Berlin is known for its rich and interesting history which has made it a unique place to visit and live. The diversity of Berlin’s culture can be experienced by simply walking through one of its vast boroughs. With more and more people making the move to the German capital for periods ranging from a few months to years, I’ve created a list of things I would have liked to know or been confirmed before I made the leap. Berlin just isn’t quite like any other city, no matter where you’re from…
10. You don’t need to be able to speak (much) German
Learn the pleasantries of course but most people speak perfect English, especially those under 40. If you are at the supermarket or corner store (spati) they probably won’t be able to speak much English but you can get away with knowing a few words. Plus with a lot of large companies opening major offices in Berlin the business language is moving towards English which makes it a little easier to find work. Of course, experiencing another country wouldn’t be complete without learning as much of the language as you can, but don’t be afraid to arrive without being fluent.
9. Join Facebook groups or go directly to a real estate company to find somewhere to live
If you don’t know anyone to live within Berlin, it can be quite hard to find a place to live and it’s becoming more and more competitive as many of Berlin’s inner suburbs become more gentrified. Joining social media groups helps you to get notified quickly when rooms or properties that meet your criteria become available. You can also go through a real estate company that has furnished apartments with bills included so when you move in everything is already set up. It reduces the cost of moving to a new country plus the stress of organising your own internet line. This is a great way to set up a nest while looking for something more permanent, for those wanting to stay for years.
8. Have a full-time job or be prepared to pay rent in advance
If you do take the option of renting your own home, you will need to prove that you have a steady income in the form of an employment contract, pay-slips or income reports for those with their own business (freelance invoices won’t cut it). If you don’t have these documents, don’t worry! You can pay 6 months of your rent in advance with most real estate agents. Once you have signed the contract it is much easier to negotiate.
7. Download the BVG App
Berlin is known for having a great public transport system however it can get tricky when you are learning the language. There are so many train lines, buses and trams you can become easily confused. Download the BVG app for public transport so you never get stuck wondering which direction you need to be going.
6. Buy a public transport ticket every time!!
Don’t think “if I get caught I’ll just play the tourist card”, the not so friendly inspectors do not care! Public Transport inspectors board the train/bus/tram in disguise to check tickets randomly and if they see that you don’t have a ticket or you didn’t validate your ticket they become quite aggressive and will fine you.
5. No need to tip… unless you had an exceptional experience
Germans pay their hospitality workers fair wages so there is no need to tip after a meal.
4. Be prepared for the Pfand
In Germany when you pay for a drink they will charge you between 50 cents and 1 euro extra as a deposit for your glass. This is known as the Pfand. When you purchase a drink in a glass or bottle you are expected to bring it back to the bar where your deposit will be returned. This is a great system that works well in Berlin for a number of social and economic reasons. It means that the establishment doesn’t need to hire someone to pick up the glasses and fewer glasses are broken.
There is a similar approach through the streets of Berlin. To keep the streets clean from bottles (you are allowed to drink alcohol on the streets in Berlin) people come and pick plastic and glass bottles through the street and are given money when exchanged at local markets. This wonderful system helps the environment as the products are being recycled instead of just been thrown away. Plus it allows poorer locals to earn money while keeping the streets clean. Proost to that Berlin!
3. Join Meet-up
Like any place, meeting people in Berlin can be hard. Join meet-up to find events and activities in your area. I can almost guarantee that if you head for a night out you will meet a friend and have a great night talking to some locals.
2. Shop at the local markets
Berlin has a great market culture. There is a market on almost every day in a different region of Berlin. You can find out where and when each market occurs on sites such as berlin.de and expat Facebook groups. There are markets of all kinds in Berlin including fresh produce, home goods, art, all types of food and usually entertainment!. It’s always a fun day out and helps support small business.
1. Learn about Berlin’s History
Berliners care deeply about their culture and their history. The fall of the Berlin Wall is still very fresh in the minds of the locals who are always willing to discuss the changes the city has experienced since 1989. Take the opportunity to observe one of the richest historical centres in Europe, covering WWII, Soviet Occupation, The fall of the wall and the beauty of traditional German and Prussian culture. It will give you a great appreciation for how resilient the Berliners are and what the city has become today.