überlin

How to work at a startup: 1. Finding a job

by Guest Blogger

By Federico Prandi.

My mother used to put stuff in boxes. Professionally. She did it for 30 years at the same small-sized suburban Italian company and while the boxes were sent everywhere in the world, my mom and her career weren’t exactly going places.

My dad, the only male among four siblings, had to drop out of middle school to help his father in the fields. Like many of his peers, he learned to think of work as something that is closely related to suffering, sacrifice and blind obedience.

Whenever I tell my parents about company breakfasts, team building events and gamification, they share a very specific look that I’ve come to interpret as “Our son is lying to us. He doesn’t have a job in Berlin. He’s squatting an abandoned building and carries stolen drugs across countries in order to pay for his groceries.”

I get that look. I do. Growing up with a blue-collar mindset made me both conscious of my current luck and weirdly aware of the seemingly absurd sides of the startup life.

This series of posts is the natural consequence of that.

CHAPTER 1: FINDING A JOB

This is going to sound obvious, but in order to work at a startup – in Berlin or anywhere else – you need to either found one or be hired by one. I’m going to focus on the latter ’cause I’m a slacker and I’ve made it my life goal to achieve less and less every day.

If you’re smart you’ve probably created alerts that fire off an email every time a desirable position is available, either through Google Alerts or more specific job hunting platforms like Indeed.de or BerlinStartupJobs.com. What you might not know, though, is that when it comes to job titles startups can be as quirky as the side character of an indie TV series.

The chances that your alert will be triggered by the keyword “customer relationship manager” are thinner, for example, than the ones for the keyword “Customer Happiness Ninja”. Stop looking for “Sales Manager” and keep your eyes open for stuff like “Customer retention power ranger”, “Office management karate kid”, “Java Sorcerer” and any title that could have easily been invented by a Dungeon Master after his sixth pint of mead. ‘Cause nerdz.

Startups want their jobs to sound so cool that it’s impossible not to want them. I’m perfectly happy with my own job, but if I ever read an ad for a “fluffer of moral erections”, I’ll drop everything and go, even if it means I end up teaching old ladies how to dance salsa in a holiday resort a la Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

The exceptions to this rule are the internships. Companies don’t even try to make these “jobs” sound cool, given that the word “intern” is at times already an euphemism for “slave”.

Centuries ago, before the invention of coconut M&Ms or, like, minimum wage, I was doing an internship. Money was so tight that I felt compelled to rewrite the Wikipedia page for the term to reflect my true real feelings about the matter.

internship_wiki

Unfortunately a Wikipedia editor told me I wasn’t being – air quote – objective about the facts. Fine, Mr. Logic. Whatever.

Anyway, you need to really read those job postings and check off the required skills one by one, even if that’s boring. And when you’re doing so, try to be honest with yourself about your real capabilities. I once thought my brain had no boundaries, but then it turns out that things like the Norwegian language or “Ruby on Rails” (I still think that’s the name of a synthetic drug) cannot be learned overnight.

Bummer.

Once you’ve found a position that seems perfect for you, don’t just start shooting off applications like crazy. You need to pick the right startup before even letting them pick you. Of course you wanna be employed by a winner and there’s one basic criteria to discern whether an internet company is gonna take over the world. Mark my words: It’s all in the name.

Look around: the “General Motors” days are over. Don’t look for class, meaning or authority in a name. The startup world is now calling for “Goojdi”, “Faamp”, “Leerk” and “Huora” (which was gonna be the name of my own startup until someone told me it literally means “whore” in Finnish). In other words, you need to look for a name that sounds like something between the first words of a baby and what your cat may have written while walking on the keyboard.

The only acceptable alternative to this are Latin words. A lot of startup founders pick these, probably by listening to Harry Potter spells and noting down stuff that sounds nice. Sometimes it works, but other times your web agency ends up being called “ferocity” in Italian.

Roar.

In the next episode I’ll teach you how to actually apply for the startup job of your dreams.

Federico is an Italian in Berlin. He blogs, tweets, infiltrates the German language, and is currently employed at a cool internet company based in Berlin with a million open positions.

If you liked this, check out our observations on the Berlin startup scene, and get more practical advice about landing a startup job (with more GIFs!).

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.

So you want to work for a Berlin startup?

by Guest Blogger

An insider’s view of the Berlin startup scene by Abby Carney, with some practical job-hunting tips – and GIFs curated by When You Live in Berlin.

I moved from Atlanta to Berlin last summer to intern with a particular startup. But after nearly a year of working and socializing in what quickly became the cramped quarters of the startup bubble, I have lost a bit of the bright eyed naivety that led me here.

I have nothing but good things to say about my former employers and the friends I’ve made through startups, but having led one version of the typical expat’s life within the tight tech scene of entrepreneurs and endless hack days (who knew so many things could be hacked?), I can honestly say that all that glitters isn’t gold. And if you feel like your job/life lacks risk and thrills, I’d advise against yearning for the exciting life of a startup employee, because it comes at a cost, and so much of the hype is just that – hype.

Prior to my move, I read article after article, dug up every TED talk, interview, and minutiae of information that would give me insight into the famed Berlin tech startup sector. After being in it, meeting people at different companies, and seeing things up close, I came to realize that startups (at least in Berlin) are often times rampant with sexism, unprofessionalism, and confused 20-something boys in high-level positions – afraid to ask for help when they need it, and reluctant to take counsel or constructive criticism. Peacocking for investors and venture capitalists is what they do best – because their livelihood ultimately depends on impressing these people – and watching this pan out is like watching women dolled up for beauty pageants, sucking in and strutting around in uncomfortable gowns and unnaturally high heels.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are good! Technology is vast and amazing, much like the universe itself. But I now see startups for what they are – new business ventures that are fully reliant on investors, and are not yet profitable. This is why people work themselves into the ground, rarely leaving the office save for meetups, parties, and networking events… It’s not Hollywood, as some would have you believe, and these CEOs aren’t necessarily any smarter or more on the ball than anyone else. A great many of them don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and their worst fear is that you’ll find them out.

It’s not all good, and it’s not all bad. Taking part in startup shenanigans and seeing it all up close and personal has given me a more balanced perspective. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when Toto knocks down the screen, revealing the great and powerful Oz to be just a little old man with a control panel, the pageantry of startups in Berlin can be a bit of a sham and a lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s necessary to pull back the curtain to determine who really knows what they’re talking about. Much of the time, these small companies are successful not because they are run by smart, talented, hardworking folks, but because they are young, beautiful, well-spoken Soho House regulars. Not to say that the two camps can’t exist within the same business, but in my Berlin experience, I’ve found the occurrence to be rare.

Do your homework

So, if you’ve made it this far and despite the disclaimer, you still think Berlin startup life is for you, my advice to the potential budding startup employees out there is to perform a background check on the companies you consider working with. Doing your homework means being thorough – befriend the startup gossips and get the scoop on everyone in the village. Despite appearances, it’s a small town, and it’s good to know who you’re crawling into bed with.

It’s true of any business, corporate or fledgling, that who you work with and for is crucial to your success and happiness within the organization, but especially in startups. When work is typically done in close quarters, teams are small and the line between work and home becomes seriously blurred, it’s important to join a team of people you trust, admire, and respect. A lot. So if possible, find their former employees, people who have been laid off, or who have moved on, and quietly find out what you might be getting yourself into. Simply perusing their press page isn’t going to yield the sort of answers you’re looking for.

Seek diversity

Don’t be blinded by the free Club Mates and fancy espressos. Pay attention to who’s on the team. Age is just a number, but in some cases, it matters. A startup with the wisdom and leadership of someone (or a few someones) who’s been around the block a time or two is a huge asset, as there are no shortcuts to experience and maturity. They’re gained the old fashioned way – over time. A few tree rings means your startup of choice is run by insightful, intelligent folks who will likely value you and your skills. Be looking for female employees too, particularly in leadership roles. According to the research, teams with greater gender diversity generate more innovative thinking in problem solving.

Find a balance

Also, resist the urge to drink the Kool Aid. What I mean by this is simply to keep balance in your life. Actually have a life that exists outside the office. There’s something genuinely beautiful about the way many startup teams feel close to each other, like a family, and they spend most of their time together during their off hours as well. But the downside to this is that you will create a bubble for yourself, and sooner or later you’ll burn out. Find at least one hobby, group, or activity that you keep separate from work so that you don’t go crazy. And for heaven’s sake, try your best not to date your co-workers. Berlin is a big city, and there are plenty of fish in its murky sea. Better to throw a line in the Spree than in your own workplace.

That being said, enjoy your time working to create something you feel connected to. It will be perhaps some of the most arduous and soul-enhancing endeavor you’ve ever been a part of, working for a startup. If you’ve counted the costs and are in for the wild ride, why not give Berlin startup life a try?

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.

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!

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?

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.