February 22, 2013

Volkshochschule: cultural and educational centre in Munich

The term Volkshochschule refers to a German institution that is dedicated to adult education and advance training in a wide range of areas. The German educational system is complex enough to take up one or two blog entries alone, but today I am just going to focus on why you should be pay attention to the Volkshochschule in Munich and what this school has to offer to you as an expat.

Screenshot of the Munich Volkshochschule website
To begin with Volkshochschule means: folk high school or school of the people. And this is the key to it: the Volkshochschule has a course/seminar/lecture for everyone, for everyone on this earth, no matter what your interests/education and time limitations are. 

Lobby of Gasteig
I'll give you some real examples of the Volkshochschule in Munich: 
  • one of my local friends has recently attended two wine tasting seminars (on the weekend) on Spanish and Italian wines and she is currently looking at doing a cooking course before the summer;
  • an Italian student that I met at LMU is currently enrolled in a C1-level German course twice per week in the mornings and
  • she told me of another ex-colleague from France that has registered for a seminar on German literature;
  • I once attended a two-hour evening lecture on how to bring up children bilingual in Germany;
  • my Russian friend, who is married to a Chinese, has learnt the basics of the Mandarin language there and
  • I will be doing a weekend-course on photography at the beginning of March. 
Gasteig Volkshochschule
All this (and much more) happens at just one place: the Volkshochschule. I would not have space enough to describe/nor list all the areas in which training is offered. That is one of the reasons why their course catalogue is so thick. I am not good with quantities but this catalogue could easily weight 1,5kg!! so imagine how wide the scope of knowledge is!

Check online: are you interested in improving your German or learning a new language (Japanese, Italian, French...)?; Are you interested in history, philosophy, politics or economy?; do you want to expand your knowledge in ecology, food or health? or maybe you are looking for a job or to study a new degree/master? 

Volkshochschule catalogues in Gasteig
In my experience the only problem that I have encountered with the Volkshochschule was to make a decision on which course was the most suitable for me. If that is your case: ASK! Germans might not be the best at customer service but they do know how to give advice when it comes to education and training. All Volkshochschule centers in Munich have an information office.

The Volkshochschule in Munich has many sites/centers across Munich, you can check online which one is the closest to you in this link. As for me, I usually go to Gasteig in Haidhausen, which seems to be the HQ and it is also a reference in the cultural scene in Munich. If you go to the Gasteig official site you will learn about the relevance of the Volkshochschule in Munich (MVHS)...: 
  • ... receives over 200,000 bookings for their anual 13,000 activities;
  • ... teaches German to around 20,000 foreign students per year;
  • ... offers courses in 50 different languages;
  • ... delivers specific courses for 1,200 teenagers and 10,000 pensioners per year;
The last bullet point is very important to remember because they are a popular and relevant platform when it comes to training and education for teens and retirees. For more info: check the Junge Volkshochschule  (and this link for further info) for teens and the Senioren Volkhochschule.

And back to Gasteig, this building in Haidhausen does not only host the Munich Volkshochschule, it is also a city library (Stadtbibliothek), the HQ of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (Münchner Philharmoniker) and the Munich school for Music and Theatre (Hochschule für Musik und Theater).

The library: is open from 10am to 7pm every weekday and half day on Saturdays.
Your city library card will cost you €20 per year (or cheaper if you are a student). With this "Ausweis", you can borrow books, music, films, language courses and more.

Besides you can download from the library media range directly from your home computer and get access to a very comprehensive range of magazines and newspapers. The library also has a section for current tv series that you can borrow to watch at home; their music collection is impressive (mainly classic) but also current (rock, pop and jazz) and if you need a space to read a book or prepare for your exam, they also have a desk in a quiet corner for you.

Gasteig also offers an amazing music program that includes concerts of the Munich orchestra or other musicians and groups. You can buy season/single tickets for the different weekly concerts/musicals and performances. They also have events for children. Again, check the program.

Evening seminars/lectures/exhibitions: for those of you that only have the evenings after work, there is an interesting program for you at Gasteig every day of the week and each activity costs around €8 - €2. What are they about? everything! At the entrance of Gasteig you will find a flyer like the one in the picture with details on what's on everyday. 

For February the program offers: i.e. a photo exhibition about Pekin as a metropolis; cinema for kids in the afternoon; a My Fair Lay musical; and lectures on war photography: reality or fiction?; psychology and the guilty conscience; are we alone in the universe?; current politics; the Jewish dietary law;  China in the global economic crisis; a NYC portrait... and much more... 

Gasteig culture program for Feb 2013
Finally let me tell you three reasons why your should consider a course/seminar at the Volkshochschule in Munich:
  1. Your German (no matter that it is basic/intermediate or advanced) needs to get out there and get a feeling of the real German. You will not get that in your language course with other foreigners;
  2. If you have a hobby, you have more chances to meet other hobby partners in a course/seminar on the topic at the Volkshochschule than sitting at home...
  3. An afternoon lecture on your favorite topic will cost you less than one night at movies; a language course will be more economical than in most of the private language schools in the city; a weekend training course (like my photography speed course) is very cheap in comparison with private institutions... 
TIP: use the Volkshochschule to improve your German skills: Do you have a good level of German or have you just started? It does not matter, if your goal is to learn the language or improve your skills, you need to get out there and get exposed to German!

Is there a better way of doing this than to get together in a classroom with locals that share your passion/hobby and spend an hour per week learning, discussing and talking about it?

The Volkshochschule offers you a platform for this improvement. Use it!

Your worse enemy is the feeling of embarrassment that is inevitable attached to the process of learning a new language. You have it, I have it, everyone has it... but you know what: when you spend enough time in Germany you learn that you should NOT feel embarrassed at all. Most Germans love to hear foreigners making the effort of speaking German... so please them!

I will be attending the Volkshochschule photography course on the 9/10 March, are there any of you by any chance also going? if so, drop me a line. If not, I hope that this blog post motivates you to go out there, register at a course/seminar at the Volkshochschule in Munich and improve your German, meet new people and enjoy yourselves!

And as always, if you have a tip or a story regarding this blog entry, please let me know by making a comment. I am getting a lot of emails from you guys but I believe it is also important that you make your comments public so other expats can benefit from our questions and experience.

Bye for now and have a great day.

Related posts:
Learning German in Munich
Going to the movies in English
German adopting English words
Is there a life beyond the intermediate level?