The Netherlands vs Germany: An expat guide
The Netherlands vs Germany: An expat guide
Are you an expat considering relocating to Germany or the Netherlands - or perhaps from one to the other? They may be geographically close, but there are actually a lot of differences separating these two European countries.
This guide walks you through everything you need to know about life in the Netherlands and Germany, looking at daily life, work culture and family life, and pointing out where these two countries are similar, and how they differ.
Day to day life in Germany
When it comes to daily life, what sets Germany apart? Read on to find out what makes Germany, well, Germany.
Germany: Demographics & Geography
Germany is the most populous country in the EU - and its population of 83,1 million people makes it one of the most populous countries in the world! The country is split into 16 federal states, three of which are city states (Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen), while the rest are known as area states. The most populous are North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, and Baden-Württemberg.
The population of Germany is very diverse: in 2019 (the last year for which statistics are available), more than 10,5 million people with a migration background were living in Germany - making up approximately 12,5 percent of the entire population. The states with the highest proportion of migrant inhabitants were Berlin, Hamburg and esse.
Reflecting this demographic diversity, the geography of Germany is also extremely varied. Covering a total surface area of 357.022 square kilometres, the country stretches from the flat shores of the Baltic and North Seas in the northeast and northwest down to the steeply rising foothills of the Alps in the south. The country’s highest point is the Zugspitze (2.963 metres above sea level) and its lowest is in Wilstermarsch in Schleswig-Holstein, where the ground dips to minus 3,54 metres.
Germany has a temperate climate, ranging from oceanic in the north to continental in the east and southeast, meaning winters range from cold in the Alps to mild in other parts of the country. Summer is typically the season that sees the most rainfall.
Prevailing westerly winds bring moist air to the country’s northern regions, moderating the temperature, while the southeast regions are more prone to extreme seasonal changes in the weather. However, the impact of climate change means that heatwaves and drought are becoming more prevalent across the country.
Germany: Cost of living
Compared to some other western European countries, the cost of living in Germany is actually relatively cheap - although the costs of food, housing, clothing and cultural activities are slightly higher than the EU average. Unsurprisingly, prices differ significantly depending on where you are: the cost of living in the big German cities is considerably higher than in rural areas; and prices in southern and western Germany are significantly dearer those in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
While you can exert some control over the amount you spend on food and utilities by choosing where to shop and which provider to sign up with, by far your biggest expense is likely to be your rent - and you will have less choice when it comes to finding somewhere to live. This is especially true if you’re searching for housing in one of Germany’s larger cities, where demand far outstrips supply, and rents are consequently much higher than the average.
But where there are higher rents, there are higher salaries. Average incomes vary a lot depending on where in Germany you live - with those in cities in the west and south commanding the highest salaries - but generally speaking salaries in the federal republic are generous. However, you need to take into account the fact that as much as 30 percent of your monthly paycheck will go towards income taxes and compulsory social security contributions.
House prices in Germany
The cost of housing in Germany can be high. The housing market has been booming for years and shows no signs of slowing down - even with the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Between 2009 and 2019, house prices in Germany’s seven biggest cities - Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart - rose by an incredible 123,7 percent.
In 2019, for example, the average value for apartments in these cities was 5.687 euros per square metre. Unsurprisingly, therefore, buying a house is beyond the means of many. However, owning one’s own home is also less of a “social aspiration” in Germany than elsewhere: thanks to strong tenant rights, high property transfer taxes and limited tax benefits for owner-occupiers, only around 45 percent of households in the federal republic own the home they live in.
That’s not to say that renting in Germany is cheap: prices are also being squeezed on the rental market, especially in the country’s largest cities, where competition is fierce. In the first quarter of 2020, the average rent in Germany for a newly-constructed house was approximately 9,96 euros per square metre. In Munich, one of the most expensive places to rent in the whole country, the average was 17,76 euros per square metre.
Government in Germany
There are three tiers of government in Germany: the municipalities, the federal states, and the federal government, who share political power between them. In separate elections, the German population votes for representatives to send to both the Bundestag (Federal Diet) and the Bundesrat (Federal Council).
The Bundestag, which consists of at least 598 members, elects the federal chancellor, the German office with the greatest political power. The chancellor then chooses the other members of the federal government, known as federal ministers, and the federal cabinet.
While Bundestag members are directly elected by the German people, the Bundesrat represents the governments of the 16 individual states. It is sometimes described as an upper house of parliament like the US Senate or the House of Lords in the UK. The head of the German state, known as the federal president, is a largely ceremonial position.
National holidays in Germany
Like many aspects of life in Germany, the number of national holidays per year varies from state to state. While some, like New Year’s Day, Good Friday, German Unity Day and Christmas Day, are nationwide holidays, others are only observed in some federal states. The federal state with the most public holidays is Bavaria, where residents enjoy 13 public holidays per year.
The healthcare system
The German healthcare system is funded by a mixture of employee and employer contributions and government subsidies and is run by both public and private healthcare providers, insurance schemes, regulatory bodies and the Federal Ministry of Health.
It covers both inpatient and outpatient care, and rehabilitation. Health insurance and long-term care insurance are compulsory for all residents of Germany, so it is important to make sure you are covered.
The Netherlands: Day to day life
Bearing that in mind, let's look at how life in the Netherlands compares to life in Germany.
Demographics & Geography
The Netherlands, in comparison to Germany, is a fairly small country with a surface area of just 41,543 square kilometres (33,893 square kilometres excluding water surfaces). Around a quarter of the country lies below sea level. Its lowest point is Zuidplaspolder, which sits at minus seven metres, and its highest point, Vaalserberg, is a measly 322 metres above sea level.
It may be small in size, but the Netherlands is very densely populated, with its population currently standing at 17,3 million. The most densely populated area, in the centre of the country, is known as the Randstad and contains the cities of Amsterdam (population 1,149 million), Rotterdam (population 1,010 million), and The Hague.
Despite being smaller, the population of the Netherlands is perhaps even more diverse than that of Germany: in 2020, around 24,2 percent had a migration background; 10,5 percent from a “western” background, and 13,7 percent from a “non-western” background.
Dutch weather and climate
Like Germany, the Netherland has a temperate climate with relatively mild winters and generally cool summers. There is no designated rainy reason because it rains all year round - although, despite its reputation, the Netherlands isn't actually that rainy. The average annual rainfall is only around 790mm.
The issue, instead, is how unpredictable the Dutch weather can be. You're never sure whether you need to be leaving the house with a scarf, an umbrella, or a pair of sunglasses (or all three!). Adding to this unpredictability, heatwaves are becoming a relatively frequent occurrence in the Netherlands. In 2020, the country experienced a record-breaking heatwave that last 13 days.
Compared to Germany - and many other countries around the world - the Netherlands doesn't have the most generous allowance of public holidays. Alongside those that are commonplace elsewhere, such as Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Easter Monday, there are two national holidays specific to the Netherlands - King’s Day (Koningsdag) on April 27, and Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) on May 5. The latter is only an official holiday once every five years!
The Netherlands: Cost of living
The cost of living in the Netherlands is around what you would expect for a western European country - although life in one of the big Dutch cities is considerably more expensive than in rural areas.
There are enough supermarket chains and service providers that you have a great deal of control over how much you spend on food or utility bills, but you should prepare for the fact that housing will take up quite a significant proportion of your living costs - especially if you live in one of the larger cities in the Netherlands, where fierce competition is driving up rents. However, with cycling being the most popular means of transport, you won't be spending a lot on public transportation.
And while rents may be high, salaries in the Netherlands take this into account. The Dutch minimum wage is also very decent. At first glance, Dutch income taxes seem lower than those in Germany, but bear in mind that contributions for things like health insurance (which is also compulsory in the Netherlands) and pensions are not deducted from your wages via payroll tax - and so you need to factor these in as extra costs.
If you are a high-earning expat, however, you can take advantage of a Dutch tax reduction scheme known as the 30% ruling. If you work in an in-demand profession, or your wages exceed a predefined limit, you can reduce your taxable income from 100 percent to 70 percent, making the remaining 30 percent completely tax-free.
House prices in the Netherlands
The cost of housing in the Netherlands is high - and it only seems to be increasing: 2020 has seen the largest increase in rent prices in six years, pushing up the national average to 16,77 euros per square metre. The highest prices, unsurprisingly, are commanded in the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague.
If you're renting, make sure to check your rental contract to see which utilities are included - energy, water and internet are usually factored into the cost, while some expenses such as municipal taxes might not be. If you are struggling to pay your rent, you might be eligible for the Dutch rental allowance (huurtoeslag).
Buying a house is a good financial investment, but with the average property price now pushing 300.000 euros, it is not an option for everybody. In Amsterdam, the average sale price is as much as 450.000 euros. As in Germany, the high cost of real estate is what pushes so many people to rent.
Healthcare in the Netherlands
The Dutch healthcare system is widely considered one of the best and fairest in the world, covering basic and essential medical care (such as visits to the GP or hospital), supplementary care (like dental care), and long-term care for chronic illnesses.
As in Germany, health insurance that covers basic care is mandatory for all residents of the Netherlands, although it is financed as a set monthly premium, rather than a proportion of your salary. Mandatory state insurance also covers long-term care, and some insurance policies also cover supplementary care like dental treatments and glasses, but it depends on your provider.
Government in the Netherlands
Like Germany, the Dutch parliament has two houses: the Senate (Eerste Kamer, 75 seats) and House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer, 150 seats). The Dutch government is comprised of a Council of Ministers, which includes both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers.
There is also a Dutch royal family, headed by King Willem Alexander, who is the official head of state in the Netherlands. The royal family fulfil certain ceremonial duties, but have little real power.
Work culture in Germany and the Netherlands
For expats especially, work is always a key factor when considering a move abroad. So what do both the Netherlands and Germany have to offer in the way of career prospects and job opportunities for expats? What is the work culture like in these two countries? Read on to discover how they're similar, and now they're different.
Jobs in Germany and the Netherlands
The Netherlands is an ideal destination for expats looking for work abroad, offering a wealth of international-friendly job opportunities, expat-only job boards and even recruitment agencies that specialise in placing expats in jobs in the Netherlands. Some of the industries in greatest need of talent from abroad are the creative industries, chemicals, energy, IT, health and life sciences, and logistics.
In comparison, Germany isn't quite as outward-facing. There isn't as much of a strong English-language working culture in the federal republic, with German remaining the primary language of business. Nevertheless, as the economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany still offers plenty of job opportunities for expats - especially in the healthcare, engineering, MINT and retail industries. And, as the number of companies seeking foreign workers grows, so too does the number of recruitment agencies specialising in international candidates and expat-friendly job boards.
Applying for a job in the Netherlands and Germany
The job application process is pretty similar in both the Netherlands and Germany. In the Netherlands, candidates will invariably be asked to submit a resume along with a cover letter (known as a motivatiebrief). You may also be asked for references. They aren't normally checked until later in the recruitment process, but it's good to be prepared!
If the candidate's CV and cover letter impress the company, they may be invited to interview. Depending on the company, this could range from a fairly relaxed conversation to a more intense, formal interview. There may also be a skills assessment or an exam. Be warned that interviewers could ask questions unrelated to the position, with a view to getting to know you as a person.
The process is largely the same in Germany, although you should be aware that German CVs and cover letters follow a pretty set format, so it’s worth making a few tweaks to ensure yours look the way recruiters would expect. Attaching a picture, for example, is standard, but embellishment, business jargon and buzzwords are not.
If the hiring manager likes what they see on your resume, you will be invited to interview. This may also include a skills assessment or other kind of test. While it of course varies according to the company, interviews in Germany tend to be relatively formal affairs.
The Netherlands is known for striking a good work-life balance, with many people choosing to work part-time. In fact, around 74 percent of people working in the Netherlands work less than 36 hours a week. According to the OECD, people in the Netherlands work an average of 1.434 hour per year.
In Germany, for comparison, employees work an average of 1.386 hours per year - only slightly less. Most German companies also place a strong emphasis on striking a good work-life balance, and so the average full-time working week is somewhere between 36 and 40 hours.
International working environment in the Netherlands and Germany
As mentioned above, the working environment in the Netherlands is very international and plenty of people are able to speak only English at work. A number of large international companies have their head offices in the Netherlands.
Unsurprisingly for a country where so many native Dutch speakers work in their second language, the Netherlands also has a very high level of English proficiency. It was ranked the best in the world, for the second year in a row, in the 2020 Education First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), a ranking of worldwide countries by English proficiency among non-native speakers.
Germany ranked a very respectable 10th in the 2020 EF EPI. Although this is still considered a “very high” score, English proficiency can be patchy in the federal republic, especially outside the main cities, and public institutions such as immigration offices are notorious for not having English-speaking staff. The number of international companies is growing in Germany, but the main language of business is still undoubtedly German.
Family life in Germany and the Netherlands
Or you thinking of starting a family, or you already have one and want to bring it with you? Then you need to know what moving to the Netherlands or German could mean for you and your family. Here's everything you need to know about education and quality of life in the two countries.
The Dutch school system
All children in the Netherlands must attend school between the ages of five and 16. Dutch primary schools, which children attend from age four to 12, are split into eight grades (groepen). In their final year of primary school, the children sit an exam to determine which stream they will enter for secondary school.
Secondary schools in the Netherlands are split into three streams:
- VMBO - to prepare children (12 - 16) for vocational training
- HAVO - to prepare children (12 - 17) to study at universities of applied sciences
- VWO - to prepare children (12 - 18) for university
There are a number of different types of schools in the Netherlands, including international schools which offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), European Baccalaureate, British qualifications, and more. There are also government-run public schools (openbaar), which have no religious or philosophical affiliation, and independently-operated special schools (bijzonder) that adhere to a religion or education philsophy, such as Montessori or Steiner schools.
School holiday dates are staggered in the Netherlands to avoid a busy holiday rush. The dates are set according to the region your school is in.
The school system in Germany
Compulsory education begins at age six in Germany, although prior to this parents are entitled to childcare. Children attend primary school (Grundschule) until the age of 10 or 12 (depending on the federal state). Homeschooling is illegal in Germany.
Like the Netherlands, Germany also streams children at secondary level:
- General secondary school (Hauptschule) - for vocational education
- Secondary school (Realschule) - more extensive general education
- Academic secondary school (Gymnasium) - most intensified general education
Depending on the school qualification a child receives, they may be able to go on to study at a university of applied science or a university. There are also other types of schools that offer multiple school qualifications.
German primary and secondary schools are also split between public schools and private or alternative schools (Ersatzschulen). All kinds of schools participate in the streamed system of schooling and receive government funding - meaning that private schools in Germany are much more affordable than in other countries in Western Europe. A number of international schools also offer children internationally-recognised certifications like the IGCSE and IB diplomas - but they typically charge higher tuition fees than other types of schools.
To avoid overburdening the transport infrastructure, school holidays in Germany work on a staggered rota system that changes every year. The earliest summer holidays start in the middle of June, and the latest ones end in the middle of September.
Quality of life
Covering 11 topics categorised as essential to determine general well-being across countries around the world, the OECD Better Life Index breaks overall quality of life down into: environmental quality, civic engagement, education and skills, work-life balance, health status, subjective well-being, income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing, personal safety, and social connections.
Quality of life in Germany
Compared to most other countries, Germany performs well in the Better Life Index, with above-average scores in all 11 categories. The federal republic scores best on work-life balance (8,4 out of 10), safety (8,3) and jobs (8,2), while it is let down slightly when it comes to community (6,2) and civic engagement (5,3).
Quality of life in the Netherlands
Like Germany, the Netherlands performs well, achieving particularly high scores for the following categories: work-life balance (9,5 out of 10), life satisfaction (9,3), safety (9,2), health (8,4), and jobs (8,3).
The only areas where the Netherlands scored below average were income and wealth.
Overall life satisfaction is slightly higher in the Netherlands than in Germany. When asked to rate their satisfaction, the Dutch gave themselves an average of 7,4 out of 10. In Germany, people scored their life satisfaction a 7. The only aspect in which the Netherlands would appear to be lacking in income and wealth, where it scores below average.
Lifestyle in Germany and the Netherlands
Aside from all the practical aspects to consider when moving from one country to the other - things like jobs, taxes and cost of living - you also have to think about the "living" part, too - where you want to live, and what kind of stuff you want to do in your free time.
The biggest cities in Germany
There are 79 cities in Germany with more than 100.000 inhabitants - meaning that expats who come to the federal republic have a lot of choice when it comes to finding somewhere to live. From the infamous nightlife of Berlin to the traditional beer halls of Munich, each German city has its own unique charm. Here are just some of the German cities that are popular with expats:
Since the fall of its infamous wall, Berlin has firmly established itself on the world stage as everybody’s favourite German city. It has long been a top destination among expats, who once came for its cheap rentals and enticing atmosphere of experimentation and hedonism. The cheap rentals might now be a thing of the past, but the emphasis on creativity remains - and now there’s a thriving start-up scene to boot.
The home of carnival, Kölsch and a chocolate museum, laid-back Cologne is friendly and welcoming. Once known as the world’s “greatest heap of rubble” after WW2 air raids left the city almost entirely decimated, Cologne has since reinvented itself as an international hub of engineering, insurance and media. Its convenient location at the centre of European transport networks makes it one of the most frequently-visited destinations on the continent.
Just a short hop, skip and a jump away from Cologne lies Düsseldorf, the German home of banking, advertising, fashion and telecommunications. Düsseldorf also experienced extensive damage during the Second World War but has since undergone extensive modernisation to become a thriving hub of art, architecture and electronic music. Nicknamed the “Little Tokyo on the Rhine”, it is also home to the largest Japanese community in Germany.
“Mainhattan” is Germany’s beating heart of business and finance, home to more than 200 national and international banks. Look beyond those gleaming skyscrapers, however, and you’ll discover the largest community of expats in Germany and a very active student population. And did we mention that Frankfurt also has an annual festival dedicated to apple wine?
The second-biggest city in Germany, Hamburg lies on the River Elbe and bears traces of its mercantile history wherever you look: in its port (which is the third-busiest in Europe), its infamous red-light district, and its particular liking for pickled herrings. No wonder, then, that this city is nicknamed Germany’s “Gateway to the World”. And as any Hamburg resident can tell you, the city is also home to more canals than Amsterdam.
Close your eyes, picture a typical German scene, and you’re probably thinking of Munich. World-famous for its beer halls, lederhosen and oompah bands, Munich is a city where tradition is cherished, but not at the expense of the modern: high-tech industry, modern art, and science and innovation are equally important in the capital city of Bavaria. It’s also consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the world for quality of life.
Nestled in the middle of umpteen valleys and rivers, forests and vineyards, Stuttgart is famous for being the centre of car manufacturing in Germany. This charmingly rural city - where as much as 40 percent of the population has a migration background - is a tale of contrasts, with snappy suits, fancy restaurants and flashy cars coexisting happily with country walks and cosy bars.
The biggest cities in the Netherlands
The Netherlands may be smaller by surface area, but it's dense: its cities pack no less of a punch than the German ones, catering to everyone's needs and preferences. Here's an overview of the major Dutch cities that are popular among the international community.
If you haven't visited Amsterdam before, you've almost definitely heard of it. The biggest city in the Netherlands may have firmly established itself as one of the world's top tourist destinations, but Amsterdam is so much more than its reputation as a party city would have you believe. It is also home to hundreds and thousands of Dutch and international inhabitants who live and work in the city. In fact, Amsterdam is home to more than 170 different nationalities, ensuring that it's easy for just about anybody to get by in the city, even if you don't speak Dutch. Small wonder, then, that it's regularly ranked as one of the best cities in the world for quality of life.
Alongside being the country's financial, cultural, commercial and business capital, Amsterdam is a unique and historic city with beautiful architecture - pictures of its iconic crooked buildings have made it to the farthest reaches of the globe! It's also home to a wealth of famous museums, art galleries, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, bars and - of course - coffee shops and the infamous red light district.
The way everybody goes on about it, you'd think that Amsterdam was the only city in the Netherlands - but Rotterdam can more than give the capital a run for its money. The second-largest city in the Netherlands and an increasingly popular choice for internationals, Rotterdam is home to one of the largest ports in the world, making it a hub of industry and commerce. It's well-known for its impressive skyline of modern architecture and many feel it rivals the Dutch capital when it comes to history and culture.
The third-largest city in the Netherlands is The Hague, the home of the royal family, Dutch government, and a number of famous international courts. With a no shortage of international companies setting up shop in the city, The Hague is home to an exceedingly diverse population, but it has a quieter and calmer vibe than Amsterdam or Rotterdam, making it a popular choice among families. Another reason why this city tops so many people's wish lists: it's only a short tram ride away from Scheveningen, the most beloved beach in the Netherlands.
Major annual events in Germany
No matter what time of year, there’s always a good event or festival going on in Germany. Here are some of your best opportunities to celebrate with the locals:
One of the “big three” European film festivals, Berlinale is an international film festival held in the capital every February. The best part about it is that it’s open to the public, so even us ordinary folks can get our hands on tickets for more than 400 film screenings.
Although carnival season officially kicks off at 11.11 am on November 11, the main festivities take place during the “Crazy Days” between Silly Thursday and Ash Wednesday, as revellers take to the streets in costume, singing, drinking and begging for sweets and kisses. Celebrations take place in many parts of Germany, but the most famous carnivals are held in Cologne, Munich, Mainz, Aachen and Düsseldorf.
This traditional annual market is held three times on the Mariahilfplatz in the district of Au in Munich. The Maidult (Spring), the Jakobidult (Summer) and the Kirchweihdult (Autumn) each last for nine days and feature a number of attractions, including a market, funfair rides, food stalls and, of course, plenty of German beer. While the Munich fairs are probably the most famous, many towns and cities across Germany hold their own annual spring folk festivals.
Carnival of Cultures
Every Spring, residents of Berlin turn out en masse to celebrate the city’s diversity. The Carnival of Cultures is a four-day street festival that includes music, food, performances and a colourful parade. The Bremen Samba parade is a similar celebration of diversity and multiculturalism.
On the first weekend of July every year, Cologne Pride sees half a million participants take to the streets to celebrate love in all its forms. The high point of the festivities is the Sunday parade. Other Pride celebrations take place in cities across Germany, usually under the name “Christopher Street Day (CSD)”, which is a reference to Christopher Street, where the Stonewall Riots took place.
You couldn’t write a list of events in Germany without mentioning the Munich Oktoberfest. The world’s largest and most famous folk festival, Wiesn (as the locals call it) is a 16- to 18-day festival that runs from mid- or late September to the first Sunday in October. Each year, it is attended by more than six million visitors from around the world, who collectively glug down more than seven million litres of beer.
If there’s one thing Germany does well, it’s Christmas. German Christmas markets are famous worldwide - so much so that many countries have now started putting on their own. But for the original and best, you’ve got to be in the federal republic. Each city, town and village hosts its own market with a different festive feel, from the traditional and magical to the curious and unexpected.
While the traditional Christmas markets in Cologne, Munich and Nuremberg are probably the most famous, there are plenty of smaller markets that still count among the cosiest and most spectacular.
Major annual events in the Netherlands
Not to be outdone, the Netherlands also hosts a large number of events and festivals over the course of the year, providing plenty of opportunities for you and your family to get familiar with local Dutch culture.
The Netherlands has its own version of carnival, known as carnaval, that's a yearly highlight for many! It's typically celebrated in the southern parts of the country, and people travel from miles around to take part in the fun - which usually involves dressing up, drinking and having a good old boogie.
Like its German cousin, Dutch carnaval is held annually on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately preceding Lent. Just make sure you wrap up warm, because the day isn't normally blessed with sunshine!
Prepare to witness an entire country turning orange as Kingsday (Koningsdag) rolls around on April 27. As the name suggests, the day is a nationwide celebration of the King's birthday and is a great excuse for a knees-up. Everybody dons orange clothes, eats orange food and drinks orange drinks in homage to their beloved monarch - come rain or shine.
If you don't fancy wearing a plastic orange hat and drinking copious amounts of beer, you can always spend the day walking around aimlessly to see what gems you can find at the traditional street markets (it's the one day of the year you don't need a licence to set up a stall!)
People come from far and wide to take part in Amsterdam’s Pride celebrations, one of the highlights of summer in the Netherlands. The canal parade is a true sight to behold and has the wonderful accolade of being the world's only pride parade on water.
As you may be slowly coming to understand, the Dutch love an excuse for a good party, and the summer months in the Netherlands are jam-packed with a number of renowned music festivals, celebrating every possible kind of music genre.
Some more well-known festivals include PinkPop (always held on Pentecost weekend), North Sea Jazz Festival, Lowlands, Mysteryland, and Awakenings. On top of that, every year the Dutch capital is transformed into an electric five-day electronic music conference known as the Amsterdam Dance Event.
Where the Germans have Nikolaus, the Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas. Although this festival is now increasingly celebrated as a side-event in the run-up to the big day on December 24, historically Sinterklaas was the main winter gift-giving figure in the Netherlands.
Unlike Santa Claus, Sint arrives from his home in Spain on a steamboat in mid-November. He then travels around the country on his white horse, until pakjesavond on December 5, when children leave out shoes for him to fill with snacks and sweets. Sadly, Sinterklaas is not an official holiday in the Netherlands, but it's still filled with festivities and family fun.
Food in Germany vs food in the Netherlands
For many people, food is a factor as important as work or housing - since food is such an integral component in our experiences abroad. So aside from cheese and bitterballen or Bratwurst and beer, what do the Netherlands and Germany have to offer in the way of culinary delights?
German cuisine & Traditional German dishes
Germany isn’t generally known for having a “haute cuisine” food culture - but what it lacks in refinement it more than makes up for in heartiness. Unsurprisingly for a relatively cold and wet country, typical German cuisine is rich and filling, and heavily reliant on food preservation techniques like salting, pickling, smoking and curing.
However, German cuisine isn’t limited to just meat and potatoes. From the 1960s onwards, an influx of immigrants arrived in Germany, bringing with them new ingredients and dishes that have since become staples of the German diet - pizza, pasta, noodles and kebabs. Nowadays, tasty and authentic food is never hard to find.
Traditional German foods
Although traditional German cuisine is pretty varied - with each region having at least a handful of speciality dishes - there are some dishes that you are likely to come across no matter where in the country you are. These include Eintopf (a simple stew), Erbsensuppe (pea soup), Bratwurst, Leberkäse, Schnitzel and Rouladen.
And, of course, what’s a German meal without some bread or potatoes on the side? Popular accompaniments include Brezeln (pretzels), Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) and - everybody’s favourite - Sauerkraut.
Breakfast in Germany
Breakfast in Germany is one of the most important meals of the day, and typically revolves around baked goods, which really should be bought fresh from the bakery in the morning. Bread rolls - and Germany has hundreds of different types - are typically eaten with butter, margarine, marmalade, honey or chocolate spread. Other popular accompaniments include eggs, quark and sliced meats and cheeses.
Sweet foods in Germany
Germany may be best-known for its hearty meaty dishes, but it’s got no shortage of sweet treats. Apart from the little cakes and pastries that line the windows of bakery shops, some ever-popular German desserts include Käsekuchen (German cheesecake), Dampfnudeln (steamed buns), Prinzregententorte (a many-layered cake from Bavaria), Rote Grütze (a thick mash made of red berries and sugar), and that 70s favourite - the Black Forest Gateau (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)
Dutch cuisine & Popular dishes in the Netherlands
Food in the Netherlands can be described using similar adjectives - most traditional Dutch dishes are hearty, warm and stodgy. However, like Germany, there are a number of international influences on Dutch cuisine. The Netherlands’ colonial history means that a number of traditional and popular dishes have been inspired by cuisines from abroad.
Traditional Dutch foods
Some of the most popular and well-known dishes gracing tables in the Netherlands include stamppot, pea soup and pancakes, all of which are traditionally eaten for dinner - yes, even the pancakes! Dutch cuisine also bears a strong Indonesian influence and so an Indonesian rijstafel (literally, rice table - a selection of side dishes accompanied by rice) is a very popular meal, especially in Amsterdam.
The Dutch are also famous (or perhaps infamous) for their snack foods, traditionally eaten in a bar with a small beer, including raw herring, bitterballen, kroketten and small blocks of cheese with a mustard dip on the side. There are also a number of Dutch regional specialities, such as the Brabant sausage roll.
Breakfast in the Netherlands
The Dutch are well-known for being fond of bread in general and sandwiches in particular, and so the food item of choice at a Dutch breakfast is - you guessed it - slices of bread topped with either sweet or savoury items, such as cheese or those famous chocolate sprinkles known as hagelslag. Popular breakfast breads include ontbijtkoek, krentenbol (a soft roll filled with currents) and rye bread.
Alternatively, plenty of people simply opt for other popular breakfast items like muesli with yoghurt and fruit.
Sweet foods in the Netherlands
Unsurprisingly for a country famed for its pancakes, the Dutch have a lot of varieties to boast about: from the ever-popular pannekoek to the poffertje (a small, bite-sized pancake). Other Dutch favourites include stroopwafels (syrup waffles) and drop (liquorice). During the winter months, you may notice a few extra products popping up on your supermarket's shelves, including pepernoten and kruidnoten, which are traditional cookies eaten around the Sinterklaas festivities.
Sporting rivals: The Netherlands vs Germany
The Netherlands and Germany may be fairly pally neighbouring countries, but that amicable relationship comes to an abrupt end when it comes to sports. These two countries have a long-standing rivalry when it comes to football and hockey.
The white shirts of Germany and the orange shirts of the Netherlands have met countless times on the football pitch over the past 20 years, but one memory that stands out in particular in many people's minds is the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup. After scoring a penalty in the second minute of the match, the Netherlands went on to let in another two goals and hand the trophy to West Germany - a bitter defeat for a country still full of anti-German sentiment after the Second World War.
Known in Dutch as de moeder aller nederlagen (the mother of all defeats), this match defined the sporting relationship between the two countries for many years. The following two matches were notoriously aggressive, coming to a head in the 1980 UEFA Europan Football Championship, when Dutch right-winger René van de Kerkhof punched German midfielder Bernd Schuster in the eye.
It was not until 1988 that the Dutch managed to turn the tables, defeating Germany on home soil in the semi-final of the UEFA. They went on to beat the Soviet Union in the final, returning to Amsterdam on a tide of jubilation. Head Coach Rinus Michels stood in front of the Dutch Royal Palace and said, "We won the tournament, but we all know the semi-final was the real final."
In total, the two countries have met 44 times (including 14 competitive matches), resulting in 16 victories for Germany, 16 draws, and 12 victories for the Netherlands - so you know that, whenever these two teams meet, it's always going to be a great game.
The German and Dutch women's football teams don't have anything like as intense a rivalry, having only met a handful of times over the past few years. 2009 was the first year that the Netherlands qualified for the UEFA Women's Euro, and they made it all the way to the semi-finals, where they lost 2-1 to England. As they were on the other side of the draw, they didn't get a chance to play Germany, the defending world and European champion. The German side ultimately beat England in the final.
Germany's 24-year winning streak (they won the UEFA Championships six times in a row) only came to an end in 2017, when the Netherlands's women's team won their first major trophy, beating the Danish team 4-2 in the final (Germany lost to Denmark in the quarter-finals).
An interesting fact - the Netherlands and Germany are actually the only two countries to have one both the men's and women's European championships, while Germany is the only country to have won both World championships. The former rivals are now working together (with Belgium) in their bid to host the 2027 Women’s World Cup.
Germany and the Nethelands are home to some of the top field hockey teams in the world; according to the 2020 rankings, Germany has the third-best women's team and the sixth-best men's team in the world. The Netherlands fares even better, with the women's team coming in first in the world, and the men's team ranked third.
Over the decades, these two countries have battled it out multiple times on the hockey pitch. While the Netherlands has won Olympic gold three times since 1984, the German women's team snatched the gold medal from under the Dutch team's noses in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
The verdict: DE vs NL
There you have it - clearly, in their own ways, both Germany and the Netherlands have a lot to offer. But, ultimately, you can only really discover a country by living there yourself.
Whichever you end up choosing, you will undoubtedly face both positives and negatives, but remember - since they share a border, the other country is never far away! Moving to a new country is always a difficult experience, but the rewards ultimately more than make up for any stress you experience in the meantime.