It may not draw the fashionista crowds in the same numbers as its more glamorous Italian counterpart, Milan, but Westphalia’s capital, Dusseldorf, is the powerhouse of the German fashion industry as well as a major technology, media and financial centre. However, the city’s size means that there is only a limited choice when it comes to international schools.
Surprising fact! Dusseldorf is in the top ten rankings of highest standard of living cities, in the world, taking into account criteria such as transport, crime rates, housing and for us, most importantly, education. The small size of the city is an additional perk and expats find that they can live close to the centre (and schools) without breaking the bank. There is one odd paradox, it is known for both its pioneering influence on experimental and electronic music (on trend?) but also for preferring ‘old-style’ pre-lager beer (out of touch?).
It is possible to plant yourself and your family on either side of the river, which is, literally and visually, at the heart of the city but it is not the only watery attraction as, right bang in the centre, is also the large and picturesque Hofgarten, awash with lakes, swans and beautifully kept, child-friendly, green spaces. Transport is swift and ubiquitous (bus, metro and tram) so whichever side of the river you choose to live on, getting to work or your child to school is a doddle, compared to most modern cities.
If you opt for the right bank, where the majority of businesses operate, it will probably be to the south, in Bilk, best known for its Amsterdamesque street, Die Karolingen (although the canal is a minnow by comparison) and the Sudpark. Alternatively, you might choose the northern area, Dusseltal, next to the misleadingly named Zoopark, opened at the end of the 19th century but now, sadly, animal-free.
On the left bank (reached by two bridges), most expats choose to live in Oberkassel with its art nouveau architecture or Niederkassel, which is home to a Japanese Temple, tea house, garden and the Japanese International School (teaching language Japanese) plus the majority of the large (by German standards) Japanese community.
The International School of Dusseldorf in Keiserswerth, is over 50 years old and has the largest cohort of US and UK students. It is close to the river on the right bank but still only 10-15 minutes’ drive from Oberkassel or Niederkassel on the other side. An example of how easy it is to navigate the city is, that even if you live in Bilk at the opposite end of the northwest/southeast diagonal, it only takes 20 minutes to get to the school by car, or less than an hour on the public.
The Sabis school, International School on the Rhine (actually in Neuss) in the southwestern corner of the left bank, is equally accessible by road from all the favoured expat areas. Public transport from Bilk and the rest of the right bank is slower and more complicated but the school offers a comprehensive bus service. You could walk to the Lycée Francais de Dusseldorf (providing a full French education, taught in French) if you live in Dusseltal or get to school in quarter of an hour by car (30 minutes by train) from either the left bank or Bilk.
Even though, St George’s School (smaller than the other two English language international schools), is technically in another city, Duisburg, it is still less than half an hour from the centre of Dusseldorf and only three quarters of an hour by train. One of the rare schools in Germany to offer the International Baccalaureate Careers Programme as an alternative to the IB Diploma.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Dusseldorf considered by expats'.
The vast majority of Germans attend state schools for the excellent reasons that the educational standard is high and they’re free. Schooling starts at six and covers elementary, middle and high school.
A possible disadvantage for expats (apart from language) is that students are formally tracked onto separate educational paths much earlier than in the UK, US or Canada. The system also presents a practical problem for expat families, with two parents at the coal-face, as they are usually only open in the mornings. Also, as they don’t operate all day, they tend not to offer any of the extra stuff that international parents are used to (sport, in particular).
Before and after-school care for primary school children is often provided by on-site school clubs (Schulhort or Kita for kindergarten children) but beware they can stop at 4 pm and always close by 6 pm. This can be a serious problem for people with high-powered jobs that don’t necessarily bide by the clock.
So, if you do choose to go down this route, you will have to be extremely organised and that starts with turning up at the local registry office, clutching the school application form, the child’s birth certificate, its passport, proof of residency and a medical certificate.
Maybe not as edgy or cosmopolitan as Berlin or even Frankfurt, but if you are posted here, you can look forward to a more affordable and less stressful place to bring up and educate your children, right in the middle of western Europe.