Welcome to the Fächerstadt! At a whopping 300,000 inhabitants, Karlsruhe is actually a larger German city. Coming from Houston and Austin, I was a bit terrified about living in a town the size of my old neighborhood, but Karlsruhe is not like an American city of 300,00. Karlsruhe is the seat of the German Supreme Court, has a class A train station (largest category in Germany), three very-accessible airports (Frankfurt International, Baden Airpark, Stuttgart), a top-ranked university, a world-class museum, an extensive public transportation system, and branches of major industry players like Siemens and Bosch. None of this impresses you? All of these factors foster a surprisingly international community and an increasingly diverse food and nightlife options. Well, ladies, it has three H&Ms, which is sure to excite the Americans and is admittedly how I judged the city’s size initially. My time in Karlsruhe has finally come to an end and since I am going through the emotional bittersweet roller coaster of ending my time in Karlsruhe and moving to Munich, I thought I’d share my beginner’s guide to Karlsruhe for any who find themselves in this city sucks you in, despite lacking that old town charm of other German cities.
Where to Eat
Vin Fou Lenzstraße 2 This little French wine restaurant tucked away in Südweststadt offers one killer main course per night and if you want it, you’ll need to call ahead and reserve it. Don’t be put off by the limited main course offerings for the do one per day and they do it well, pairing it with an equally delicious soup and dessert should you choose. There is also a mixed appetizer plate and a cheese and olive dish should you go for the large wine selection at entirely reasonable prices.
Krua Thai Passagehof 28 There’s no shortage of oriental cuisine in Karlsruhe, but nothing outside of Bangkok Foodland comes close to the authentic, bursting flavors of Krua Thai, located in Kaiserpassage. In fact, they have an entire menu just in Thai that is different than the other menu. The menu is short, but you can request off-menu items, which you can spot on the tables of your neighboring Thai diners. Whether you’re playing it safe with Pad Thai or going off-menu with a dried chili crusted fish, your bored palette will be invigorated once again!
Yangda Kaiserstr. 114 & 2nd location: Passagehof This is authentic Chinese food and chance are you may be the only non-Asian in the restaurant (no better sign am I right?). The prices are fair and they don’t even give you knives and forks (much to my embarrasment, terrible chopstick skills over here). There’s everything from beef and broccoli and dumplings to pig ears and octopus on the menu. Come hungry, leave happy.
Bray Head Irish Pub Kapellenstraße 40 To my European native-English-speaking friends, should you fancy a bout of proper fish & chips, Bray Head is the only place you can get it in Karlsruhe. While not a fan of fish & chips myself, I am a huge fan of the thick cut fries (insider tip: request them extra crispy) and malt vinegar that accompanies this plate, along with several others at the pub. Alongside a Bulmer’s Cider, I am one happy expat.
La Rose Akademiestraße 32 Chickpeas are about the only reason I can even entertain the thought of short-term vegetarianism (ha!), and La Rose serves them in deliciously in my favorite forms with fresh falafel (yes, please!) and hummus. Need I say more? Ok, fine. This Syrian restaurant is casual and inviting, with colorful decor and decorative cozy seating. The price is right on for lunch and a cheap dinner option.
Mevlana Kriegsstraße 224 Turkish joints are plentiful in Karlsruhe. In fact, there are too damn many, but if you give any a chance, it should be Mevalana. The bread can’t be fresher, the Doner more flavorful, and the Pide is large enough for two meals. The staff is super friendly and it has a patio, so there’s that.
Mr. Bubble Karlstraße 55 Pho for under six Euros should be enough said, but in case it’s not, I will share the fact I passed this joint for two years thinking it was a bubble tea place. Imagine my surprise when a gigagntic bowl of delicious, cheap Pho was placed in front of me. The summer rolls aren’t bad either at one Euro a pop.
Coffee & Snacks
Espresso Stazione Kreuzstraße 17 I did not even like coffee before I discovered the glory that is Stazione. Not only do all my favorite English-speaker gather here on the daily, but there’s no better place to get your caffeine fix in the city. The cozy little cafe tucked behind Lidelplatz is the essence of local business, with the beans roasted in Karlsruhe at the Alter Schlachthof. The pastries and sandwiches are pretty darn appetizing as well and Thursday lasagna days are a lunch to look forward to. Hop on the Stazione bandwagon day one – the baristas are sure to know your order within a few visits. Say hi to my friends Siobhan and Elmar!
Gordani Baumeisterstraße 20 I cannot recommend this little family owned and operated bakery enough. From classic breads and pretzels to tasty delights, your wallet will be as satisfied as your stomach. Gordani is such a welcoming alternative to the bakery chains plaguing Karlsruhe.
Pâtisserie Ludwig Amalienstraße 39 This charming little pastry shop and café lives up to its looks in terms of both presentation and cakes. From classic eclairs to colorful macarons and delightful cakes, there’s something for everyone. Oh, and how could I not list the homemade ice cream? Come ready for the ultimate smiley sugar rush; these pastries are available for eating in or takeaway.
Where to Drink
KofferRaum Hirschstraße 17 There’s no doubt about where to find the best cocktails in Karlsruhe. Roman Koffer, the brain behind the KofferRaum, is an expert mixologist serving perfect classics like The Old Fashioned, while also creating his own twist with tasting menus and weekly specials. This is one of the pricier places to drink in town, but you certainly get what you pay for, which can’t be said for the other cocktail bars.
Rosebottle Poststraße 8 This joint is new in town and while it has not gained its deserved popularity yet, its quaint beer garden is one of my favorite spots in the city and its interior outranks that of any other drinking establishment in the city. The long drinks her are superb, particularly if you are a ginger beer, ginger ale, or tonic water fan as this bars speciality is their homemade sodas I just mentioned. Dark & Stormy’s, Moscow Mules, etc. are well-priced and oh-so-satisfying.
Vogelbräu Kapellenstraße 50 Vogelbräu, like their Pils or not, is crowned king among the locals. Sure, Hoepfner is bigger, but bigger isn’t better to those who love the unfiltered, bitter Pilsner that Vogelbräu serves. Their beer garden and bar is the place to watch soccer games and a safe place for a decent meal. Upon walking in, you get a whiff of that brewery smell, which is not for everyone but somehow always makes me grin.
The Irish Pubs: Bray Head, Scruffy’s, Flynn’s Kapellenstraße 40, Karlstraße 4, Hirschstraße 70 While I am loyal to my former workplace, Bray Head, I list these other two pubs because they are also prime spots for English-speakers to gather regardless of what night of the week it may be. Flynn’s and Scruffy’s offer the traditional Irish Pub beers like Guinness and Murphy’s, while Bray Head gets its prices lower offering Stouts and Ales brewed locally at the aforementioned Vogelbräu. Flynn’s and Bray Head offer nice outdoor seating options for lovely days, along with offering food menus year-round. Quiz Night at all of these pubs is something to add to your calendar.
Oxford Pub Fasanenstraße 6 For the largest beer menu in town, look no further than Oxford Pub. German pubs usually have one brewery with rights to the taps, but Oxford buys up bottles to offer you something extra. Oxford is quite a student joint due to its affordable food and drinks, but anyone is welcome and can enjoy the large drink menu, think: Belgian brews, English Ales, and even a variety of ciders. These can get pricey, but if you’re a beer fan, it’s your bet. If you want to keep it cheap, Oxford offers 0.5L mugs of their house beer for €2.10, which is surely something to smile about.
Where to Shop
TK Maxx Kaiserstraße 217 TK Maxx (TJ Maxx to those of us from North America) is a new arrival on the Karlsruhe shopping scene and my favorite wallet-emptier. This store offers discounted brands on clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, and my personal favorite – home goods! Located on the upper level of the Post Galerie, TK Maxx is better frequently shopped as it can be hit or miss, but when you hit, you hit! TK Maxx has great kitchen ware and winter coats, amongst sporadic other offerings.
Primark Kaiserstraße 217 What to say about Primark? It’s really a love hate-relationship, but if you’re a poor expat like me, it can be a savior for the staples and one-time wear items. You’re best off going on weekdays before lunch time to avoid the hords of preteens and catch the shelves with articles still folded. Do these things and you’re bound to find the appeal of Primark (hint: DIRT CHEAP). You’ll find the Primark on ground level of Post Galerie.
Supermarkets Initial grocery shopping in Germany can be a bit of a shock. Unlike the low-price American superstores, Karlsruhe instead offers a few types of super markets. First, Scheck-In Center. Scheck-Inn is the most luxury shopping option and most comparable to the stores you’re probably accustomed to, it has the largest variety, offerings, and the nicest shopping experience. Unfortunately, it has the highest prices. Then are the regular supermarkets, Edeka and Rewe, and Rewe’s little sister Nahkauf. These stores are traditional stores but are much smaller than Scheck-In Center. The prices are about on par with Scheck-In. Then there are the discount stores: Lidl, Aldi, Penny, and Netto. What the discount markets lack in flair, they make up for in killer prices and they are a great place to shop for the basics. They also offer weekly specials on all sorts of items, from furniture and school supplies to outdoor wear and tools. Lastly, are the Bio Markets, or organic grocery stores, like Alnatura, Füllhorn, and various small businesses.
H&M, Zara, and even Foot Locker are also found in Karlsruhe, so don’t fret. This town has options (and super affordable ones at that)! For shoes, Deichmann and Humanic are great options.
Where to Find Specialty Foods
Cilantro/Coriander Asian markets, seasonal in Edeka and Rewe, Turkish market
Graham Crackers select Asian markets (one at Mathystraße & Karlstraße, other at Fritz-Erler-Straße & Markgrafenstraße)
Marshmallows Edeka, American week at Lidl and Aldi
Brown Sugar Espresso Stazione, Scheck-In Center, or mix Zuckerrübensirup with normal sugar
Okra Asian markets, Turkish market, Scheck-In Center
Measuring Cups TK Maxx
Looking for something else? Ask in the comments and maybe I can help. When all else fails, meet Amazon.de, my BFFL.
Bonus: Amazing break down of baking ingredients in Germany compared to the ones you know and love.
How to Make Friends
Why in no way I can guarantee you friends, outside of putting yourself out there and talking to people and participating in things, I can recommend a couple of meet ups.
1) If you’re student-aged, look towards AK Erasmus Karlsruhe, the European university exchange program. They have a long orientation week bi-yearly to welcome the incoming students and you can participate! They also have weekly Stammtisch (get together) on Tuesdays at different locations. Search for the AK Erasmus Karlsruhe group on Facebook (new one yearly) and friend AK Erasmus Karlsruhe on Facebook.
2) If you’re not into the student thing, try the CouchSurfing meet up. They were once upon a time monthly, and still occur often enough, so join the group. If there’s no meet up, suggest an outing. Some other members are sure to join in!
3) Are you a bit older and the aforementioned meet ups sound like a headache? Join the Karlsruhe English-Speaking Meet Up on Meetup.com. They host a monthly get together, along with other events where you can get to know people while speaking English.
So friends, does that cover it? What would you like to know before moving to a new city?