The advantages and disadvantages of living in Berlin as an expat

A retrospective, four months in.

After four months of living in Berlin as an expat, I have begun to get a sense of how to navigate its cultural topography. Berlin is a unique city to experience, especially as an expat. Continue reading below to find out what makes and breaks Berlin for expats – or at least for me.

Social Life

Berlin is an incredibly multicultural city. I’ve found this to be both a blessing and a curse. As a native English speaker, it is incredibly easy to meet other English speakers. Sites like Meetup.com offer some incredible events, like cheap weekend trips, where you can get to know other people with similar interests.

For expats coming to Berlin to learn German, however, Berlin can be hostile territory. I often found (and still find) myself frustrated by my attempts to speak and practice in quotidian life. Especially in more trendy neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg, staff at restaurants and stores will tend to flip to English the moment they hear you speak with an accent. And while the intentions are nice, this makes it difficulty to learn German without taking a language class.  Even on the streets, it seems that one is more likely to run into an expat than a German in some areas. This makes Berlin an incredibly easy city to test drive for a few months, but makes it more difficult if your priority is full integration with native speakers.

Food

When you’re not distracted by Berlin’s incredible museums and nightlife, chances are you’ll be restaurant hopping the city’s rich culinary scene. Berlin’s affordability makes it a hotspot for people of all cultures, which means you’ll have your pick at diverse cuisines that are delicious and affordable. Try out some Michelin-starred restaurants without it costing an arm and a leg, or try any one of the number of amazing Kebab and Felafel restaurants and kiosks across town.

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On the off chance that you have an escalated stop, mull over a short taking a gander at outing. This especially is shrewd in urban areas with brilliant open transportation decisions.

Housing

Berlin has an incredibly low cost of living, especially for a capital city. This comes with a price. Berlin is the only EU capital with a negative contribution to it’s country’s GDP. But for us Expats, this means we can get apartments for less than 1000 Euro a month, and sublets (Wohngemeinschaften or WGs) for less than 500. And for those of us who don’t have the ability or patience to cook, 3 euro curry sausages, kebabs, and other oh-so-unhealthily-delicious meals are a staple of existence

Arts & Culture

For those wavering about moving to Berlin, the city’s cultural scene should be enough to push you to go. Its low cost of living, cultural vibrancy, relative centrality, and its vibrant social scene have made the city a magnet for creative professionals and artists from across the globe. It’s a hub for artists, designers, developers and programmers. In fact, Berlin is widely recognized as the Silicon Valley of Europe, or, tongue-in-cheek, the Silicon Allee of Europe.

Part of the creative scene’s appeal is that there is something to do for everyone. You can go clubbing on a Tuesday, go to the latest gallery opening, or spend the evening doing a screen printing workshop.

Cons – Now the Bad News

Bureaucracy

Berlin isn’t all fun, food, and games, unfortunately. Like all cities, Berlin can be a frustrating place to navigate as an expat. For starters, there is truth to the stereotype of an impenetrable German bureaucracy. Whether it is getting visas, registering for housing, or finding jobs, those who cannot speak German will find themselves fighting to get established here. Fortunately there are numerous services oriented to assisting newcomers to German, even ones that automatically schedule appointments at the notorious Burgeramts, district offices whose bureaucratic culture may only be challenged by the DMV.

Jobs

Finding a job can also be tough as an expat, particularly if you do not speak German. Most businesses here, even American ones, will require you to be fluent in German. English speakers will have better luck looking for jobs in the creative industry. Creative City Berlin has a great selection of English-speaking job and internship listings for positions at galleries, tech firms, and more. I have found several positions through the site and can only recommend it.

In addition, because the cost of living here is so low, so tend to be the salaries. If your goal is to move here and start stocking up cash reserves, you may want to reconsider. The average salary for the larger industries here tends to hover around 40,000 Euros. But given that is is easy to live under 2,000 Euros a month, even a relatively modest salary is more than enough to take advantage of what the city has to offer.

THE PEople and the weather

Those who have not been to Germany before may be shocked at how curt service industry professionals may be. For us Americans, don’t expect the polite cheerfulness from waiters and waitresses we are accustomed to in the US. But don’t mistake the lack of it as rudeness, either. Berlin is not a city of smiles and chit chats, but with more and more foreigners in the city, this may be starting to change.

Like the people, the weather can often be cold and grey. I made the mistake of waiting until October to move to Berlin. When I arrived, everyone told me that Berlin in the summer is a different city altogether. Berliners jump at the chance to go to the nearby park on a sunny day and grill, talk with friends and family, and even slack line. That’s because the winter here seems to be an endless wall of windy grey for 8 months.