Ich bin ein Berliner?
June 12, 2008 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I want to move to Berlin. Is it a good idea?

I would like to move to Berlin by the end of this year. I am attracted to the place for many reasons, not least the cultural vitality of the city. I am an EU passport-holder and so can work in Germany without any issues. At present I have a professional accounting job in financial services.

So far so good. Now the downside. I don't speak any German at all. I plan to go to night classes to to get a basic level of proficiency. How vital is it that I can speak business German to get a job there?

What is the market like for jobs in the financial sector there? Particularly for foreigners? I know much of these businesses are located in Frankfurt but there must be some businesses with offices in the capital, right?

How easy is to get an apartment there? Would I have to rent a place or is it straightforward to buy a place?

What other stuff should I know about moving to Berlin as opposed to just going there on holiday?

It would be good to hear from people who are living/ have lived there at some point and the downs as well as the ups of the place.

Posted as Anon as don't want sleuthing colleagues to know my nascent plans.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Berlin, Germany (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Going through your questions in order:

Yes, it's a good idea.

It's fairly important to Germans. Learning German is pretty easy if you stick to it, though.

Decent, but not great. I knew some Brits who were working there in finance, but they transferred from London.

Very easy. There are a ton of services and craigslist is full of ads (in English) for reasonably priced apartments.

It's awesome.
posted by atomly at 3:22 PM on June 12, 2008

I lived there for a little more than a year about five years ago. I've lived in many different places and Berlin was the second worst of them, it's a nice city to visit but a terrible city to live in in my opinion.

Apartments: This is one of the few good things about Berlin, apartments are easy to get and rents are very low. For example, we paid less than 500 Euro for a 75m^2 apartment in a newly redeveloped nice old house in a decent location. Don't know anything about buying though.

The unemployment rate in Berlin is very high, about 14.2 percent (as a comparison: Munich has 4.8, Hamburg 8.2, the national average is 8.1). Berlin is broke and has been for a long time and is basically financed by the rest of the country while the Berlin government doesn't really do much to improve things. I don't know about the finance sector, but in general Berlin is not really a good place to find a job.

Since you're asking about the ups and downs of the city, the two things I personally disliked the most are the people and the fact that it's so spread out compared to other big cities, you can easily spend an hour on the subway going from one part of the city center to the other and to me that defies the whole point of living in a big city.
Native Berliners basically have the reputation of being assholes. And they are. But you won't meet a lot of them anyway since it seems most of the people in Berlin are originally from some small town in Bavaria, Swabia or Hesse, moved to Berlin after high school and are trying really hard to be hip and cosmopolitan and unconventional and all that. And they're trying way too hard to achieve any of that (or be any fun at all).

So, to answer your question, no, I don't think it's a good idea, move to Amsterdam, Hamburg or maybe Munich instead.
posted by snownoid at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2008

Isn't this one of the most vital and interesting places on the planet today? Go for it and damn the torpedoes. If you are young, have the desire and the opportunity, you really should do this. Chances like this do not come along in your life often.
posted by caddis at 4:19 PM on June 12, 2008

learn German first, then go to Munich. visit Berlin on the occasional weekend
posted by matteo at 5:10 PM on June 12, 2008

living abroad is always great and berlin is one hell of a cool city to spend a bit of time in. I can't vouch for the job situation but you should be able to find a cheap place without too many problems. having lived in many cities around the world, I'd always suggest spending a couple months with roomies first. it's a great way to make first contacts and you always have people to ask for help if you can't figure something out by yourself.

I'd be hesitant about living in a country whose language I don't speak and I personally don't think german is easy to learn at all but hey, that's just me. every younger german has learned english in school but that's the crucial point - it was a class they took in school. you should be able to find someone able to converse with you at pretty much any place you're likely to encounter but learning the language would make things a lot easier for you.

learn German first, then go to Munich.
I disagree with this, mainly because I learned english by going to england without knowing pretty much anything beyond the most bacis hello-goodbye vocabulary (I think I was eight when I first visited london for a month). I do think it would be helpful for the OP to have gotten a basic idea of the language beforehand but being surrounded by it and having no choice but to figure it out helps a lot in terms of getting to the point where you get the feeling for what sounds right or wrong... once you learn how to wing it, you're golden.
posted by krautland at 6:25 PM on June 12, 2008

You'll be able to get by with very little German. However, the quicker you start working on your Deutsch, the quicker you'll start feeling at home. Sure, many of the people you'll encounter will be competent in English, but they'll still default to German, and you'll feel much less left out when you're able to basically follow the conversation. You don't need to wait until you're fluent, but it'll be easier to jump into life in Germany if you've got a little bit of preparation. Your local Goethe Institut is probably a good starting point for information about learning German, although you may want to opt for cheaper classes.

Berlin is probably one of the easiest large cities in Germany, housing-wise. It's comparatively cheap, with a lot of open spaces. However, though it sounds like you'd prefer to own a place, I'd strongly consider finding roommates initially. You'll be able to find a better final place to live, and you'll be forced to get a fair amount of practice in the language. You'll also be forced to meet people. When you're new in a country and not yet fluent in the language, neither of these things are negligible. I used wg-gesucht.de and studenten-wg.de to look for housemates, though both sites are primarily in German and both skew a little young. Craigslist is a little iffy in Europe, and (at least in Munich) kijiji - the other major option - is also not really universally used. Toytown will give you a lot of information about housing - and other things - but I'd caution you against depending too much on the expat community.

What others have said about Berlin's pecuniary limitations is pretty accurate, as far as I can tell, though my field is not at all related. Frankfurt is probably the canonical answer for financial jobs, though.

Personally, I find that Berlin feels a little large, spread-out, and impersonal to me (although it has some pretty awesome opportunities, cool art spaces, etc.); I really like the feel of Munich, which is a little smaller and denser, and a little more unique-feeling. Many parts of Berlin feel somewhat like generic Large City Neighborhoods to me, while it's hard to mistake Munich for anywhere else. Unless you've got your heart totally set on Berlin, I'd consider taking a look at some of the other large German cities - say, Frankfurt, München, Köln, Hamburg, usw. - and seeing which ones are interesting, affordable, and likely to have acceptable jobs. Though the other large German cities might not be as internationally known, most of them have pretty interesting - and distinct - creative scenes. You might still end up in Berlin, but it's definitely worth taking a look at the rest.
posted by ubersturm at 10:16 PM on June 12, 2008

Buying an apartment in Berlin is only if you plan to keep it for the long haul. Germans tend to buy and live in a place for 20+ years if not life and don't move around often. This means that homes are cheaper to buy, but if you do need to sell quickly you won't make any profit and it may take a very long time to sell.

Renting is fine, as in most places in that part of Europe. Many Europeans are lifelong renters.

I adore Berlin and have thought of moving there myself, but I think it is a little harder than some of the major EU business centres like Frankfurt to find English speaking jobs though there will definitely be some out there.

As for moving to a country where you don't know the language - I work for an international organisation in the Netherlands, we work in English. I don't speak Dutch. If I was going to be here for longer than a few months, I would definitely take classes. I'm here short term but I get by with the miniscule amount I know. Would it be a better experience if I spoke Dutch? Definitely.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:41 AM on June 13, 2008

I don't think there are very many jobs in Berlin. I would look for a job first if I were you. Aside from that, it's a great city. You can learn German gradually once you get here; you'll definitely be able to get by with English. There are Americans who have lived here for years and still speak no German. It is easy to find an apartment. If you have money you can buy an apartment for around 1000 Euros/square meter in Kreuzberg or Treptow, 800 Euros/square meter in Neukölln...in other districts I'm not so sure. I'm looking to buy one myself, so if you want more info on apts feel free to send me an mefimail.
posted by creasy boy at 1:36 AM on June 13, 2008

I'd recommend taking a quick 'n' dirty immersion course in German. German actually is fairly easy to teach yourself, once you've gotten a feel for the various word endings and tenses, etc, but if you don't have a basic working knowlege of it, it makes it difficult to look things up. Having said that, a large percentage of strangers I met there had near-perfect English and loved to show it off.

And by the way, good for you. Get out there, champ. *high five*
posted by aliasless at 9:58 AM on June 13, 2008

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