Last updated on December 12th, 2022 at 04:42 pm
Did you move from a sunny, tropical part of the world to Germany? This little guide is to help you survive that not-so-pretty side of winter in Germany.
For many foreigners, winter in Germany can be a mixed bag. On one hand, you’ve got some beautiful, crispy winter days, when the sky is deep blue, and the sun shines bright, with a blanket of snow everywhere you look. On the other hand, there are miserable days, with ice rain or arctic winds during winter in Germany.
Then there are weeks and weeks of endless grey when you are left thirsty for sunlight.
This little guide is to help you survive the literal dark side of winter in Germany and come out on the other side with your sanity intact.
Tips To Cope With Winter in Germany
Take control of your circadian rhythm
For some people, such as me, the biggest challenge is not the colder temperature, but the prolonged lack of sunlight. Winter depression in Germany aka Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD is a real phenomenon here. Some German cities have as few as 42 (Hamburg) to 45 (Berlin) hours of sunlight in January.
According to German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN), one in four Germans suffers from health impairments in the winter. Studies also show that two to five percent of the population (more women than men) have a regular Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) beginning in the fall when it starts getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon.
Do you feel also the effects of early nightfall during fall or winter? Then you might be battling winter depression in Germany. There are two great devices to help you deal with this.
Light therapy lamps:
Daylight lamps can remedy this, even if just temporarily, during winter in Germany. These are called Tageslichtlampe in German.
These special lamps emit light with the same wavelength as sunlight. They can stimulate the body’s circadian rhythm (24-hour internal clock) while suppressing the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.
They also come in a UV-free version. The daylight lamps essentially provide light therapy, mimicking the sunlight you would usually get in the summer. You need to use them diligently and for somewhat long chunks of time to get the best out of them.
Dawn simulators (Dämmerung simulator):
You can also get a sunrise simulator, which is pretty much a lamp that simulates the dawn. These are alarm clocks that use gradually increasing light to wake you up slowly, the same way the sunlight would. The best kinds of sunlight alarms use full-spectrum light, which is closest to natural sunlight.
This way, you wake up to natural light instead of feeling like you are getting out of bed in the middle of the night.
Also Recommended: How to get mental healthcare in Germany
Winter depression in Germany can also be physically exhausting. Every winter my energy levels take an unusual dip even when my lifestyle has not changed one bit. The motivation to get up from my home office chair, let alone change out of my warm comfy clothes into workout gear is exactly nil.
I get over this by getting up anyway and working out a few times every week. Some days it is tough and some days it is not. A bit of workout helps me stay more alert, get some blood circulating, and beat the early evening slump when it feels like late night already.
So don’t stop working out during German winter. If you really lack the energy to work out, just go out for a walk during lunchtime. It is a great way to minimise the effects of winter depression in Germany.
Get real daylight during midday. Even a 15 minutes walk once a day can make a huge difference both physically and mentally.
Enjoy the festive season
Winter in Germany is also a time of the biggest festivities. This is a culturally mandated measure against winter depression in Germany. 😉
All through December, the entire country comes alive with Christmas markets, Christmas celebrations, end-of-the-year festivities, and eventually new years eve.
Invite people over for some hot chocolate or glühwein during the Christmas season. Everyone is up for some socialising in the gloomy German winter.
Most workplaces in Germany officially organise Christmas get-togethers. There is no reason why you should not go out privately to Christmas markets with your colleagues or friends.
Christmas markets are wonderfully vibrant and have a great atmosphere. Even if you are not a religious person or not a practicing Christian you can still enjoy the festive vibes and socialising over German street food and a cuppa glühwein or hot cocoa.
Trust me, when you have something exciting to look forward to in the evening, it will keep the spirits up through the dark murky days. Moreover, it is also a great opportunity to make new friends if you’re new in town.
So go out and enjoy the upcoming Christmas season because January through April will be grey and miserable in comparison.
But it is too freaking cold to go out, you say? To deal with that…
Dress up in layers
Wear layers, make sure to have good quality heat-trapping waterproof winter shoes, and keep your head warm. When I need to be out and about in sub-zero temperatures I layer as follows:
- Tank top or a light basic tee
- A turtleneck pullover (if I don’t want a scarf)
- A fleece jacket
- A winter overcoat (a waterproof coat if it’s raining)
- Winter leggings
- Trousers or jeans
- Thick socks
- Winter boots
- Hat (that covers my ears too)
- Scarf or gloves (optional)
With this type of layering, you can remove or add the amount of clothing whenever you need. Fabric can also make a huge difference. Cashmere and wool are naturally warm and classic winter fabrics.
Wear a hat that covers your ears because we lose a disproportionate percentage of body heat through our heads and ears.
A good Rollkragenpullover (turtleneck pullover) is your secret weapon. It keeps your neck protected from the cold without always having to drape on a scarf everywhere you go.
So are good winter shoes.
Get a good pair of warm boots. As long as your feet are toasty and dry, most of your body will stay warm. Wear thick socks or multiple layers of socks, e.g. normal socks then warm wool socks over them.
PRO TIP: Winter coats and winter boots can be very costly in Germany. If you want to save some money, try buying slightly used high-quality winter clothing on Momox Fashion.
If you still want to avoid the cold outside, then…
Make your home cozy and welcoming
The Christmas season, unfortunately, lasts only a month. Then comes January which is even greyer and wetter and colder. 🙁
To deal with this I recommend you make your home as cozy as possible.
Heating bills are supposed to be extremely high for most of us this winter in Germany. So how do we make our home warm and cozy?
I do this by wrapping our apartment with stuff that traps warmth inside.
Start by putting a thermal cover on your windows and any glass walls. These simple thermal films are transparent, do not block view and daylight and isolate your windows. They are also pretty cheap and a good way to trap warmth from your heater inside.
Then layer your floors with soft plushy carpets or rugs. Put some throws, pillows, and cozy comforters on the couch. Cover the windows with some thick curtains or blinds. Other things that add a nice warm touch to any room are fairy lights and real candles (please be careful with those!)
PRO TIP: If you hate getting in a bitter cold bed at night, then consider investing in a heated blanket or a heated mattress pad to come to a toasty warm bed each night. You can get one for a double bed for as little as 30 euros.
We have a heated mattress pad that pre-heats our bed within 15 minutes and automatically turns off after three hours. Getting in bed is the best feeling ever, and we don’t even turn on the heating in the bedroom since getting the heating pad.
Now that you have a cozy and inviting space, it’s time to make it livelier.
Did you know that post-Christmas is also a great time to invite your friends over for leftover Christmas cookies and mulled wine with Amaretto?
Develop an indoor hobby
Even when you don’t have company over you can still do a lot of fun activities on your own.
Get yourself a hobby that you love and which requires you to stay indoors.
In our household, we enjoy board games. When the weather is crappy, we set up our tabletop board games. Hours fly by when we play and it’s the evening without even realising.
Reading is another of my favourite hobby. I look forward to being able to sit down and read my favourite books every weekend. Cold rain and grey skies don’t bother me much because they mean more time in my reading nook.
Try indoor gardening. Propagate some indoor plants, such as all-weather pothos or English ivy that are known for air-filtering properties. It is hard to argue against the comforting lush greenery that indoor plants add to any room.
Bake some cookies or fresh bread at home! That aroma alone makes any space super inviting.
Get your vitamin levels checked
If you strongly feel that the dark weather is getting you down, go to the doctor (called a Hausarzt in German) and ask if you need vitamin D supplements.
Do NOT take vitamin D without consulting your GP, especially if you’ve lived in a sunny region before moving to Germany.
Vitamin D is not one of those vitamins you can take as much as your want to. Too much of it can be toxic and become a health issue.
Adjust your outlook on winter in Germany
If you have not been diagnosed with any seasonal-related disorder, or a vitamin D deficiency, then you might need to rethink your mindset.
Be kind to yourself and don’t worry even when you feel dragged down by the endless gloom. If you were raised in a country with lots of sunshine, it is natural for you to notice the distinct lack of it. Remember that the dark days of German winters can even get to the locals who are born and raised here.
You do not need to “survive” winter in Germany. It is just what it is – a mindset thing. Arm yourself with winter-appropriate attire, get outside no matter the weather, and lean into the coldness.
Hike in the winter landscape, cook seasonal food at home, find restaurants or cafes with fireplaces and enjoy gluhwein at the Christmas markets.
Enjoy what it offers and just deal with it, because you know, winter in Germany will be over before you realise.
When all else fails…
Go on vacation in Thailand! 😛
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