Our New Year’s Resolutions

by James and Zoe

We like challenges. That’s one of the reasons we moved to Berlin in the first place. But we’re also *very* lazy, and having a nice apartment that doubles as our office – and has a projector in it – has seen us develop some bad habits. That’s why we’re posting our New Year’s resolutions here for all to see. Accountability, people. Wish us luck!

1. Speak German
I’m aware that I talk a lot about *trying* to learn German, but haven’t done much in this direction since my last lesson, over six months ago. Instead of aiming for something so vague and open-ended, I’m going to get out there, use what German I do have, and hoffentlich pick up some more. 

2. Introduce myself
I like meeting new people, but I’ve always been shit at greeting them. I may be unsure about whether I should be shaking your hand, kissing your cheek (twice?) or, I don’t know, dry-humping your leg, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t part ways at least knowing each other’s names.

3. Exercise every day
There are a lot of advantages to working from home, but *not* becoming a fat bastard isn’t one of them. I’m never going to “buff up” but a daily run or walk (at least downstairs!) will help my health – physical and mental – no end.

4. See more of my family
Prepare to be shocked: I’ve only seen my two year-old niece twice, and I’ve NEVER met her one year-old sister. The selfish bitches haven’t visited us in Berlin once! Maybe I should be visiting my family more often…

5. Sort out my style
Before you rush to defend my wardrobe (anyone?), there’s probably an age (and decade) past which men shouldn’t wear skinny jeans. And if I don’t commit to resolution #3, pretty soon I’ll look like an onion stuck on top of two toothpicks. Anyone with ideas about how to maintain a heavy metal edge in your 30s and not look ridiculous, get in touch ASAP.

1. Take more photos
With Berlin as my subject this really shouldn’t be that hard. But every time I set the alarm to get up for one of those apparently amazing sunrises, I snooze right through it. Next year I shall be a proper legit photographer and get up crazy early to take pictures of landscapes and crap and hate every minute of it. Huzzah!

2. Get out of the apartment more
Freelancers out there will sympathise with this one. Working from home has its perks (sweatpants as second skin, rolling out of bed and into the “office” and showering very VERY irregularly), but it also has downsides. A lack of human contact (James doesn’t count) means I’m losing the few social skills I used to have. In 2012 I’m going to get up, get ready and see REAL LIFE PEOPLE. And maybe even chat to them if I’m feeling brave.

3. Get out of Berlin more
Now you all know how much we love Berlin (no duh). With so many amazing things to see and do all over the city it’s easy to remain in our lovely little bubble and never leave the place. But to be within a two-hour plane journey of places like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Stockholm and to not see them, is just totes ridick.

4. Get a dog
Berlin you evil wench you, you’ve made me want to get a dog! Maybe it’s the change in lifestyle and the need for an aid to resolution #2, or the fact that dogs seem to be permitted everywhere in Berlin and I’m constantly being exposed to cute, furry little things. Whatever it is, I got the bug. Just for the hell of it I asked our landlord whether we could have a dog, and she actually said yes (only in Berlin!) so watch this space dog lovers.

5. Go clubbing at Berghain
Although I’ve been to Berghain many times for gigs, I’ve never actually been clubbing there. I know, GASP. This may be a Berlin “must-do” for any techno lover but every time a trip was planned I always seemed to be in London for work. After being here over a year and never pumping fists within its sweaty walls, or seeing the sun rise through bleary eyes, I feel like a fraud. Well no more I say!

A Year in Berlin – Five Things We’ve Learned

by Zoë Noble

Not much German, unfortunately.
We started with good intentions. We did an intensive course for two months when we arrived, but three hours after a full day’s work, four times a week, was clearly too much German for anyone. By the end I was ready to shoot myself AND all Germans, just for the Dative case alone! Not the attitude I wanted to have with my new countrymen so a break was probably a good thing. Only now are we getting back on der Waggon – join us on Twitter where we are posting a word a day under the hashtag #dailydeutsch.

A German accountant is your best friend.
With our limited understanding of German, receiving letters with official looking stamps on them can be quite scary. Opening them to see pages and pages of text, some of it bolded AND underlined, with intimidating words like “Lastschrifteinzugsverfahren” (“Direct Debit”, for God’s sake!) can be quite unsettling. After James took over three hours to Google Translate one letter which simply informed us of our tax reference number, we knew, for our own sanity, that we needed to get an accountant.

Germans stare.
This one took a bit of getting used to. For the first few months we just couldn’t understand what the hell was wrong with people or, more importantly, with us! We initially put it down to the locals not being used to seeing exotic London folk like us (we’re the only ones here, right?), but we now know this is just their way and not to take it too personally. Also, I’ll win any staring contest so BRING IT ON BEATCHES!!

To carry cash at all times.
Debit and credit cards aren’t accepted in 99% of Berlin’s restaurants, cafés and bars. We English are so used to handing over that little bit of plastic for everything that this was hard to get your heads around: “You don’t accept THIS card you mean, right??” Er no… So off James would go in search of a cashpoint, leaving me alone for twenty minutes, looking like a jilted lover. Lesson learned – we now carry a wad of cash that would make Tony Soprano feel self-conscious.

Everything is shut on Sundays.
Seriously, everything – supermarkets, clothes shops, IKEA…the lot! This can be frustrating when you haven’t got any food in the cupboards or desperately need to buy that new oven mitt, but when you get used to it, it can actually work to your advantage. Sundays are now perfect for that lovely stroll along the canal, cleaning up the house or doing all those odd jobs you keep putting off. Or even better, going for brunch and then off to pump some fists in the air at Berlin’s best club Berghain!

Moving to Berlin

by James Glazebrook

Practical advice about moving to Berlin is something we’re always asked for, but it’s a subject we’ve skirted around in the past. We’ve broken down subletting in Berlin and given forth about creative migration, expat culture and gentrification (phew!), but none of that will help you decide whether to move to Berlin, or how to go about it. It’s not that we’re trying to stop the place filling up with other expats (honest!), it’s just that – eight months in – we still feel like newbies in a lot of ways. Regardless, we thought we’d share what we’ve learnt so far.

The best resource we’ve come across is this comprehensive guide to moving to Berlin on the now-defunct Berlin Memory Blog. It was last updated two years ago, but most of it still applies – the city isn’t changing half as fast as some of its residents fear. Use it as your starting point and we’ll bring it up to date and fill in a few gaps here.


The first thing to note is that rent isn’t as cheap as it was two years ago, at least in the desirable areas. Apartments in Kreuzberg fetch more than 7€ a square metre these days (closer to 10€) and our beloved Graefekiez is now just as expensive than Bergmannkiez. However, neighbouring Neukölln is still cheap(ish), and becoming more and more attractive as hip young people move in and open up bars, cafes, shops etc.

While rents everywhere remain a fraction of those found in other European capitals like Paris and London, your initial outlay may be considerably more. When you decide to rent an apartment of your own, don’t be surprised if you’re stung with hefty agent fees (typically 2.38 months’ “cold rent”), as well as a month’s rent in advance and another month as a deposit. Costs like this are easily avoided by subletting or  moving into a flatshare, which you probably will when you first arrive.

Cost of living hasn’t increased much since the Memory Blog guide was last updated – at least for essentials like kebaps, beer and Berghain entry – but one of the costs that could catch you out is health insurance. What you pay depends on how much you earn and what level of cover you need, but we reckon premiums will come out at about 15% of your earnings (if you have a job here, your employer will contribute towards this). Health insurance is mandatory, and if it takes you a while to sort it out, may be backdated to when you first registered as a citizen. If you’re only going to be here a short while, don’t bother; even if you plan to stay here long term, you could save some money by taking your time to register (but you didn’t hear that from us!).

Berlin - K

The tax system is fairly complicated here, and largely depends on what you declare your employment status to be, so we’ll just repeat what all the forum threads we’ve read say: get a tax advisor! But even if you pay a lot in taxes, you should be thankful to be earning at all. While unemployment in Germany is currently at a 20-year low of 7%, Berlin routinely records double that (and the rate is especially high among young people). Things are looking up, as the creative industry booms and startups establish themselves here, but the best (and perhaps most obvious) advice we can give is: bring work with you when you move here. We know expats who do the typical Berliner thing of holding down a bunch of casual jobs, and some who’ve blagged benefits, but the only way of guaranteeing a “comfortable” living is with some overseas contracts.

As for the German language, what you’ll never fully appreciate until you move is here is that you really don’t need to speak German to get by. Most people speak English, and, for the most part, they love the practice. Of course, refusing to learn any German rather defeats the point of living abroad (and makes you a Bad Person), but you will learn much faster once you are living here. What worked for us was a few very basic classes in London supplemented with some CDs, followed up by a course at the Deutsch Akademie in Berlin (very cheap, very intensive, some great teachers). We plan to do a tandem language exchange, and perhaps some private classes, but this was a good start.


One final piece of (not so practical) advice: JUST DO IT! We procrastinated for about five years waiting for the “perfect time” to make the move, before realising that there’s no such thing. If you love the city or are just sick of the place in which you currently live (or, like us, both), you have nothing to lose by moving to Berlin. Even if it doesn’t work out in the long term, the city is a great place to live even temporarily – and you can go home knowing that you tried something truly extraordinary. See you in the Kiez!

So…. we hope that’s some help. If you have questions, corrections or other helpful advice to share, feel free to comment below or contact us via email or Twitter. We’d love it if this blog became a place for people to ask questions, and get answers, about moving to – and living in – Berlin.

Worte und Musik

by James Glazebrook

Phew! We’ve finished German classes! Not that we know the language now – far from it. We’ve just finished our eight weeks of 4 x 3 hour lessons (plus homework) and decided to take a breather. While we are relieved (we have our little lives back!) we’re a bit worried that, as shut-ins, we won’t practice and will forget what little Deutsch we managed to learn. That’s why I came up with the idea of combining our love of music with our eagerness to improve our language skills: by listening to songs with German lyrics. Here’s our taster course.

David Bowie – Helden

Obvious choice, but potentially helpful. Knowing the English version forwards and backwards helps make connections, especially with this sync of the original video with the German language recording. Chock full of useful personal pronouns like “ich” and “du” and practical words like “Tag” (“day”), “Zeiten” (“times”), “Mauer” (“wall”; very useful here in Berlin). Although I’m not sure I’ll ever have to tell someone that I wish they could swim as dolphins can swim.

Peaches – Keine Melodien

This version of Berlin band Jeans Team’s “Keine Melodien” by the city’s resident electroshocker is like punk rock Sesame Street. You need to learn numbers right? Well, listen to this earworm just once and you’ll never forget “eins, zwei, drei, vier”. I’ve had a quick search and it doesn’t look like Peaches has done a German version of “now I know my ABCs next time won’t you sing along with me”. Schade.

Nena – 99 Luftballons

Apart from getting into double-digit numbers (“ninety nine” = “neunundneunzig”), Germany’s most famous pop song is of limited use. With good reason, no one really remembers badly-translated English lyrics like “everyone’s a Captain Kirk, with orders to identify”, so hearing the original won’t spark flashes of comprehension. Still, required listening when you’re preparing to board the Hi Flyer, the Die Welt-sponsored Heliumballon that hovers over Berlin.

Lady Gaga – Scheiße

“I don’t speak German but I can if you like”. This song from Gaga’s new album is shocking (not in the way she hopes), but it’s a good guide to the mangled AngloDeutsch that Berlin’s international community speaks. Plus its scatological celebration of freedom is like the Disney version of the crazy shit (LITERALLY) that goes down in the city’s underground dark rooms: “I’ll take you out tonight / Do whatever you like / Scheiße-scheiße be mine, Scheiße be mine”. And, seeing as our German teacher didn’t agree that the first thing you need to learn in a foreign language is the swear words, this’ll have to do for now.

Ellen Allien – Sehnsucht

We grown-up emos need words like “longing”, and it doesn’t take Google Translate to tell you that’s what this song is about.

Peter Gabriel – Schock den Affen

The phrase “(don’t) shock the monkey” could only ever be of use in a zoo, and even then it pretty much goes without saying. Regardless, there’s something infectious about Gabriel’s love of words, English or otherwise, that we find inspiring. This was a labour of love, as Gabriel originally struggled to find a label willing to release an album’s worth of German versions of his songs. And like one of the few YouTube comments not whining about his accent says, “Peter is a genius in any language.”