überlin

You know you’re a Berliner when…

by Guest Blogger

Adam Fletcher is the author of a Picnic for Perverts a book neither about picnics or perverts. He is also the creator of Berlin Bingo, an amusing guide to Berlin made up of 64 city challenges.

Let me start by saying, Berlin’s ego is big enough already. It’s like the goofy, nerdy girl from the rom-com who let her hair down and took her glasses off some time back in 2005 and everyone collectively gasped, “Berlin – you’re hot!” Once we found out she was also cheap, that really sealed the deal – and naturally many of us flocked here to try and make lives for ourselves, which makes the idea of being a “real Berliner” a particularly challenging proposition in a city of such constant reinvention.

With all that in mind, I’ve still done my best to collate a list of 11 signs you’ve become a Berliner, which I hope most of us, despite our greatly varying backgrounds, can agree on.

1. You only have two moods, winter (sad) and summer (happy).

It can be challenging navigating the spectrum of all possible human emotions. Quite time consuming even, all that working out how you’re really feeling. True Berliners have simplified down all that emotional complexity to just two basic binary moods – happy and sad. Sad occurs during the horrible, long Berlin winter, in which we all struggle to remember, why did we move here? Happy occurs during summer, when everything is just damn peachy.

 2. You’ve viewed a flat with 60 other people.

I know someone who moved to Berlin seven years ago. He laughed, telling me how easy it was to get an apartment in Neukölln then. He said you went to a real estate agent, who gave you a big set of keys and a map before you took yourself round to look at the apartments. He even slept in some over-night, to check the neighbours and noise levels and all that good stuff. When I moved here with my girlfriend, some three years ago, it was already chaos. We never saw an apartment on our own, rarely with less than 40 other people. Everyone carried this big “please pick me” pack containing credit reports, references, employment contracts, begging letters, an essay they wrote when they were seven about a particularly enjoyable summer holiday – anything they thought might help. We didn’t even really look at the apartments – we fought our way up the stairs, barged through the door and with single-minded determination headed straight for the agent, laid the charm on thick, proclaimed our love for the place, told a joke or two, tried to be memorable, gave him the pack, shook hands, and left. Next Besichtigung. Hustle, hustle.

We viewed more than thirty apartments, said yes to twenty five, got offered one. Accepted it. I don’t even remember viewing it. I thought we were moving into another apartment, and when we arrived I was convinced they gave us the wrong one. Now, three years later, I don’t even want to imagine how bad flat hunting has got. I assume they just give you a piece of paper with an outline of the human body on it and you mark what organs you are willing to trade for a Zweiraumwohnung out in the ass end of nowhere, also known as the Ringbahn.

3. You’ve danced at a U-Bahn station.

I’ve never understood people having sex in toilets. I get that they are there and sort of semi-private. Or at least they have a door even if it doesn’t always reach to the floor. Yeah, I’m showing my age here, I know. But that’s a place in which people defecate and put up stickers promoting their startup. Presumably you have a bed. Go there.

So it’s with the same confusion that I disembark the U1 at Schlesi on my way home some weekend nights, only to be greeted by a popup club blocking all the exits. We have places for that already. With bars, designated dance floors, mood lighting, toilets (for sex)… Maybe I’ve just become too German over the years, but I now humbly suggest we just use for everything for the function it was intended. Oberbaumbrücke you’re no better! Shame on you! I liked you better when you were a bridge I could actually walk across at night, before you became Buskerhain.

4. You’ve whinged at the constant stream of foreigners infiltrating “your” city.

Remember when in Back to the Future Michael J. Fox had to be really careful about changing stuff in the past and causing a rip in the space time continuum? There was a lesson there about the fragile inter-connectivity of all things. Know that every time you stand outside your favourite cafe, angry at not being able to get a seat and bitterly complaining about all these new expats arriving and ruining your Kiez, just two years before, probably in exactly the same spot, someone else was standing there and saying exactly the same thing about you, then, two years before that, someone else about them and so on and so on. That repeats all the way back to the very first ape who climbed down from the trees and decided to walk upright, who was then copied by other apes, much to his annoyance, as everything was much better on the ground in the good old days before they came along. He probably then ran off to start spray painting “Schwabenape raus” everywhere.

5. You’ve gotten thoroughly, thoroughly lost.

I don’t mean geographically. That’s a given. I mean lost among the people and the possibilities on offer here. There’s a rather dazzling array of (mostly GDP negative) ways to spend your time. There’s not something here for everyone, there are 67 things. If it’s a Wednesday night and you decide you’re in the mood to perform Reiki on a midget, there’ll be a meetup for that.

Berlin nights begin at around 11pm, when you’ll innocently close your door to head out and see what’s happening, before bumping into some girls in a Hof, decide to join them to go meet this other guy, then that guy’s heard about this party from a dude he met juggling in the park. Which leads you somewhere, which leads somewhere… and before you know it its 4:30am on the following Tuesday and you’re in a club with no name, wearing someone else’s pants, dancing with people you just met, but love dearly, yet couldn’t name, and all-consumed with smug satisfaction at the joyous serendipity of life, or at least Berlin.

6. You’ve heard groups of people meeting in a mutual second language.

As far as I’m concerned the single most compelling reason to live in a city is friction, cultural friction. Cities force you out of your comfort zone. Small towns are great breeding grounds for ignorance and prejudices (hence the term “smalltown mindset”), because you’re not confronted every day by those people, on the metro, in parks, sharing your table in a full cafe. You’re not forced to see how ridiculously similar they are to you.

In a city like Berlin there’s a constant friction of different cultures meeting and trying, sometimes more successfully than others, to find ways to live together. It keeps you young and open minded. So some of my most endearing Berlin memories are eavesdropping on street conversations where a Spaniard, a Swede, a German and an Italian are all trying to have a conversation in beautifully broken, yet endlessly creative, English.

7. You hate the Zollamt.

As a general rule, if it contains the word “Amt”, you probably won’t enjoy going there (Burgeramt excluded). And the Zollamt is THE WORST. It’s a giant building of twisted, sadistic, reverse Santas who instead of giving out toys, steal them all and make you go all the way to Schöneberg to take a number, wait for an hour and beg, plead, cry and then dance like a Russian bear until you look so pathetic they take pity on you and finally let you have that new vinyl you ordered from the US, taxed at only double what you paid for it. Presumably, then, after a hard day’s work annoying the bejesus out of everyone they probably go home and do similarly evil things like leaving the toilet seat up or their dirty socks on the bathroom floor. I mean, I don’t know, I’m just speculating here. Nothing would surprise me.

8. You’ve redefined your expectations of customer service.

In general Berliners don’t have a reputation for being the warmest, softest, cute ickle bunnies. But where they really excel at failing is customer service. You may have heard it referred to as the Berliner Schnauze. In this city customer service is an abstract concept lost in the suggestion box of some Amt somewhere. It’s not that people are unfriendly as such, that implies that they make the effort to be hostile. Here it’s more a complete disinterest. Sometimes when being completely ignored by a heavily tattooed barkeeper at a hip basement bar I’ll actually pinch myself, just to check I have not become, inexplicably, invisible.

9. You’ve witnessed at least one daily act of crazy.

We all have an inner voice. It’s what keeps us company in the lonely hours. Mine likes to distract me by shouting things like “KILL THE DONKEY”, or “VOTE PEDRO” when I’m trying to concentrate on important tasks like eating chocolate or killing a donkey.

The inner voice is where our thoughts first manifest themselves. Think of the brain like a big production line, down which our earliest ideas travel. At the end is a filtering mechanism I imagine to be a big giant crusher ball on a chain, known as sanity. This swings back and forth crushing to a pulp all of our stupid thoughts before they can go anywhere dangerous. The best ideas get to dodge the crusher and come flying out of our mouths. But, should you walk the fine graffiti-strewn streets of Berlin you’ll see that there are a very high population of people here possessing no internal crusher. Anything can come out at any time. You’ll spot them easily; they’re the ones dressed as shabby neon pirates and wandering around muttering to themselves incoherently. Sometimes the muttering becomes loud SHOUTS of nonsense. Berlin has more than its fair share of crazies.

10. You can’t find a job.

I know several people who packed up old lives, moved here, never found work, were forced to pack up their lives again and move somewhere else. People, there are no jobs 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”. THERE ARE NO JOBS HERE. At least not real jobs. Let’s just agree on that now, so no-one has the right to be annoyed later when they find that out. That’s part of the reason it’s cheap to live here in the first place. If it had industry, it’d be Munich. Do you want that? Do you?

11. You have regular Berlinergasms.

I don’t know the right word for it, so I’m coining “Berlinergasms”. I was on the tram recently and overheard an English guy turning to his two friends and saying loudly “I fucking love living in Berlin. I just love it. It’s just so fucking great”. What he possibly lacked in eloquence, he more than made up for in enthusiasm. He was having a Berlinergasm.

The reason we developed cities was the same reason we developed towns, was the same reason we developed outposts, was the same reason we developed something a little smaller than outposts but which I’m too lazy to research. Humans are best when we pool our resources. Everything gets more economical when it’s shared. Cities should make your life easier, not harder. Berlin does this very well (at least once you have an apartment). Firstly it’s not too densely populated and has incredible public transport that rarely closes. Because of its unique history as a divided city, I’d argue that Mitte has a far lower importance than most city centres (London, I’m looking at you in particular). So the major travel routes into the centre don’t clog up with people like they do in other cities. Berlin is more like six or seven large interconnected towns. You can bike everywhere with a minimal fear of death! What an arrogant luxury in a major European city.

So you’ll live here, and in the words of that Englishman “you’ll fucking love it.” You’ll be happier than you could ever be in whatever boring, little, stifling town you came from. Sometimes that happiness will feel hard to contain and will just sort of overflow into a wave of temporary euphoria of thanks; thanks that you escaped that town, thanks that here you’re free to reinvent yourself as you always wanted to be, just simple thanks that you get to live here. Berlinergasms.

So, how did you do? Can you think of any traits that all Berliners share? Feel free to share in the comments below. Tschüss!

[PS props to the following people for submitting pictures of Berlin Crazies: M R S P K R and Emma Johnson.]

Adam writes for several websites, if you want to know when follow him on Twitter.

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!

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!

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.

LDN2BLN

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.

Berlin

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.

The Dummkopf’s Guide to Subletting

by James Glazebrook

When you arrive in Berlin, chances are you’ll end up in a flatshare or a sublet. While we’ve no experience of the former, having too many things (and cats) to squeeze into a single room, we can impart some wisdom about the latter. On paper subletting is straightforward – you pays your money (bills included) and move into an apartment which is set up with everything you’ll need for your first few months in Berlin. In reality, it’s anything but simple.

Here are some tips to help you circumnavigate the surprisingly tricksy waters of subletting:

Plant

www.passiveaggressivenotes.com

DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!

Berliners may be liberal compared to other Germans, but the fact that you are looking after their home means they expect you to take extra-special care of it. They might act all cool and “whatever” and “mi casa su casa” but they expect to find it exactly how they left it (if not cleaner). When the tenants of our first sublet returned, they grilled us on the whereabouts of a mouldy old bathmat, a bowl made out of banana skins (something I think we would remember seeing) and some missing coathangers. Because, in their minds, we moved in, used their stuff and put it back in all the wrong places. Cheeky, huh?

WATER THE PLANTS!

It’s not enough that Berlin is one of the greenest cities in Europe (with 2,500 public green spaces!); its residents are all about bringing the outside indoors. They all have plants, and they love those plants – even more than we love our cats, which is worrying. So when we asked one tenant what we could do with plants that may have been poisonous to our kitties, we should have known that the response “I don’t care” meant something like “leave them with my neighbours” not, say,”just throw them in the trash”. Oopsie!

DON’T LOSE THE KEYS!

Keys

www.passiveaggressivenotes.com

So we’re probably sounding like nightmare guests right about now. This one’s my bad. Within our first month, I’d managed to drop a set of keys down those grates that are conveniently located in front of every door in Berlin. The set with the keys to the post box attached – so we had to replace that as well as trying to replace the keys. You should know: the chunky keys to the front door of your building, with the ID number on, are basically impossible to replace (I think the tenant has to submit an application to the building manager). So, as we were helpfully told at the latest handover, “if you’re going to lose a key, don’t lose this one” – as he handed it to us, attached to the rest of our single set of keys.

DON’T EXPECT TO HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED!

All Berliners are, to some degree, hippies. That’s why they live here and not, say, downtown Manhattan. That’s why they all have plants, and that’s why they need very little else. Pretty early on, we faced up to the fact that a dishwasher is a luxury, but here are just a few of the things we were amazed that people could live without: a kettle; a toaster; a can opener and, more importantly, a bottle opener; curtains; warm showers. We did, however, find plenty of dirty socks and underwear, and healthy chunks of hair clogging up the drain of that freezing cold shower. Nice.

DON’T GET COMFORTABLE!

The actual tenants of your sublet are going to be back before you know it. Even if it’s not plain sailing, chances are you’ll fall in love with your nice big (compared to London or New York) apartment, and your new life in it. Just bear in mind, you’ll probably burn through another four of these before you finally settle down, so don’t get attached!

PS for major LOLS from the tenant’s point of view, check out this great blog on Vice from someone whose neighbour sublet his Berlin apartment while he was away.