Writing this guest post comes at a perfect time, as I’ve just celebrated 4 years of living in Berlin. I tried settling in 5 other countries before realizing that Germany was “the one”.
At 21, I left my hometown of Montreal, Canada, and moved to Australia. At 23, I landed in New York City, only to wander back to Montreal right after my 24th birthday. One year after that, I came to the definitive conclusion that marketing agency life in my hometown was not for me. Taking advantage of my French citizenship (and thus no visa requirement for living in Europe), I packed up my two suitcases again and crossed the pond.
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How a Restless Traveller Settled in Berlin
I had flight tickets to Paris, Barcelona, London and Berlin, and then I had no idea where I was headed. But I felt something amazing as soon as I got to Berlin that I hadn’t felt, well, anywhere. A sense of home. So I stayed, for what I thought would only be a few months. Signed up for German classes. And started walking around the city relentlessly, always finding something new to inspire me.
When I had the opportunity to move to Switzerland in 2019, I thought I was ready for a change of scenery. But after 6 months in the Alps, I was homesick for Berlin and decided to move back.
I am as fascinated by the German capital’s many facets today as I was on my first walk in the city, out to discover the area around my Airbnb. To share my discoveries with fellow expats, I started the blog Berlin & Around.
Living in Berlin: Culture and History at Every Turn
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience different lifestyles here in Berlin – and around! I’ve lived a few steps away from the gorgeous Charlottenburg Palace, at the heart of the Schöneberg gay scene and in a tiny village surrounded by fields an hour from the city, among other places.
I absolutely loved living in different parts of Berlin, because it allowed me to delve deeper into the culture and history of each specific area. For example, it was only after moving to the suburb of Karlshorst that I found out that an unassuming building a couple of streets away was the exact spot where the German army signed its unconditional surrender, ending World War II in Europe.
Immersion Into German Life and Culture
Eight months after I moved to Berlin, I met a boy who was born and raised in Potsdam, the next town over. We have now been together for over three years, and every day is a cultural immersion for both of us!
This is also how I got ‘adopted’ by an East German family, kind enough to share its traditions and heritage with me – and persist in communicating with me in spite of my broken German. I learn so much about life behind the Iron Curtain from my partners’ parents, and about life in today’s Germany through my partner and his friends.
As with any language, there is just so much German that you can pick up in school (I took 6 months of intensive German classes upon arrival). The rest you learn through communicating with locals – and I am fortunate enough to have this opportunity on a daily basis!
Leisure Time While Living in Berlin
Another reason I love Berlin is that there is always so much to do. From hanging out at beach bars that look like you’re miles away from the city to playing minigolf along the runways of an out-of-use airport, you’ll constantly have something new and quirky to try.
Last weekend, for example, a few friends and I ventured over to Teufelsberg, or Devil’s Mountain. This is a Cold War spy tower built on top of World War II rubble, now covered in greenery and very cool street art.
What’s more, every neighborhood has plenty of green space. Even inner city parks sprawl for blocks, so you’ll never be far from nature. If you like to run or walk, there are countless paths to choose from; alongside the Spree River and its canals, through castle gardens or even alongside a century-old race track.
When you feel like leaving Berlin, you can easily get to many other destinations within a 2 or 3 hour train ride, including the baroque beauty that is Dresden, white sandy Baltic beaches around Warnemünde and the medieval fairytale town of Bamberg.
Expat Life in Berlin: Making Friends and Connecting With Others
Now that I live in the suburbs as opposed to a more “touristy” area, I definitely hear a lot more German being spoken around me than English. But thanks to Berlin’s extensive public transportation network, I can reach the city center in 20 minutes and get my fix of internationalism.
As a major European capital, there are quite a few international organizations in Berlin. I’ve found Facebook groups like Canadians in Berlin or Girl Gone International particularly helpful. The former is great for seeking advice from fellow expats in a similar situation. The latter hosts regular meetups like brunches, movie nights and hiking tours.
Perhaps a downside to expat life in Berlin, however, is the city’s truly transient nature. People come for a few months and then move on. So it can be difficult to make friends who stay, especially through international meetup groups. The way around this is to make friends at work, as people building their careers here are usually staying for a while. This is how I’ve gotten to know some of my best friends in the city.
Finding a Flat in Berlin
It is worth mentioning that finding a flat in Berlin is not particularly easy, although persistence pays off. Many newcomers do struggle with finding the perfect fit upon arrival. I’ve heard nightmare stories about people coming to an apartment viewing only to see a line of 50 others waiting downstairs for their turn!
This has not been my case, fortunately. While I may have just been lucky, I do have a couple of tips for finding a decent apartment in this city.
My first piece of advice would be to look past the popular neighborhoods of Mitte, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. There are very nice residential areas just beyond the inner city perimeter offering more variety in terms of rentals – and less competition for each flat. This is where most Germans and long-term Berliners have settled in.
In the West, you have upscale Steglitz and Friedenau. In the East, Karlshorst and Biesdorf beckon. I personally prefer living in the suburbs, in a bigger apartment within walking distance of a forest. The tradeoff, of course, is a longer commute. Since March, I’ve been working from home, but going into the office would cost me 40 minutes by public transport or 30 minutes by car (one way).
Upon arrival, you can find a short term flat on the portal WG-Gesucht, where locals regularly post ads for rooms and private apartments. The prices here are much fairer than if you go through one of the managed short term rental companies.
Anmeldung: Registering Your Address in Germany
If you do go the WG-Gesucht route and are planning to stay in Berlin for more than 3 months, make sure you are able to register at your flat. Any legitimate offer will allow “Anmeldung”, or registration.
Indeed, “Anmeldung” is a legal requirement in Germany. Your new landlord will have to fill out a form confirming the rental contract, when you then take to the local citizens’ office, or Bürgeramt. If a landlord says that an “Anmeldung” is not possible, this flat is probably being rented out illegally and you should decline.
Registration is not only essential to avoid problems with the authorities, but also necessary in order to get German health insurance, open a German bank account or sign an employment contract in Germany.
Working in Berlin as an Expat
First the good news: it is quite easy to find a job in Berlin without speaking any German. At least this has been my experience in Marketing. There are many international companies, from big names to startups yearning to break into English-speaking markets. As such, you can probably get hired relatively quickly. I’ve always used LinkedIn to come up with English-speaking jobs in my field.
Here’s another amazing thing about working in Berlin, or Germany, for that matter, especially coming from North America. Every full-time employee gets a minimum of 24 vacation days per year, plus about 8 statutory holidays. Many larger companies or public institutions automatically grant employees 30 days a year. Imagine the holidays you can go on!
Before you jump on a plane and move to Berlin, though, there is some bad news related to employment. Unfortunately, there is a huge discrepancy between what companies are willing to pay for the same role. Up until a few years ago, life in Berlin was less expensive, and therefore, companies could justify paying lower salaries. While today, some companies have adapted, especially the bigger ones, many smaller businesses still try to attract talent for hardly more than minimum wage.
If you’re thinking about applying to jobs in Berlin, make sure you take a look at Glassdoor and see what the salary range is for the desired position. Regardless, it is worth noting that salaries in Berlin are, in general, still lower than in the South of Germany.
Cost of Living in Berlin
Like in most major cities around the globe, the cost of living in Berlin is going up. While it has not yet reached the heights of Paris or London madness, those who have been around for a while are painfully aware of this issue, in particular, when it comes to real estate (renting and buying). Below is an estimate of monthly expenses in Berlin:
- Average rent in Berlin
- 1-bedroom apartment: 800€ or 937$ per month
- 2-bedroom apartment: 1200€ or 1406$ per month
- Cost of public transport
- Monthly pass: 83€ or 97$
- Cost of a 4-pack of public transport tickets: 9€ or 10,50$
- Coffee from a local cafe: 2,50€ or 3$
- Beer from a local bar: 4€ or 4,70$
- Common take-away food:
- Full pizza: 8 – 10€ or 9 – 11$
- Döner (Kebab): 4€ or 4,70$
- Noodles: 6€ or 7$
- Decent dinner for two (romantic date or family visiting): 50€ or 60$
- Typical grocery bill for a week of shopping for 1 person: 40€ or 47$
Conclusion: Living in Berlin Was the Right Choice for Me
In my opinion, the pros of living in Berlin well outweigh the cons. This city continues to inspire me daily and I definitely don’t regret moving across the ocean on a one-way ticket. If someone had asked me 4 years ago where I thought I’d be in 2020, I would not have guessed that the 4th city on my European tour would have become my home. But it has, and I am so excited to see what Berlin still has in store for me.
Marguerite, Berlin & Around
Canadian expat Marguerite runs Berlin & Around, a Germany travel blog with a focus on Berlin and the surrounding area. She has been living in Berlin for 4 years and still loves the city as much as on the very first day. For a constant stream of Berlin and Germany inspiration, follow her on Instagram.
If you’re moving to Germany, currently living or studying in Berlin or just curious about living abroad, leave you questions for Marguerite in the comments.
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