Ben, 27: Berlin, Germany
In this series I sit down and have a chinwag with some of my fellow expats from all around the globe. We cover what makes them tick, and ask them to share any advice they may have on moving, living their best expat lives and their pro-tips on making it in their new home. Hopefully their collective experiences help give you an insight into how to kill at the expat game.
Where do you consider yourself originally to be from?
My parents are German, but I grew up in New Zealand. Culturally I’ve always felt a little more German, but I feel like I’m right in the middle of the two. I think I’ve always considered Germany to be home though, because all of my family lives here.
Why did you decide to move, and how long have you been living in Berlin?
I wanted to move to Germany years ago – like when I was 12. Then in 2010 I did a trip all over Germany and throughout Europe, and I went to Berlin for the first time. I thought sweet, this is a cool city. Then I went back home, studied and got some work experience. After that, I realised that Berlin would be a really good city to pursue my career – the tech scene is really good here. That was in October 2016, so I’ve been here almost two years.
What do you do for a living?
Product design – so UI/UX.
What is your favourite thing about Berlin?
The general vibe of the place. It’s as if there are unspoken rules here – like don’t be a dick about it, but generally everyone is treated like an adult and can make their own mistakes – you deal with it if you mess up. It’s not a nanny state; you can do what you want as long as you respect the limits. The culture is very much grounded on being who you want to be, and doing what you want to do and no one will judge you for it. Also I like being in the centre of a big city. The nightlife/party scene is also pretty good.
What are the biggest challenges or culture shocks you have experienced since moving to Berlin?
To be honest I got pretty lucky – I haven’t really had many, except for making new friends. Again, I got lucky as I have a lot friends who already lived here, and a lot have since moved here, so I do have a pretty big friend group. In terms of meeting new people it’s a lot slower though. Because I have a lot of my best friends from New Zealand who live here, of course I’m going to hang out with them – it’s a lot easier to just message one of them to hang out, as they’re usually up to something cool anyway. I guess it’s a challenge but it hasn’t held me back, I meet new people every night, but I guess I don’t consider everyone I meet to be a friend. Other than that, the bureaucracy is a pain. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, even for someone with a German passport it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
What are the biggest advantages to living in Berlin?
Career-wise, there are a lot more jobs here for what I do. The transport is great. You meet a lot of cool or interesting people, and there’s always something to do. Whatever your vibe is, whether that’s partying hard, or just chilling, or music or art – there’s something for everyone.
What are the biggest disadvantages to living in Berlin?
Winter. Winter sucks. And having to carry cash everywhere, as most places still don’t take card. You get used to it, but it’s still annoying having to deal with a million small coins.
Is living in Berlin expensive? What do the following cost:
I would consider living here pretty cheap, compared to other places I’ve visited or lived.
Rent: My rent is 420 EUR a month, and I live with one other person in an apartment.
Beer: Around 2-3.50 EUR at a bar, at the supermarket it’s between 0.60 – 2 EUR.
Petrol: I don’t know as I don’t drive a car here, but a monthly pass for the public transport system is 80 EUR
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I play a lot of music, I like clubbing and just chilling at bars. There are so many different bars with different vibes – most of the time if you’re lucky they’re not too crowded. After work, I like to work on my own projects – mostly making art and music when I get the time. I like to travel as well.
What is the local food like? Is there anything you would recommend trying (or avoiding)?
The food is all pretty good – it’s mostly cheap and worth what you pay. It depends where you go – in Neukölln you can get a kebab for about 1 EUR. Most Asian food isn’t very good – in general Germans have a problem with spicy food so everything is quite mild. Even if you ask for it hot, it won’t be that hot. Actual German food is surprisingly quite expensive – you don’t often go out for a schnitzel. There are a couple of good Thai places (but you won’t get it that spicy), really good pizza spots, and millions of burger spots.
What 3 things would you recommend doing for a first time visitor to Berlin?
1 – Walk from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburger Tor so you can see all the main tourist sites on the way.
2 – If it’s summer, go down to the Spree around Warschauer Strasse and have some beers there.
3 – Go up to Teufelsberg and check that out
Of course I would also recommend going to a club. Check Resident Advisor to see what gigs are on and go to something cool.
What is the easiest way to get around?
A lot of people bike – there are lots of bike sharing options and you don’t need to park them anywhere specifically. The train is pretty spot on – the transport goes all night.
What is the shopping like?
What is the nightlife like?
The nightlife is very different from any other city, it’s a very cool vibe. The bouncers can be intimidating, but generally their job is to just let people in with the right vibe for the place – which means you never see any assholes or fights in a club. Everyone is cool and just there for a good time. My favourite bar is my local because it’s just two minutes down the road – it’s called Trautes Hain. In terms of clubs, Sisyphos is really cool in summer, Watergate is good because they get really big artists and they have a good sound system. ://About Blank is quite cool as well, very easy to get into.
What is the best time of year to visit?
Depends what you’re here for. I enjoy summer more, I do a lot of stuff outside and the outdoor clubs are a lot better. But if you are just here to party, then winter is better because the queues are shorter. However, even as a smoker (you can smoke inside bars here), it gets a bit much in winter because everyone is smoking inside and the whole bar chokes up. Winter is also cool for people who like the Christmas markets.
What do you miss about ‘home’?
My friends, having the beach in the city, and going on summer road trips up the coast.
Do you get homesick? If so what do you do to make yourself feel better?
I don’t get homesick.
For people looking to move to Berlin, what industries are good to get into?
There are a huge amount of tech companies and tech start-ups with a lot more moving in – Google is building an office here. Other than that, it’s a very artistic and musical city – I don’t really know what goes on in terms of jobs, but if you’re an artist you can get some kind of benefit – you don’t get a lot, but you can live off it and sell your artwork if that’s your thing. Obviously there’s also a lot of politics going on here – it is the capital city. For someone who wants to work at a bar or a club, or hospo in general there are heaps of places. But tech in general is the big thing.
What is one thing you wished you knew before moving to Berlin?
I wish I had started looking harder for apartments before I arrived, like lining up interviews and flat viewings. Everyone just sort of rocks up (myself included), thinking to sort it when you get there, but then you realise it’s actually really hard to get an apartment. On top of that you need all this stuff to actually register at the apartment – which you then need to get a bank account and a job. So if you can, get as much of that rolling before you get here.
What is the visa process like?
I have a German passport, so it hasn’t been an issue.
What is the expat scene like?
I have my friends who are technically expats, but I’m not really active in the general expat community. There are a lot of meetups around though. Working in the tech community you meet a lot of people – most of the people I hang out with are working at other tech companies and come from all over the place, so I meet a lot of people that way. It’s pretty cool, our group is quite multi-cultural.
What is the biggest misconception about Berlin?
Berlin is underrated. I feel like if people knew what Berlin was really like, a lot more people would come here. A lot of people don’t know much about it – it’s one of the least popular big tourist cities, and quite overlooked. When people think ‘Germany’ they think about Munich and Oktoberfest, but it’s not all about that.
If you could give one piece of advice to other expats, or people looking to move overseas, what would it be?
Come with enough money to sort your life out when you start. It’s always going to cost more than you think, and you never know how long it will take you to get a job. Or try to get a job before you move, and save yourself some stress.