What it’s like to be Hungarian in Germany

Henrietta sits in the park at Museum Island, Berlin.
Written by
Henrietta Barkó
Published on
May 11, 2023

Living abroad isn’t always easy—especially in a historically homogenous country like Germany. But it can be hard to find some real talk amongst all the dreamy imagery. Introducing What It’s Like, a new content series. Diverse perspectives sharing candid conversations about what it’s like to be ________ in Germany. 

What it’s like to be Hungarian in Germany

Meet Henrietta, originally from Budapest, Hungary. 🇭🇺 Currently living in Berlin.

Tell us a bit about you.

My name is Henrietta, I come from Budapest, Hungary. I'd been living in the capital for 25 years and have always been curious about living abroad—I always wanted to do an Erasmus semester. I made the decision in September 2019, but moved to Berlin in January 2020, as it took some time to prepare for the big step.

Although I studied law and worked for insurance companies for almost 2 years after graduation, I never saw myself in a traditional legal profession, as a lawyer or judge. So I was looking for a career at different multinational companies. However, I didn't feel I had found my path… I felt there was something else out there, something more exciting and adventurous.

Here in Germany, I wanted to look for something different to do.

Why Germany?

It was my boyfriend who brought me to Germany. We've been living in a long-distance relationship for half a year, almost. My legal background would have made it difficult for me to find a job in Berlin. Therefore, we decided that he would be the one to move back to Hungary.

At the time, I was in the middle of changing jobs when I realized, changing positions and workplaces isn’t going to solve my problem. I started at a new company, but I didn't feel I arrived at my place. As my partner was already living in Berlin, I thought: maybe this is going to be my chance. I had said no to an exchange semester in the US before—this time, I felt I couldn’t miss the opportunity to experience living abroad.

So, I packed my things and drove to Berlin by car from Budapest with my boyfriend. The bureaucracy part didn't get in my way as Hungary is also an EU member country, so I didn't have to do anything other than registering myself at the local registry office.

Tell us about life in Germany.

I always knew moving abroad wouldn’t be a completely smooth process—and on top of this, Corona hit the world. I gave time for myself to get to know the city better (even though I’d visited Berlin several times before) because I wanted to make myself feel at home. So I only started to look for a job last February. But it was too late, because of the total lockdown in March.

I can't say I experienced a culture shock or homesickness because the insecurity took over everything—I think that’d be true of everyone around me. Corona made it a hundred times more difficult to settle in, make friends, and find a job. I joined a 4-month intensive German course, which started in person and turned into an online course. But this helped me to make my first friendships, and of course, I started to meet my boyfriend's friends as well.

Despite the desperate times, I haven’t been isolated from human contact—I feel like I have a similar amount of German, Hungarian, and other foreign friends.

What has been hard for you, living in Germany?

Finding a job was a nightmare. I was desperately looking for—at the end—anything. I'm not someone who's comfortable sitting at home and waiting for a miracle to happen. I sent over 1000 applications and received almost the same amount of rejections.

As I didn't speak German, it made it even more difficult to succeed. Of course, not speaking the language can delay finding a job, but I believe that, as Berlin is quite an international hub, in normal times without a pandemic, you can find a job faster if you're a good English speaker. I didn't experience anything else that frustrated me culture-wise.

The other thing that is hard is finding an apartment. I had luck, I just moved in with my partner, but most of the people are looking for months.

What do you love about Germany—what makes you stay?

I love Berlin. This place welcomes everyone, and this is its most valuable characteristic. The atmosphere is unique, and there’s a place for every culture. That's why I love being here: you can try as many exciting, interesting, and sometimes odd things as you want—without being judged for it.

What I love best is to see people wearing what they feel the most comfortable in—that they are not afraid to express themselves. My weakness about Berlin is the amazing food scene that we have here. I consider myself a foodie and am always looking to discover new places. I even have 15 separate lists for cafés, restaurants, brunch places, and bars.

“I love Berlin. This place welcomes everyone, and this is its most valuable characteristic.”

I have to mention here how grateful I am for Germany’s inclusive approach and for supporting the people who are starting a new life here. The government has multiple programs to integrate the foreigners, by offering language courses, training, and other support. I also received an educational voucher which can be used at hundreds of schools within the country.

I couldn't start a career here as a lawyer, because most employers ask for being familiar with the German legal system. But I've been supported with this voucher and could participate in a 5-month intensive course to become a UX designer. That was the point when I finally felt that I found what I love to do. From then on, I was looking for a designer position.

After a long period of job-hunting, I started working as a UX designer in October 2021. I feel blessed, as I love my team, what I am doing. And lastly, but not least, I am super lucky with the route where I usually bike to the office and pass by the most famous Berlin sights.

How has it been, being so far away from home?

To be honest, I don't feel I'm super far from where I come from. Both (half of) Germany and Hungary have the same historical background, therefore we have a lot in common. There are even quite similar-looking buildings, and our cuisines don't really differ from each other that much. I don't really have this thought in my mind that I'm a Hungarian in Germany—rather, I consider myself as a European in Europe.

“As a Hungarian, I really miss my mother’s amazing homemade pickles.”

Of course, I miss my family, but it only takes 1.5 hours by plane to meet, which is a distance that you easily travel within the country by car as well. We are in daily contact, as the digital world makes it really easy to interact with people located hundreds of kilometers apart from each other. Though, the challenge at the moment is the pandemic, which keeps us from meeting regularly at the moment.

I will say, as a Hungarian, I really miss my mother's amazing homemade pickles.

What's a piece of advice you'd give to other Hungarians thinking of moving here?

You have to try it. Berlin is for everyone, you'll find your place for sure. One piece of advice that I can give is to start learning German from the moment you decide to come here if you don't speak the language already. You can manage your life in English, but after a while, you'll feel uncomfortable not understanding the people around you. And you also have to take bureaucracy into consideration, which is strictly in German.


Read more of the series here. 🌎 If you’d like to contribute your story and experiences in Germany, we’d love to feature you! Write to us at hello@getworldify.com.

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