Berlin, Germany Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany 05/31/18

Background:

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.

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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?

The USA. You can find all you need about flights online.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

US 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?

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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and pouch for US Mission employees.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There's a good number of services in English for Catholics and Protestants.

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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.

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

Yes.

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Transportation:

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.

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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 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.

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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?

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.

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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?

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.

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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?

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.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty, especially with the refugee community.

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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).

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Same as any other big city.

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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.

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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.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Springtime allergies can be very bad.

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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.

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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).

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Schools & Children:

1. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

JFKS does not accommodate special needs kids.

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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?

German state-sponsored day care is pretty cheap and pretty good.

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Expat Life:

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.

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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?

Most anything is possible here.

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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.

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

Yes.

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

Same as anywhere else in the developed world.

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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.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

We enjoyed short trips to Copenhagen.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Berlin, Germany 02/18/18

Background:

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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Transportation:

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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Pets:

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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Berlin, Germany 01/09/18

Background:

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.

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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?

Home is originally the U.S. From Berlin to DC there are flights in about 7 hours with direct and 1-stop flight available

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have now been in Berlin for more than two years.

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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

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 cafés and eateries. Berlin is a foodie town with great wines and beers, coffee shops and ethnic eateries.

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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.

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Daily Life:

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.

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

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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.

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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?

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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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Transportation:

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

Readily available, as safe as any cosmopolitan city and affordable.

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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?

No specific aversions or suggestions. Use common sense and if you cannot afford it in the U.S. don't bring it here.

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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?

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.

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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?

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.

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Pets:

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.

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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?

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Schools & Children:

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

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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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 overall is OK. As any post, it has its share of problems, but in general it's a good place to be.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Berlin, Germany 07/07/15

Background:

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

No.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy housing is either apartments in the city, or Stadtvilla townhomes in the suburbs near the grunewald.

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

Food is relatively cheap. If you shop at Lidl, Aldi and Rewe for most of your groceries, you should be fine. For a wider range of grocery options, get an account with Metro. Contrary to what you will be told (that it is only a bulk market like Costco or BJ's) you do not have to buy bulk there, they sell turkeys, you can find hot peppers on a regular basis (along with other fruits and vegetables that would be considered 'specialty') and they have american-style bacon.

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

Nothing,

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

KFC, McDonald's, Vapianos, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway are all in-town. At the larger malls in the city are even more local fast-food places.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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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.

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

Your dishwasher and laundry room will be your new best friends.

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

Yes. There are a number of gyms in the city, in addition to the gym at the Embassy.

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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?

Germany is a cash economy for the most part. You can use your cards, and you will get a bank ATM card to make withdrawals, but mostly you'll be using cash.

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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?

It's always good to learn some of your host country's language. A lot of people speak English but you will still encounter people who will not or do not. There are a number of language schools in-town if you want to learn German and did not get the chance to learn before arriving.

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

Yes. While there are accommodations for handicapped people in Germany, there are areas of the city that would be difficult to navigate. Not all metro stops have elevators, for example, and many eateries and shops are what could best be described as 'handicapped unfriendly.'

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Completely safe and affordable. You can buy day, week, month or year passes for the metro. In-town it is easier to walk or use the metro than drive, unless you are going grocery shopping.

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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?

Any.

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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?

Yes. You can get it from T-Mobile or Kabel Deutschland.

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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?

Bring your own unlocked smartphone and buy a pay as you go data plan/sim card. Easier to reload your phone than get locked into a contract.

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Pets:

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?

No quarantine.

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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?

Yes.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Nothing out of the ordinary for a large metropolitan city. As long as you are aware of your surroundings you should be fine.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

People don't vaccinate their children. If you have kids, make sure they get their vaccinations on time.

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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?

Good.

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

Winters can be cold and snowy, but not always. Weather is pleasant for most of the year. Summer is miserable with no air conditioning. You will want to go buy a A/C unit for the hottest part of the year.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

Big community but also non-existent. Post is what you make of it.

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

It is a good city if you can make your own fun.

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

Yes.

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

Yes. There are race issues in Germany related to Turks and a number of other immigrant groups that have made a life for themselves within Germany.

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

Winter markets, traveling the romantic road, seeing castles.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Winter markets, Ritter chocolate store, Museum island, buying clothing by the (kilo!), Thuringer bratwursts, taking in a show at Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin. There are a lot of things to do in the city, you just have to decide what you are interested in doing and not wait for someone else to make plans.

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Steins, Black forest clocks, Nutcrackers, glass ornaments, Lebkuchen, PRETZLES!

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

Easy access to the rest of Europe. Access to a wide range of goods and services.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That the city was nothing like the rest of Germany.

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

Yes.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Idea that Germans are efficient.

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4. But don't forget your:

Portable A/C unit.

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Berlin, Germany 08/11/13

Background:

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).

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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?

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.)

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3. How long have you lived here?

I lived in Berlin from about beginning of 2010 (January) to middle of 2013 (May/June).

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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.

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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 usually apartments, though embassy staff may get duplex spaces.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None really.

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Daily Life:

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.

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

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

Yes. No personal experience though.

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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?

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.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Transportation:

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.

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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?

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.)

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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?

Yes. It can be expensive though.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Available and good.

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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?

No experience. Knowing German is a "must" though.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Good.

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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.

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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.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not so much in my experience.

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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?

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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.

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Expat Life:

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.

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2. Morale among expats:

Don't know. Depends.

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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.

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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.

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

Yes. No personal experience though.

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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.

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

Visiting the many flea markets. Visiting historical sights.

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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.)

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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.

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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!)

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. It is just a matter of budgeting.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. It is a very livable place.

For Americans:
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.

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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.

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3. But don't forget your:

Native language entertainment (unless you speak Russian or Turkish.) Rain coat. Peanut butter. Spices.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Good Bye Lenin!
The Lives of Others.

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Berlin, Germany 12/27/11

Background:

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

4th expat experience.

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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?

It is about 8 hours from the East coast. There is only one directl flight between the U.S. and Berlin, which is to Newark. Otherwise you must connect through Frankfurt or another European city.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years

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

U.S. Embassy.

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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 in two main areas- apartments downtown near the Embassy and houses, townhouses, and apartments in the western suburbs near the old Consulate. Families are usually in the suburbs, but there are not enough apartments downtown for everyone who wants them so people without kids have been placed out of town as well. Downtown commutes are usually 10-15 minutes walking or by public transportation. Commutes from the suburbs are an hour by public transport or 30-40 minutes by car.

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

Everything is available here, but it is more expensive than in the U.S.

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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?

McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Domino's, etc. There are restaurants and food stands covering a wide range of tastes. Sit-down restaurants are generally expensive and slow. Outdoor beer gardens are plentiful in the warmer months.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Again, everything is available here.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There are ants and mosquitoes, but problems are minimal.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO.

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

Domestic help is not hard to find. Housekeepers cost a minimum of 10 Euro an hour.

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

Yes, at both the embassy and consulate as well as throughout the city.

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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?

Credit cards are accepted most, but not all, places, and ATMS abound. Many people set up a local bank account to get an EC (debit) card and to be able to pay local bills by transfer.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are several English-language religious services, including nondenominational, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Jewish.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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

Very little. Most people in Berlin speak some English.

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

Many buildings are not accessible. Restrooms are often up or down several flights of stairs. For the most part, though, public transportation is accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Excellent, safe, public transportation and taxis.

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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?

I would avoid a large SUV because of the tight parking, but anything else goes. It is also easy to buy used cars here.

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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?

Internet speeds vary by neighborhood. We get okay speed for 30 Euro a month.

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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?

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes. Germans especially love dogs.

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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?

Berlin has a high unemployment rate, so job opportunities are limited. German language and credentials are usually required as well. Post has been less than supportive of EFM employment. There are a few jobs at the Embassy, but they are generally secretarial and poorly paid.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual hasn't hit Germany. People generally wear suits.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Excellent medical care.

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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?

Excellent.

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

Berlin is fairly far north, so it is cool year-round. The last two winters there was tons of snow, but this winter has been much more grey and rainy.

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Schools & Children:

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

School choices abound. English or bi-lingual schools include JFK (John F. Kennedy School), BBIS (Berlin Brandenburg International School), BIS (Berlin International School), BBS (Berlin British School), BKIS (Berlin Kids International School), Berlin Metropolitan School, and the Nelson Mandela School. My kids are at the JFK elementary school and they love it. They are essentially fluent in German and we have met some great local friends through the school. I know kids at each of the other schools I've mentioned, and their parents all seem happy as well. Look into the school options and find one that works for your family.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Several of the schools can accommodate mild to moderate special needs.

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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?

The Embassy preschool closed a few years ago. Daycare is very limited in Germany, especially for kids under age three. Preschools are usually only half day, which is challenging for working parents. Nannies are available, but expensive.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes -- from soccer, gymnastics, and baseball to horseback riding, sailing, and ice skating. Some programs are through the schools, but most are through private clubs.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally excellent.

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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?

You can be out every night if you want to be.

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

Good for all.

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

Very much so.

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

Yes.

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

Trips to the Baltic, Dresden, and Krakow. Exploring Christmas markets, museums, and Berlin history. Our house backs up to a 7,000 acre wood full of trails, lakes, castles, stables, and restaurants, which we have enjoyed very much.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Museums, arts, culture, walking, sailing, biking, cafes, markets, history...

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

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

Berlin is a great city, with tons of things to do for every interest. East Germany is beautiful and Berlin offers easy access to the Baltic coast, Poland, Czech Republic.

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11. Can you save money?

Not much.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutley.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

SCUBA gear.

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3. But don't forget your:

Walking shoes.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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