Ilmenau: Small-town charm and an affordable education in the heart of Germany

When you live in Ilmenau, you feel like you’re a part of a big family. Statistically speaking, one out of every four residents is a student, and many events and activities take place on campus. Ilmenau is one of the three most affordable cities in Germany for students, and if you love nature, you’ll find it right at your doorstep.

by Johanna Wendel

City centre © Wendel/DAAD
City centre . © Wendel/DAAD

Facts & Figures

Monthly rent:
263 €
Ein Besuch im Cafè "Zauberhaft".

Welcome to Ilmenau

Ilmenau is located in the state of Thuringia in the heart of Germany at the edge of the Thuringian Forest. It’s very close to other university towns, such as Erfurt, Weimar and Jena.

Ilmenau is a cosy, familiar town. The Technical University of Ilmenau has a very good reputation and attracts students from all over Germany and around the world. If you relish the thought of studying Mathematics, Technical Physics, Computer Science and Automotive Engineering, then the university in Ilmenau is a perfect choice for you. Regenerative Energy Technology, Electrochemistry and Galvanic Technology, and Miniaturised Biotechnology are just some of the rather unusual master’s degree programmes offered here.

City Hall © Wendel/DAAD
City Hall . © Wendel/DAAD

Long ago, copper and silver mining were two of Ilmenau’s chief industries. Today, you’ll find numerous buildings and monuments dating back to its earlier history. One example is the Mining Chapel built in the 17th century. No one knows exactly what its original function was, which makes it all the more interesting to visit this beautiful relic of the past.

You should definitely take a look at the Ziegenbrunnen (Goat Fountain). The most famous poem about Ilmenau is engraved on the base of the fountain. Once you’ve read it, you’ll likely never forget it! “In Ilmenau, da ist der Himmel blau, da tanzt der Ziegenbock mit seiner Frau.” (In Ilmenau, the sky is blue, where the billy goat dances with his wife). Fittingly, the bronze sculpture atop the fountain depicts two goats dancing together.

Campus of the university © Wendel/DAAD
Campus of the university . © Wendel/DAAD

Ilmenau hosts the “International Student Week” every year. Students from over 70 countries participate in discussions based on specific topics, such as “responsibility”.

Living in Ilmenau

According to the rankings published in the student magazine “Unicum”, Ilmenau is one of the three most affordable cities for students in Germany. The university can help you find a flat or room in town. If you’re an international student coming to Ilmenau for the first time, you will find extra information about the buddy programme “We 4 You” in your notification package. A student from the TU Ilmenau will support you both before and after you arrive. He or she will explain what you have to take care of, accompany you to the various municipal authorities and show you around campus.

The majority of student life takes place on campus. There are numerous student groups which hold events on a regular basis. There are also four large clubs on campus which offer something for everyone.

One of these is the BD Club which organises concerts and parties. Even during the day, students are welcome to drop by the club for a cup of coffee. The residents of Ilmenau will tell you that "Café Bohne" is the best bar far and wide. Besides the normal parties and evenings with live music, they also put on specials like a whiskey-tasting event.

At the café “Zauberhaft” in the Ilmenau Toy Museum, you can experience the atmosphere of the former GDR (German Democratic Republic). You’ll find yourself transported back in time where you can try the typical meals (like “Soljanka”), beverages and cakes of socialist East Germany.

Hennen Fountain © Wendel/DAAD
Hennen Fountain . © Wendel/DAAD

The Thuringian Forest offers a diverse array of opportunities for recreational activity. There are countless hiking trails around Ilmenau which highlight different themes. On the “Nature Trail”, you can learn about the distinctive geographical features of the Thuringian Forest, and if you take the trail “From Bach to Goethe”, you can enjoy breath-taking views of the landscape.

If you ever feel a desire for more variety and want to see something new, it’s only an hour away to Erfurt with public transportation.

Interview with Sherief from Egypt

Sherief Emam is 29 years old, comes from Egypt and studies Mechatronics.

Sherief from Egypt © Wendel/DAAD
Sherief from Egypt . © Wendel/DAAD

Why did you decide to study and live in Ilmenau?

I absolutely wanted to study Mechatronics, and back in 2006, there were only three universities in Germany that offered such a programme. I was accepted at both Ilmenau and Nuremberg. After getting my admission letter from Ilmenau, I originally planned to start a German course there and then transfer to Nuremberg later. It turned out that I liked it here so much that I stayed. Generally, I decided to study in Germany because it has a great reputation worldwide when it comes to Engineering programmes.

How did you find accommodation? What advice can you give other students who are looking for a place to stay?

The Studentenwerk gladly helps you look for an adequate room in a student residence hall in the beginning. I myself lived in a room in a residence hall on campus for seven years. I paid 200 euros a month for a 24-m2 room. For the past year, I’ve been living in a flat-share in Ilmenau, which is, of course, a bit more expensive.

What are you favourite places in Ilmenau?

You have to admit that Ilmenau is a pretty small town, but yet it has everything you need. They have a really nice swimming pool and you don’t have to go far to do some hiking in the forest.

Why is Ilmenau a good place to study?

The university has great facilities and everything fits together somehow. The teacher-student ratio is optimal and there’s a pleasant working atmosphere. I would recommend finding a good balance between one’s studies and free time – you shouldn’t neglect either. Then nothing can really go wrong in Ilmenau.

What’s the best way of coming in contact with other students?

Basically you spend all your time together because you hardly ever leave campus. It’s practically impossible not to meet people, because in Ilmenau, you feel like a big family.

Describe Germany in three words.

  1. Open – by which I mean the support and opportunities which Germany offers foreign students.
  2. Reliable – Germany offers many possibilities and a pleasant atmosphere for foreign students, and since they changed the visa laws, you can concentrate better on your studies and take the time you need.
  3. Quality – that is, the good quality of education that exists in Germany.
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