Living in Berlin

Warschauer Brücke

Its quite a nice life I must say. The winter, I’m told, is scary and I’m about to face it but I have had winters in Europe before so I’m not too scared. The reasons I moved here after visiting form London for a week are:

  1. Electronic music. Its the homeland of electro and I love it.
  2. Everyone rides bikes. The city is setup for it and there a bike lanes everywhere.
  3. The locals are extremely friendly and super cool. Well, I’ve only meet young ones, older people here tend to be grumpy ;)
  4. All your friends hug hello. Much warmer than the kiss on the cheek, although you can opt for a hug kiss combo which is also good.
  5. Extremely cheap. Berlin is the cheapest city in western Europe I think and all of German even. Living and rent is about the same (if not cheaper) than Sydney (where I’m from).
  6. Relatively small population. Only 3.5 mill. but there is still heaps going on.
  7. Art culture. Its been described as the cultural capital of Europe. There are a huge amount of artists here (coz its cool and cheap) and there is hundreds of new exhibitions weekly here + new music + performance etc There is such a positive vibe for starting creative projects as well.
  8. Environmentally aware. Big on recycling here and general awareness.

Things that suck about it:

  1. Mandatory health insurance. I’m not a fan of insurance generally as I find its cheaper to pay yourself most of the time (which is also the heavily calculated assumption that the insurance company’s rely on for profit) which I have done more than once while living in Berlin.
  2. Food. Although the large Turkish and Viet. population are a godsend.
  3. Winter.
  4. Smoking. Everyone smokes everywhere all the time. It really sucks when you go out and you don’t smoke. [update: EU is forcing Germany to remove it from public places! YAY! Should start to be enforced mid 2008]
  5. Lack of nature, even though it clams to be the greenest city in Europe, its quite grey on the east side of town. I also miss the sea.
  6. Dog shizer. Its fucking everywhere! Like nowhere I’ve ever seen (even East Timor!). In summer on a hot day you get these winds coming down particularly bad streets and its like a sand storm in the desert only it aint sand and it smells BAD! I’m told its coz the government give extra money to the unemployed for each dog they have so the punks usually have one or two each. EDIT: Actually, this is just Friedrichshain where I was living at the time.

The one thing I didn’t include in my list was that there is absolutely no work here. 22% unemployment. If you don’t speak fluent German you have little to no chance of getting a job that will sustain you. You need something setup before you get here or have a profession that is in high demand and you can do anywhere. All the Aussies I’ve meet here who planned to stay left as soon as their cash ran out.

This keeps prices down which attracts artist who take the few unskilled labour jobs (mainly service industry). This also keeps the number of ex-pats down, which I don’t mind as I had my fill in London but also means my friends have no chance of moving here ether, which is sad.

So be warned, but otherwise I’m having a wonderful time!

UPDATE: I’ve written a run-down of the different areas in central Berlin and links to apartment renting websites for Berlin/Germany.

33 thoughts on “Living in Berlin”

  1. know what you mean about the language thing. Why didn’t I learn german at school???? well, at least it’s not quite so bad here in CH – there are plenty of jobs where English is the company language. Have you ever thought about heading to the land of cheese and chocolate for work? it’s really green and pretty, and no one dares leave any dog shit on the ground.

  2. Yeah, my girl friend has lived there for a few years and has a lot of friends there. We might go a visiting soon actually. I’m scared that I might find it a bit on the boring side after all the art and music of Berlin. Besides I’m trying to learn German and I hear the Swiss dialect is almost incomprehensible to the German ear so might mess me up ;)

    As a side note I should have mentioned that I have plenty of work as I work with my sister who is based in New York City and I wrote this in response to a comment on a previous Berlin post asking what its like here for Aussies (which is a question I get a lot from random people).

  3. Paris has a lot of dog shit as well. In fact, it seems to be an epidemic. In Los Angeles, people walk their dogs with plastic baggies and have to pick up after their mongrel when it lays a turd.

    Good points on work in Berlin. I’m moving to the south and I’m looking for work as a classical singer.

    It occurred to me that one day I will die just as everyone else will. And since I don’t think there is a God to offer eternal rest, I have decided to make the most of my time alive doing what I’d like to. I feel brave and noble. Please, let me have this moment.

  4. I hear the work situation is much better in the rest of Germany, but its also more expensive and nowhere near as cool and Berlin which seems to attract all the young people and creative types. From my experience traveling around Germany, everywhere else is very, very conservative.

    The doggy-doo situation here is much worse than in Paris, but in Paris I find its not the dogs making the worse mess on the streets but the humans :@

  5. I lived in Berlin for three years. I can agree with most of your complaints about the city, except the Food and Nature complaints. There are wonderful restaurants everywhere. Al Dente on Greifswalderstr. is amazing, Zwoelf Aposteln pizza, Vivaldi, the cheap thai and chinesisch is incredible, but yeah, cheap. Loads of good food near Hackescher Markt and all over the east, like Frieda Kahlo and Club in P-berg.

    I lived mainly in Weissensee, just north of P-berg and it was incredibly green. I would walk through the Weissensee park on the way to the #3 tram every day to work. The park in P-berg is wonderful, and I found so many green places to chill and bask in the sunshine. Bummer. Hope you find some good green spots. Try Friedrichshein Park for some volleyball, or head down to the park south of Schlesisches Tor in Kreutzberg.

    Man… I miss Berlin. I had such a fantastic time living there. What a wonderful city. Yeah, the winter sucks, except the Berlinale in Feb.

  6. I must say that i havn’t found any good asian food here. Its usually not very spice to cater to the “German pallet”. Also they have a hard time getting a varitey of fresh produce. The India is a bad joke.

    What surprising to be is that there arn’t even any really good Italian of French places here. Also surprising is the lack of German restaurants. there are plenty of cheap and nasty Imbiss around but if you want to sit down to a good German feed, its few and far between.

    Still I think there is at least one good restaurant of each culture here somewhere and I will find good Indian, Thai, Vietnamese though the process of elimination. I guess I’m just fussy as Sydney has some great Asian food and its usually really cheap.

    Still I love the night life here and the cool expansive minds of the people I meet here. I’m gaging for the summer time…

  7. nice report.

    “I’m not a fan of insurance generally as I find its cheaper to pay yourself most of the time” – heh, sorry but this is not very clever :-) think twice. the crucial part is “most of the time” ;-)

  8. When I said most of the time, what I really meant was in most cases. This is actually the basis that Insurance company’s rely on to make money. I’m merely using their assurance to themselves that I will not need it. The human race has survived for before insurance company’s came along I believe.

    My personal example here is, that in the second week of arriving in Berlin I broke my arm riding a bike. It took 1 hour at a local hospital to see a doctor, get an x-ray, and have a nurse plaster it. I saw 3 medial staff including a doctor and it cost a whopping 97 EUR. Heath insurance for a freelancer in Berlin costs around 260 EUR/month.

    The other problem with health insurance is that it doesn’t cover the sick, which seems a major flaw in the idea behind it. If you have a per existing condition you will ether have to pay a lot more for cover, not be covered for anything relation to that illness or not be accepted at all.

    But this post isn’t about health insurance.

  9. Hi.
    Great report. I’m from Melbourne and really want to live in Berlin.
    But there are a few things stopping me that I’ve been unsure about. Thank god i found your report as you’ve answered them all.
    That said, it still doesn’t make the final decision any easier to make.
    I’m just worried that being a commercial photographer (in Melbourne its competitive but not that bad) in a place like Berlin that’s full on with their arts its going to be damn near impossible to find anywork.
    Is this the case?

  10. I don’t know about the creative arts here. There are a lot of photographers but in that field it seems to be more about who you know. Still you have to be willing to hunt down the work and get yourself know around town.

  11. Very enlightening review, thanks, but I noticed it is 18 months old now. Are you still there? Any major changes?

    Is Berlins the new ‘cool’, becoming fashionable, and on the way to becoming bombarded with wankers and scene-sters? Or is this view a little premature you think? Still a decade or so to go before such an inevitability?

  12. Saddly the bombardment has begun and its thick with em here in the summer time. The work situation has slowed them down considerably and so its mainly other Europeans here (Spanish, Itailans, Swiss) at the moment, which isn’t too bad really. Seems people from the UK are buy lots of property here at the moment as its quite cheap compared to the UK and most Germans rent in Berlin and don’t consider buy until later in life.

    The cheapness is attracking a lot of artist from all over Europe as there is no other major city in Europe left with space to do things, but this is making it more like the rest of German slowly and within 10 years it will be a crowded, expensive capital like the other. Slowly the punk feeling dies and the corporate bulldozes arrive. The morons in power don’t seem to realise that its the art and strangeness that people come here for.

  13. Hi all,

    I want some advice. I live in Basel Switzerland and left for 6 months (was here 3 years) and then came back in the last 2 months. I am visiting Berlin at the end of june with my girlfriend for a few days. I am thinking of making a move there maybe the end of this year or early next year. I like all the German cities I have been to so far (Hamburg, Munich, Freiburg) and the beer is quality.
    I think i have had enough of switzerland at this stage.
    I should be able to get a good job in my field (some being advertised) that is well paid. I cannot speak german but could learn, anyways the job is english speaking.

    I have met german people who cannot understand the Swiss German, so anyone thinking of going to switzerland to learn German is better off going to Germany.

    Can anyone give me any advice about the tax or how much medical insurance costs? How much would rent be on a nice apartment in a good location?

  14. If you or anyone knows a recent, say, last 6 or 12 months, review of Berlin, I’d love to read it! please let me know. The web seems full of reviews but they all date back to at least a few years. Berlin seems like it is changing rapidly thus my desire to read something recent.

  15. Visiting Berlin for a long period of time has been something I have been wanting to do for a while now after visiting the place a couple of times.
    I’m english and i’m crap and trying to learn german but I feel like that city makes sense.So maybe I will try teaching myself still,although thats not very motivating!I need someone to teach me!
    After living in fear in London for 5 years,Berlin is exactly what a European city should be,and thats where i’d like to be for about 2 months,just meeting new people,learning new things and finding myself.But i don’t know if i’m brave enough.And I will need to save money prior to visit.
    I’ve been in the winter and it was super super cold,but i feel the winter works well there.
    This is just a rant,one that helps me think about what I want to do!

  16. Berlin, is amazing! i have been there three times. Its true, i live in British Columbia, Canada, and its the greenest, to anywhere i hae ever been. But when your in Berlin, it doesnt matter. Its a realy clean city, the ai is fresh, not like when your by the ocean, but its still amazing. People mind their own bussines, its quiet, the clubs are rad, the art and music scene is huge, sooo many great food places, and alot of veggie food too! Amazing fashion, everyone is cute, if you ned help, no one minds to stop and hep you. i swear, im starting to learn german myslef to move over there. To whoever is planning it, do it! and realy, if you want to go and dont, youll always wonder…sometimes dreams are beter then reality…but…you can always go back, and plan something new.

  17. I am working on moving to Berlin,
    is there any tips you can give me or pointers
    I just kinda wanna star my life over
    can you give me a run down on everything i need to be there.
    i live pretty cheap

  18. Hi!!

    I´m thinking of moving to Berlin in December or January 09, but I am a bit scared about the job thing…I work in Marketing Management for 3 years and I would like to ask if it is possible for me to get a job in Berlin without speaking German in a company?
    I am from Portugal and this would be my first experience out of my country…..so it is very scary!!! lloll
    Can some of you give me some advise?? Thank you!!

  19. I’m looking at teaching English in Germany beginning in a few months and lasting for about six months (just before I go to grad school in fall of 09). I’d like to live in Berlin, but I am nervous about the job market. I have a bachelors in English and plenty of teaching experience. Does anyone know what the job market is like for English teaching? Also, what is rent like in Berlin?

  20. Hey, just a clarification on the Health Insurance for people who are uncertain.

    All salaried workers are eligable for the statutory health insurance scheme which is government regulated rather than the private scheme. This scheme means that you pay a percentage of your income (much like the British National Insurance scheme) towards healthcare and your employer pays an equal percentage.

    The state health system doesn’t penalise you for pre-existing ilnesses and charges no “premiums” like the private insurance which has to be taken by non-salaried people (like the original article writer) and operates on a similar system to the French whereby you can still choose your doctor and specialists.

    Once registered with the statutory health system you’re sent a smartcard which has to be presented. The only time you ever contact the state insurance provider of choice (of which there are a few like the BKK) is when you need to make big ticket purchases and for hospital operations. In hospital, you’re charged a small “hotel” fee for the first 10 days of something like 10 euros per night afterwhich the visit is free. If anyone wants more information, hopefully I can assist them. =)

  21. Hey! I was in Berlin last december and man, what a COOL place, in all senses. It is like as my hometown, Barcelona before bulldozers arrived. Yay, great places to go in the night, lots of exhibitions, street art and music, interesting monuments, fine arts and culture, great people, cheaper than my city… Wah, lovely city. I want to go there another time and stay a longer time!!
    I would like to work there also, but my german sucks, so I know it’s a difficult thing.
    Berlin be prepared, I’ll come back!

    greetz

  22. Hi – I was thinking of moving to Berlin to live with my Australian girlfriend hopefully at some point in the new year whilst she studies German Language. Im pretty compitent in German already having studied it in school myself..

    Im a Dj and I cant find for love nor money the audience I want in London! I play Hardcore, Freeform, Hardstyle, Techno and Gabba – Do you think with the massive love of Electronic music out there it would be easy to get a regular paying set or residency? What are your experiences (if any) of this type of thing happening??

    Would love to hear back form you =) Thanks!

  23. Hey Craig, I think you would find an audience here but you have to hang arond a bit an get to know some locals. If you have a label that also helps. There are a lot of clubs here which would welcome you with open arms with that sort of music style. If you speak German, then you should have no problem getting gigs I think. Let me know if you play I’ll come for sure ;)

  24. Hello,

    I’m a 25y.o Aussie currently living in London. I am going to be travelling (backpacking) around Germany for most of November.

    I was thinking of making a temporary move to either Berlin or Munich if I enjoyed my time over there.

    I was just wanting to get an idea of jobs in the IT sector over there, I have about 3 years experience as a sys admin. (tech support). Of course I would be willing to work as just about anything since I dont speak German.

    Any advice/insight would be helpful :)

    Cheers,
    Phil

  25. Hi CpILL,

    Nice report, thanks!

    I am thinking about applying for Hertie School in Berlin. Do you know how it is to be a student there?

    Dog shizer you mentioned about – i really hate it :(

    The school I mentioned about – do you know of its ranking nationally?

    Thanks!

  26. wow, even though written in october of 2006, this blog is still newer than most info found on the first page of google (search: living in berlin). the replies make it even more worthwhile.

    i’m trying to do my research before relocating to berlin around january, 2009. i’ll be studying abroad at Humboldt Universitaete. my questions and concerns would also be in regards to living. although i read about how berlin is supposed to be extremely cheap, i consistently find higher price-point apartments (usually pre-furnished, short term leases; studios and 1 bedrooms being 550 Euros and up [although 550-600 is doable]). any good realtors or websites? i’ll be moving from new york city, so i know about expensive apartments (though i hear london is ever more ridiculous). i’d like to live near the school (Mitte; unter den linden near friedrichstrasse), but i’m open to suggestions.

    also, and this is very important, i need to live near a good thai restaurant. pad thai seems to be the cliché dish and i’m no exception. i was quite excited when i saw you mention thai food. =)

  27. hi i considering moving to berlin in the summer and will just have finished an architecture degree if anyone knows how to search for architecture type jobs there that would be great – and how hard is it to get by with next to no german?

  28. Hi CpILL,
    Thanks for blogging!
    I’m moving to Berlin in August ’09 with my partner, who has just signed a two-year employment contract and will have his health insurance organised accordingly.
    I’ll be studying my Masters online and will probably work casually at my partner’s workplace. I hold dual Australian/British citizenship (EU passport) and was wondering what general medical costs are in Berlin- things like seeing a GP to get a prescription, prescription and OTC medicine costs, vision tests with an optometrist, dental check-ups, etc. Do you know of any websites that outline such costs?
    I haven’t decided whether or not to pay into a health insurance fund or just save a bit of cash each month and use it when it’s needed.
    Thanks VERY much!
    Brenna

  29. Hey Brenna,

    As far as I understand it, German law states that everyone who can must have a form of health insurance whether statutory (through the state) for salaried workers outside of the public sector or via private insurance. You can’t simply opt out completely from healthcare – think of it as your Medicare levy in Australia or your National Insurance Contribution from the UK.

    If you are a low income earner you qualify for state assistance. You really need to check this with the German authorities though.

  30. Hey!

    I just stumbled upon this. Berlin is one of my favorite cities in Europe when I visited. Granted I was only there for a week so I’m sure it is probably much more different in terms of permanent living but the place just had so much culture and taste… and not to mention the music scene is what is drawing me in most.

    I’m a senior in college graduating next year in May. I know you said the unemployment rate is low and a disadvantage to everyone foreign, but I was just wondering, what about international jobs? English speaking jobs? Something along the business tier or marketing/advertising/PR/communications area? I’m looking to not necessarily find a full time job in Berlin, but maybe an internship or part time deal so I could experience the city and maybe see if the job path is for me. Would you recommend anything?

    Thanks.

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