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.

Tweeting for Germany: What I Learned

by James Glazebrook

If you noticed that our Twitter feed was quiet(ish) last week, that’s because I was tweeting for I am Germany instead. I am Germany is a rotation curation project, which allows anyone who applies (and is approved) to offer their unique take on the country they call home, for one week. Just like @sweden, but with less Nazi chat. Here’s my takeover page, designed to showcase both Zoë’s stunning photography and my big ol’ beard:
I am Germany Twitter page

Nice huh (the beard)? Anyway, here’s what the experience taught me:

1. I love “meeting” new people
That’s why I fell in love with social media in the first place. Because not only are networks like Twitter a great shortcut to finding people with similar interests, no matter where in the world they are, but also because you end up speaking to people with different beliefs, ideas and perspectives. My new followers welcomed me to the rotation, asked me a couple of polite questions, then immediately started grilling me about the “expat backlash” debate that’s engulfed our deceptively silly “You Know You’re A Berliner When…” post.

2. I missed my Tweeps
Even though I kept my eye on the @uberlinblog timeline, I felt myself torn between two communities: one that I’d built up from scratch, including friends and family, and people I’m nearly as close to but have never met in real life, to one populated by complete strangers. I feel like I missed out on a lot of content, conversations and chuckles by not being “always on” …it was pure luck that I was watching when @iamkosmonaut tweeted the riveting story of his family’s experience of the reunification of Germany:

3. People need reasons to follow, share and reply
People like puppies and people love Olive, but people REALLY loved it when I took her for a walk on Tempelhofer Park. It seems simple, but a few smartphone photos showcased a uniquely Berlin space, whose very existence speaks volumes about the city.
Tempelhof on I am Germany

But the best thing I did was go on a Context Travel tour of Berlin (full review to follow), which gave me another excuse to post photos of historical sites, as well as passing off the guide’s expertise as my own 😉 Just as the tour showed me things I’d previously overlooked, live-tweeting it allowed me to share my discoveries with a new audience.
White crosses on I am Germany

4. I’m really good at Twitter!
Never mind #FollowFridays, I was getting Follow Monday and Tuesdays! At the risk of sounding arrogant (too late?), it’s only because I kept the above rule in mind that (most) people seemed to like me. Seven days isn’t long to establish who you are, strike the right tone and fight fires when you don’t (see below) – so you need to know what you’re doing, and dedicate enough time to do it right.

5. Outside of Berlin, *trying* to communicate in German doesn’t count for shit
Almost every time I tried to tweet in German, someone would correct me. I’m not complaining (I am), because I know that I need constant correction if my Deutsch is ever going to improve. But after a while I started to feel like German speakers in Berlin have been humouring me, like on 30 Rock when Jon Hamm plays a doctor so handsome that no one dares tell him he’s terrible at everything (including the Heimlich Manoeuvre). Ignore the fact that I just compared myself to Jon Hamm and consider the possibility that your German is nowhere near as good as you think, but no one’s bothering to tell you.

In my case, this results in stupid shit like this:
LOLs on I am Germany2

Minutes later…
LOLs on I am Germany3

6. Some people can’t take a joke
If you follow @uberlinblog, you’re probably used to me saying things I don’t really mean in order to get a laugh. Or, “joking”. I think Twitter would be a boring space without funny people saying funny things, but last week reminded me that some have signed up for other, more factual, reasons – and that not all of them share my sense of humour.

This didn’t go down well:
I am Germany 2




Bizarrely, it wasn’t my crass insensitivity (on the eve of German Unity Day) that offended, but my use of the word “own”. Two people pulled me up on this semantic issue: “I think both parties would quarrel with the notion of “own” on that!”More occupied than “owned”. Owned is a horrible imperialistic concept. Know you were joking, but words matter.”

Those guys may have been humourless, but at least they were right. Unlike the chode who objected to this:
LOLs on I am Germany

After being accused of providing a “piss poor representation of Germany” by someone who felt “it might be no harm if you gained a bit of a broader perspective on Berlin cuisine”, one kind soul rushed to my aid, pointing out the Food & Drink section of this blog, which has already led her to a “superb dinner” at Pantry. 

7. Some people take “I am Germany” literally
At times it was surreal talking about being an expat in Berlin, learning the language and trying to integrate, while at the same time being criticised for not speaking, or being, German. When this all came to a head, with the suggestion that native English speakers are over-represented on @I_amGermany, organiser @katbitemusic dispelled this notion…
katbitemusic on I am Germany2
…but she shouldn’t have had to. The whole point of I am Germany is that “a single voice cannot represent a country”; I’d go further and argue that no collection of individual voices, no matter how numerous, can represent a whole country. Rotation curation shouldn’t be subject to quotas or any selection criteria other than each applicant’s merits as a tweeter. And each new voice should challenge, rather than conform to, followers’ perceptions of a particular country, region, city or group of the population.

For a quick overview of rotation curation, check out this chronology on the Rotation Curation blog. Oh, and follow me and Zoë on Twitter: @uberlinblog.

Learn German with Duolingo

by James Glazebrook

Free Language poster by Duolingo 1Free Language poster by Duolingo 2

As you already know, we’re really trying to learn German. What started as a vague desire not to be the expats with the shittiest Deutsch became one of our New Year’s Resolutions… and along with our new puppy, came a new goal: to be able to speak to six year olds in their own language about how “klein” and “süss” she is. But even with the Daily Deutsches and the weekly tutorials, we still find it hard to get regular practice. That’s where Duolingo, language learning software with a difference, is helping:

If you want to find out more about the story behind Duolingo, scroll down for founder Luis von Ahn’s presentation at TEDxCMU. Aside from his unique mission – using language learning to get 100m people to translate the web into every major language for free – I’ve already been impressed by the private beta version of Duolingo’s German program.

It’s simple, social (connecting to both Facebook and Twitter), works all your passive and active language skills – listening, reading, speaking and writing – and allows you to learn in manageable chunks, marked by a real sense of achievement. Plus, it pulls in real online content which is inherently more interesting than the usual textbook scenarios – so far, I’ve translated texts about Jeff Bridges, Ghostbusters and Nazis! Best of all, it’s totally free!

Duolingo are still gradually inviting new users – sign up over here.


5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

by James and Zoe

Not only is Berlin the startup capital of Europe, it’s fast becoming its App-icentre. Developers and netrepreneurs are coming up with mobile solutions for problems you never knew existed, in the hopes of earning geek points and investment from Ashton Kutcher. Whether you want to explore Berlin, buy your buddy a beer or just make sure that you’re never alone again, if there isn’t already an app for that, there soon will be. überlin thought it was time to halt the march towards App-igeddon, and to come up with five apps that Berlin really needs.

Berlin winters getting you down? Can’t bear another miserable grey sky? We have the perfect solution with our Summerfy app! Using augmented reality our app can turn the most depressing of scenes into a beautiful summer’s day. Simply point your mobile device at whatever is bumming you out and see it transformed instantly. Berlin – and Berliners – never looked so good!

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs 1

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs 2

Berliners’ favourite pastime just got social! Now you can earn badges, as well as bragging rights, when you attend the city’s countless demonstrations. Stick it to The Man and be crowned Green God/dess, Nuclear Reactor, Nazi Hunter or Baby Bugger-Off-er. One day you could be the proud owner of the coveted WTF?! badge, issued when everyone is rallied together to protest, but no one seems to know why.

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

This app recreates the Berlin busker experience in all its horror. Bursting with over 100 badly-sung songs, played poorly on outmoded instruments, Buskamatic will annoy your fellow commuters just like the real deal! With styles like “Atonal Accordion”, “Ballad Bollocks” and “Fuck off Folk”, you’ll blend seamlessly with your busker buddies, and wonder how you ever lived – and paid the rent – without this mobile music maker.

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

The Berlin streets aren’t exactly paved with gold, but every other bin contains treasure – bottles that can be returned for a deposit, or Pfand. Find-a-Pfand hacks Google Maps to show the location of the bottle banks and trash cans that are overflowing with glass goodies, and the closest place to collect your cents. The bottle icons glow red when collection time approaches – get there fast to pick up your pay day!

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs 8

Angry Berliners
Sick of dealing with German bureacracy? Why not take out your frustrations on this classic strategy game?! Fire your Angry Berliner through webs of red tape, topple over mountains of paperwork, and repeatedly bang his head against brick walls,  in order to defeat the pencil-pushing Office Pigs. With over 200 levels available in the App Store, you’ll really be getting somewhere – unlike in real life. Angry Berliner soft toys coming soon!

5 Apps Berlin Really Needs

What Berlin apps would you like to see? Drop us a comment below.

Berlin Sound: A SoundCloud Group

by James Glazebrook

What does Berlin sound like? Many would nominate the 4/4 thud of the Berghain speaker stacks, the blare of U-Bahn buskers, or squat-party punk. But what about non-music audio?

We’ve set up a SoundCloud group called Berlin Sound, for people to share their sounds from around the city. So far we’ve heard: the hustle and bustle of the Maybachufer market, the eerie calm of Neukölln and Kreuzberg at night, and the seemingly endless announcement from the female “voice” of the U-Bahn when it pulls into Alexanderplatz. Oh yes, and the 4/4 thud of the Berghain speaker stacks!

You can hear the sounds we’ve collected so far using the widget below, or over on the Berlin Sound group page. If you already have some (non-music) audio to share, simply join the group, upload your sound to SoundCloud and click the “Share to group” button on the track player. And why not download SoundCloud’s mobile app, and go out and record something we’ve never heard before?

We’d love to hear your Berlin Sounds!

Transmediale 2011

by James Glazebrook

Our experience of the Transmediale festival for art and digital culture was short but sweet. Restrictions on our press accreditation, work commitments and sheer lack of organisation meant we missed the Hyperdub night at Berghain and live sets from Monolake and Deadbeat. Fortunately, we had some pretty good backups. On Saturday, we caught a snippet of Deadbeat’s stunning collaboration with video artist Lillevan as part of a review of the week’s AV performances in the immersive CineChamber, then hopped on the U-Bahn to Club Maria, which shook to the sounds of Modeselektor and their global team of bass pioneers.

We also made it down to the HacKaWay Zone, to see some artworks that “not only respond to scientific or technical developments, but that shape the way in which we think about and experience the technologies which impact virtually all aspects of our daily lives.” Some was enjoyably incomprehensible, like the brilliantly titled Ambiguous Cut Into Space of Conjecture (Lucid Phantom Messenger #2) – strobing multicoloured eye candy. Other work was thoughtfully executed, like overall festival award winner Intelligent Bacteria, which highlighted the dangers of alcohol processing in Indonesia by incorporating the bacteria produced into a performative acoustic installation, a “bacteria orchestra”.

But of most interest to this social media nerd were two projects that explored Facebook and its implications for our privacy, both on- and offline. Seppukoo provides a service for users who want to “commit Facebook suicide”, setting up a memorial page in their honour.  Or it did until it received a cease and desist letter from the web giant – now Seppukoo exists as a DIY guide to virtual self-destruction:

Also drawing the attention of Zuckerberg’s goons is Lovely-Faces.com, which scraped 250,000 Facebook profiles and used the data to build a huge, fake dating site. Taking publicly accessible data and using technology like facial recognition to fill in the gaps, it constructs an alarmingly complete picture of its “members”  by providing their gender, nationality, interests and even character (“sly women”, anyone?). As Wired reports, the creators of Lovely-Faces are only just sidestepping Facebook’s terms of service by taking down users’ data on request, so go and have a play on it while you still can.

Here are our impressions of a week of art, tech and music dorkery:




A Day in the Life

by Zoë Noble

A friend just asked what we do on a typical day now that we’re freelancing in Berlin, and we thought we’d share it here so you can get a picture of our “exciting” new life. Warning: contains offensive slippers.

1. James wakes up at 8am and makes coffee from a machine that sounds like a pneumatic drill
2. I wake up shortly thereafter
3. We sit at the table and mess around on our laptops checking Twitter/Facebook then we get down to some “work” in our dressing gowns
4. Sometimes we break for shower at around 11am… sometimes not
5. At lunchtime we get clothed and either eat pitiful sandwiches or we venture out to a nearby hipster café for human contact
6. Back in the flat we pretend to “work” some more before boredom sets in and social networking takes over
7. Around 6pm it’s tea time, but it seems that without Tesco Online we can no longer function as normal human beings and have to resort to pasta and pesto every night, as it’s the only thing in our cupboards
8. For our evening’s entertainment we have hopefully downloaded something to watch, or like tonight, we will force ourselves to go out in the freezing cold to some hip Berlin event to be able to write a blog post about it
9. Get to bed around midnight, making a pact to work harder tomorrow

Working from home