.de, wohnpool.de, wg-gesucht.de
A very efficient way to house-hunt is to simultaneously check for ads in the local newspapers (Kölner Stadt- Anzeiger and Kölnische Rundschau) and to place an ad yourself. The local papers offer their ads online).
The new ads are published in the Saturday edition, and most flats will be gone by Saturday morning. To give you an edge, you can buy the paper on friday night (21:00) at porters lodge of the publishing house (Amsterdamer Straße 192) or at the main station.
You can also place an ad in the papers yourself for some 15 EUR here. This is a highly recommended avenue.
Once you have called the landlord, or the landlord has called you, make an appointment for viewing the appartment. It is very helpful to have a letter of recommendation from the professor you work with and to have a German speaker with you. Also do not be shy about your academic credentials; if you have a PhD, this is the time to put it to good use and to always include it with your name. If you are interested in the flat, you will usually be asked to fill in a form, and the landlord will contact you again a few days later. Then you meet again to sign the contract. Frequently, the whole process is wrapped up on the same weekend.
A deposit of up to 3 months rent is usually charged and returned to you at the end of your lease.
Need 2nd-hand furniture, kitchen stuff for your home at ridiculously low prices? Check out the charity store run by Emmaus!
If you want to buy things for the home at reasonable prices, try the IKEA just outside Cologne.
Have an address in Germany but want to find a good map for it? Try.
Cologne is blessed with an excellent urban transportation network. Check out the website of the KVB for more. The single ticket (Einzelfahrschein) at 2.50 Euro will get you to most places in the city, including the airport.
German Rail services are usually highly efficient and its worth checking out their website while planning a journey anywhere in Germany (or even to a nearby country in Europe). The site also serves as a timetable. Booking in advance, having a yearly railcard (called Bahncard), traveling as a group, or any combination of these will lead to very significant savings on the fare.
Cologne is a hub of budget air travel so there are cheap flights available from Cologne airport to many cities in Europe. Here are links to some of the main budget airlines Germanwings, Hapag-Lloyd. Also, Frankfurt airport is less than one hour away by high-speed train.
Note that most likely your visa is valid for all countries of the Schengen agreement, so you can travel to many countries on the continent without further hassle.
During your employment, a mandatory health insurance covers you as well as your spouse and children living with you. At the beginning of your contract you choose an insurer (Krankenversicherung) who will issue you with a small card. Show this card at every visit to the doctor and the insurer will settle the bill directly.
For an appointment with a general practitioner (GP, Allgemeinarzt in German) call ahead for an appointment (see below for English-speaking doctors). To see a specialist you will need the referral of a GP. Each time you visit a doctor for the first time in a term a fee of 10 Euro will be charged.
To see a GP during the weekend go to the Krankenhaus der Augustinerinnen (Jakobstr. 27-31, 300 m north of Chlodwigplatz) for their GP emergency service (Hausärtzlicher Notdienst). A team of GPs is available in the emergency ward from 8:00 to 22:00 on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.
Pharmacies (Apotheke) are abundant and will fill your prescriptions and sell over-the-counter medicines. Some pharmacies are available for emergencies at night and during the weekend. Every pharmacy will display the nearest on-duty pharmacy in the window.
Health care in your language
There are more than 300 English speaking GPs in Cologne, more than 150 speak French and many speak Spanish and Russian. The British Consulate maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, see here. The Kassenärztliche Vereinigung Nordrhein (KVNO) runs a search engine covering the whole area between Cologne, Aachen, Düsseldorf and Leverkusen, and Bonn. The search options include specialization, language skills, accessibility for people with restricted mobility etc. Unfortunately, as it stands, the page is only available in German and some of the more advanced entries in the search mask have to be absolutely accurate to get good results (you need to type "köln" and NOT "koeln" or "cologne" etc.).
There are lots of shops in Cologne selling Indian and Chinese goods and provisions. So if you're the kind who likes to cook your favourite dishes and are looking for the material, theres enough to keep you happy here. The Indian shops are mostly situated in the Neumarkt area (look in the lanes adjacent to and behind the Stadt Bibliothek) while there are Chinese shops in various places in the city (Mauritiuskirche, Aachener Str., Venloer Str., tram stop Severinstrasse).
One of the best "prabasi" Durga Pujas is organised in Cologne. Check out the homepage maintained by the organisers here.
A splendid German/English/Hindi website on all aspects of Indian life in Germany is theinder.net.
Want to send money to people back in India without having to pay all kinds of service charges to your banks (both in Germany as well as in India)? Check out ICICI Bank's Money2India.
This advice is meant to help you get through the inevitable as smoothly as possible.
The International Office of the university also offers help.
If you stay in Germany for more than 3 months you have to register with the police. Getting this polizeiliche Anmeldebestätigung requires a visit to the local registration office. For a list of offices for in Cologne see
here. Bring passport and a rental agreement. Citizens of the European Union can apply for their Freizügigkeitsbescheinigung (freedom of movement permit) at the same time.
Getting your residence permit
This must be done during the first 3 month of your stay. For EU citizens the procedure is simple: bring your passport and evidence of health insurance, and employment contract to a local registration office (see "Register with the police") and ask for a Freizügigkeitsbescheinigung.
If you are not an EU citizen, after registering with the police, you apply for a Aufenthaltsgenehmigung or Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence permit) at the Ausländerbehörde (authority for foreigners). Bring passport,
2 passport pictures, employment contract, evidence of health insurance, and your polizeiliche Anmeldebestätigung. It is useful to call ahead of time to check for the latest requirements. A fee applies of about EUR 50 for the first application and EUR 30 for each extension. Your first permit will be valid for 2 years.
You will need a local bank account to draw your salary. Postbank has no monthly fee and banking services are offered by most post offices. ATMs are abundant. There are two accounts you may want to open: Girokonto (checking account) and Sparkonto (saving account with higher interest). It is possible to operate the account online which eliminates language problems. You can set up a monthly transfer of money from the checking to the saving account and pay all bills online.
From bar sounds to electronic avantgarde, from street theatre to Broadway productions, Cologne has it all. And then some.
The daily schedule of movies, theatres, concerts, etc. are reliably chronicled by the monthly magazin Stadtrevue on sale at newagents and also available online. A magazin dedicated to movies playing in Cologne is Choices. Movies in English are shown at the Metropolis near Ebertplatz. Of the many sites on the net about Cologne city, here are a few good ones: koeln.de, stadt-koeln.de, museenkoeln.de (for museums), backpacker-network.de
There's plenty of options if you're a vegetarian and want to eat out, check out this list of vegetarian restaurants in various cities of Germany. For a listing of Indian restaurants in Cologne, type in "Cologne" into the following website.
Cologne city has a wonderful library (books, DVDs etc.) and membership is a very reasonable affair.
You want to learn German? See here here for courses offered by the university, or use check out Tandem to find someone who'll teach you German while learning your language in return. Having trouble understanding the intricacies of the German language? Try this excellent German-English (and vice-versa) online dictionary !
LIVING IN COLOGNE
Tips for foreign students and