Up to Adventures in Karlsruhe.

How to Get a Telephone in Germany

Obviously, one of our first priorities after arrival was to get phone service. Since I plan to travel a lot, we decided that we would both need German cellphones. Our very helpful book, The German Way informed us that there are telephone brokers who (at no cost to you) will help you pick the best plan. So I wasn't too worried.

We got to our apartment on Friday. I asked the manager where I could find a telephone broker. He seemed to misunderstand, and directed me to the main street where there are lots of cellphone stores. So on Saturday I asked someone else. Same answer. Obviously, I wasn't communicating.

On Saturday evening, I did a Web search for telephone brokers in Karlsruhe. I got no useful hits there or in the entire country. Apparently the book was wrong. So I Googled for cellphone companies and their plans.

My best estimate is that the Germans have about 500 different cellphone packages to choose from. You can get "introductory" plans with only a few minutes, "professional" plans for important people, plans with no minutes at all, prepaid plans, charging by the second instead of by the minute, special rates for calls inside other German-speaking countries, night plans, "happy weekend" plans, plans for people who are going to immediately lose their phone, rates for numbers that can be dialed using only the left-hand column of the phone, etc.

By the time I gave up and went to bed, I had decided that moving to Germany was a huge mistake. I was ready to buy a ticket home rather than try to pick a phone. But I persevered, and spent all of Monday visiting cellphone stores and collecting brochures, and by Monday night I had picked a plan. On Tuesday we went out to take care of several tasks, including getting a phone. Silly us, we went to the cellphone shop first.

"Oh, sorry, you can't get a phone unless you have a bank account, because we deduct your bill directly from the account."

"But you have an option to charge me €2.50/month extra and let me pay in cash."

"Yes, but you still have to have a bank account." (This exchange was all in German, BTW. It's always fun to try to figure out senseless rules in a foreign language.)

OK, off to Deutsche Bank we went. A very nice English-speaking lady (she had been an exchange student in Iowa) was all ready to open an account for us. "Do you have your registration papers?"

Oops. We had been planning to register our address with the police after we ran our other errands. No problem; the bank lady knew exactly where to go. Onto the trolley, and two stops later we were there. Only it was closed. Every day had different hours, and today they closed at noon. Another day lost.

On Wednesday we went back to the registration bureau, waited 20 minutes for our number to be called, then headed back to the bank. Even though it was lunch hour, the lady who had helped us closed her teller station to set us up. It all went very smoothly (the contracts were even in English), except that at the end she was surprised that we wanted to deposit money right then (in Germany, you can open an account with a zero balance). Then, finally, we returned to the cellphone shop.

"You have to have a 2-year contract."

"But it says in the brochure that you offer a 3-month contract."

"Sure, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg for the phone. You're much better off with the 2-year deal."

"We'll only be here a year!"

"If you do the math, it's cheaper for you to sign up for 2 years and throw away the second year. The phones are way overpriced."

She was right. So we filled out the paperwork (all in German this time -- I still don't understand everything I signed), paid €20 in cash for the phones themselves, and walked out. We even got a free soccer ball for Xandie.

It only took an hour or so to figure out how to use the phones (all-German documentation, of course).

So if you want to get a cellphone in Germany, remember, you have to register with the police first. Don't argue.

© 2004, Geoff Kuenning

This page is maintained by Geoff Kuenning.