Berlin, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 01/09/18
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?
Berlin this the fourth non-U.S. city we have called home. Our second in Europe.
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 originally the U.S. From Berlin to DC there are flights in about 7 hours with direct and 1-stop flight available
3. How long have you lived here?
We have now been in Berlin for more than two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
We are on a diplomatic mission abroad with the U.S. Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is furnished by the embassy from a housing pool. Our flat is approximately 1000 sq ft with additional outdoor terrace space. We are very fortunate to be in a modern building with two bedrooms, two baths. The kitchen is not large enough for eating in, but there is a small dining room that could seat a table for four people. One of the bedrooms can only comfortably accommodate a twin bed, but that works for our needs.
Commute time varies throughout the housing pool from walking distance to a 40+ min commute via personal vehicle. Again, here we feel fortunate to have an easy 20 minute walk from our flat to the embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Living in the middle of Berlin, we are surrounded by readily accessible shops (think malls) and a variety of goods. Pricing of groceries and goods will tend to be a bit higher in our area and selection at grocery stores isn't always plentiful as shops meet more commuter needs than city dwellers. That said, Berlin is one of the less expensive capitals in Europe.
But don't expect shops to be accommodating to your schedule. They close early M-F (usually by 7 or 8pm), have very limited hours on Saturdays and are closed on all except a few Sundays.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
While nuts are readily available, they tend to be raw, so we order or bring back with us roasted varieties of California almonds or Virginia peanuts. In addition, there are a few protein bars in the U.S. without added sugars that we prefer, but you can readily find Clif and others here.
Halloween candy is getting easier to find, but more expensive and not U.S. brands.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We have Tony Roma's, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Dominoes Pizza, scores of good Chinese and sushi restaurants. Most of the usuals and a Starbucks everywhere if you want that. But other than perhaps once a year, you'll love the traditional German restaurants, sidewalk cafÃ©s and eateries. Berlin is a foodie town with great wines and beers, coffee shops and ethnic eateries.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We've had problems with infestations of silverfish in a few our buildings according to coworkers; but if reported there are treatments available that are pet/child safe.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local mail is fast, efficient and relatively cheap compared to other European posts. Sending items home to U.S. we use our mailing privileges at the embassy; but we also use the German post office.
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?
Like any large cosmopolitan city, Berlin offers everything and Berliners LOVE their sports. There are running clubs, swim clubs, volleyball, skiing within a short train ride or flight. etc. all with a host of price ranges that you'll find comfortable with from reasonable to outrageous.
Berlin is also known as a spa town with a huge array of treatments and options.
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?
Widely accepted, yes, and yet not all restaurants accept them. Many are cash only so check before entering or ordering (it's not always the "mom & pop" places).
ATMs are also common, but fees can be higher than U.S.
Both credit cards and ATMs are as safe to use as in the U.S. I have, however, seen teams of three men canvassing high/tourist areas ATMs and pickpocketing is very common in central Berlin. Just saying.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Without any familiarity of German you will have a more difficult time. I was shocked at how few Germans working in malls and at shops do not know English.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I'd have to say this is an area where Berlin could improve. Many of the sidewalks are made up of 3x3" cobblestones and more difficult for mobility. Cafes tend to be small and narrow and elevators aren't necessarily operable or convenient.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Readily available, as safe as any cosmopolitan city and affordable.
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?
No specific aversions or suggestions. Use common sense and if you cannot afford it in the U.S. don't bring it here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High speed internet is available, but it will take about three months to arrange and have set up in your home/flat. And usually they'll require an equal (3 month) cancellation notice.
Cable television in English is "hotel" expensive but available. Before signing up, however, I'd suggest asking to see the channel listings included -- personally, I don't count "Dog TV" (a channel for your dogs to watch) as an English option. And the Germans love to dub everything so if Big Bang Theory is your thing, don't expect to recognize Sheldon's voice in German -- somethings are just wrong and this is one of them.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use an embassy-provided cell phone. If you want a residence phone, we'd suggest Obi Phone to dial back to the U.S. for free using Google Voice/Hangout.
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?
Vets will readily do house calls. Germans are very considerate of pets. Animals do not need to be quarantined.
We've had nothing but the best care in Berlin for our pet. Suggest getting a veterinarian-issued European Union passport for your pet to allow you to take them with you back and forth on flights.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Berliners tend to be very casual and make wearing jeans look chic. Leave your sweat pants in your gym bag or in the athletic club.
Berlin has a ball season with formal wear a must, but unless you're pretty high on the totem pole, you'll get away with one formal outfit for your entire tour.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
For anyone posted to the U.S. mission, the RSO will advise.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Some of the best doctors I've ever had are here in Berlin, from specialists to generalists. And costs are cheap comparatively to the U.S. for routine appointments. You will find, however, that prescriptions here will differ than from U.S. so if you have something you're taking routinely, you may not find it here.
Also, doctors here tend to be more holistic than prescription-oriented. If you're neck is in so much pain you can barely move or function expect physical therapy to be prescribed and not painkillers.
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?
Pollen counts tend to be very high in Berlin and allergy sufferers feel it for months at a time. Otherwise, air quality is relatively good in Berlin.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Some people are affected here by cold weather and lack of sun in winter. Also, the embassy is large and housing a bit scattered throughout the city making it less friendly than smaller or hardship posts. Employees can feel isolated. Support is available and groups pop up if sought for, but something to be aware of.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Berlin is much wetter and has higher winds than I was anticipating. Rain boots and a coat with a hood are must-haves.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale overall is OK. As any post, it has its share of problems, but in general it's a good place to be.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Berlin is overall a great city to be posted to for anyone with a variety of options to enjoy and take part in if you're looking to. If you're not looking to be part of something, Berlin also allows you to just be alone.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Great LGBT activities, groups and clubs. Germans are very LGBT-friendly and supportive in general.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
While migration from Africa and the Middle East has affected some attitudes, in general Berlin is a very accepting city.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Highlights are personal to the individual. In general, Berlin and Germany offer a host of trips and experiences depending on your interests and preference. You will not tire or exhaust all there is to do or offer.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Berlin is not a shopping post. Europe, again in general, is more expensive than the U.S. You'll spend money at the Christmas markets, but each year they're getting filled with more junk than handicrafts.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Central location to all of Europe for adventures everywhere (when you can get the leave to take it).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This is high visibility post with lots of official visitors, annuals events/conferences and many occurring on U.S. holidays when you may have anticipated being off. You'll be busy at work much of your time here if you're stationed at the U.S. embassy.
Again, don't expect shops to be accommodating to your work schedule. They close early Monday-Friday have very limited hours on Saturdays and are closed all except a few Sundays. You'll need to find time on your lunch hour to get any errands done.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Berlin has been a wonderful posting for us. We've been fortunate and glad for the experience.