Sophie, 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.
1. Where do you consider yourself to originally be from?
Edmonton, Alberta in Canada
2. Why did you decide to move, and how long have you been living in Berlin?
I decided to move to Germany – but later decided to move to Berlin after living in Dresden for awhile. Berlin was more my speed, more multicultural and more open. I’ve been in Berlin for five and half years.
3. What do you do for a living?
I’m a professional dancer (but I side hustle in customer service).
4. What is your favourite thing about Berlin?
There is always something new to discover and explore.
5. What are the biggest challenges or culture shocks you have experienced since moving to Berlin?
The straight up honesty! If someone likes you, dislikes you or doesn’t care – they’ll let you know. I love this now, but at first it was a big shock coming from nice, extra polite Canada. Speaking German is hard at times as well, but everyone does speak English. This also made it hard to learn the language, because everyone switches to English!
6. What are the biggest advantages to living in Berlin?
You can really do anything you want. You can start a business, you can no nothing at all – you can try all sorts of lifestyles all within one city.
7. What are the biggest disadvantages to living in Berlin?
It can be pretty bleak and grey in the winter.
8. Is living in Berlin expensive?
No. Compared to Canada, I can really appreciate how cheap things are in Berlin. Rent varies, but a room in a shared flat could be from 350-600 EUR a month, or a place to yourself from 450-900 EUR. Cosmetics/pharmacy items and groceries are ridiculously cheap in comparison. Going out to eat is also affordable.
9. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Go on bike rides, meet friends at coffee spots, go dancing at night, or hang out in one of the many beautiful parks in Berlin.
10. What is the local food like? Is there anything you would recommend trying (or avoiding)?
There are really good Turkish breakfasts and Middle Eastern food everywhere – particularly good in the Kreuzberg/Neukölln area. I’m not a fan of Currywurst.
11. What 3 things would you recommend doing for a first time visitor to Berlin?
2 – Go to an open air, or an outdoor club somewhere along the river Spree.
3 – Bike through the city and have a picnic, or do a Späti tour at the end of the day – take your wine or beer and enjoy it in a park somewhere.
12. What is the easiest way to get around?
Bike. The public transport is amazing too.
13. What is the shopping like?
Varied. I love the vintage shops. Go to Hackescher Markt to window shop along the crazy boutique stores.
14. What is the nightlife like?
15. What is the best time of year to visit?
16. What do you miss about home?
Family and friends usually.
17. Do you get homesick? If so, what do you do to make yourself feel better?
I was homesick a lot in my first couple of winters in Berlin. My solution was not just one thing, but something that helped was making sure I always had a certain amount of money in my savings account that I didn’t touch, that would get me across the world to see my family in case of an emergency (and back again). Texting, calling and instagramming often also helped with the situation.
18. For people moving to Berlin, what industries are good to get into?
I’m not too sure – but learn German if you really want to go far in anything! It helps with the professional side of things.
19. What is one thing you wished you knew before moving to Berlin?
Church tax exists, and you have to actively opt out of paying it.
20. What is the visa process like?
Get your documents in order, organise everything to an extremely German standard, go with a German-speaking friend if you can’t swing the Deutsch, and go for it! It’s not as hard (or expensive) as some other countries but it can still be a lot of preparation – and it’s a bit scary when you’re finally in the office. If you can get a job where the company organises this for you, also great. Then it’s super easy. The freelancer visa is trickier, but absolutely possible if you have some contracts lined up already.
21. What is the expat scene like?
Great! Berlin is an international city. Friends are the family you choose, and after living in Berlin your family will be from around the world. People can be incredibly welcoming once you spend enough time with them. It can sometimes seem like a lot of expats are partiers who stay there for 6 months and leave, but in every industry there are also incredibly talented people from around the world.
22. What is the biggest misconception about Berlin?
That Berliners are lazy. There are so many hard-working and hustling people here. In comparison to the North American workaholic culture, Berliners also put a lot of effort into their lifestyle, relationships and community as well. It’s a form of working hard on yourself and the people around you that I really came to respect.
23. If you could give one piece of advice to other expats, or people looking to move overseas, what would it be?
Save up, be smart, always have a fall-back financial pillow, be open to everything, meet people, learn the language and have fun!
If you want to keep up with Sophie, you can follow her on instagram: @sophie.wensel
*All pictures kindly provided by Sophie