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Land of opportunity for Southern Europeans? Germany.

German businesses are turning to Spaniards, Greeks, Italians, and others from high-unemployment eurozone countries. But immigrants may find themselves in remote areas – and struggling with the language.

By Tim LohContributor / October 9, 2012

Originally from Salou in Spain, Bruno Fraysse (l.) moved to Berlin six years ago, a time when hearing Spanish in the German capital was rare, he says. Today, he is the owner of Gastón, a Spanish pub in the neighborhood of Neukölln that is thriving in large part because Spaniards are increasingly settling in Berlin in hopes of finding a job.

Tim Loh

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Berlin

After two days of sightseeing and night clubs around Berlin, Iker Martinez arrives at his German-language school Monday morning to find the steepest cover charge yet.

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"For September," he says, forking over 222 euros – about $280.

Moments later in class, he jots down the vocabulary his teacher scribbled on the whiteboard – the German words for "first," "then," "later," and "last." Then, studying a jumble of photos of a factory in his textbook, he racks his brain over how to describe the production best.

"So," the teacher says, regarding Mr. Martinez and his seven classmates, three of whom have also just arrived from southern Europe. "How do you put a car together?"

Martinez can go into depth about that. In July, the 28-year-old mechanical engineer left San Sebastian, Spain, to join the growing wave of young workers fleeing the eurozone’s crisis countries for better prospects in Europe’s largest economy.

In theory, the match-up is a cinch: In Spain and Greece, the unemployment rate is nearly 25 percent, and more than double that for people under 25. The job outlook has also darkened in Portugal, Ireland, and parts of Italy. Meanwhile, large swaths of Germany have companies that are scrambling to fill open engineering and technical positions.

In practice, though, it's more complex. These days, few Europeans grow up with a solid grasp of German, which is still necessary to handle many of the job responsibilities here. The work is also scattered across this Montana-sized country, often far from major cities, forcing the likes of Martinez to make a choice: Live in Berlin – where the rent is cheap, the immigrant network is tight, the entertainment options are endless, but the unemployment rate of 12.3 percent is Germany’s highest – or look for work in another area of Germany where adjustment may be much more difficult but the jobs are more plentiful.

Catalan in Deutschland

On a cobbled crossing in Berlin's trendy Neukölln neighborhood, the Spanish pub Gastón offers a window into this tension.

Skateboarding into work on a Saturday afternoon, owner Bruno Fraysse greets his handful of staff and customers in a mix of Spanish, English, and German. His girlfriend, a Hamburg native, slumps at the bar, lazily swiping her iPad. In the cramped kitchen, young cook Gabriel Sergent, a trained photographer who left Andalusia this summer, is frying fish. A sign on the wall informs: "Every Sunday, Paella!!!"

“When I arrived, it was impossible to hear Spanish on the streets,” says Mr. Fraysse, a firecracker of a figure, whose arms, legs, and chest are covered in tattoos. He moved here from Salou, just outside of Barcelona, in 2006. “Now I can hear Catalan!”

His observation is on point. In May, roughly 46,000 Spaniards had registered jobs in Germany, an 11.5-percent increase over the previous spring, the Federal Employment Agency reported. That trend also emerged among Greeks (up 9.8 percent, to 117,700), Italians (up 4.2 percent, to 232,800), and Portuguese (up 5.9 percent, to 55,600). The statistics, which don’t include people earning money under the table or looking for work, suggest that this is the biggest influx of southern Europeans to Germany in decades.

For Spaniards, a group that lacks a big toehold elsewhere in the country, the destination is usually the capital.

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