The Pain of Getting Internet in Germany
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There is no perfect country to live in, every single one of them has its own list of pros and cons that you have to evaluate when deciding where you want to live. In my experience living in several countries around the world, here are a few highlights of the pros and cons of a few of them:
- Pros: Amazingly convenient transportation, the quality of life generally must be among the best in the world
- Cons: Business culture is overbearing and can make you question if it is worth pushing through just to be able to live there, it is common to perpetually feel like an outsider even after living in Japan for decades
- Pros: Good business environment, people are warm and friendly
- Cons: Many issues with public education (and tuition costs), healthcare, benefits that companies provide employees, etc.
The Pros and Cons of Berlin
In the same way, as I considered moving to Berlin in 2016, I knew that I wanted to giving living in the city a try for all the reasons I had loved visiting it a few years before such as it’s unique D.I.Y., grungy style, lots of cool venues, historical monuments, and abandoned buildings, and much more.
However, I also heard some of the challenges of living in Germany, and Berlin in particular. Some of the warnings I heard even before making the plunge were, in no particular order:
- The Berlin winters will destroy you! Months of freezing temperatures and grey skies that like to rain, particularly on the weekends when you most want to be outdoors.
- People that are cold like the Berlin winters who won’t provide anything resembling good customer service and who will make it difficult for you to make long-lasting friendships with locals and other expats that may be there just for a short time.
- Germany bureaucracy is slow, confusing, and seems to make it their goal to frustrate you beyond belief without providing an ounce of support in the process.
- You need to have an apartment in order to have a bank account, but you need to have a bank account in order to find an apartment… The endless cycle of head-scratching requirements will continue on into eternity, or at least as long as you live in Germany.
While things are never quite as bad as people make them out to be from afar, I certainly experienced some version of each of these challenges while living in Germany.
However, what surprised me most was one single challenge that I had not even considered before moving there – getting Internet in my apartment! In 2020, Internet is practically considered a basic human right, so getting your new flat in Berlin hooked up to the World Wide Web should be pretty straightforward, right?
Unfortunately, it could not have been any more confusing and infuriating. I moved into my flat on December 1, 2016, and it took until April 1, 2017 – exactly FOUR MONTHS – to get working WiFi in my apartment! Like a cruel April Fools joke, I had expected my Internet to shut down at any second, but thankfully in the end it was actually an April Fools Day miracle and the Internet remained turned on for the duration of time living there. As you take in this information, you may be asking yourself one or all of the following questions:
- “How could this possibly have taken so long?”
- “Which of the gods did you anger to make this happen to you?”
- “How do I avoid this happening to me when I move to Berlin?”
- “What did you do during these months living in the dark ages without a working WiFi connection to stream Netflix and read Reddit?”
These are all reasonable questions to ask, so let me do my best to first explain how I got into this predicament and then I will share what you can do to avoid it yourself.
The Steps that Led to my German Internet Disaster
My first few months in Berlin
I heard from a friend that 1&1, the mobile carrier and Internet provider, was pretty good. They have a 5GB monthly mobile data plan that also includes another 1GB in EU countries for only 30 Euros per month – it sounded perfect to me. I signed up and soon got my SIM card and all was good with the world. My first months in Berlin were spent at an Airbnb and then a company apartment, so my Internet situation was sorted from August through November 2016.
Moving into my New Berlin Flat
I moved into my new flat on December 1, 2016. My flat’s previous renter had a connection through Deutsche Telekom. This is the biggest provider in Germany and is known for being a bit more expensive but good quality overall. She had to return her router when she left and closed her account, so I needed to sign up for a provider myself and start a brand new contract. I figured that I would sign up with 1&1 to keep everything with a single provider – reasonable enough, right?
Even on a good day, everyone will tell you that it generally takes 2-4 weeks to get Internet in Berlin. Why it takes so long, I am not really sure, but if I had to guess, I would say too many customers, not enough support staff, and the usual German lack of concern for customer support.
To provide a point of reference, in Portugal, I contacted Vodafone one week before moving into my flat and managed to get an appointment on the day I moved in there. Getting Internet on the move-in date vs. 2-4+ weeks afterwards is a big difference!
In my case, my first appointment for a technician to come and set things up was made for December 30, but I was already in the United States for winter vacation. I tried to reschedule the appointment for just after I returned, but then thought I needed someone to come to open the cellar so that the technician could get to the connection box (I only found out later that the front door key also opened the cellar and the room where the connection boxes were). The hausmeister that could do that was busy that day so I rescheduled again for late January.
The technician from Telekom finally arrived at my apartment with the cellar door unlocked a few weeks into January. He spent a few minutes in the cellar area and soon told me that he could not find a signal there for him to connect the wires to. He claimed it was not Telekom’s problem or 1&1’s problem, but rather my landlord’s problem as the wire between the cellar and my flat had gone bad. This was strange news to me because less than two months earlier the previous flat owner had good internet there, so it seemed a bit fishy that things went bad in such a short time, but I supposed that anything could happen in those two months so I took him at his word. What could I have done but trusted the confident voice of the technician?
More Parties Get Involved
I immediately relay this new information to my landlord to get her to send out someone to take a look at the wire. She had an electrician call me and set up an appointment for the next day. Two electricians came to my flat and were able to test the connection, and indeed, the connection between the cellar and my flat was fine. They left, and later in the week, I hear from my landlord that because there actually wasn’t any issues with the wiring that it is now my responsibility to pay her back for the 160+ Euro charge! I had expected someone working for my landlord to come and check it out, so I did not know that it was going to be a third-party company when I requested this, and I certainly had never agreed to pay if everything ended up being fine in the end. The headaches were starting to pile up at a rapid pace…
The electricians told me to reach out to Telekom about this as they figured that the connection between the street to the cellar was not active. Here is something that you need to know about getting Internet in Germany: there are many Internet providers, but they are essentially just resellers for Telekom. Telekom owns the connection to each of the buildings, and it is their responsibility to turn it on for tenants in the building. This means that the resellers are reliant on Telekom to get the customers’ internet turned on, and because you are a customer of the reseller and not of Telekom, Telekom has no reason to prioritize your appointment and so they will make you wait longer for them to come to turn on the connection to your flat.
Even more frustratingly, whether or not the technician shows up at all is completely up to Telekom’s discretion as well. I heard dozens of stories during my time in Berlin about people taking days off of work waiting for Telekom to show up, making sure to be home all day and not to have the shower going or loud music playing to ensure that they could hear the doorbell ring but ultimately wasting a day with nobody showing up.
Later the same night, they would receive an email later saying that the customer had not been home when the technician rang the doorbell, and so the appointment would have to be rescheduled for a few weeks later. The customer was there the whole day, the reseller has no power over Telekom, and Telekom claims that the technician went there and that they could not reach you to enter the flat whether that is true or not. As you might be able to imagine, this quickly devolves into a never-ending game of he-said-she-said with the customer right in the middle.
So, when I called Telekom, they told me to call 1&1 again to get them to set up a new appointment with Telekom to get my Internet turned on (though this was supposed to happen before my first technician appointment). I finally got a new appointment set for February 9 between 8am – 1pm, and I was in the house and silent as a mouse for the entire time, but as I feared, the doorbell did not ring.
Resignation with 1&1
I called 1&1 later with one of my coworkers who could actually manage to have these conversations in German on my behalf (who I will never be able to thank enough), and I heard that they need to hear back the status from the technician and that it will take more time. After a few more calls, it was already the end of February, and 1&1 tells me that they still don’t have any more detailed information from the technician that was supposed to come to my place on February 9th.
His initial report is that he had come to my apartment and everything was turned on, but I know that he never rang the bell and the Internet is definitely not working for me. Most importantly, the 1&1 help desk tells me that THERE IS NO TIMELINE FOR ME TO START GETTING INTERNET. That is something that I simply cannot stand for at this stage of the process, so I cancel my contract with them on the spot, thankfully without issue. I think that they were happy to get me to stop calling them almost daily demanding an update at this point, so it became one of the most painless contract cancellations I ever experienced while I lived in Germany.
A New Start with Deutsche Telekom
Given what I have learned about the system in Germany and the fact that most providers do not have an English language support line, I signed up for Telekom so that I could work directly with the source of this magic, mythical thing called the Internet and theoretically get some help in English.
Around this time, I also quit my first job in Berlin and took a vacation to the Middle East for 10 days, but after more than a week, I still had not heard anything about a technician appointment. I called the main German language support line as I could not find the information about the English support line and just by chance I get connected to someone who could speak English, only to find out that they managed to cancel my contract because I ordered a higher tier of service than was available for my building, though I was told it was available in my building when I signed up at a store. Rather than try to solve this via email and perhaps offer me a lower tier of service, they just canceled the contract and informed me later via postal mail.
Shocked yet again by this whole god-forsaken process, I made a new contract for a lower tier of service. They made me an appointment for mid-March, but I was still on vacation and could not be at home for it, so I had to reschedule again. As a customer, you have no say in when you can get an appointment and are completely at the mercy of their availability, which may add weeks onto the processing time.
A New Hope for Internet in Germany
When I called to reschedule the appointment, I still only had the German helpline number and ended up being hung up on multiple times when they found out I could not speak German (just one more beautiful example of wonderful customer service waiting for you in Germany). I tried to chat with a German-speaking representative on the website and she responded with a standard form message telling me the otherwise un-findable English language helpline number. They actually did have an English language customer service phone line, despite being told it did not exist by multiple service agents!
With the elusive English language customer support line phone number in hand, I gave it a call and was connected with someone at Telekom that turned out to be my personal angel. He was so kind and understanding, I was nearly in shock given how I had been treated to date. He did everything that he could to improve my situation after being completely exasperated over the prior three months. He got me upgraded to the higher tier service, which apparently actually did exist for my flat, even though that was the reason given for the first Telekom contract cancellation (go figure…). I just had to wait one more week for the new appointment.
Success at Last
Despite being promised multiple times that I would get Internet on my appointment date of March 28, I came home to find that I could still not connect. Telekom had turned on the line from the street as they saw that the previous resident had been a Telekom customer until only a few months earlier, but a technician needed to come out once again.
After a few more calls and a new technician appointment date, I woke up at 8:00 am on Saturday, April 1, 2017, and waited more than 2 hours for the technician to show up. After he started poking around in the cellar, it was quickly clear that the issue was with the work that the first technician had done. After testing a few things and connecting a few wires that were probably connected prior to the first technician coming and messing everything up, I finally heard that sweet sound of email being loaded into my inbox. At long last, I had working internet in my flat after four whole months of exhausting efforts!
What I Learned from this Experience
That is the entire story of my adventure with getting Internet in Germany as I can best recall each step of it. As much work as it was to read through my account of the situation, you can probably imagine that it was much more painful to actually go through it.
Believe it or not, I learned a few things from this frustrating sequence of events. Here is what I learned from this harrowing 21st-century experience:
Some things are out of my control and always will be
While I lived in Germany, I had to learn (and relearn again and again) the lesson that there are things that are in your control and other things that are out of your control. I had to internalize the fact that it is in the best interest of my sanity to try not to concern myself with things that are truly out of my hands.
For example, there were times when I was waiting for 1&1 to tell me I had a technician appointment where I wanted to do nothing more than strangle the person on the other end of the line or yell at him or her until I was hoarse, but there was nothing that 1&1 nor I could have done to improve the situation. Telekom holds the keys to the kingdom, so the rest of us just have to wait until they decide to actually do their jobs.
Furthermore, I was outraged to be forced to pay a fee for the electricians to visit my apartment when it was what the first technician advised me to do. I pushed back against my landlord on paying the fee for months, but in the end, I had to pay in order to stay in the apartment that I had also fought so hard to get. It was wasted energy, as is trying not to pay all of the other fees that you rack up while living in Germany, so it is best for your emotional well-being just to pay the costs when they arise and mentally write them off as the price that you pay for living the life abroad that you dreamed about.
I was eventually able to get into a more zen state of mind about not having Internet when I discovered that there was truly nothing I could do, and so I found other things to do around town and spent less time at home as a result, which is surely not the worst outcome. I like to be in control of these kinds of situations, but when there is nothing I can do to push it any further, I found that I should just focus my energies elsewhere.
That said, some things are still in my control
Despite many things being out of my control, I did take the initiative to push the process forward as best as I could. I called both 1&1 and Telekom relentlessly, knowing that if I didn’t, this situation likely would have never fixed itself.
In Germany, I found that it is always the individual’s responsibility to follow-up and make sure that progress is happening. To provide one example, I saw the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners’ office) blame my company for not following up with them over phone to make sure that my visa paperwork was actually being processed, despite that it was the office’s oversight that let my paperwork linger in limbo for weeks. The government office worker even tried to make my company pay the fee for extending my temporary visa until the E.U. blue card paperwork was processed as we had expected it to have been. After that experience, I knew everything that I needed to know about how responsibility is assigned in Germany. With that knowledge, I moved forward with the understanding that I would be responsible for making things happen while living there.
4 Recommendations to Help you to Avoid this Nightmare Scenario in Germany
Having been through this endeavor, here are four suggestions for others that might be thinking about moving to Germany and will have to get Internet at their apartments in the future.
1. If you don’t speak German, go for an Internet provider that has an English support line. Deutsche Telekom‘s English customer service line is 0800 3301080 (+49 1 802331000 outside of Germany).
2. Honestly, go with Deutsche Telekom even if you do speak German because the few extra Euro per month that they charge is worth it when they will prioritize your situation and your appointments when you sign with them instead of one of the other providers. Getting priority appointments and service removes so many potential issues from the equation that it is worth much more than the slightly higher fees.
3. Try to get the Internet set up process started as soon as possible once you have a flat because it is going to be at least 2 weeks minimum and more likely 4+ weeks to get it set up.
4. Find a nice neighbor that you can share Internet with until the process is done!
Also, please know that if this process frustrates you, I (and many others) have been there as well. It will all work out in the end!
Let us know your Internet experiences
We would love to hear more about your experiences with getting Internet in different countries around the world! Have you had any challenging experiences getting Internet in new countries? What made it difficult? What would you recommend to others going through the same process in the future? Please share your thoughts and feedback in a comment below!