Berlin, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 08/11/13
Personal Experiences from Berlin, Germany
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Rural Belgium, England (near Cambridge).
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Home is Washington DC. About 8 hours on the flight across the Atlantic (depends on where you connect: longer if you connect in Germany, shorter if you connect close in France or the Netherlands.)
3. How long have you lived here?
I lived in Berlin from about beginning of 2010 (January) to middle of 2013 (May/June).
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I was a student in High School, moved here because my parents work for the U.S. government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is usually apartments, though embassy staff may get duplex spaces.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
As with nearly everything in Europe: more expensive (at least compared to the American experience.) If you are with an embassy, you may be able to gain access to bigger more costco like stores. Remember to shop during the week. Few places are open on Sundays, so the big shopping rush is on Saturday.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Exotic spices, all electronics (they are really expensive in Germany), books in English (shipping charges are ridiculous, and it can be difficult to find English language books.)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food isn't like it is in the US. German "Fast Food" usually consists of pastries, European style sandwiches, pseudo-turkish cuisine, or bad Asian noodle-based foods as exemplified by the "Asia Snack" and "Viet-thai box" vendors around the city. You need to keep this in mind. If you like it, then you will be fine. Otherwise, you will need to remember to pack your own food.
As for other food: for the best results stick to German food. Few Asian places, and they are bad. Germans can't do steak properly. Russian and other Eastern European cuisine is available and possibly of better quality then other nations' cuisines here. Going out is expensive. This makes eating at home an attractive choice.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
German post is reliable. DHL (Fedex equivalent) also works well.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. No personal experience though.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Not sure about ATMs (no experience.) Credits cards can be spotty, so cash is an important part of your wallet. However, it may be worth getting something called an EC (Electronic Cash) card which acts as a debit card, and is accepted at most restaurants.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Movies on Cable get dubbed. So bring your own. You can see stuff in English at the Sony Center movie theater. Cable is mostly German, with a few English language news and movie channels, and some Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish language channels. Get the ExBerliner. It's a newspaper in English about stuff going on in Berlin, and it has ads in English. Cable, Internet, etc. Is expensive.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
This varies. With younger people and more Western parts of town, you can squeak by. Transportation info is available in English both online and in the metro stations. You will need it to buy groceries and to travel outside of Berlin though.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Some. Curbs are generally accessible. However, not all metro stations have elevators. And the trains are difficult to access with wheel chairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are safe. They are also very affordable. They aren't always on time, but they are a good bet. The tariff zoning system (one ticket works on all forms of transit) combined with the affordability make it the ideal mode of transit, especially when you consider the difficulty of finding parking at times. Bikes are also a good option, and while you can't take them on trams or buses, you can bring them on the metro (S-Bahn/U-Bahn) as long as you buy an extra bike ticket.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Service for American vehicles is not available. German and other European brands are a good idea (BMW, Audi, Opel, VW, Fiat, Renault, etc.) Service can be found for certain Asian vehicles (like Toyota and Honda.)
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It can be expensive though.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Available and good.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No experience. Knowing German is a "must" though.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. Just avoid Kreuzberg at night, and if you aren't White, be careful of parts of East Berlin.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good. No glaring medical concerns.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Like I said earlier. Really only two seasons. Long, dark Winter. And long, warm, sunny summer.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Variety of choice. Kennedy School with large German population. British school (apparently experiencing hard times though) and several "International Schools." My experience was with BBIS (Berlin-Brandenburg International School.) Large number of international students.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not so much in my experience.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Through the schools mostly. However, there are private sports associations. But you will need German language abilities to even access them.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly large. Biggest groups (not in order of size mind you) are English speakers (Americans, Brits, etc.), Turkish speakers (about 10% of the population) and Russian speakers.
2. Morale among expats:
Don't know. Depends.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots of club and beer gardens and cafes. Flea markets. Sports clubs. Is good if you can get into it. Local friends are important. However, if you get plugged into the Expat community, you can find English language gaming clubs and the like.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a good city for everyone. Families will enjoy the public transit, safety, and access of day trip opportunities. Couples will like the clubs, varieties of alcohol, and easy access (via Deutsche Bahn or Tegel Airport) to pretty much everywhere else in Europe.) Singles will find stuff to do. Large student and international population helps.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. No personal experience though.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Muslims would do well to be cautious. Non-Whites should be aware that there is still some prejudice against colored and Turkish/Arabian looking people.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting the many flea markets. Visiting historical sights.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Visit historical sites. Enjoy the smorgasbord that is German alcohol (not just beer, but also the varying fruit and vegetable Schaeps options.) Flea markets. Excellent museums (though they are not free.)
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Antiques, German beer, museum tickets, etc.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The city is very historic. WWII history enthusiasts will love it. For other history enthusiasts there is a wealth of museums and historical sites (such as the varying Royal Palaces) to visit. Those who like to party will enjoy the abundance of Beer Gardens and Clubs. It is possible to save money by cooking at home, using public transit, and simply using good sense. Winters are long and rainy, but summers are equally long and pleasantly shiny and warm without being hot. Swim in a See (lake) at least once. It is traditional amongst the population, and great fun.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Love Deutsche Bahn! The German Rail system is well organized, affordable, and goes pretty much anywhere! (Think all the way from Istanbul and Moscow to Paris!)
11. Can you save money?
Yes. It is just a matter of budgeting.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It is a very livable place.
It will be difficult in the first few months. You will need to learn at least some German. You will miss steak, fried chicken, chicken wings, and peanut butter. It will get better. You will appreciate the breadth and affordability of public transit. You will find other English speakers. Be open minded, there is a lot to do here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Preconceptions of Germany. They aren't all Neo-Nazis, but aren't all lederhosen wearing country folk either. There are definite divisions in German society. Expectations of everyone speaking English. It is not a reality. Your expectations that it will be like America. It is not.
3. But don't forget your:
Native language entertainment (unless you speak Russian or Turkish.) Rain coat. Peanut butter. Spices.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Good Bye Lenin!
The Lives of Others.