—> Guide for Moving to Berlin 2016
by Joseph PEARSON
Moving to Berlin? Thanks for making this the most popular moving to Berlin guide since 2009. This is the independent guide, with no ads and no sponsored tips, from The Needle. The guide covers the following aspects of moving here. Just click to jump down to the appropriate section, or scroll below to read the whole guide.
(the author asserts his right to copyright, revised 02/2016)
Introduction to the 2016 Guide
More than any other European city, Berlin is in constant flux. When I compare to the original 2009 guide, I am amazed by the pace of gentrification. But I’m also surprised how places in the city one never considered sexy or interesting are now centres of its creative life (think: Wedding). Berlin is at its most exciting right now, because it’s got both edgy and glam. How long will it be before that edgy is erased is anyone’s guess. I’d put my bets on at least a decade before that happens––but with this city you never know. More than ever, Berlin, the capital of Europe’s biggest economy, feels like a powerhouse.
One thing Berlin has going for it is size. Berlin is eight times the size of Paris proper, with a population that is only a third larger (Berlin’s total population is 3,5 million within the city limits; the greater metropolitan area of Berlin is only 6 million though compared to Greater Paris’s 12 million). Even though neighbourhoods like Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg have been thoroughly gentrified, there is plenty of room left in the city to grow. Despair not. In 2016, you can still to find cheap rents. In fact they have stabilised in the expensive neighbourhoods at around 14 EUR/m2 (but for many Berliners that’s still too expensive).
One of the biggest changes in the past decade is how much more international the city feels. 2015 saw 80 000 refugees coming to the city, and almost 40 000 non-refugee arrivals The food scene has massively improved, making Berlin one of the best places to be a foodie on a budget. With these changes there are also record numbers of tourists (almost as many as Paris), more crime, more disparities, but also more opportunities for people looking for work (such as in startups or tourism). Berlin last year had one of its best financial years ever, with 40 000 new jobs, and Berliners are finally earning more than 3000 EUR/month brutto on average. Berlin still has one of Germany’s highest unemployment rates, but it no longer characterises the city.
All this requires a revision of the most important sections of this guide to reflect a busier, more touristed, city: how neighbourhoods have changed, how much your monthly costs might be, and what property prices now stand at. Please note that things change very quickly in the red tape section: to my knowledge what is written is accurate (although you may wish to read the comments which nuance what I say below) but do your own research on the official websites of the local authorities and government agencies with whom you deal to be sure.
photos below: a visit to see a Berlin apartment, with the competition! videos: because there’s a lot of information, and you might needs breaks along the way.
***This information is intended as a guide only, and not professional advice. Any information presented here must be checked. Although the author has done his best to make sure this material is accurate, he takes no responsibility for inaccuracies or errors.***
By now it is a cliché to quote the former Berlin mayor who famously said Berlin might be poor, but it is sexy. Things have also changed somewhat: Berlin is not quite as poor, it’s more expensive. But to my mind, it is still a wonderful place to live, that continues to have a non-conformist, open-minded attitude quite different from most European ‘museum’ cities. Berlin is still sexy, it’s just a lot of other people think so too.
Artists were originally lured to Berlin because, with a mountain of debt and a dismal housing market, it created conditions of economic failure necessary for artists to live cheaply and pursue their work. As cities like New York or Paris became unaffordable, writers, visual artists and musicians moved en masse to the old worker neighbourhoods of the East –filling these old Soviet-era blocks with studios, happenings and self-destructive hedonism. A friend who has taught visual art in New York for three decades watched the geography of the art scene move through her graduating seniors. In the eighties they moved to SoHo, in 1990 they were in the East Village, later they were living in Brooklyn. In the last years, every single student dedicated to pursuing a career in visual art moved to Berlin. They joined artists from all over the world and Germany’s own arts community.
Now that same wave of gentrification that swept New York can be seen in familiar stages across Berlin: first Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, then Kreuzberg, Neukölln, and now Wedding, which remains a bargain.
Today, Berlin is full of artists, would-be artists, and those wishing to capitalise off Berlin’s image of cool: hoteliers, hostel owners, restauranteurs, tour guide companies, bike companies, the lot. Berlin is not undiscovered, and many come here pursuing an image of the city that touristic entrepreneurs are more than happy to market. Many criticise an influx of artists who enjoy a city which allows them to be conspicuously artistic rather than actually creating art. (Many argue that it’s precisely the plethora of entertainment here that makes it so difficult to stay productive: be warned!). This is not entirely unpleasant, and the night life has certainly profited, but prices have also shot up.
While Berlin might now be much more expensive than, say, Athens, Warsaw, Lisbon or Lvov (and about the same price as Barcelona or Madrid), it still provides a much cheaper cost of living than, say, London, Paris, Rome and New York, and with world-class cultural offerings in a European country.
The challenge that ex-patriot writers, artists, academics and others wishing to set up in this city is the nitty-gritty. What red tape is generally involved? Where should I live? How do I get established?
I have written countless emails to friends and acquaintances who are new to the city needing advice. I have brought together that advice in one place to simplify helping others as they set up in the heart of contemporary Europe’s creative scene.
I should warn you that I am very opinionated and make no apologies.
There was a time when, if you looked for the centre of Berlin, you would not find it. In fact, Berlin had two centres: the area around Zoo station in the West and the area around Stadtmitte in the East. The latter eventually exerted more influence, and pulled some former-Western neighbourhoods (such as Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Schöneberg) into its orbit. The Berlin most young people wished to experience, historically, was this new center and its closest surrounding hoods. But these days, people are increasingly exploring the Old West as well.
You may be perplexed by the number of desolately empty parts of town. You will turn a corner and the busy city you know disappears and you are in a broken-down lot, or tree-lined street that seems more like a provincial town than a capital. If silence and depopulation frighten you, then you must live in a Kiez.
A Kiez is an island of life in a sea of vacant post-Soviet blocks and industrial sites. These neighbourhoods are named usually for the principle street from which streets of restaurants, bars, supermarkets, everything you need… radiate. Hence: Graefekiez, Kollwitzkiez, Bergmannkiez… etc. Some Kieze are located quite close to one another, but between them one usually finds a real absence of city life. The character of the Kiez are radically individual, making Berlin a constellation of small villages.
A Kiez should not be confused with a Bezirk, or Borough. Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, etc., are all large administrative divisions which contain within them often extremely different Kiez. The Kiez in Kreuzberg for example have less in common with one another than parts of Kreuzberg do with parts of Mitte. It’s worth keeping this in mind when reading the following (opinionated) description of Berlin neighbourhoods.
Prenzlauer Berg is the gentrified family neighbourhood that increasingly resembles wealthy neighbourhoods in the Old West. It is full of strollers (so many kids!), yuppy couples in their 40s and 50s, organic food stores, yoga studios. A lot of people moved here from Southern Germany in the last fifteen years and the original residents are gone. Apartments are also very expensive. Its draw card is that it has old buildings that look like ‘old’ Europe and it is well served by U.Bahn. Many complain, however, that Prenzlauer Berg is one of the city’s most expensive places to go to a restaurant or shop. Many cafés and restaurants now have prices on par with places like Paris or Rome. Although the restaurant scene is becoming very good here, the neighbourhood more or less dies in the evening. Many complain it’s become ‘boring’. All this is true. In recent times, the influx of tourism has had a large influence on the real neighbourhood feel. The area around Kollwitz Platz and up and down Kastanienallee have been the primary victims. Even formerly affordable and untouristy areas near Volkspark Friedrichshain in the East, and around the S-Bahn line in the North, have become expensive. But if you want to live somewhere family-oriented, that is central, leafy, politically reasonable, feels relatively safe from urban problems, and you have the budget to do so, Prenzlauer Berg might be balm for your bourgeois soul.
Mitte is the historic centre of the East. It has been completely gentrified for a long time now; it is also full of tourists to the extent that most commerce in the neighbourhood caters to them. It was once known as the ‘first stop’ of internationals, drawn to the cool cafés and art galleries before they moved on to less expensive and more neighbourhoody digs elsewhere in the city––but increasingly, it’s too expensive and you’re more likely to start out your Berlin adventure in Moabit or Treptow. That said, Mitte continues to be one of the most urban and cosmopolitan parts of the city. The area around Rosenthaler Platz might be all hotel building and currywurst fast food (an object lesson in how tourism can take over a neighbourhood). But other parts (notably just south of Torstraße, around Alte Schoenhauser Straße or along Auguststr.) have become very swish indeed, to the extent that tatty tourist venues can’t afford the rent. You find boutiques and expensive Michelin restaurants instead these days. Grocery stores here are very thin on the ground. The northern half of this neighbourhood, around Zionskirchplatz, and up Kastanienallee is more affordable for younger tourists and for that reason remains… touristic. The area around Hackescher Markt has many high-street brand stores mixed with boutiques, with a few delis selling 9 EUR gourmet sandwiches thrown in. Once you get into the old monumental city, around Unter den Linden, and south of Friedrichstr., residential life totally disappears. Only the truly unlucky end up living in this neighbourhood that becomes completely dead at night. If one is decided on Mitte, which feels increasingly big city, and most familiar to a newcomer from New York, one should live north of the river, esp. U and S Bahn stations: Bernauer Str., Naturkundemuseum., Nordbahnhof, Schwarzkopfstr. These are the areas in Mitte which are the least touristy but are very expensive as well. The ‘other’ Mitte––which is a jumble of chain hotels and emerging gentrification––is south of the river around Märkisches Museum U-Bahn, on the border of Kreuzberg, is an intriguing and still affordable neighbourhood that has yet to acquire a clear identity or much ‘Kiez’ life.
Friedrichshain can be rather industrial and hard on the eyes. The continued ‘greening’ of rather un-vegetated streets has improved things optically. But the fact that the areas along Revaler Straße and Simon Dach Straße have become the party mile (the ‘Techno Strich /Strip’ continues across the bridge to the Wrangelkiez in Kreuzberg) make it less attractive to residents not wishing to battle drunk 20-something tourists on the weekend. Nonetheless, Friedrichshain is not all the ‘Techno Strich’, and if you get away from it, you’ll find it’s full of resident young people, and well connected by the U5, or by S-Bahn. The answer is to look for an apartment farther East, towards Ostkreuz, or north, where new Kieze have developed. Friedrichshain is slightly fashion conscious in its alternativeness… It’s is often the first choice of 20-somethings. There are also complaints about restaurant quality here, as if Berliners feel students don’t care how good their cuisine is. Many said ‘Friedrichshain is the neighbourhood that didn’t deliver’ because great hopes were pinned on it that it would become like Mitte. I appreciate that it didn’t. It’s still very much Berlin, it’s very young, yes, but it is increasingly attracting older people who can’t find an apartment in Kreuzberg. The area along the old East German monumental avenues (Karl-Marx Allee) offers some intriguing Communist-era property, although it can be a little windy, cold, and feel far from services, in the winter.
Lichtenberg was never on this neighbourhood list in the past. The Don Xuan Center (Vietnamese shopping warehouses) is well known to many Berliners, but Lichtenberg otherwise has a reputation for industrial cityscapes, Communist block housing, and, in the past, a Neo-Nazi presence (right-wing crimes, however, have plummeted in recent years). Despite its bad reputation, it appears at the No. 11 spot (of 96) in Zitty‘s neighbourhood ranking because of its excellent S-bahn transport links to the rest of the city. Other signs of change include artist studios and a funky canteen at the industrial HB55. The riverside developments in Rummelsburg are surprisingly innovative, and there’s a developing club and outdoor party scene. Prices are low and Lichtenberg just might be that next frontier of gentrification. Off of most foreigner’s radar, the areas of Lichtenberg that abut Friedrichshain already provide location, and some fun, along with affordability.
Kreuzberg was originally a mix of family, eco-, arty, low-key, radical, bourgeois, gritty, international, Turkish, Punk… It has since been discovered and by now thoroughly gentrified. Apartments which, on the whole, used to cost approximately 2000 EUR per m2 just a few years ago now go for 4500 EUR. Wow. It’s as expensive, or more expensive, to rent here as in Prenzlauer Berg, although daily costs are much lower. Kreuzberg continues to exude a bohemian air and is not entirely conformist. It’s the kind of place where people who wear ties to work in the morning immediately change when they get home, because they wouldn’t be caught dead in a suit walking around East Kreuzberg in the evening. And while tourists have discovered areas like the Wranglerkiez near Schlesisches Tor for its nightlife (en masse, to the ire of residents who have organised anti-tourist meetings), the areas around Schönleinstraße, Mariannenplatz, or Eisenbahnstraße continue to be very neighbourhoody. Some looking for deals are delving South of Kreuzberg to Alt Treptow, a neighbourhood in the former East.
Although entirely in the West, Kreuzberg is divided into West (Kreuzberg 61) and East (SO36) sections. Both contain a real diversity of Kieze worth exploring here.
Kreuzberg 61: The Western side (Bergmannkiez) is beautiful, with many trees and Altbau (old buildings). It is expensive and has a slightly provincial, bourgeois feel to it, but with good restaurants and food shopping possibilities. Many Berliners feel, with some justification, that it’s altogether too pretty and calm, and why didn’t you just move to the ‘alternative’ neighbourhood of some other West German city? U-Bahn connections are a little lousy near Bergmannstr. The Graefekiez, which is a gentrified neighbourhood of gorgeous buildings south of the canal and north of Sudstern U-Bahn, and West of Schoenleinstr. U-Bahn is now more expensive than the Bergmannkiez. It has all the bourgeois and residential comfort but with more urbanity and better U-Bahn connections. It’s close to an excellent Turkish market along the beautiful (and gentrified) canal twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays). There are many good restaurants here.
West Kreuzberg is located at the following U and S Bahn stations: on the U6 between Platz der Luftbrücke and Hallesches Tor. On the U8 between Mehringdamm and Hermannplatz. On the U8 between Hermannplatz and Schönleinstr. (the Graefekiez).
SO36: The area around Oranienstraße, Kotti, is still the beating heart of Kreuzberg, and its mix of anti-establishment folk, great bars, and a large immigrant Turkish presence. Some find Kotti a little aggressive and urban. Others thrive off a feeling like the Lower East Side of yesteryear. Towards Görlitzer Park, and the Spree, there’s a larger tourist presence and budgeoning hostel and bar scene in the Wrangelkiez, where it melts with Friedrichshain across the river. Görlitzer Park has become a problem area with a rise in petty drug crime and confrontations with the police, in particular around the U-Bahn station. When the police are at ‘Görli’, then much of the drug trade moves to ‘Kotti’ (or Kottbusser Tor). That said, you need only walk a few blocks away from those dodgy U-Bahn stations for things to change dramatically. The pocket around the Markthalle 9, the Eisenbahnkiez, is one of the nicest parts of East Kreuzberg, with good restaurants and a booming foodie scene in the fabulous (popular with hipsters) market. There has been a recent influx of elegant cocktail bars here. So36 on the whole is complex and alive day and night.
For East Kreuzberg: U1 line: Köttbusser Tor, Görlitzer Bahnhof, Schlesisches Tor. U8 line: Köttbusser Tor, Moritzplatz, Heinrich Heine str.
Finding an apartment to rent in Kreuzberg is by now difficult and they are expensive.
Schoeneberg: Schoeneberg has emerged as a favourite neighbourhood for people looking to get away from ‘Berlin cool’, and simply live somewhere neighbourhoody, international, with mixed-incomes, and a less transient population. But even here you’ll find it difficult to find an affordable Altbau or old building. Although, as one friend told me, it’s a neighbourhood with every kind of person: petit bourgeois, immigrant, young professionals, artists and senior citizens and alkies. What they share is they are generally older than in Kreuzberg or, certainly, Neukölln, but this is changing. There are good subway connections (U7 and U2 lines). Around Nollendorfplatz is the traditionally gay neighbourhood of West Berlin, popular with young tourists but most of the resident gay men here are slightly older (many of the younger Berliners are farther East now). The southern part, near Akazienstraße, itself a lovely Kiez, is very gentrified. There are nice places to live around U-Bahns Eisenacher Str., Kleistpark, and in the area south of Yorkstraße known as the ‘red island’. A very pretty, but very quiet, neighbourhood is located near S-Bahn Friedenau.
Charlottenburg / Wilmersdorf: The rediscovery of the Old West is a phenomenon of the past couple of years. I used to think of Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf as expensive, bourgeois, neighbourhoods full of old people. Have you seen the film City of Men? But this has changed. The pressure on housing farther East are making the West increasingly more popular with new Berliners. Note that the more urban area of Charlottenburg is rather more dynamic than more staid Wilmersdorf. Charlottenburg has a bevy of good restaurants, art bookstores, beautiful old buildings and good transport links. The area closer to Zoo Station has seen a recent rejuvenation: but note that much of the hip development, around the Bikini Mall for example, is decidedly corporate in character. That said, if you want to live centrally, in a part of town that is more ‘old world’––think of areas around Savignyplatz––and where you can dress up as if you were in Paris, then changing Charlottenburg might be for you. Beware: Charlottenburg-Nord (up towards Tegel Airport) is a totally different neighbourhood from the one described above, voted one of Berlin’s worst by Zitty.
Zehlendorf / Grunewald: Lakes and trees and suburbia. I could imagine living in a beautiful villa near a lake in Zehlendorf and going between the good grocery stores and the summer waters. If you have children and want something semi-suburban, residential, and ‘Western European’ and ‘safe’ in feel, you are looking at the right place. Grunewald is where big money lives, full of trees and huge houses. Note these are expensive neighbourhoods with older populations, where it’s hard to meet people, and have a more ‘staid’ feeling, apart from the area around Dahlem, where the Free University is located. But the students tend to live as far away as Friedrichshain, preferring an hour commute to living in this part of town.
Wedding: Wedding is the new ‘it’ neighbourhood, at the cusp of gentrification. Zitty (Berlin’s City Magazine) voted it the best neighbourhood in Berlin in 2015. It’s where many young new Berliners are moving. Originally, a poor workers’ neighbourhood north of Mitte––there’s still plenty of old-world grit in the corner bars––with plenty of Turkish immigrant families, Wedding has become a place with an emerging arts scene and a particular neighbourhood vibe that’s rather unique. The area around Leopoldplatz, the Sprengelkiez, around the Nordufer, are just a number of the places that have seen real urban change. Müllerstraße is now the home to a high-tech innovation centre. You can read an older article I wrote about Wedding gentrification here that gives you a sense of the changing areas. Beware that Wedding is rather bleak architecturally and isn’t very green, and some feel it is still altogether too rough. But it’s got awesome public transport links, is fairly central, and is convenient to Mitte. Rents are still a bargain too, and buying a place here might be the smartest thing you ever did.
Neukölln: is Hipsterland for the 20s-30s set. English and Spanish are often heard more often than German. The northern parts of Neukölln within the Ring are starting to resemble what Prenzlauer Berg was like just a decade ago, just more international. As you get closer to the Ring, you get into so-called ‘problem’ Berlin (although the ‘problems’ are quickly vanishing with the ‘problem’ of gentrification). This is a traditionally working class and immigrant neighbourhood that originally filled with young artists looking for cheap digs about five years ago, drawn by lots of lovely old-stock houses. Now, it’s increasingly a ‘respectable’ and expensive place to live (rents here are often as expensive as in Kreuzberg). It’s actually quite difficult to find an apartment in Neukölln now, and properties in the area between Hermannplatz and the canal are going for big money. Housing deals in this “Kreuzkölln” are long a thing of the past, and there are fewer and fewer students here and more and more professionals. The area South of Hermannplatz and to the East of it is now on the up and up too. The funky little Lebanon on Sonnenallee with good falafel and shisha exists in cohabitation with some of Berlin’s best bars. The scene around Weserstraße in Kreuzkölln has been discovered and is by now very touristy, and this is moving South towards Boddinstraße and the Ring-bahn which are now also full of tourists. The area around Richardplatz (Rixdorf) has village architecture and immigrant families are being squeezed here too by gentrification. There are still deals to be had in Neukölln, but they appear as miracles rather than everyday occurrences.
Moabit and Tiergarten: This is the neighbourhood north (Moabit) and south of the Tiergarten, or Central Park. Like Wedding, Moabit is now on the up and up, and the bastion of some of Berlin’s last deals. Moabit is a green neighbourhood (near Turmstr. U-Bahn), with a good Altbau stock, mostly safe, and now has a couple funky bars, but with lousy transport links if you live too far north and not close to the S-Bahn. Some complain there’s not quite enough to do yet in the neighbourhood, but this is quickly changing. South of the Tiergarten, and especially around Potsdamer Platz, is full of embassies and government buildings and corporate headquarters. It’s not a good place to live: there are few grocery stores, for example, although the profile of the neighbourhood has changed with the opening of Gleisdreieck Park and luxury apartments south of Potsdamer Platz that abut West Kreuzberg.
Unfair New York comparisons are often made for Berlin neighbourhoods. I don’t believe in mapping New York on Berlin, but it may help as an initial shorthand. But note, how things have changed! Mitte: SoHo. Prenzlauer Berg: West Village. Neukölln: Williamsburg. Kreuzberg: East Village. Schöneberg: Chelsea meets Astoria, if you can imagine that.
Looking for an apartment
While there is a high vacancy rate in Berlin’s residential property, in very few of these apartments would you actually like to live. This makes long lines of visitors at group visits to desirable apartments a fact of life. Most people are looking at the same site: www.immobilienscout24.de You are much more likely to find a place if you ask around with friends.
Most rentals involve making an application to a Property Management group (the Hausverwaltung) that takes care of the building for the landlord. All your dealings will go through them. They will ask you for a dossier of information to apply to be principle tenant of an apartment. Many do not consider freelancers. You would do well to include as much evidence of financial stability (from Schufa: the German credit agency) and a steady paycheck as possible, and if you see a place you like, jump at it and fax the forms asap from the closest machine. Be prepared when renting to have enough money on hand for the deposit (usually a couple of months rent).
You would do well to find a short-term sublet through www.wg-gesucht.de and www.studenten-wg.de (Craig’s List is another option, but with ex-pat inflated prices) and then pit in, in order to find the right apartment where you are principle tenant. Sublets are comparatively quite easy to get, can be long-term, and are often quite cheap (many people charge ‘old rents’). Flatshares (called WG or Wohngemeinschaften) are extremely popular, especially with students and young professionals, and also advertised on these sites. They are an excellent way to save money. You can usually find the right fit — in any case you will be interviewed for the room. In other cities, flatshares might be a sign of poverty, but here they are often preferred by professionals who like some company.
Note that the city is clamping down on holiday apartments, in order to fight gentrification, which is why it’s so hard to find a place on AirBnb, as many properties have been declared illegal.
For buying apartments, Berlin is no longer quite the deal it was. It is still cheaper than many other European capitals, you might check out www.immobilienscout24.de
Most Germans rent (about 80% in Berlin), which makes the variety and quantity of places available to buy abysmal. Be also aware many people want to buy and are looking and can’t find the right place. Be prepared to pounce! Note you have to pay an extra 10% in taxes and fees on top of the asking price. If you care about noise, you might look into a rooftop apartment (Dachgeschosswohnung) in a pre-war building if you can find one (these are very very popular and increasingly mythical). You will want close access to a U or S Bahn train, and to be in a Kiez. There are plenty of fleamarkets and IKEAs in Berlin for cheap furniture.
Property Prices and Rents
Property prices in Berlin are no longer the good deal they once were. But one can still find an apartment in Berlin for half the cost of the average apartment in Paris—but this is no reason to be overcharged. Soon enough you will be thinking in Berlin prices. Apartments are priced ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ (not including utilities). For a 50 sq- meter apartment, one can add perhaps an extra €125 /month for utility fees in Kreuzberg. Cold costs per square metre are about the following in each neighbourhood (2016, on average, taken from what I saw on immowelt.de). Note that city initiatives to stop rental increases seem to be working, and most of the most popular neighbourhoods hover around €14 / sq meter. That said, finding an apartment in one of them is what’s tough:
-Mitte: approx. €14 / sq meter (€700 for 50 sq meters per month)
-Prenzlauer Berg: €14 / sq meter (€700 for 50 sq meters per month)
-Kreuzberg: approx. €14 / sq meter (€700 per month for 50 sq meters
-Friedrichshain: €14 / sq meter (€700 per month for 50 sq meters)
-Schöneberg: €11/ sq meter (€550 per month for 50 sq meters)
-Neukölln: €10/ sq meter (€500 per month for 50 sq meters)
-Wedding: €10/ sq meter (€500 per month for 50 sq meters)
-Lichtenberg €10 /sq meter (€500 per month for 50 sq meters)
-Alt Treptow (‘lower Kreuzberg’): €9/ sq meter (€450 per month for 50 sq meters)
-Moabit: €8/ sq meter (€400 per month for 50 sq meters)
REMEMBER: To add to the above €125 warm costs, plus about €30 for electricity, plus about €30 phone/internet… approx. €200 more!
While these are average rents for people living in these neighbourhoods, expect to pay a little more for a new lease.
To buy, average costs according to Immobilienscout are more than €5000 / sq meter in Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, €4300 / sq meter in Kreuzberg, €4100 / sq meter in Friedrichshain, and closer to €3700 / square meter in north Neukölln. It’s no longer possible to buy an 80 sq meter apartment in Neukölln for €80 000 unless you go through a forced auction. But Lichtenberg, on the other hand, is at €2700 / sq meter. Wedding is even cheaper, averaging at €2300 / sq meter.
You can no longer get along in Berlin without a decent amount of money. €1500 / month for everything is a good standard, but it’s true that many people get by on much less. But make sure you come with some kind of cushion for emergencies.
Some example realistic costs:
-Rent and utilities (warm, in a shared flat in Kreuzberg): €550
-A transit pass: €81/month or get a bike
-Mobile phone/ Internet: €50
-Health insurance: depends, try to come on a European Medical Card
-€30/ day on food (less if eating very cheaply at home), incidentals, and going out
-€20 for a gym membership at McFit
At €2000 you are doing very well. It’s of course easy to spend much more.
You can keep down costs by:
-shopping for groceries at the Turkish supermarkets on Kottbusser Damm, or from the farmers at the Markthalle 9, in Kreuzberg. They both have very good fruit and veg. Shopping at Rewe, a German chain, is a lot more expensive and the produce is inferior.
-use a student card to get cheaper tickets to museums, the opera, concerts and cinema. Or get a Classic Card for classical concert tickets if you are under 30.
-you can drink beer in public in Germany. This isn’t as louche as it sounds! A favourite student activity is buying beer at a Getränkmarkt (a wholesale drinks shop. They are found all over. A beer costs a little over 1 Euro) and drinking on a bridge (such as Admiralbrücke in Kreuzberg) where there’s quite an indie scene.
-Drink beer or sekt at bars, not cocktails and liquor. Beer is always very cheap.
-Note that street food though not very healthy is very cheap: especially Currywurst and Doner (about €4). Going out for a cheap sit-down meal and a beer usually costs about €20, although you can eat something semi-takeout for more like €7-10.
-Note that in many clubs and bars you will be charged a Pfand, or deposit on your glasses. This can get expensive, so bring your glasses back to collect your cash.
-For under €20 you can still have a great night out: drinking 2 bought beers in an industrial space with friends (€3), going for Falafel (€4), drinking a beer in a cool bar (€3), going to a great club (€5 at SO36 for example at the door, then €3 for a half litre of beautiful German Pilsner).
-You could on the other hand spend more than €1o0 for a great night out: aperitif at a terrace in Mitte (cocktail: €10), great seats at the opera or Berlin Philharmonic (€60; or else get cheap seats for €20), a great meal at a Michelin restaurant (three courses plus wine: €100; or just order a main à la carte and a glass of wine for €40), slip home to change and then another drink at a cool bar (€4), then clubbing at Berghain (was €8-14 entry, plus €3,50 per beer, €7-10 per cocktail).
Safety, especially for Women
Berlin is still very safe, day and night, especially inside the circle S-bahn line. But it should be mentioned that, as a precaution, visible minorities might avoid some of the Eastern neighbourhoods outside that S-Bahn line: Hellersdorf, Marzahn, for example. They have a reputation for being right-wing and have little ethnic diversity. The same goes for parts of the surrounding region of Brandenburg. While most women find Berlin safe, day and night, some have been verbally harassed in outlying areas of Neukölln walking home alone at night. Riding a bike helps matters. Neighbourhoods like Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg are generally worry free for women who feel like targets of unwanted male attention.
Note that the U-Bahn station of Görlitzer Bahnhof (‘Görli’) in Kreuzberg, and the adjacent Görlitzer Park, have become more dangerous recently because of drug dealers and their confrontations with police. You are unlikely to face anything but dealers pushing their drugs, or, if you are unlucky, some petty crime, but it’s worth being alert. The dealers get pushed to Kottbusser Tor when the police are active at ‘Görli’. Alexanderplatz at night is also a place to be careful, as it statistically has the highest number of crimes in the city.
Setting up Checklist (for EU citizens)
**Ensure you check all this information in advance in case things have changed, this advice serves only as a rough guide:
**non-EU citizens, especially from the USA and Canada can set up permanently here, but it requires some leg work. check out: http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/f71.html
There are a few things EU citizens must do when they arrive if they intend to live in Berlin (if you are simply making a short-term stay of less than 90 in 180 days, then you will not want to go to the trouble). I mention which documents you need to bring to each place. Once you do all these things, the authorities should leave you quite alone (except for taxes)!
1. Register at the Burgeramt in your neighbourhood, to get an Anmeldung Bestätigung (or registration confirmation). You need this document as proof of your residence and to work. Ask the Burgeramt also for a Bescheinigung that attests to your right to free movement in Germany as an EU citizen, this free document can be sometimes useful.
-bring passport and proof of your health insurance (such as a European Health Insurance card). Often proof of emergency health coverage is all you need to start. Do not declare a religion unless you want to risk paying Church Tax.
2. Bank account. You need the Anmeldung Bestätigung and Passport for this. I go to the Berliner Sparkasse, with locations and ATM’s everywhere. It is expensive to use other banks’ ATM’s in Germany.
3. Mobile phone. You need a bank account and Anmeldung Bestätigung to get a contract. I use the BLAU network and pay as you go, which is cheap and can be bought at Media Markt and Saturn (note you will want to set up automatic credit online so you don’t have to return to these stores every time you want credit). With BLAU calls are 9 cents a minute and it’s cheaper to set up monthly plans with them (you can cancel at any time). Companies with better coverage are: Vodaphone, T Mobile…You can buy an unblocked phone for about 20-30 Euros at Media Markt and Saturn (at Alexanderplatz).
4. If you are an EU citizen and have a foreign partner and you wish for that person (same sex or opposite sex) to be able to work and live in Germany, you both need to go to the Auslanderbehörder, or Foreigners’ Office. Fill out the application online, print it, bring two passport photos (must conform to German size regulations), your marriage certificate (or partnership certificate, even if it is from abroad), proof you both have health care, and that the primary applicant has enough funds to support the other. You both need the Anmeldung Bestätigung. Go early to the office (lines form up before it opens) and go directly on the EU section.
5. Health Care: You will need proof of health care to register in Germany, and emergency health coverage will do the trick, usually for the first three months.
Eventually you will need German health care (which is excellent and also pays all your drugs and often lots of extras like dental). But, remember, it’s expensive, and a surprise for people arriving from single payer systems like the UK, Italy or Canada. Your employer will arrange your health care normally and pay half of the premiums. You pay the full premiums if you are self employed (about 350 Euros /month if you pay both parts). Getting health care as a self-employed person is more of a headache, but I will explain what is involved in a moment.
You can get public health insurance (as opposed to private) if you have an employer or if you are an artist and apply for it through the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK)… a long and difficult process for which I’d recommend an agent. Your monthly payments would be reduced by half if you are on the KSK. If you are moving to Germany from a public system within the EU, you can also choose to pay for public insurance, but it generally turns out to be more expensive than the private options unless you have pre-existing conditions that you declare.
Going private has the advantage of getting more services and being seen sooner by doctors and specialists (you tell them you have private insurance when you make an appointment). This option is actually cheaper than public insurance if you are freelance (but expect to pay a lot more if you have pre-existing conditions that they can prove, and when you get older. There are often minimum income levels required as well).
You can choose either an ex-pat plan or a German plan. Ex-pat plans are for people who want flexibility and will eventually return to their home countries and don’t need to be fully integrated into the German health care system. These plans are a lot cheaper than German plans because they do not expect to care for you in your old age. Allianz’s ALC (costs under €200 a month usually for a male 35 year-old). You can contact Mike Woodiwiss (Tel: 02432-80365, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ). Not everyone loves this plan, so please check online what people say.
The normal German private insurance scheme is the long-term option. There are many companies. DKV is one (in German, but there are plenty of agents around Berlin you can talk to). I think it’s about €350 / month for a male 35-year old. Try calling under “contact” and asking if they speak English. An even better private company is: Debeka Try calling.
6. If you work freelance, you will need to apply for a Tax Number and have this number before you start writing invoices (you need to provide an invoice for every job you do). Fill out a Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung (find one online by searching for it and “Berlin”) and send it to your nearest Finanzamt. You might want a Steuerberater (or tax advisor) to help you fill out this form and your declarations. You can write off a huge amount in Germany: many people use these advisors to sort out their business expenses (you can save restaurant receipts, for example, provided you discussed business and at least two people were there). Also be aware that if you make under about €17 500 a year then you can choose not to charge your clients VAT (you also avoid monthly forms about VAT to the tax office this way).
Check out www.bvg.de, which is the public transport site. It has an indispensible journey planner that everyone uses when getting from A to B.
-Get a transit pass for the beautiful network of S-bahn and U-bahn subways (€81: with this Umwelt card another person can travel for free with you after 8pm and on weekends). A yearly Abonnement will save you more money (from €60 /month).
You can also buy a pass for your bike. If you will only travel after 10am, then you can get a cheaper pass.
-Train fares are on www.bahn.de
-Bicycle: the city gets around on bike, especially in Kreuzberg. You can get a used one here for about €100 at a market (try the fleamarket at Boxhagenerplatz on Sundays), or a new one for 300-up Euros. A good place to buy a new one is: http://www.radlust.com/
Many ex-pats live successfully in Berlin with no German. However, it pays to learn the language. How good your course will be depends on your teacher. Good and bad teachers exist everywhere. The best teachers are in the universities. Cheap German courses with good teachers are available at the city community colleges (or Volkshochschule). For cheaper courses budget around €200 /month for daily half-day classes Monday to Friday.
Humboldt University: has a very good summer university and courses for Erasmus students before each university term. Top-notch teaching.
Goethe Institute located in Mitte is the most famous language school. My experience is that the Goethe Institute is very expensive (more than €1000 a month for 4 hours of classes a day, or thereabouts) and that the teachers are no better than in many of the private language schools. They have the reputation for going very slowly… a tactic for you to take a huge number of classes. Also they teach very communicatively, with less grammar.
An advantage of the BSI Berlin school in Kreuzberg is that you can attend the first class for free, see you if you like the teacher, then decide. You can also pay by the week. Fees are €195/month or €70/week for classes M-F, four hours/day.
The Hartnackschule located in Schöneberg is also cheap, but the teachers are hit or miss. A lot of people do it anyway because even if the teacher is bad, one doesn’t feel like one has lost a lot of money! It is easy to change out of a bad class into a good one. I was lucky and had a very good (but blind) instructress. You can usually sign up on the day and there’s usually room. Courses start on the first day of each month.
The Volkshochschule has locations throughout the city and is the government-run program, that is subsidized with generally good teachers. The problem is that one needs to sign up and take a placement test rather far in advance and introductory courses book out quickly. There are a lot of new immigrants /refugees who generally really want to learn German.
Gyms come in two varieties: McFit and all the others. McFit is cheap (about €20 /month!). Ignore the name and bright yellow advertising. The machines are great; it’s very clean; there’s a huge amount of eye candy and there’s very little attitude (at least at the location in Prenzlauer Berg). Note McFit can get very busy after work.
An example of a more expensive gym (about 100 Euros a month) is Holmes Place with a more ‘upscale’ clientele and fabulous machines and a great sauna.
Berlin has lots of beautiful public swimming pools. The Neukölln monumental pool and the Mitte Bauhaus pool are two fantastic examples. There’s also a large ‘Europa Park’ Olympic-style complex. Many of the pools have sauna complex. http://www.berlinerbaederbetriebe.de/ The pools usually use a mix of Ozone with a small amount of added chlorine.
In the summer, the Badeschiff, an outdoor pool, floats in the Spree river. It has a great cocktail bar. They even have parties. http://www.arena-berlin.de/badeschiff.aspx
Berlin is made for long-distance runners and cyclists. The central park or Tiergarten is a great place to run, as are the banks up and down the Spree river.
My personal favourite outdoor activity in Berlin is going to a lake and swimming. You can take the S-bahn to Schlachtensee (25 minutes from Friedrichstraße on the S-1 inside the city limits) where there is an excellent restaurant and beer garden. The lake is great. I usually take my running shoes, run around it (about 4 km) and then go swimming. You can also take the train with your bike to Fürstenberg (1 hour) and bike (30 minutes) to Stechlinsee, a lake with remarkably pristine water.
The best online forum for expats in Germany is:
*In Berlin, you should subscribe to ZITTY or TIP for listings of what’s on.
Ex-Berliner is the ex-pat magazine in English:
Films and Books
Some favourite Berlin films:
1. Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927 film, silent. I saw it recently set with live electronic music. The original score is not as beep beep beep…)
2. One Two Three (1961). Billy Wilder comedy about a Coca Cola executive trying to sell his beverage to the Soviets.
3. Wings of Desire (1987). Wim Wenders story about angels who console Berliners. The first thirty minutes are genius, then you can watch something else.
4. Run Lola Run (1998). Enervating sprint through the reunited city. Lola has thirty minutes to obtain a large amount of cash.
5. Aimée and Jaguar (1999). War love story between two women, one Jewish and the other the wife of a Nazi.
6. Goodbye Lenin (2003). A woman goes into a coma before the wall comes down, she wakes and everything has changed.
7. The Bourne Supremacy (2004). Lots of Jason Bourne about Berlin.
8. The Lives of Others (2005). The Stasi invade and destroy the delicate lives of two artists.
9. Berlin Calling (2008). A predictable but enjoyable portrait of the excesses of a Berlin DJ.
10. Victoria (2015). Filmed in a single shot, this film about a young woman drawn into a Berlin criminal gang advises you (don’t believe it!) not to make the mistake of falling for a local…
And some useful books:
Berlin: Portrait of a City (€50). A great compendium of photographs and history. A big heavy but remarkable book.
Berlin: The Architecture Guide (by Haubrich) is useful.
For World War Two history and the interwar years, I would suggest: Inside Nazi Germany (by D. Peukert) for a social history; The Nazi Dictatorship by Ian Kershaw, or his biography of Hitler.
Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood. The classic ex-pat Berlin novel.