überlin

A note on the Berlin startup scene

by James Glazebrook

If you have even a passing familiarity with the Berlin startup scene, you’ll have seen this blog post on The Guardian website, written by someone who recently returned to the UK after a brief immersion in the city’s tech “bubble”. Well, The Local asked for my reaction – as someone who has a lot of contact with expats in the startup world and part of the team about to open Berlin’s first tech campus – and I thought I’d share it here. Read their response “Ten points in defence of Berlin’s startup scene” here, and my comments below.

The Guardian article contains nothing we haven’t heard before. As one of Berlin’s biggest English language blogs, we attract a lot of questions and enquiries from the group to which the writer (who we know) belongs: young non-German speakers who are early in their careers, and attracted to the city’s competitive creative scene. Their observations are valid, but represent a very narrow experience of the Berlin tech ecosystem, one with fairly predictable outcomes.

If you land an internship at an English-speaking company, you are likely to remain in that bubble, speak (and hear) very little German – and you’re most at risk of losing your “job”. We know lots of people who have discovered that “the streets are not paved with gold”, and have had to move back home or onto somewhere where they can more easily lay the foundations for their career. But we also know plenty of people who’ve landed (very) real jobs at successful companies, who have stable work and are appropriately rewarded for their experience and qualifications.

We’re sick of the mainstream media cycle of hype and backlash when it comes to Berlin in general, and the startup scene in particular. No one in their right mind would believe that Berlin is the next Silicon Valley, or the only European startup hub that matters – but, equally, no one should dismiss it as just a hipster party town. We turn out innovative, productive businesses with global impact (SoundCloud, 6Wunderkinder, ResearchGate), and we’re only going to see more success like this. But we still have a long way to go…

To the Berlin startup community we say: ignore all of this. Keep your heads down and keep up the good work. To anyone thinking of moving to the city to follow their startup dreams, we say: don’t believe the hype! Follow the advice of this article and do your homework, find a company that you fit with and feel passionate about, and enter the Berlin startup scene with open eyes and realistic expectations. Good luck 🙂

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Illustration by Josh Bauman.

What I Know About Germans – The Book!

by James Glazebrook

It’s finally here! We’re very proud and über-excited to announce that our first book, What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations, is out to buy today.

What I Know About Germans is based on our insanely popular blog post of the same name, which generated over 40,000 Facebook Likes, 600 blog comments, coverage by the likes of Bild and Financial Times Deutschland – and enough traffic to crash our servers on more than one occasion! A lovingly compiled collection of an Australian writer’s hilarious observations about her adopted beloved countrymen, What I Know About Germans has been brought to life as a beautiful book, available in both print and eBook versions.

Want to see what we’re so excited about? Take a peek inside…

What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations has been a year in the making, and is the result of a lot of hard work from a small but dedicated team. We’re indebted to author Liv Hambrett in particular for allowing us to publish her post in the first place, for writing new and improved observations for the book, and for being the unofficial WIKAG cheerleader while we pull it all together. I’d also like to thank Josh Bauman, whose awesome illustrations really bring Liv’s words to life, Eric for producing our impressive What I Know About Germans web page, Sharmaine, Evi and the epubli team for their help and support – and of course Zoë for beautifying everything with her boundless design talent! Group hug 😀

Anyway, enough of my gabbing. To find out more about the book, and to pick up a copy, visit the What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations page now!

Berlin Portrait: Josh Bauman

by James Glazebrook

We think that the best way to discover Berlin is through the eyes of the people who live here. For our Berlin Portrait series, we’re asking artists, musicians and other interesting locals to introduce us to their corner of the city. Join us as Josh Bauman, cartoonist, illustrator and überlin contributor, shows us around Kreuzberg’s Bergmannkiez and Graefekiez.

Josh Bauman 1

Introduce yourself!

My name is Josh Bauman and I’m an American cartoonist and illustrator living and working in Kreuzberg.

How long have you been here?

I’ve been living in Berlin for about six and a half years.

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What brought you here?

I initially planned to move to Berlin for a year to improve my German for a PhD program in history. After living here a short time I began to recognise just how special Berlin was. I have always drawn and made comics, even when studying history, but I had never thought about art as a means of supporting myself. The sense of vibrant creativity throughout the city made me feel that if there was ever a chance to pursue a career like cartooning or illustration, Berlin would be the place to try it.

Tell us about your neighbourhood, and what you like about it.

I live around Bergmannkiez but spend every day at my studio in Graefekiez. I can’t say whether I prefer one neighborhood to the other so much as I enjoy the differences between them. It takes me about ten minutes to bike between home and the studio and it really feels like I’m passing between several distinct areas, each with their own character. I love that there are so many small side and back streets only a few metres off my normal route, that seem like such completely different worlds.

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What are your five favourite things in your neighbourhoods?

Since May 2010, I’ve been working out of The Cheese Mountain Tragedy studio and gallery that I share with Johan Potma and Wolfgang Reimers. I’m there pretty much all day, every day, and it’s by far the place I spend the most time, whether it’s working or relaxing. I’m definitely biased when it comes to picking my studio, but it really is my favorite place in Berlin.

I love Hudson’s Cakes on Boppstrasse. Few things beat their soups, salads, and sandwiches. There’s always something great to eat there and it’s the perfect place for a cozy lunch away from the studio. I can’t resist topping off lunch with a cookie or brownie.

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One of the nicest caffeinated surprises in Kreuzberg is the Coffee Museum. They’ve got a staggering collection of coffee paraphernalia as well as some excellent beans. The owner is really friendly and always enthusiastic about answering questions and demonstrating brewing techniques. There are few places that leave me feeling as excited about coffee!

Viktoriapark is my local park and it’s got a very special place in my heart. For such a small park it’s got quite a diverse landscape. The steep winding paths through the woods alway remind me of a tree fort, and the overall flatness of Berlin makes the steep hills of Viktoriapark the nearest thing to a mountain. Of the things I miss the most about the United States, trees, mountains, and nature rank among the top, and Viktoriapark has got them all.

Last but not least, I love my comic shops! Grober Unfug on Zoessenerstrasse and Modern Graphics on Oranienstrasse are my local shops and I really enjoy stopping in now and then. Both shops have interesting and thoughtful selections of comics and graphics novels, and every time I go, there’s usually something I’ve never seen before.

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Follow Josh’s adventures on his daily comic strip, Caffeinated Toothpaste.

Another Year in Berlin: überlin’s Highlights of 2012

by James and Zoe

Wow, what a year! It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Berlin two years – because it feels like we’ve lived here forever, yet sometimes it’s like we’ve just stepped off the plane. That’s the enduring freshness of love, I guess. Too sappy? Then maybe we’ll just skip to our highlights of 2012: our favourite moments and places, most awesome blog posts, and all the other (furry) little things that made the year our best yet.

überlin's highlights of 2012: January

The Loxx Miniature Railway version of Berlin is probably the city’s best-kept secret, or at least it was until our photos ended up on the front page of The Guardian website. Small world(!) – on our second visit to the mini-Berlin on top of Alexa mall, we ran into Dave from the blog Andberlin – who also named Loxx as one of his highlights of the year. This is the perfect place to go on a rainy winter’s day.

überlin's highlights of 2012: February

To celebrate Zoë’s birthday we went to Stockholm and Copenhagen and while we were there, visited the most beautiful and inspiring place we’ve ever been. Looking back at our post about the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I feel like my words fail to live up to Zo’s stunning photos, and even those can’t capture the breathtaking beauty of the museum and its coastal environment. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Scandinavia, but the Louisiana was the hands-down highlight.

überlin's highlights of 2012: March

The first of our articles to appear on The Guardian, 5 Apps Berlin Really Needs, was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the buzzy, bubbly startup capital of Europe. Our iProtest app concept gamified civil disobedience, while Angry Berliners turned German bureaucracy into an addictive platform game. Our Buskamatic app aside, March was a great month for music – Modeselektor released the iconic video for their “Berlin” anthem, and we discovered Big Stu’s comedy rap tributes to Hühnerhaus and Kottbusser Tor.

überlin's highlights of 2012: April

Our personal highlight of the year has to be getting our hands on this little ball of cute. In fact, Olive is probably many readers’ main reason for visiting the blog – we might be better off training her to work a camera and a laptop and leaving her to it! The unofficial überlin mascot, Big Ö is recognised way more frequently than we are, and has turned up in the unlikeliest of places – including an Instagram tutorial video and a conversation with a Bully-obsessed stranger at my cousin’s wedding (“you own Olive the dog?!!!”). Apart from welcoming our fuzzy daughter to the fold, we also ate the meal of the year (with matched cocktails!) at Rollin Restaurant.

überlin's highlights of 2012: May

If our May pick was a movie it would be the überlin prequel, Escape from Newcastle. While our home toon stands for everything we hate (or is that the other way around?), we still have a soft spot for the football-loving Stella-downing lads and lasses we grew up with – something we hope came across in our “origin story”, From Geordie Shore to Germany. Back in Berlin, visiting friends introduced us to the Ramones Museum, the only such institute devoted to the Detroit proto-punks in the whole world, the personal collection of a Berliner who must be their greatest fan.

überlin's highlights of 2012: June

It might seem obvious, but our What I Know about Germans post is like David Hasslehoff’s “Looking For Freedom”: ubiquitous, infectious, and every German loves it ;). Credit for our “greatest hit” actually goes to writer Liv Hambrett, for her keen observations about her adopted countrymen, and illustrator Mischief Champion who’s busy bringing them to life for WIKAG – the book! Photo op of the month (year?) had to be Berlin Gay Pride 2012 – so many queers! So many colours!

überlin's highlights of 2012: July

It seems like a long time since Zoë spent a boiling Berlin Fashion Week maximising her time in the air-conditioned tent, and occasionally popping outside to photograph slebs like Fashionbloggerin Miggy. Lucky for us, she braved the heat long enough to get these impressions of Berlin Fashion Week SS13.

überlin's highlights of 2012: August

While Peaches was never exactly a reason for moving to Berlin, we’ve never been able to think about the city without picturing her merkin. Since we arrived, we’ve been lucky enough to see her twice: “doing herself” live on stage and orchestrating a protest/video shoot in support of Pussy Riot. We weren’t the only starstruck fans following this freak parade into Mauerpark, and it was impressive to see Ms Nisker whipping up a storm to publicise an important – and still ongoing – cause. Less colourful, but no less eye-opening, was guest blogger Russell Dornan’s look behind the closed doors of Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

überlin's highlights of 2012: September

You Know You’re a Berliner When… you pose for a photo pretending the TV Tower is your penis, which then becomes a lightning rod for critics of hipsters, expats and archisexts (I made this one up). Having regular “Berlinergasms” was just one of 11 sure-fire signs that you’ve become a Berliner, along with dancing in a U-Bahn station and witnessing at least one daily act of crazy. Zoë saw more craziness at London Fashion Week SS13 – here is just a taste.

überlin's highlights of 2012: October

October was a month of light and dark. The gloomy nights provided the perfect backdrop for the Festival of Lights and (we think) our animated GIFs were the perfect demonstration of the event’s kaleidoscopic displays. Far less joyful was Berlin Crawling: 10 Halloween Horror Films, a list of creepshows shot here in the Haupstadt, ranging from the slick (the neo-Giallo short Yellow) to the just plain sick (corpse love story Nekromantik).

überlin's highlights of 2012: November

We’re so glad Phia agreed to be the first subject in our series of Berlin portraits. We’d heard the Australian singer/songwriter/thumb-pianist at an intimate concert in a fellow musician’s house, and loved her stories and songs about her granddad, a Berliner, and what it meant to live in his hometown. We spent a beautiful, crisp day discovering her Berlin, and sharing our love for the creative, open city we now call home. Oh, and we celebrated two years of überlin/living in Berlin!

überlin's highlights of 2012: December

As we entered our third winter in Berlin, we thought we should share the survival skills we’ve picked up with expats who’ve recently arrived from warmer climes. With the help of Josh Bauman’s awesome caricatures of us (and Olive!), our more-or-less practical tips about How to Survive a Berlin Winter helped to restore calm among the panicky sun-botherers freaking out at the first sight of snow. I wonder if anyone’s quit their job or grown a beard on our advice? And giving away €250 of Berlin-themed swag was a great way to end another awesome year of überlin.

Join us in 2013 for more Berlin love and LOLs. Happy New Year!

How to Survive a Berlin Winter

by James Glazebrook

We’ve said it before: Berlin only has two seasons, summer and winter. As soon as it’s too cold to spend whole weekends in a beer garden or barbecue every meal, Berliners start ominously whispering “winter is coming”, as if they were Ned bloody Stark. Sometimes this is meant as a hint – “time to go back to your tropical homeland, sunboy” – but some of us are genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of Berlinoobs. If you’ve only been to the city during one of its long, blissful summers, and you come from a hot country – one that doesn’t even have winters – then you’re going to need all the help you can get.

So here’s our handy guide to surviving a Berlin winter, illustrated by Josh Bauman, the talented bastard behind Caffeinated Toothpaste:
Layer up! by Josh Bauman

Layer up!
You’re going to need a killer winter wardrobe of fur, capes, long johns and serious boots. For inspiration, look to this outfit Zoë put together, or, well, Ned Stark. But until those fleamarket trips pay off, you’ll have to make do with what you have. Upend that single suitcase you brought when you moved here, and lay out all those bikinis, bermuda shorts and belly tops. Now put them all on. As soon as you find a cape or a Jack Wolfskin coat big enough to cover all that shit, you’re set!

Stay inside! by Josh Bauman
Stay inside!
Even though we get out more now than when we lived in London, we’re still complete homebodies next to most Berlin party people. Here are some tips to help you stay warm by replicating our shut-in lifestyle:

  • Quit your job! Or freelance from home. Travelling to work is for suckers
  • Rearrange your apartment. Cluster all your furniture so you can live within a square metre of the one radiator that really works, or failing that, the oven. While you’re there, preheat it to 200°C for your underwear
  • If you do work from home, forget any pretence of getting out of bed and drag your coffee machine, fridge – and an empty 2 litre bottle 😉 –  into your Schlafzimmer
  • Buy a Beamer. Fuck travelling to a cinema to see whatever Christmassy crap has just been released – just hold your own film screenings
  • Live on takeaway. Services like pizza.de and lieferando (or bloomsburys for the Yukis) let you order online, without even attempting to speak German. Also, the extra fat is great insulation if you do decide to go outside…

Get outside! by Josh Bauman
Get outside!
The only way to avoid cabin fever is to break up time spent indoors with brief spells of outdoor awesomeness. We’ve found that spending just 5% of your time outside is enough to avoid becoming Jack from The Shining. Here’s how to inject some strategic outside into your life:

  • Do it in the daytime! Going outside while it’s dark is more depressing than staying indoors
  • Walk on a frozen canal, or even the Spree. Best thing you’ll do all winter
  • Geek out at awesome indoor attractions like the Computer Games Museum or Loxx – this miniature railway version of Berlin is the best way to see the city without having to be out in it!
  • Glühwein. I could ride out a life sentence in a Siberian labour camp if they gave me a mug of mulled wine every couple of hours

Grow a beard!
Like you need a reason…

Trust science!
Don’t panic, but this is about to get scientific. Having spent the second half of the year predicting the worst winter on record, Berliners *always* say, “That was nothing – last winter was much worse.” So either global warming is working in our favour, and pretty soon we’ll spend our winters complaining about the sunburn and mosquitos, or these harsh winters are something you just get used to. Either way, good news. Thanks science!

Summerfy it!
Speaking of science, I can’t believe no one’s offered to buy the patented technology behind our Summerfy app. Summerfy uses augmented reality to layer summery sunshine over the grimmest winter scenes, and even turns Berliners’ frowns upside down. As soon as startup founders start gravitating here from Brazil instead of London and Scandinavia, we expect this to be snapped up. Look out for it in the app stores!

Remember: it’s not forever!
Berlin winters last for four-and-a-half months – six at most. Half a year of blistering cold and near constant pitch-blackness is a small price to pay for living in the greatest city in the world… right? Before you know it, you’ll be shaking your shit on a faked-up beach bar with a cocktail in each hand. Maintain.

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?

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?