Living in Berlin

WHEN MOVING HERE

Coming from the US, you do not need any visa if you are staying 90 days or less. Just come.
Staying longer you will need to apply for a residency permit:

You will need to register yourself at the bürgeramt at your address for 5€.
You will need to show proof of contract:
If you cannot get on the main lease, perhaps a sublet lease will do: www.immobilienscout24.de/de/umzug/mietertipps/muster/untermietvertrag/index.jsp

You’ll increase your chances if you speak German, or have a German friend to speak for you. Do not even attempt to go to your interview speaking only English. You will also need a German bank account, to have registered yourself at an address with the local town hall, and recommendation letters.

FINDING AN APARTMENT

You should post an ad on craigslist as well as wg-gesucht.de
Sign up for email alerts matching your search query so you can read listings as they come in so you don’t have to run searches on the site.

300 eu is the avg room price. you can find lower at 250, and higher of course- but you should have a reason if you’re paying 350/400 for a room- it should not be mediocre then. If you’re paying 450-500 it sounds like you would have a 1 bedroom apt for yourself in mitte.

it is hard to find a place before you arrive, i think you should arrive and look at places you have emailed in person for the first week and then pick. never send money in advance, obviously, those are all scams.

WARMMIETE vs KALTMIETE. You are better off specifying or searching for Warm (all-inclusive of utilities) rent, than Kalt (cold) rent.. without utilities included. If you are renting your own apartment, be aware that your place may not include a stove/fridge/washer.

NEIGHBORHOODS

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Generally, the s-bahn ring acts as a boundary of what would be comfortable and convenient living for the city of Berlin. This map includes way more neighborhoods than you will ever go to. You will most likely opt to live in:

  • Mitte (literally meaning middle).. a fancier neighborhood, lots of art galleries, finer dining // SoHo, NY.
  • Prenzlauerberg .. north of Mitte, very quaint, family and baby stroller driven, many cute cafe’s // Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Wedding .. yet even more quaint and residential // Upper West / East Side, NY.
  • Friedrichshain .. what I regard as the vibrant center of Berlin (and where I lived), lots of students, native Germans in their 20’s, international, equidistant traveling between Mitte and Xberg/Neukölln, lots of restaurants, and Volkspark Friedrichshain. Main streets: Warschauer Str, Karl-Marx-Allee/Frankfurter Allee, Grünberger str. (this is restaurant/sidewalk cafe central near boxhagener platz). The Warschauer Str U-Bahn and S-Bahn is the single most bustling station on weekends, because within 5 minutes walking in any direction of those stops are about 20 different industrial techno clubs to suit your individual flavor. And if you aren’t in the mood for dancing, you can walk to Monster Ronson’s for Karaoke. My dancing home is the god and temple: BERGHAIN (which is a cultural center of its own, and you can google countless discussions on making it past the strict anti-douchebag protection door, the various weekend long events/parties, and recounted experiences.. usually in awe. No cameras allowed, and the top DJ’s play here. // East Village, NY.
  • Kreuzberg (xberg) .. Kreuzberg is quite large. There is west kreuzberg which is quieter and more established, and east kreuzberg which is more bustling. If you follow the U-1 subway stations along Skalitzer Str., you will have a good idea of where you should go about in this area (Schlesisches Tor, Görlitzer Banhof, and Kottbusser Tor) for nightlife and international cuisine. Deeper into Kreuzberg you will find scattered art galleries. Outdoor movies in the summer: www.freiluftkino-kreuzberg.de/. East Side Gallery (artist murals on remaining segments of berlin wall, and a grass park along the Spree River). Hermannplatz which is actually the one sketchy part of town.. just that literal platz is dangerous to hangaround, lots of loiterers, but 1 or 2 blocks away you will find tons of restaurants to eat at. // Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Neukölln .. regarded as a residential “new cool area” for the hip kids. You will live primarily among and have the restaurant cuisine choices of the Turks. I personally think it’s bordering too far, and there is not that much to do out there, and it’s not so international. But a lot of American expats are eager to live there and make it their new borough. It’s a lot of hype, I think. I prefer Friedrichshain, but then again I also like DDR style buildings. Neukölln has Volkspark Hasenheide, and Tempelhof (an inactive airport where you can bike, rollerskate, jog, picnic, bbq directly on the airport runways!) // Greenpoint/Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Schöneberg .. older gay residences // Chelsea, NY.

You will most likely find happenings & events in Mitte, Kreuzberg, and sometimes Friedrichshain or Prenzlauerberg.

If by some chance you are out this way, be careful at night in: Lichtenberg, Hohenschönhausen, Heinersdorf. Overall, Berlin is nowhere as violent or confrontational as NYC.

*An overall note though of how Berlin is COMPLETELY different from NYC: Berlin is spotlessly clean when relative to the shitshow of NYC. Berlin is MUCH safer, and Berlin apts are MUCH nicer, much larger, and much cheaper.

LEARNING THE LANGUAGE

i’m not taking german courses but there are 3 places where people do. one is called babylon.
You can learn your basics from:
-youtube.com search.. learn german, etc
www.bbc.co.uk/languages/german/
www.bbc.co.uk/languages/german/quickfix/
translate.google.com
couchsurfing.org weekly language meetings (useful only if you can already speak)
-Rosetta Stone

At the minimum you need to learn the alphabet, and how consonant and vowel sounds are pronounced. Even if you can’t understand words (and the grammar is notoriously difficult to pick up), you should be able to phonetically read street signs. Check the bbc links above for more help.

Yes you can completely get by in Berlin with English, until you deal with a maintenance man, taxi driver, or occasional store clerk/cashier.

MONEY

You should use xe.com if you need to convert currency for some reason.
and you should get a Charles Schwab high yield investor checking account with a debit card you can use internationally at any atm with no fee (they refund it back to you).

Most places do not accept credit cards, unless you have a european debit card that is.
Else be prepared with cash on hand.. ATMs are free at Deutsche Postbank. Run a google maps search for locations.
I go to the one on Torstrasse in Mitte, and on Karl-Marx-Allee just past Samariterstr. U-bahn station.

Cultural tip- when paying, such as at the supermarket, the first thing you hand the cashier is final. Don’t hand a bill, then start adding change.. that is not going to fly. Hand cash over only when you are ready.

BUYING GROCERIES

Quality of produce is much higher in Germany than in the states. Most markets have a bio (pronounced bee-oh) section. Germans care about what kind of food they are eating, so they demand better goods. Produce is also cheaper than in the states- vegetables, fruits. Nutella is only 1.99 euro =D. Tomatoes taste MUCH better here. You can have a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice for 1 euro at the Mauer Park flea market, among others. A quart of store brand milk at kaiser’s is 59 cents. Fresh mozzarella is 55 cents. Tomato sauce to make pasta is 29 cents at Aldi. Yogurt is ridiculously cheap, MUESLI is ridiculously cheap at 1 – 2 euros.

Your local supermarkets will most likely be:

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  • Kaisers (nicer)
  • Aldi (cheaper.. not so good for fresh produce but good for packaged/frozen items. GREAT prices on seafood and fish [2-3.50 euros] ). If you are missing Trader Joe’s from the states, Aldi owns the Trader Joe’s brand FYI, and you can find some TJ goods in Aldi.
  • Rewe (if you like pineapple they are the only ones who sell an entire pineapple cored for 2.25 euro)
  • Lidl (I’ve not been inside yet)
  • Edeka (Not seen one yet)

Bring a backpack and your own plastic bags, or else you have to purchase a plastic bag.

Shopping carts require a 1 euro coin deposit. Else you can use a handbasket… or like me, pile everything in your arms and walk around.

The stereotype of Germans and efficiency.. kinda true. Be ready as they start scanning to put your items into your bag. If you have not finished by the time you have paid, you are requested (gently or not so gently) to move your purchases to the counter along the back wall and finish there.

SPÄTI/SPÄTKAUF – is your local (aka kiez) corner store. In NYC this is called a bodega.
PFAND – most plastic and glass bottles come with a pfand, or a bottle deposit (usually listed on the bottle) / aka ransom. You can get your bottle deposit back by bringing your bottles into your supermarkets and plopping them into the machine.

Getränke = Drink
Markt = Market
Gemüse = Veggies
Fleisch = Meat
Hänchen = Chicken

Lastly, all stores and markets (except Späti and restaurants) are closed on Sundays! So stock up on your groceries beforehand, or eat out.

STREET MARKETS

The popular markets are:

KREUZBERG: Turkish Market for fresh produce Tuesdays and Fridays 11-7pm. Go towards the end for cheaper prices. Yes you can barter.. but speaking German, or Turkish, will go in your favor.

FRIEDRICHSHAIN: Boxhagener platz – Saturday mornings until 2ish/3ish. Readymade food carts and fresh produce.

PRENZLAUERBERG: Mauer Park Flea Market – Sunday mornings. Clothing/jewelry/trinkets. Readymade food carts, fresh orange juice. [Website here].

SEE MORE HERE: www.berlin.de/ba-friedrichshain-kreuzberg/wirtschaftsfoerderung/wirtschaftsstandort/maerkte.html#Wochenmarkt

GETTING AROUND

Berlin is not so big, though it is spread out. I have walked the same distances for which I’ve taken the subway or biked, so never fear being stranded. Learn the major street names, and you will be fine – Alexanderstr / Alexanderplatz, Karl-Marx-Allee, Torstrasse, Kotbusser Dam / Tor, etc etc. Smaller street names tend to change after every 4-6 blocks. Addresses run consecutively up one side of the street until street end, and then back down the opposite side (Made-up ex: you can stand in front of Grünberger str 2, and it can be Grünberger str 62 on the other side..).

QUICK TERMS:
Strasse (abbreviated as str.) = Street
Allee = Avenue
Platz = Place / Square / Piazza
Eingang = Entrance (on a door)
Ausgang = Exit (on a door)
Einfahrt = Entrance (road)
Ausfahrt = Exit (road)

STREETLIGHTS – because the streets are wide there are multi-segment walking signals. You may be able to walk across half a street but not the other half until the sign changes. Watch out for oncoming street trams. In West Berlin, the walking signals are standard. In East Berlin, there is a special historical artifact: the DDR/communist Ampelmann who sports an awesome hat. For bicyclists/drivers, when a red light is about to turn green, we use a YELLOW light to signal ‘get ready!’.


BICYCLE – The most popular method of transportation in the summer is bicycle. Berlin is EXTREMELY bike friendly; almost all streets have bike paths. Cars are yielding. I was told bikes have more rights than pedestrians.. so DO NOT STAND IN THE TERRA COTTA bike lanes on the sidewalk or you may get mowed down and yelled at.

Where to purchase – You can purchase a bike at the Mauer Park Flea Market, on Craigslist, on a special section of eBay just for local german ecommerce: kleinanzeigen.ebay.de/anzeigen/ , on Couchsurfing, or stolen bikes for a cheaper price on the bridge where the Turkish market happens (the bikes are on the bridge with suspect guys standing around who will sell to you. The locked ones probably belong to people, the unlocked ones are probably ones for sale).

NEVER BE LOST! – There are some good detailed street fold out maps for free from some touristic locations you can pick up. Else if you have an iphone/ipod touch, download the following:
OffMaps (Berlin Map is a free download). Supplement to the Maps App, completely offline. You can search street names by typing them in, or hit the gps button if you are near any wifi signal [you do not have to be connected] to locate your position. I use this almost daily.
FahrInfo & U-Bahn – for U-Bahn map, gps locate nearest tram/bus/subway stop/ station information

U-BAHN – You can buy single ride tickets, or 4 tickets for 8.20, or a month pass (90 euro i think). You need to stamp your ticket in a machine when you first get on, and it is valid for 90 minutes on any train/tram/bus. If you forget and you have the misfortune of being ‘controlled’, when the subway controllers come by to check your ticket (it may never happen to you, it’s luck, and also when you are riding the train), they may let you off easy, or if you don’t have a ticket at all you may be written a ticket for 40 euros. If you don’t have your passport when they control you, you will be taken to the police station for questioning.. (though I’ve never carried my passport around since I got here). They may also make you go directly to an ATM and withdraw the money. However, beware of fake controllers who make you go to an ATM and withdraw your money… google to learn more, because I don’t know how to tell if one is fake. Anyhow, controllers usually wear loose clothing, a fanny pack, or satchel, usually a schlubby German male- they enter a car in twos or threes. Certain lines are controlled more than others (ie. the U-8, rush hour on u-bahn or s-bahn).

U-bahns stop running between midnight and 1am, and are then replaced by night shuttle busses. U-bahns resume running at 5am. On Friday and Saturday nights, they run 24 hours.

TRAMS – you simply board a tram, much like the subway, on honor code. Trams are not checked for tickets. Trams busses and train stops all come with LED displays to tell you the schedule / next arrival.

About Steven Chu


Hi, I'm Steven! I'm an entrepreneur, photographer and art director in New York. Follow this blog for self expression, fun, and most importantly: looking comfortable, at ease, and amazing in your photos no matter who takes them! I dedicate this to my amazing friends who have let me inadvertently turn all of our hangouts and travel photos into a never ending photoshoot of fun. The proof is in the pudding-- our photos rock. My other projects: I'm the founder of InstaTechie.com, a face-to-face tech concierge service for NYC. Book a techie to walk you through something you want to learn! My work focuses on socially engaged art projects which use technology to create access to resources for communities. Visit Steven Chu Studio (stevenchustudio.com) for branding & design work or Steven Chu (stevenchu.com) for photography projects.

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