10 tips for expats in Berlin
Berlin, also known as ‘The Grey City’. Not the most exciting moniker for a city (although we think it’s better than Leipzig’s ‘Bimbo Town’ (it means something else in Europe)). We can understand why you would decide to move there: the culture, the food, the opportunities – the list goes on. If you’re a soon-to-be resident or have only recently moved there, here are some tips for a new expat in Berlin.
Learn German (even though you don’t need it)
Berlin is an incredibly international city, and while most people speak English, and it’s even the normal language at work for startups, you won’t fully be immersed in the city unless you learn at least some German. On a serious note, official documents and government correspondences will be in German, and from a social/cultural perspective, learning the language really opens up the city and its people. It’s also a sign of respect and the effort you show to integrate goes a long way to how people perceive you. Even if they speak English, the fact that you’re trying to speak German will be appreciated greatly.
Get clued up on German admin
In contrast to the very relaxed vibe to the city, the bureaucratic side of Berlin (and the German authorities generally) is very rigid and, at times, tedious. But have patience, give the system (and yourself) a chance, and you’ll be able to navigate the complex world of German bureaucracy. Let’s face it, you’ll have to at some point!
Berlin is known for affordable living, but the times they are a-changin’, and landlords and homeowners are steadily raising their prices. You’ll likely still hear newcomers to the city talking about how affordable it is, especially if they’ve come from cities like London or Stockholm, which are generally very expensive cities to live in. As the city gets increasingly popular, however, it’s becoming harder to find accommodation. That being said, knowing where to look will give you the edge. There are communities on Facebook and websites like wg-gesucht that are dedicated to helping people find accommodation in the city, some are even tailored to particular nationalities to be extra helpful. To paraphrase Dory, just keep looking!
Be aware of your role in the city
It’s important to recognise your impact on the city you’re moving to. The huge number of expats moving to Berlin is undoubtedly affecting the culture and feel of the city, so show respect and be up-to-date on the political climate, local news/events, and support local businesses. Play an active role in your community just like you would in your hometown.
Berlin is a relaxed, liberal city
Berlin is quite unique and distinct from other parts of Germany, as London is to the UK. It’s a very open, laid-back city. The type of clothing worn varies greatly across the city, and things such as nudity and drinking aren’t as taboo as they are in most of the world. The famous underground party culture and everything that entails is quite normal for a lot of Berlin. The term ‘quirky’ perfectly describes Berlin, and the things you see around the city can change from day to day – embrace this quirkiness, it’s part of the city’s charm.
Learn the city’s past, appreciate its present
This goes for any city, but especially a city with as unique a history and culture as Berlin. As the literal embodiment of the East-West divide seen throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, Berlin has a story like no other city. There was such upheaval and political unrest in the past few decades, but the city has embraced this and made it its strength. Being aware of this will only enrich your experience, for example, the street art, monuments, and even the underground club scene have their roots deep in this Cold War history. So, why not read up on some history? You’ll thank us for it.
The grass is greener on the Berlin side
The environment is a topic close to the hearts of Berliners. The city is covered in parks and green areas, recycling is taken very seriously, and cycling or taking public transport is commonplace. Also, Berlin is frequently regarded as the vegan capital of the world, with many vegan restaurants all over the city, and varying from Michelin starred establishments to street food stands. The people of the city are very conscious of their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment – so take care to follow these customs.
Berlin is full of hipsters. There’s no denying it. People with all sorts of weird and wonderful clothing and hairstyles fill the streets. You may feel the urge to fall in line and adopt the trends, but the real takeaway is that Berlin is a city where you can truly express yourself. So whether you’re into man buns and electronic music, suits and ties, Berlin is open to all.
The real land of opportunity
The US may have adopted this frankly awesome moniker, but it’s undoubtedly true of Berlin. Thanks to its relatively low cost of living, especially when compared with other major cities, it’s an ideal place for the more creative amongst you, such as writers or artists. In most other cities, just to get by you need to grind away at a job you may hate. However, in this city, the networks for creative types and entrepreneurs are set up, meaning you have everything you need to make a go of something you love. What are you waiting for?
Take the plunge, land on your feet
There’s no doubt about it, no matter who you are or where you come from, moving to a new country and embracing a new culture is a scary prospect. Once you arrive, you may feel isolated due to the culture shock, or lack of friends (initially). You may even feel like people stereotype you based on your nationality since you’re the newcomer to the city, and it may be frustrating at times when simple, everyday things are done differently to what you’re used to. But that is all part of the expat’s experience. You’ll grow from the experience; you’ll become a more resourceful, confident, and rounded person. How many people who lived abroad, even for a short while, regret it? Virtually none. So be brave and take the plunge – it’ll all be worth it.