uberlin

How to find a job in Berlin

by Guest Blogger

So you’ve fallen head over heels with the threadbare charm of Berlin and want to move here faster than you can say “Hartz IV”. But while the German capital might traditionally be the home of drifters, dreamers and dropouts, unless you’re burning through your trust fund, or are planning on a career as a punk at Kotbusser Tor, those bills still have to be paid.

While “real” jobs can seem to be thin on the ground in the Berlin, armed with the right preparation and information, you can snag yourself a position you might actually not hate.

Here Tia Robinson from Expath.de – a startup helping expats find their feet in Berlin – shares the best way of finding gainful employment in Berlin.

There are two main challenges you’ll face when looking for a job, which are much the same the world over: finding the right position and actually securing the position once you’ve applied.

Sites with Berlin-specific job listings such as The Local, Berlin Startup Jobs, Berlin Xpat Jobs and VentureVillage are full of interesting openings in international, creative surroundings and are a great way to start your search. However, to go from reading job ads to signing a job contract, you’ll also want to ask yourself the following…

Where are you?

Many companies prefer candidates to have a German address and contact information – that shows HR managers that working in Germany isn’t just a whim and that you’re serious about relocating.

Being in Berlin also makes it easier to approach companies in person, attend interviews (and start working) at short notice, as well as build up your professional network. If you’re not already living in Berlin but want to be, why not save up money to come for a few months and search for jobs on the ground?

Who are you talking to?

Applying for jobs online is only half the battle of effective job-hunting. Many Germans use “Vitamin B” (B for “Beziehung”, or relationship) to help them get a foot in the door. You can get your own dose of Vitamin B by building up your own network of professional and personal contacts who can keep an ear out for job openings and possibilities.

Meet “your people” by attending lots of events – not just events for your industry, but also gallery openings, international language events, street festivals, flea markets, etc… Good places to find international events include Spätschicht, MeetUp, Art Connect, The Wye – the list goes on. You’ll meet fascinating people from a wide variety of countries, companies and professional backgrounds. You may even make some friends in the process.

In Berlin you’ll hear English (or Spanish or French, etc) on a daily basis. Take every opportunity to try to talk to interesting strangers – in the train, in a café, in line at the supermarket. Make sure you’ve got a business card with your name and contact information, ask for their contact information – and be sure to follow up.

berlin_02.06.2010_6859 by Patrick Lauke under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

berlin_02.06.2010_6859 by Patrick Lauke under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How to present yourself to companies

We’ve interviewed several German HR managers working in international companies about typical mistakes non-German applicants make. Their answers may surprise you.

Firstly, all our HR managers agreed that it’s absolutely no problem to have an English CV and covering letter. While this may not be the case for older, more traditional German companies, many international companies, especially startups, care more about the quality of your work than what your native language is.

Many companies use English as their internal working language. However, even if the internal company language is German, our HR managers said that a B1 German level would be acceptable at first so long as you don’t have to pitch to clients or deal with customer service.

Our HR managers also confirm that you should put your date of birth, place of birth, and a photo on your CV with the caveat that no photo is better than a bad photo. What’s a bad photo? Germans typically have professional “Bewerbungsfotos” taken at a studio (for about €20) but if you don’t like that option, just make sure the photo is a clear headshot of you dressed professionally and smiling (or at least looking friendly).

One HR tip we especially love that goes for how to dress in both the CV photo and interview: look at the photos on the website of the company’s founders and match their style and formality.

The covering letter is an extremely important part of applying for work, and should not be generic but tailored to the particular position and company, and addressed to a specific contact person whenever possible. Your letter needs to state precisely why you’re so excited about the company and what makes you special or distinguishes you from other candidates.

Germans often submit an “Initiativbewerbung” (unsolicited application) to companies they are interested in, even if no current openings are posted – feel free to do this too, following the rules above and making sure to say which department or role you would want to interview for.

And no matter what language your CV and cover letter are in, PROOFREAD carefully.

A Job for Life by Sky. under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Job for Life by Sky. under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Are you using every available resource?

The governmental job agency (Agentur für Arbeit) provides free job-seeking services to EU and non-EU citizens alike. Which services you can access depends on your nationality and visa status, but anyone can register for the online Jobbörse (jobs search engine). If you’d like to go in person, it’s a good idea to take a friend who speaks German or book a translator such as Red Tape Translation to go with you.

Create a great profile on both LinkedIn and Xing, and get previous employers and colleagues to endorse you and write full recommendations. Think about setting up a simple website showing examples of your work, or if that’s too time-consuming try an about.me page or similar as a digital alternative or supplement to your CV.

You can also register at a temp agency (“Zeitarbeit”) or recruitment agency (“Personalagentur”) where they’ll do some of the work for you. Manpower, Randstadt and Robert Half are popular international choices, among many others.

 

Don’t take it too personally

A rejection – or simply not being called back – is not the end of the world. As with everything in Berlin, the successful expats don’t take it personally or become cynical. Determination and patience in the face of adversity, always being proactive and planning carefully are the keys to success. Thousands of others have done it – you can, too… Happy hunting.

This post was originally published on Venture Village.

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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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The Guardian interviews überlin

by James and Zoe

One of our proudest moments was when the Guardian Travel Network chose us as one of just two Berlin sites to contribute to their website. Guardian readers loved our 5 Apps Berlin Really Needs and Zo’s photos from the miniature Berlin at Loxx, which made it onto the site’s front page. We’ve answered a few of their questions as a quick introduction to überlin, and thought even regular readers might get something out of it. For a more personal look at our life in Berlin, read the illy interview “Berlin, Expat Life and Happiness”.     

Why did you start überlin?

We started überlin to record our move from London to Berlin – in fact, I wrote our first post on the flight over! But what began as an online diary about two expats’ exploration of a new city has since grown into a celebration of all that is awesome about Berlin, and a valuable resource for people who want to follow our example and move here.

überlin up in the air

Our first post: Up in the Air

What are you most proud of about überlin?

Being able to help others who want to move to, or just visit, Berlin. When we arrived here, complete strangers lent us help, support and friendship when we needed it most, and we are now in the position to do the same for others. For example, we came up with the #dailydeutsch Twitter hashtag to share one German word a day, and now it’s buzzing with contributions from people we’ve never heard of. Even our schlechtes Deutsch is improving!

Herrchen: a Daily Deutsch classic

Herrchen: a Daily Deutsch classic

What one piece of editorial / content would you point to if you were trying to sum up überlin?

We’re going to have to pick two! “5 Apps Berlin Really Needs” is a sideways glance at the city’s much-hyped tech scene, with witty suggestions for apps like “Buskamatic”, accompanied by vivid, hilarious photos. And our contributor Liv Hambrett nailed the überlin tone with her epic list “What I Know About Germans“, a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the quirks and qualities of our adopted countrymen. That post really struck a note with Germans, who shared it on blogs and even the social media profiles of national newspapers.

Angry Berliners: one of Five Apps Berlin Really Needs

Angry Berliners: one of Five Apps Berlin Really Needs

What’s next for überlin?

First, we’re refreshing the design of überlin. We plan to keep the clean, minimal aesthetic that our readers love, but make it easier for them to find the content they want, whether it’s about music, fashion, food and drink or expat life. We also have loads of plans to take überlin offline, and create books, merchandise and other “experiences”, but you’re just going to have to follow us to find out more!

What's next for überlin?

What’s next for überlin? Follow us on Facebook to find out!

This interview originally appeared on Guardian Select.

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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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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.

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Expath: Helping you get started in Berlin

by Guest Blogger

Aoife McKeon is a journalist and runaway from Northern Ireland, who has recently arrived in Berlin. We sent along to check out a service designed to help newbies just like her.

So, you want to move to Berlin.

You want to flee the tyranny of bars that close at 1am, work in an art gallery and find a cheap flat that’s at least six times as big as your hovel back home? Great! It’s a dream shared by countless others who want to do just that, so it’s time to start planning your escape.

Instead of figuring out all the boring bits for yourself, however, why not let someone else do it for you? Stephan Brenner and Tia Robinson had that idea, and little over a month ago they started providing “integration services” in the form of a seminar and German lessons for confused newbie expats wondering what exactly it was they were supposed to do when they arrived in Berlin. Welcome to Expath.

expath logo

20€ gets you a two hour seminar with English teacher Tia, a Berlin veteran of six years, in their small office in a former toilet block tucked away in the huge redbrick Wye complex in Kreuzberg. Everything’s broken down into a simple step-by-step lesson plan, from basics such as how to register your address, how to get a visa, where to get a social security number for work, how to tackle the job market and subletting, to sorting out your banking and good places to hang out for networking. Clients are emailed a list of questions beforehand so Tia can focus on the stuff that’s really relevant to them, and given that seminars are taught in small groups, it’s easy to ask questions and find out things you couldn’t possibly know until you had lived here for a while. She can even recommend tax advisers and health insurance providers, should you last in Berlin long enough to worry about such things.

expath Wye complex

If you are planning on running away to another country, it’s probably best to do your research before you come. If you haven’t, Expath’s seminar is probably invaluable; even if you have, Tia and Stephan offer a friendly voice of reason among all the scary German words and horror stories about unemployment statistics and rising rents. It’s nice to hear someone tell you that “Anmeldebestatigung” only means address registration, and that, no, you won’t get kicked out of Germany if you don’t do it in time, or that there’s another place you didn’t know about to look for jobs. It’s more “Berlin for Beginners” than “integration”, as ultimately, that takes time.

There’s already a wealth of information on the Internet on what to do, how to move and where to go, something you’ll probably know as an überlin reader. I’d already done my research but if I could have paid 20€ to sit back, take notes and listen to useful advice instead, I would have done it as soon as I got here. Tia might not be able to hold your hand while you sit in the Burgeramt for four hours or magically make your visa application get accepted, but she does make everything seem a lot easier than trawling threads on irate message boards or picking through websites would have you believe.

expath flow diagram

Part of the fun of moving abroad is trying to figure it out for yourself, and if you fancy the challenge, do it. It’s what I did, and it’s what other people have to do. Berlin’s already a big enough place to get used to when you first get here, though, and all Expath want to do is save you a bit of hassle along the way.

Images courtesy of Expath. To find out more about Expath and its services for expats, check out expath.de.

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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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