Bielefeld: Big city with rural charm

Big city flair and rural life – in Bielefeld you have both. The city has a quaint historic district dating back to the Middle Ages and numerous greens and parks. The affordable prices and proximity to everything makes Bielefeld an ideal place to study. As a student in Bielefeld, you may occasionally hear rumours that the city doesn’t exist – a stubborn legend that still lingers today.

by Corinna Schlun

The fortress Sparrenburg is a popular excursion destination for students in Bielefeld. © Daniel Schwen
Sparrenburg castle . © Daniel Schwen

Facts & Figures

Monthly rent:
316 €
Take a journey into the past at a medieval festival at Sparrenburg castle!

Welcome to Bielefeld

Bielefeld was founded in the ninth century and became a trading centre in the region during the Middle Ages. The city became known for its exquisite linen manufacturing. The historic city centre and the Sparrenburg give you an idea of how economically influential Bielefeld used to be in the Middle Ages.

The Sparrenburg, the central landmark of the city, is a mighty fortress dating back to the 13th century and is the scene of a medieval festival and market every July. This is where you can encounter fire-breathers, try out suckling pork on a spit or make your own pottery.

The historic old town of Bielefeld invites students to stroll. © Corinna Schlun
Old Town . © Corinna Schlun

In the beautiful historic centre of town, you will enjoy strolling past the renovated patrician houses or window-shopping at speciality shops and small boutiques. In the “Neustadt” – the new part of town – you can find everything you need at the large chain stores.

If you’re more of a nature person, you can go hiking along the 160-km Hermannsweg. It starts in Rheine and leads all the way to the mountain Lippischer Velmerstot, and is one of Germany’s most beautiful hiking trails. It also takes you through the Teutoburg Forest, which many regard as Bielefeld’s “green lung”.

By the way, there’s a legend about Bielefeld that just doesn’t want to die. You might hear Germans tell you that Bielefeld doesn’t really exist. The reason: Twenty years ago students from Bielefeld wanted to find out how quickly information spread via the Internet. They started a conspiracy theory that “Bielefeld doesn’t exist”. The rumour swept across the country like wildfire and still lingers today!

Living in Bielefeld

If you appreciate the big city as much as you do country living, then Bielefeld is the perfect place for you. In town you can get around best by bicycle because the central points are all nearby. As a student of the University of Bielefeld, you can also take the tram for free.

The Teutoburg Forest is used by many students for hiking. © Irabi/DAAD
Teutoburg Forest . © Irabi/DAAD

Rental prices in Bielefeld are relatively inexpensive. A room closer to town in a flat-share can cost somewhere between 250 and 350 euros, and in a student hall of residence, you can get a room for just 170 euros including utilities.

Bielefeld also has its share of cultural activities and events. At the “Carnival der Kulturen“, a colourful Carnival parade, you can follow the exhilarating music through the streets. A large open-air movie event takes place every summer in the Ravensberger Park featuring the latest blockbusters and classic films. The city’s rich cultural life includes numerous museums, countless independent theatres and various choirs.

Many students and passers-by are on the way in Bielefeld Jahnplatz. © Daniel Schwen
Jahnplatz . © Daniel Schwen

When it’s sunny outside, many students enjoy hanging out at the Oetkerpark in the west part of town, but also strolling along the Sparrenburg promenade or in the Nordpark. On warm summer evenings, you’ll find many people sitting outdoors at Siegfriedplatz or outside numerous cafés in Bielefeld’s west side or downtown until the early morning hours.

There are many small and large cafés which are affordable and cater to every taste – chic, old-fashioned, coffee house style or student-alternative. At "Ferdis Pizza Pinte", Bielefeld’s student pub, you can get pizzas, salads and international dishes. Or you can go to the "Hechelei" and drink a cocktail. The Hechelei is located next to a former spinning mill – it’s worth a visit if only to see the interesting building!

No matter what your taste in music – rock, pop or electronic – you’ll find it in Bielefeld. The entry fees are quite reasonable – around five euros on average. Numerous parties also take place at the university and the university of applied sciences. The “Westend Party”, held at the beginning of the semester, is known far beyond the borders of Bielefeld as Germany’s largest indoor university party with some 10,000 party-goers.

My tip

You’ve only truly arrived in Bielefeld once you visited the medieval festival at the Sparrenburg and marvelled at the sight of the fire-breathers!

If you want to play sports, you have plenty of opportunities at the university. There is a wide range of sport courses available – from beach volleyball to step aerobics. Many of the courses are offered at no cost. Just make sure to register early enough because the courses fill up quickly. The university is also home to a diverse range of student organisations. For example, you can get involved in the university’s own radio station Hertz 87.9. The station offers students the chance to produce and broadcast their own pieces and gain experience as radio presenters.

Interview with Muge from Turkey

Muge Arslanturk is 20 years old and comes from Turkey. She is currently working toward her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in Bielefeld.

Portrait of the student Muge from Turkey in Bielefeld. © Muge Arslanturk
Muge from Turkey . © Muge Arslanturk

How do you like living in Bielefeld?

I come from a city with five million inhabitants. That’s the biggest reason I love living in Bielefeld – it’s a small city. I also think it’s good that there are several other foreign students here with me. You could say I’m leading a kind of multicultural life.

What is student life like?

I’d been told that Erasmus students aren’t “real” students, but more like tourists. It’s true we don’t study like the regular students. But in order to pass the modules, we do have to complete tons of homework and examinations. The professors are really friendly and helpful. This semester I’m even attending courses in German and the professors are helping me understand everything that’s going on in the course.

Why did you choose Bielefeld?

I had the choice of two places to study in Germany. One possibility was Bielefeld, the other Bochum. I checked out the universities on the Internet and got some information about them. Some of my friends had also studied in Bielefeld and encouraged me to study here too. In the end, I chose this city because I could take some of my courses in English.

The theatre in Bielefeld offers students a diverse cultural offer. © Andreas Praefcke
Theatre . © Andreas Praefcke

How did you prepare for your stay in Germany?

When I received notification of admission to Bielefeld, I started a two-month German course. I tried to improve my German as quickly as possible. Other than that, I didn’t have very much more to do because the International Office helped me with the other things.

How did you find a flat?

When I sent all my documents to the university, I received an e-mail from the International Office asking me whether I needed help finding accommodation. Then they looked for a flat for me. Now I live in a flat with five other Erasmus students.

What was one of the first things you noticed when you arrived?

The first thing I noticed was the punctuality and discipline which Germans have. Everything was planned and there was never a problem that didn’t have a solution.

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