Berlin, Germany Report of what it's like to live there - 05/31/18
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?
No, I have lived in three other countries in Africa, Middle East, and 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?
The USA. You can find all you need about flights online.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
US Mission housing is pretty spread out. Most without kids live closer to the embassy and those with families live in the Stadtvillas (far from the city center) or even further out. If you live in the Stadtvillas or further your commute time will range from 30 minutes (driving with no traffic) to 1 hour plus with traffic or on public transport. Most family housing is in shared units with other embassy families. If you don't like constant dog barking and dog poop filling your shared yard, you might have a hard time here.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find most anything you want here at very good prices. Our groceries cost less here than in the U.S. It's hard to find household supplies that contain harsh chemicals (and thus work well), but you can get them at the CSA store if you really need them.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, you can find it all here or order through the pouch.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The Stadtvillas and those further out have very limited food delivery or close by options for take out. There are two restaurants in easy walking distance from the Stadtvillas but neither is family-friendly. We haven't found as many good restaurants in Berlin, as we've found in other cities. The best places that give Berlin it's hip reputation are a 45+ minute drive from the Stadtvillas.
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?
DPO and pouch for US Mission employees.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Some people have part time nannies and housekeepers, but it's relatively expensive here. Babysitters are reasonable at around 10 - 15 euros per hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are small embassy gyms in the Clay annex and the embassy. Both are free, clean, and generally empty. Otherwise you can find what you want if you look. There is a high end gym across from the Clay annex (84 euros per month and going up). There are other discount gym chains around town.
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?
Credit cards aren't as widely accepted as you would expect in a developed country that neighbors Scandinavian countries where many businesses ONLY accept cards. ATMs are common and safe to use as they are anywhere else.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There's a good number of services in English for Catholics and Protestants.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get around well with just English, especially in Berlin. You will inevitably need German for something, though.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes public transport is pretty good here, although note that most of the non-downtown housing (including the Stadtvillas) is in public transport deadzones where you'll need 30 minutes and multiple connections just to get to a line that takes you to most places.
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 works here. Smaller is better if you plan to park in the city often or in a parking garage for your residence. On the autobahn it's nice to have something that can go fast comfortably.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Home internet is fast and reliable, but takes a few weeks to get installed because you have to open your local bank account before the company will do business with you.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We piggyback on the embassy's plan and it's a good deal. I think the newer plans even include free unlimited calls to the US.
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?
There are a good number of EFM jobs here. It seems like you could also work on the economy, even without great German, if you really tried.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Plenty, especially with the refugee community.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Most people at the embassy wear shirts and ties and sometimes jackets (or the female equivalent).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Same as any other big city.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care here is surprisingly not that great. It's fine, but for anything major you'd be better off in the U.S. for both quality of care and bedside manner.
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?
Very clean air here.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Springtime allergies can be very bad.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
"Winter blues" is a real thing here. I never thought it would affect me but this past winter it definitely did. The winters are long, wet, and dark. Combined with a generally cold society, it wears on many.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons. The winters are rainy and depressing. The summers can be very nice, but you have to be prepared for at least several weeks per summer where temperatures are in the 90s and there is no A/C at home (unless you buy your own portable units).
Schools & Children:
1. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
JFKS does not accommodate special needs kids.
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?
German state-sponsored day care is pretty cheap and pretty good.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. In the hipper areas there are tons of expats, but those are far from US Mission housing.
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?
Most anything is possible here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Again, most every group can find a way to enjoy Berlin.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Same as anywhere else in the developed world.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
German tourism is done with efficiency and a lot of box checking, but not much passion. Hotels are basic. AirBNB is strictly limited here. Berlin is fairly far from anything else interesting, so day trips are tough. However, if you like flying, there are tons of discount airline flights to awesome places around Europe.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We enjoyed short trips to Copenhagen.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
For our stage of life we've enjoyed the plentiful playgrounds and general kid-friendliness of Berlin.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not if I had another option in a developed country. If it was between this and a truly difficult place to live, of course I would take it.
2. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
In the Garden of the Beasts.