Ok friends, this is a long one. Strap yourselves in.
This is a more or less autobiographical account of what I’ve done and the challenges faced/ observations made while living in Germany for a year as an Australian opera singer. There’ll be some cold hard numbers, because I believe sharing information is much more useful than not, and I hope this will help anyone considering moving to the other side of the world.
So – congratulations if you’re considering moving over to Europe to get some life experience! Further congratulations if you’ve actually gone and bought yourself a plane ticket. It’s a wonderful time, all in all. As with any enormous undertaking, there will be challenges, but know that you’re making the right decision in the long run, and I’m certainly proud of you *insert squeezy mum-esque cuddle*
The first thing that struck me about being here is that the Europeans completely understand the arts and artists. You’d be hard pressed to find someone out here who looks at you funny when you tell them you’re a musician, only to ask you ‘yeah, ok, but what’s your real job?’ pretty much immediately. No doubt my artistic Australian comrades know this feeling all too well. The relief of not having to constantly back up your ‘decision’ to be an artist is palpable.
The second thing that struck me about being here in Europe is that it’s really easy to get to other countries to do auditions. Get on a bus from Dresden and you can be in Vienna in 7 hours, having gone through an entire country (Czech Republic hey gurl!) in the process. Do that from Sydney and you might get to the other end of New South Wales…. If you’re speeding…
Let’s get to some real talk: how much does this all cost, at the end of the day (or the year):
In my experience, this has more or less been the cost of everything (Note: I have always travelled on the most affordable option available and pretty much never eat out, so factor that in if it’s something you value):
Part 1: Applications for auditions – vary from €30 – €150 per audition, or sometimes there isn’t a fee, so I’m going with a ballpark figure of €1,000.00 for the whole year, for around 60 applications.
Of these 60 odd applications, I was sometimes successful and sometimes not:
Breakdown of auditions/competitions:
- Applied for: 60
- Successfully invited to audition: 19
- Successfully through to semis: 8
- Successfully through to finals: 5
- Prize(s) won: 2
Rough breakdown of costs:
|Application and audition fees||€1,000.00|
|Accompanist fees (depends on the comp – some are paid for by the organisation in charge)||€500.00
|Travel to auditions||€1,000.00
|Accommodation (I made a point of selecting cities to audition in where I knew I could stay with a friend/ family member, and repay them with cooking etc)||€700.00|
|Incidental costs (you’ll typically spend more on food, for example)||€600.00
|Total||€3,800.00 ($5,500.00 AUD)|
What these numbers look like will differ from singer to singer. Some auditions are looking for specific voice types, for example. This is more or less what my year looked like, with most auditions being in Europe, and three being in Australia.
Part 2: Cost of living in a European city:
This one is the most variable, for sure. Joseph and I ended up settling in Dresden because his cello teacher is here very often. One of the benefits of living here is that the rent is very, VERY affordable. It’s also super easy to get a bus to Prague or Berlin to catch a plane somewhere (there are even direct busses from Dresden to both Berlin airports and Prague’s airport). We have also flown from Dresden airport, and well-priced flights can be found there occasionally.
For me, personally, I also found a terrific coach at the Semperoper, so I’ve basically got all I need and want in life living in Dresden. Yay!
As a ballpark figure, you’re probably going to pay €600.00 a month in Dresden for a two room, fully furnished apartment (a further explanation of furnished vs. unfurnished apartments in Germany will be found a couple of paragraphs down). If you’re living in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne, the rent is more like €900.00 – €1,200.00 per month (or so I’m told). The benefit of living in a larger city, though, is of course more opera houses and agents.
I’ve found living in Dresden to be awesome, as I needed a break from big city life after Sydney. The fact that we don’t have to financially cripple ourselves just to have a roof over our head and feed ourselves is a big plus, and I can walk to the opera house in a leisurely 20 minutes for coachings and performance watching (Anja Harteros and Wolfram Reiger in recital at the Semperoper for only €14.00 per ticket? YES PLEASE), and get very useful public transport out into the suburbs when I have English students to teach.
When you’re deciding where to live, do your research and google the quality of life etc. For lots of people, having some expat mates around will be really helpful, so work out where lots of your fellow singing compatriots have moved to (if you’re Australian, it’s Berlin, btw) and maybe start there.
Part 3: Visa
My visa experience in Germany is that of an Australian human with no other citizenship. It turns out I’m eligible for the ancestry visa in the UK, but that costs $3,000.00 AUD and, as of literally today, not helpful for the EU, so definitely not a priority right now.
I arrived in Germany on 4th Feb 2019 and hung around on Schengen time for a couple of months (Note: The ‘Schengen’ agreement means that Australians can stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days in a 180 period), then I applied for the working holiday visa because I wanted to stay in Germany for longer.
You’ll need to bring your university degree certificate for this, so pack it before you leave so you don’t have to ask your mum to post it to you (thanks mamma! <3). There are plenty of articles on this topic, so I won’t prattle on too much. Basically it’s very easy, once you collate all the things you need, and the application/visa fee is only €100.00 or something. If you’re an Australian citizen, it’s almost too easy to get this visa. Make sure you have some cash saved up (at least €4,000.00) and you’ll be fine.
Some of the Ausländebehörde (Foreigner’s Offices) are less helpful than others, and sometimes they don’t send you the correct forms etc, so make sure you do lots of research on exactly what you need before you go to your appointment. You’ll bring a stack of papers with you, and they’ll want all of it, or they’ll only want half of it. Depends on the day, who you’re talking to, and how chill they’re feeling. Good luck.
My Working Holiday Visa will expire on 4th Feb 2020 (yes Schengen time counts in your 12 months, unfortunately), and I’ve very recently applied for my Freiberufler Visum (Freelance Visa). I won’t get an answer about this one until April, but the man at the visa office very kindly gave me a Fiktionsbescheinigung that lets me stay in fair Deutschland until July 2020. I can’t work with this bridging visa, but it does let me stay here and continue coachings and auditions, which is awesome.
Conclusion: You’ll burn through about €10,000.00 – €15,000.00 ($16,000.00 – $25,000.00 AUD) in a year with all of your rent, coachings, competing and auditions (a conservative estimate), but it could be more or less depending on your living arrangement.
Tidbits, and some things I’ve found:
- A lot of the time, especially in this period of limbo after university and before becoming the new Maria Callas, this career is like being in an abusive relationship. Sometimes you do an audition and feel like a fire princess slaying all the things, and you still don’t get the gig. Sometimes you do an audition and feel like it was relatively average, come away expecting nothing, and then you do get the gig (to your surprise). The randomness of much of our success as singers will make you feel very out of control of your furture.
Keep in mind, however, that the panel will like you or they won’t, and you don’t actually have a say in that. Most of the time you have no control over that fact. Just go into your audition and tell stories to the best of your ability. If you can walk out of an audition knowing that you did your best, then you’ve won that audition. I know you want to punch me in the face for saying this, but it’s true.
- Just back on the topic of financial strains; doing courses of private study rarely get a look in with grant applications, or so I’ve found. Unfortunately, even if you’ve put in months/years of effort finding contacts and setting up opportunities for yourself (and have the references to back them up), the odds of you getting a large grant to do your studies are extremely low, so factor this into your budgeting. I received a couple of smaller grants for specific things (like German lessons at the Goethe Institut, for example), so that can be a good place to start if you’re really keen to get your B2 German, or something equally as specific.
- One of the difficulties with starting afresh overseas is the constant need to ask for help, and how that makes you feel pretty… helpless… (pun intended). We live in a world where everyone is constantly too busy to do anything at all. What this means is you will have to contact and re-contact people most of the time. As in, a good 40% of every day of your life will be you sending follow up messages and emails to people asking if you can have a coaching. You feel like you’re harassing them, which sucks. It works, though, and you will get that coaching, you just have to put in the time. Sometimes there is the odd unicorn who will reply to you and give you all the information you need, which is wonderful.
- Finding an apartment in Germany can be incredibly difficult. There are two options – furnished, or unfurnished. Furnished places tend to be a little more expensive per month, but if you can afford it, I’d recommend this option. Unfurnished apartments do genuinely mean unfurnished. When we moved into our current place, we didn’t have a functioning sink or a tap in the kitchen, for example. A friend of mine knows someone who moved into an unfurnished place in Berlin that didn’t have a floor. Prepare yourself for this possibility.
You need several months to find somewhere to live, unless you get EXTREMELY lucky. It’s time consuming and all in German, so factor that into your temporal budget.
- Wifi is a complete joke in Germany. I paid for the contract nearly two months ago, and the wifi still doesn’t work at home. It took five weeks for a technician from Vodafone to come and set up the router, and then the wifi didn’t work anyway. Unfortunately data packages for your mobile phone are also very expensive, which isn’t that weird for an Australian, but it is when you compare the lightning speed and cheap cost of the same thing in France, England, India, literally anywhere else… The good news is, this is generally already set up for you if you go for a furnished place, or start at an Air BnB.
Remember, too, that you’re having to deal with all of these things in not your Muttersprache, so that’s an added stress. That said, battling it out over contracts with sales people is a really good way to improve your languages.
- Regardless of where you end up, make sure you work with a teacher and a coach who work for you. The greatest blessing for me when I left Sydney was that I had so much TIME all of a sudden, which meant that I had the psychological space to work out what I wanted from my singing, and really spend the time finding what felt the healthiest, and what sounded the healthiest for me and my voice. I’ve had a lot of input and opinions given to me about my sound (and I’m truly grateful about this), but when I left Australia I was in a bit of a muddle. To have had the time to sort everything out and really work out what works for me is something I will always treasure. You won’t always have teachers and mentors around you who care about you, so make sure you know how to look after yourself as well.
- Even if you do well, the ups and downs of rejections will get on top of you some of the time. The emotional yoyo of wondering if you’ll actually make it is completely exhausting (some days it’s not, but some days it is). Make sure you have some key people and mentors you can call when you’re feeling down. Someone I love dearly was kind enough to offer to get on a plane to Europe and slap me in the face in person if I gave up – which at the time was exactly what I needed to hear.
- It can happen that you realise that you don’t actually want the career you thought you wanted, or you’re not actually going to have the career you thought you would. Either of these scenarios might make you feel like you’re a failure, because you’ve done all this work. You’re not. Don’t worry. The fact that you’ve taken the leap to go to another country and really stretch yourself is so damn commendable. *gives reader another mum-esque squishy cuddle*. It’s never too late to start something different in your life, so go and chase that rainbow if it will make you happy.
- Everything takes longer than you think it will. I applied for the same number of auditions in 2018 (for 2019), and made it through to ONE only. The 2019 (for 2020) applications were much more fruitful. You need to be on the ground for a little while, as it were, unless you’re INCREDIBLY LUCKY.
- Keeping up with calling your family and friends back home can be tricky, as well as missing births, deaths and marriages. Once again: mentors and supportive people make all the difference.
I wouldn’t change the fact that I moved to Europe for anything. I had been saving for this jump for about seven years, and I’ll never regret having done it. The plan is to stay for as long as possible, and hopefully get a few more languages under my belt (and all possible work as an opera singer, obviously).
So all I can say is, if you’re wondering what it might be like, the only way to really know is to try for yourself, so BOOK A TICKET (and come and say hi if you’re in Dresden!).