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/enhancing 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, then Wedding and Moabit.
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, Madrid), it still provides a much cheaper cost of living than, say, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo 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 few apologies.
Here’s the index to the Moving to Berlin Guide, click on what you want to read next!
This is an independent guide to Berlin, with no ghostwritten content and no sponsored links or tips, from The Needle.
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For a history and portrait of Berlin, do check out my book!
(the author asserts his right to copyright, revised 04/2019)