Berlin, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 02/18/18

Personal Experiences from Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany 02/18/18


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, I have lived overseas many times.

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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?

Travel to the U.S. East Coast of the U.S. is about 8 hours, depending on which connections and airlines are selected. There are currently some really cheap flights available on the budget airlines.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About one year.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is OK and generally large enough. People tend to live in government owned properties towards downtown, at "duck pond", or in the Stadtvillas. Also, the government leases properties around the city, including in far-out suburban housing. You're either surrounded by Americans (Stadtvillas) or completely alone (suburbs).

If you work at the main Embassy compound, commute to Stadvillas or duck pond is about an hour, one way. It's a huge source of unhappiness with people working long hours topped by a long commute, but no real solution. However, if you're at the Consulate, these properties are just a 5-minute drive, 10-minute bike ride.

The random properties in the suburbs can be very isolating, with only German neighbors, long commutes, nothing interesting in the area. If being around other Americans is a priority, indicate so on your housing survey. The Stadtvilla and duck pond properties are large, nice, with access to a lot of outdoor space. However, MGMT is putting new fences into the Stadtvillas which are pretty disruptive. Fences block views of yard (no sight lines to watch kids play), create awkward and unequal spaces between neighbors, remove space for grills, etc. Fencing in Stadvillas and shared backyards is a major issue and solutions thus far are far from perfect.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can find everything here, with usually equal to or better selection than most US stores. CSA carries some items like peanut butter.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

You can find everything in Berlin. Food delivery services are increasingly popular, but still limited at the suburban properties.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO, pouch. Local mail is great as well - often faster to the US than DPO/pouch and reasonably priced.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Local help is on the Euro, obviously. Cleaners are about 10-12 Euro/hour. As are baby sitters.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

(Very) simple gyms at both embassy and consulate. Gyms available around the city at a variety of prices, from cheap to very expensive. Yoga, Pilates, sport clubs, etc. are also readily available.

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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?

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Little to none.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes! Surprisingly little access for wheelchairs.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, there is decent public transportation around city. Though some of the housing is very far away from any realistic public transportation option.

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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?

Anything is fine. Some of the streets are smaller, so a smaller car is easier, but we have a van with few problems.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

The MGMT assistance center is great and will help you set up everything. No issues.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Again, the MGMT assistance center will help you set up.

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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?

We've had good, high quality vet care.

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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?

As with most places, a huge source of unhappiness. The hiring freeze was implemented FULL ON in Berlin, with no interest from MGMT to seek exemptions. That's been lifted, but people feel the lack of support. Some people have spouses that have been able to teach on the local market, but I think you need to be a certified teacher to pursue those options.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Probably with the refugee centers?

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Health & Safety:

1. 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?

Very healthy, no issues.

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2. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Very, very grey in winter. Days are dark and short. But summer is great.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Several options though most parents go to JFK or BBIS. Both seem to have issues, but people are generally happy.

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2. 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?

Because German parents get up to three years maternity leave, the demand and supply for care for very young kids is limited. Berlin seems to have a LOT of stay at home spouses, whether that be because of the hiring freeze or lack of affordable options for young child care. Once a child is old enough for day care, it seems to be great - well priced and high quality. But again, VERY limited, VERY expensive options for kids under 2 years. Definitely something to be aware for couples where both parent wants to work.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Morale is OK. Berlin is really spread out, and the US embassy families live all over, so not much sense of community. It's an easy city to navigate on your own, so that's what most people tend to do - go it alone. Definitely no "bunker mentality" bonding here. Making friends can be very difficult

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

You can find local clubs, activities especially as English is so common.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Berlin is easy for everyone, but definitely lives up to the stereotypes of an isolating Western European city for expatriates.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Excellent. Maybe the best in the world.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Definitely ethnic prejudices for people with darker skin.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Regional travel is great. Berlin is an awesome city.

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's so easy. Easy to the point of boring sometimes. It's like living in the US, but better ?

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How difficult childcare for young children is to find.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, it's a great assignment. The work is awesome, engaging, high profile. The life is easy. But we're looking forward to going on to somewhere more interesting and challenging, more foreign.

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