uberlin

Ask überlin – the Podcast

by James Glazebrook

ask überlin podcast

Ask überlin is back – and now it’s a PODCAST! Zoë and I are going to start answering your questions again, only this time you’ll be able to listen to the advice coming straight of our sweet expat mouths. In the past, we’ve helped people move to Berlin, find an apartment, find a job, learn German and even, well, blame us for our Kiez’s “gentrification nightmare” :( .

If you have any questions like these (maybe not like that last one), we’d love to hear from you! Maybe you want to get practical advice, our opinions on something happening in the city, our turn-ons and turn-offs, or all the details about our life with Olive. Hit us up and we’ll help you out!

Got a question for us? Drop us an email at ask@uberlin.co and we’ll answer them on the Ask überlin podcast (coming soon!).

PS: If you don’t want us to read your name out, keep it anonymous! We won’t share your email address or anything else that you don’t write in your email.

PPS: We also need theme music for the podcast! Let us know if you want to donate a track, or make us a new one, in exchange for a shout out!

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Ask überlin: Don’t you feel responsible for Berlin’s gentrification nightmare?

by James Glazebrook

As a Berlin blog run by expats, who try to help other internationals make a life for themselves here, we’re used to being targeted by locals angry about the gentrification of their city. But we were taken aback by the vitriol behind John John’s comment on our original Ask überlin… ANYTHING post:

Did you notice that the Graefekiez is now Berlin’s most expensive area ? That many people are leaving because they can’t afford it ? Did you notice that Kreuzberg is NOT cool anymore ? Don’t you feel responsible for the gentrification nightmare of your Kiez ? How much did you purchase your flat and how much do you expect to sale it ? Do you still feel welcome in Kreuzberg despite the fact that most people there obviously hate the kind of person you represent – long-term tourists with no connection to Germany or Berlin ? Are you aware that Berlin is QUICKLY losing all the things that made the city special ? How does it feel to be an english hipster caricature in a city where english hipsters are not welcome anymore ?

I’ve given a lot of thought to our response, because John John has a couple of valid points. Sometimes we do present ourselves (jokingly) as hipster caricatures – this comment came about a week after I dicked about for the You know you’re a Berliner when… photos. And, as people willing and able to pay higher rents than those who used to live in our Kiez, we are part of the problem… But the comment’s xenophobia, false assumptions (we rent, and have no plans to buy) and faulty argument – that we are responsible for an economic process much larger than ourselves – deserve to be addressed.

Ares Kalandides, the blogger behind Place Management & Branding, put it better than I could and kindly gave us permission to republish one of his posts. He may be talking about Neukölln rather than Kreuzberg, and responding to an old, notorious anti-Touri video, but what he says applies equally to our neighbourhood and  our situation:

This short film appeared about 2 years ago on the web. It is called “offending the clientele” and that’s pretty much what it does. But what’s the issue here? Who’s offending whom? And why? This is about Neukölln in Berlin and the story is not a straightforward one. It’s the story of a perceived invasion with strange aftertones of a very reactionary “sense of place”: “Help! We are being attacked by foreigners! They happen to be tourists, but just the same! It’s them against us“.

Once upon a time, not very long ago, Neukölln was a Berlin neighbourhood with the worst reputation you could get. Mayors and ministers stigmatized it as ghetto, poverty was visible everywhere, violence was supposed to be growing in its streets. And then a couple of years ago something started to move. Students who could not afford the more expensive areas of Friedrichshain or even Kreuzberg started discovering Neukölln for themselves. Bars, clubs, fashion shops and cafés began opening up – first catering to a local student community, but very soon to a broader international mobile scene of young discount travellers.

If you think about it, this is not really a unique story. Germans simply take it for granted that they are tourists, invading the whole world – every summer or winter resort. But also, there is no spot on earth no matter how far away, how hidden, how protected, that does not fall victim of these voracious visitors. Now suddenly somebody has turned the tables on them: Berlin in general, Neukölln in particular, have become a favourite destination for tourists who – let’s be honest – are very very much like the local student scene. Actually, what they are looking for in this case is not difference, but similarity. Neukölln feels so familiar for the creative party crowds no matter where they come from. Now Italians and Spaniards are “invading” Berlin as their countries have been invaded for decades (ever heard of Mallorca? Or Venice?..). It reminds me so much of the rhetoric of former European colonial powers, who now wonder what all the formerly colonized are doing among them.

So what’s exactly the trouble? In a sense, a very real one. Who wants to be the animal in the zoo, being watched, observed, scrutinized? Who wants her/his lifestyle commodified and consumed for somebody else’s pleasure? When the beer you bought yesterday for 2 Euros is suddenly 3, because your pub has become so popular with tourists, of course it’s an issue. Ask the Spanish, Italian, Greeks, Turks who’ve had that kind of thing for decades and they’ll agree.  So the problem is not that it’s happening, it’s just that now it’s happening to us. Weird logic…

Of course gentrification is not a joke. It means that people with a lower income will very probably have to move away and that does not only include students. It may mean the real urban poor, the ones who have very very little and not really a choice. Probably also the ones with the strongest attachments to the neighbourhood, explained by their relative lack of mobility. Gentrification produces very real losers. And it’s not just “the way things are”, as a desperately naive Neukölln caterer from Detroit put it: it is the result of political choices, laws and regulations put together to produce just that effect.

It’s just that this video is not really about gentrification, if you think about it, is it? It’s not about the poor and the rich, it’s about us and them. And that is what makes it so absolutely offensive.

What do you think? We’re interested in having a real discussion about the gentrification of Berlin, so please leave your thoughts, opinions and ideas in the comments below. 

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Ask überlin: How can I find an apartment in Berlin?

by Guest Blogger

The latest installment in our ask überlin series was written by Stephan Brenner of Expath - a company that helps expats get established in Berlin – and illustrated by Josh Bauman of Caffeinated Toothpaste fame.

Can anyone recommend a shipping company that caused you medium-to-low trauma (from London to Berlin)?

I’d be interested to find out what anybody knows about the rough prices or best services for shipping things here from abroad? (London to Berlin, especially!)

If you’re anything like me, you have a mom in California who is just itching to sell or (gasp!) donate your boxes of assorted trinkets and angsty teenage poetry, so she can use her garage for car-related matters again. But what can pack rats like us do? Shipping is, by all accounts, very expensive (especially since the US Postal Service got rid of international surface mail in 2007). Here are several realistic suggestions  – and an obnoxious one.

The first option, for those arriving from very faraway places, is to simply bring it along on the plane. Two suitcases, a stuffed carry-on bag, multiple seasonally inappropriate layers of clothing on your person and voilà! In addition, depending on the airline, paying for extra baggage may not be a comparatively bad option, and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (see Fare Compare’s Worldwide Baggage Fee Chart).

Similarly, when coming from European destinations, using a car filled with one’s precious belongings is a popular option. If you can’t drive, negotiating with rideshares to transport your luggage along with yourself for the price of one or two additional passengers is also a possibility (see Mitfahr Gelegenheit and, specifically for rideshares from London to Germany, the Deutsche in London forum).

For smaller parcels containing important  items (i.e. things you may want to track or insure), and for very quick international shipping, the standard UPS, DHL, FedEX and local post office would be secure options and they usually help take care of customs, but they’re not cheap. With the not-so-standard delivery companies, one would be well-advised to first check online for other people’s experiences. For a comparison tailored to your unique situation, try Shiply.

Handle with Care by Josh Bauman

Also consider local moving companies and international freight forwarders (with shared containers) like UPakWeShip and EuroUSA. This is the slowest option and you absolutely must pay attention to customs regulations (especially for new items) and where your shipment can be picked up. For more information, have a look at the forums on ToyTown Germany dealing with this topic.

Taking a load with you whenever you return to Berlin from a visit home, and having friends and family bring along items when they visit is a great way to increase your cheap-suitcase collection.

The last, and most obnoxious, advice is for you to simply come to terms with the realization that you don’t actually need all those things. Two suitcases are more than enough for the transition, and almost anything else can be found quite cheaply here in Berlin.

What are your thoughts on renting houses as opposed to apartments? Is it easy to get garden flats? Do you know of any areas where it might be easier to find them or a house? Or as soon as you hit areas which have houses does it suddenly turn boring?!

In which area should I stay when I visit? Where should I live when I move here?

I am really curious to how much an apartment costs. And like any city there is certainly a range, but if you could shed some experiential advice about monthly rent, good areas for english speakers, bad neighborhoods for english speakers, and anything you think might be useful on the topic of a room.

Berlin real estate is currently a contentious topic, as it is becoming more challenging to find and obtain the perfect set-up – at first glance. Price, size and location are factors that, when varied even slightly, can lead to very different and potentially interesting results. Getting what you want takes time, a strong spirit and the willingness to compromise (at least in the beginning).

Cozy by Josh Bauman

The all-important questions here are whether to rent temporarily or long-term, and whether to live in a shared apartment (“Wohngemeinschaft”, or simply “WG”) or alone. Temporary arrangements are sometimes significantly more expensive, but not a bad place to start – especially since there’s less hassle and bureaucracy involved (try Craigslist). This gives you an address to register and some breathing room to get a lay of the land. Shared flats are also not very bureaucratic, but there are interviews! Your potential flatmates will only accept the candidate with their idea of the perfect personality. Listings can be found at WG-Gesucht and Studenten-WG. For those craving independence, privacy and a longer commitment, who can spare some time for the process and are willing to diligently prepare and deal with setbacks, renting one’s own apartment is the way to go.

When looking for an apartment, as Patrick Wilken points out in his excellent response to the original query, a good price in Berlin is roughly €10 per square meter “warm” (i.e. including costs like heating). In other words, a monthly rent of €500 for a 50sqm apartment is generally not a rip-off and would be considered a bargain in the more desirable areas.

Very roughly speaking, the two Eastern quadrants within the S-Bahn ring are the most sought-after areas by expats. Apartments here are among the most challenging to find and obtain because demand exceeds supply. However, looking just outside of these areas, a difference of mere minutes with Berlin’s magnificent public transport, may yield excellent value for money, especially in terms of space – and much less of a fight to actually end up signing a contract. The downside here is that the buildings and neighborhoods may not be as pretty or lively. As Patrick mentions, Wedding is very up-and-coming and Moabit is still underrated. Our advice is: to go and explore the different areas yourself. You may just be pleasantly surprised, and if you happen to get a bad vibe, then skip it. To find rental apartments or houses (usually in quieter neighborhoods and on the outskirts of the city) check out Immobilienscout24 , Immowelt and Immonet for listings. As with much else, having a network of friends in the city will expose you more directly to available rooms and flats before they’re on the market.

Garden Flat by Josh Bauman

The best advice to actually GET the flat of your dreams is to have all the standard documents prepared before the viewing (!) – which may take more than a week. Have the following in both paper and digital format: a copy of your photo ID (for non-EU: also your residence permit), income statements from the last three months (“Einkommensnachweis”), a letter from your previous landlord confirming that you don’t owe rent (“Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung”), your “Schufa” credit report , a neatly filled-out application form (which you receive at the viewing) and a nicely written (ideally in German) text for the body of your email. For EU citizens, a letter guaranteeing that someone, e.g. a parent, can cover the costs in case you can’t (“Bürgschaft”) may also be possible in lieu of the income statements. Decisions on whose application actually gets processed are based on the completeness and timeliness of the application, which of the applicants is most likely (able) to pay the rent and, all other things being equal, a good impression in person and in writing. An excellent way to ensure that your application makes it to the top of the pile is offering to pay six months’ or even a year’s rent in advance, especially when lacking the income statements.

Sincere thanks to Berlin real estate agents Aljona Brysch and Michael Rost for their insight and help researching this information.

Help a Berliner out. Do you have any top tips for finding rental properties in Berlin, or making moving here easier?

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Ask überlin: How do I find a job in Berlin?

by James Glazebrook

Many of the respondents to our recent Ask überlin… ANYTHING! post have stumbled upon a Berlin paradox. Everyone wants to move here, but they can’t because there aren’t any jobs. However, if there were jobs here, it would no longer be cheap, or thrilling, or otherwise attractive to people like us. In the words of Adam Fletcher, “it’d be Munich.” We anticipated the advice of his You know you’re a Berliner when... post before we moved here:

Don’t move here unless you already have a way to sustain yourself, even if you will need vastly less money than in other cities. €1k a month is enough to live reasonably well. So work online. Freelance. Do a startup. Take a year out and write that book. Do “projects”.

Because of nature of our work (creative, online), we’re only really qualified to help people get jobs in startups. If you’re one of these bright sparks, check out Berlin Startup Jobs and, if you speak German, Creative City Berlin and Creative Set. Also sign up to Watson Jobs‘ newsletter for job vacancies and internships, and pester your favourite companies until they give in and give you some work ;) But no matter what you plan to do, you might have to do the Berlin thing and work a subsistence job (or five) until your Berlin dreams take off.

by Josh Bauman

by Josh Bauman

In an attempt to help those interested in real jobs – or what Chris calls “a decent career” – we did a little research on monster.de. From the many thousands of jobs on offer, about 200 were in the education sector (Chris is a trained Careers Advisor) and about 40 in nursing. We can’t answer these related questions…

Is it true that Germans don’t think much of their nurses?
Does having an English degree carry any sort of advantage when applying for jobs?

…but we should repeat Patrick’s word of caution: “If you don’t speak passable German I think your options are pretty limited.” For some thoughts and tips about learning the local language, read Ask überlin: Do I need to learn German?

Also on the topic of making a living in Berlin, Ryan asks:

Do you (or anyone else who may be reading) have any tips or recommendations for cheap, relatively hassle-free German health insurance?

This is a question we’re still trying to find an answer to, nearly two years into our life here. Of course we have health insurance (it’s required by law), but frankly, we’ve been ripped off! We have some leads, and will let you know how they develop, but we’ll leave you with the greatest tip we’ve ever been given on the subject: if you come from an EU country with a public healthcare system, you can transfer onto public insurance here. BUT once you go private, you can’t go back. Here is the NHS information we wished we’d known before we moved…

Help a Berliner out. Do you have any top tips for finding affordable health insurance in Berlin… or a job?

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Ask überlin: Do I need to learn German?

by James Glazebrook

Of all the questions to pop up in response to our recent Ask überlin… ANYTHING! post, the one that really jumped out was Nana’s:

Is it possible to live in Berlin without knowing a word in German?

The scary thing is that the short answer is “Yes, quite possible”. We know people here who survive on very little German: they work at international companies where the official language is English, only hang out with other expats, and do the whole nod-and-smile thing at supermarket checkouts. Some of them just haven’t got round to learning the language yet, but some don’t ever plan to.

The problem with this is, like Patrick comments, “your ability to work and interact with people is going to be much more limited.” What happens if you lose your startup job and can’t find another? Or need to get your sink fixed? Or get sick of socialising with douchebags like me?

Our advice would be: don’t worry about the language thing before you move to Berlin, and don’t let it put you off coming. But when you’re settled, make steps to learn German. Like Expath’s Tia Robinson writes in this great post for VentureVillage, “you can be one of the thousands of Berlin expats bumbling around… But why not take advantage of being immersed in German language and culture?”

Scroll down for some top tips to avoid becoming this guy:

Language schools

We’ve sampled a few different language schools, and some private tutors, and our favourite is Sprachsalon Berlin in Neukölln. The teachers are great, engaging in German and resorting to English to explain the most difficult concepts, the classes are small (we learned first with a total of four students, then just the two of us) and, above all, the fees are very reasonable.

If you want some other options, check out this Exberliner article or wait for someone more experienced than us to comment below!

Online learning tools

Again, we checked out a bunch of online learning tools and stopped at one that works for us: Duolingo. Read what we wrote about Duolingo when it was still in private beta here, and sign up here.

VentureVillage included Duolingo in their 7 cool new ways to learn German, along with some other interesting resources worth checking out – including our Daily Deutsch tweets and illustrations! The list also mentions Meetup.com as a way to meet and speak to “real Germans in the real world”, which could be useful for Alex, who asked us:

any suggestions on how to “fit in” (ie not seem like a typical American/Brit/whatever living in Berlin)? I have a good comprehension of the language, but really want to try to assimilate as much as possible.

by Josh Bauman

by Josh Bauman

Other resources

We’ve heard great things about tandem learning, one-on-one language exchange with a German who wants to learn English (or another language), but we’ve both been playing email tag with our partners, so we can’t yet recommend the institution that’s connected us. And we’ve only just discovered the following:

Zattoo – live stream German TV and radio, and watch Spiegel TV on demand, for free.
Deutsche Welle media centre – get the news and other current affairs programmes as audio and video.
Learn German for Freekostenlos audio lessons on the Open Culture website.
Radiant-Flux - Patrick Wilken’s own blog tackles the issue of “Deutsch lernen”. This epic post is well worth reading for a different approach to language learning and the tactics to go with it.

We reckon that one of the easiest ways to “open your ears” to the language is to listen to local music (with vocals; German hip hop is actually pretty decent) and watch German TV and films, or English-language stuff dubbed into German.

On that note, does anyone have an answer for Paula?

Does anyone know a good website where you can stream German movies with English subtitles? Trying to show my boyfriends some German movies in prep of our big move but it’s hard to find sites that host movies with voiceover / subtitles. Any recommendations?

Help a Berliner out. Do you have any top tips for ways in which to learn German, or places to do so?

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Ask überlin… ANYTHING!

by James Glazebrook

We know that a lot of you come to überlin for practical advice about moving to, and living in, Berlin. That’s why we started the Ask überlin series, where we publish reader’s questions and our responses. But, Schade on us, we’ve slipped back into answering people’s questions by email – which is no good for the rest of you, now is it?

As a way of helping as many of you as possible, we thought we’d collect everyone’s questions here. Then we’ll attempt to answer as many of them as possible in one or more upcoming posts.

So jump into the Comments box below and ask us ANYTHING!

Obviously our “expertise” is Berlin – what it’s like to move and live here, and things to see and do when you visit. But feel free to get “off topic” and ask us about our other interests (music, fashion, coffee…), our day jobs (Zoë loves the camera kit questions!) or everyone’s favourite subject, Olive. She’s all ears.

Gratuitous puppy photo

Gratuitous puppy photo

Also, feel free to chip in with answers for other people’s questions. A lot of the things we’re asked are a matter of opinion, and anyway, we don’t have all the answers!

We’ll start you off with some questions we were sent recently. Have you got an opinion? Or a question of your own? Drop us a comment below…

  • How does Berlin compare to London (in terms of creativity, music variety, peoples’ attitudes, etc)?
  • Does having an English degree carry any sort of advantage when applying for jobs?
  • What are some of the best sites to look for jobs?
  • Is there a Drum ‘N’ Bass/Jungle music scene out there?
  • As English people, do you feel like you fit in, or is there a sense of being REEALLY far from home?
  • Can anyone recommend a shipping company that caused you medium-to-low trauma (from London to Berlin)?
  • Does anyone know if there are nursing/healthcare jobs available in Berlin? And what level of German is required to work in them? And is it true that Germans don’t think much of their nurses?
  • What would you say the minimum amount needed to survive in Berlin for a year?
  • What are your thoughts on renting houses as opposed to apartments? Is it easy to get garden flats? Do you know of any areas where it might be easier to find them or a house? Or as soon as you hit areas which have houses does it suddenly turn boring?! 
  • In which area should I stay when I visit? Where should I live when I move here? 
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ask überlin: Help me find an apartment!

by James Glazebrook

We answer our readers’ questions about moving to, and living in, Berlin. This time: “How do I find a short-term rental, furnished and with internet access? “

happy new year!

A quick question: A family friend is here for 3-6 months and is looking for a furnished apartment. Ideally it should be in Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorf/Schöneberg. I seem to remember that you guys went through a few furnished places. Did you get them through agencies or websites? What’s the best way in your experience?

The most important thing to her is that the apartment has internet…

Thanks,

Vanessa

Oh yes, we worked through quite a few furnished apartments when we first arrived! Four in as many months, to be exact. We split our time between sublets and holiday apartments, and it was pretty easy to find furnished places with wi-fi – we just made our lives harder by having high expectations and two cats in tow!

Subletting could be a good option, as these apartments are relatively hassle-free and can usually be secured with a small deposit. Plus, because they are someone’s home, they should be fully furnished and hooked up with the internet. (Although they also come with strings attached – see our Dummkopf’s Guide to Subletting to avoid potential pitfalls!) Start by looking at Craigslist – as long as you don’t pay out money sight-unseen, you should be pretty secure – or Airbnb, the smart, safe way to rent from real people.

Holiday apartments are usually clean and well-equipped, although it might be tough finding a place for longer than three months. We can’t remember who we booked through, but these two were in the mix (they just couldn’t accommodate our required dates or cats): Case a Berlino,  T&C Apartments.

If you still can’t find anything, hit the city’s Wohnungsmarkt websites. You’ll still find sublets here, alongside “proper rentals”. Furnished, hooked-up apartments are in the minority, but they can be found. Try to avoid agent’s adverts, as they charge extortionate fees far beyond those asked for by private owners. Here are some websites to try:

Immowelt
Studenten-WG
Studenten-Wohnung
WG-Gesucht

Good luck!

Our first sublet

Our first sublet had internet, furniture and space for all our shoes!

Got a question about life in Berlin or making the move here? Check out our quick guide to Moving to Berlin, or drop us an email and we’ll do our best to help!

If you have some advice to offer Vanessa, leave it as a comment below and we’ll make sure she gets it. Thanks!

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Ask überlin: Itchy feet, cold feet

by James Glazebrook

We answer our readers’ questions about moving to, and living in, Berlin. An English student asks: “Do you think I’m making a mistake moving to Berlin with no support or back up plan?”

Hi guys,

First off, I love your blog! The music you post is amazing. Secondly, I was wondering if you could possibly offer me some advice? I’m planning to move to Berlin next summer from England but I’m terrified at the prospect of “failing” in my attempt to build a life for myself in a foreign country. I have a large sum of savings that I don’t want to blow but will cushion me for the first few months. Ideally, my plan was to find an apartment to rent in either Mitte or X-berg (as these are the two places I know the best) and find myself a job in a bar/restaurant/coffee shop until I’m settled and then look into something in the creative industry. I’m 22 years old and about to complete a degree in Visual Communication. Do you think I’m making a mistake moving to Berlin with no support or back up plan? Is there any advice you can offer me?

Thank you!

Roisin

First off, thanks! We love hearing from people who like what we do, and are thinking of embarking on a Berlin adventure of their own.

The short answer to your question is: no, you’re not making a mistake. As far as we’re concerned, there is no such thing as “failing” to move to a foreign country. Fears like yours kept us in London for five years, and our final decision to move came with the realisation that the worse that could happen is we have to go back home with a little less money, having done a lot more living. Other expats and travellers would agree that trying to change your life is rewarding in itself, and a risk worth taking.

Plus, you seem to be going about things in the right way. Coming cushioned with savings and prepared to work menial jobs is smart, as is coming in summer! And there’s no better time for creatives to move to Berlin. However, we have some advice before you take the leap:

Consider a flat share (WG) rather than renting by yourself. Your savings will stretch further, and you might make friends with some locals who can introduce you to the city’s hidden treasures. Check out WG Gesucht for flat share ads.

If your German isn’t up to much, you might have problems getting work in bars, cafes and other service businesses where the occasional German person pops in from time to time. If this is the case, you might find the quickest route into the creative industry is an internship in one of the city’s many awesome agencies or startups. Sign up to Watson Jobs‘ newsletter for job vacancies and internships. If you already have great Deutsch then well done – you’re more prepared than most of the expats who already live here!

Hope this helps. Let us know if you have any more questions, and when you arrive in the city look us up for a celebratory Berliner Weisse. Good luck!

Cold feet

Cold feet? Or ready to take your first steps towards living in Berlin?

Got a question about life in Berlin or making the move here? Check out our quick guide to Moving to Berlin, or drop us an email and we’ll do our best to help!

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