Moving to Berlin certainly doesn’t come without its obstacles. There’s almost unbearable bureaucracy, a complicated language, a brutal rental market, and not to mention the odd moment of seemingly insurmountable red tape. But don’t despair; it’s far from impossible.
As Highsnobiety’s main office is based in Berlin, we just so happen to be quite the humble experts on the matter of actually moving and living here. I myself moved here successfully, and have since observed more friends than I can count on two hands embark on the same journey.
The upsides of living in this bold and enigmatic city far outweigh the downsides of the immediate struggle, but if you’re reading this you probably know that already. What you really need is some good straight advice on how to do it yourself: so here it is.
How to Find an Apartment and Register as a Resident
The first problem you are likely to encounter is finding somewhere to live, not just so you have a roof over your head but also so that you can obtain the elusive anmeldung. The anmeldung is a compulsory registration that serves as a prerequisite for many of your next steps. Without it, it’s almost like stepping back in time to ancient Athens, whereby one could not participate in the life of the polis without an address. Sure you can go to Berghain if the “curators” deem you worthy, but you cannot get a visa, a bank account (with one popular exception, N26), nor can you even give blood. You don’t exist, basically.
Gaining the registration is made tougher by a recent law change that requires you to submit a signed form from the landlord alongside your own personal documents. This means subletting an apartment, where the landlord may or may not even know you’re going to be the actual tenant, is very tricky. Looking for your own lease is easier (though you need the right documents, which we’ll get to shortly), but it’s not impossible to get a short-term sublet to find your feet. Many tenants have the right to sublet their apartment to you, and getting the signed form from the landlord could be as simple as a quick email.
This whole process will certainly be easier if you arrive in Berlin with a job contract, undoing possible concerns of flighty nomadism and aiding you in landing a legal, anmeldung-able sublet. You may still find it difficult to find your own lease, though, as this requires the standard German paperwork: a job contract, three months of payslips, and a Schufa report.
When the glorious day arrives and you find yourself with home — likely by the way of WG-Gesucht, immobilienscout24, or the Facebook group flats in Berlin — complete with that little sheet of gold signed by the landlord, you’ll then have to drag yourself down to your local Bürgeramt (a citizen’s office) at some ungodly hour of the morning to register.
Tip: the Bürgeramt offices in the popular Neukölln and Kreuzberg areas can be very busy and waiting times for appointments can stretch to weeks. However, there are offices spread all across Berlin — it’s often worth travelling a little bit further to get yourself an appointment sooner.
How to Get a Visa
If you’re a non-EU citizen, your next step is to secure your visa at the Ausländerbehörde in the Wedding district (note: you must go to a different location if you are applying for a student visa). Much like the Bürgeramt, appointments can be booked out months in advance: however, be sure to refresh the online appointment site daily as there are regular cancellations. If you’re unable to get an appointment on time, I’m afraid you’ll have to arrive at the crack of dawn and wait in line.
There is a wide range of visas on offer. If you are under 30 and your country of origin has a reciprocal agreement with Germany, you may be eligible for the one-year Youth Mobility Visa. This visa will be issued on the spot, and it allows you to do almost any sort of work over the course of the year: full-time employment, freelance work, mini-jobs, or any combination of the aforementioned. If you don’t meet the age requirements, your life’s pretty much over: shouldn’t you be resigning to a life of normality and routine anyway, chugging away at the 9-to-5, buying a house, doing all the stuff grown-ups do? Just kidding, visa are aplenty no matter what your age.
If you land a job contract, it should be reasonably straightforward to obtain the residence permit for the purpose of employment. If you want to turn your hand to freelancing (Berlin is practically the mecca of co-working spaces and flexible work arrangements) there are two self-employed visa options: the standard freelance visa or the artist freelance visa. Student visa? Visa for attending a language school? Take your pick, and jump over here for more comprehensive information about the various visa options and requirements.
How to Find a Job
If your visa isn’t tied to a job already, and you don’t yet speak Deutsch, there are many sites with English speaking job listings in Berlin. Your job pool will certainly shrink, but not into obliteration. The Local Berlin, Indeed English Jobs in Berlin, and Berlin Startup Jobs are a great place to start. If you’re looking for something with a social impact, tbd* (previously, The Changer) compiles a number of German and English speaking positions. Artconnect is a great portal for the artistically inclined, listing various jobs, internships, residencies, open calls, and collaboration opportunities. Facebook is another port of call for many, featuring groups such as English speaking jobs in Berlin and English Jobs in Berlin.
How to Find Volunteer Work
If you require respite from all the job hunting, Vostel and Give Something Back to Berlin compile a swathe of volunteering opportunities, so you can feel like you’re doing more with your life than writing endless cover letters, fruitlessly hunting apartments, and trawling through your Facebook feed. It’s also a great way to meet locals and newcomers alike.
How to Learn German
While Berlin is certainly one of the easiest non-English speaking cities to get by in without knowing the language, there may come a time that you want to be able to communicate with the locals — beyond indicating what sauces you’d like on your döner kebab.
The Volkshochschule comprises a number of community colleges across the city that offer German language and integration courses. This is definitely the best value for money, however, the classes are often more time intensive than many of the private schools.
If you have time constraints because of work or other commitments, private schools such as Sprachmafia, Babylonia (an “alternative language school and centre for radical culture”), Sprachpunkt, and Sprachsalon may offer modules that are better suited to your schedule and provide an ambience that is a little less like your high school classroom.
There are also a number of great informal options. Deutsch für Dich offers donation based classes each week for beginners, intermediate, or advanced learners at Kleinod Bar in Neukölln; while Sharehaus Refugio also hosts a Sprachcafe. You’ll find a variety of language based meet-up groups, too.
How to Get Free Advice in Berlin
When all else fails you, the 39,000 odd members of Free Advice Berlin are there to provide answers to your questions. As Francis Galton demonstrated the wisdom of the crowd is greater than that of the individual. Expect to find this crowd’s wisdom rife with helpful suggestions, hilarious anecdotes, occasionally (unwelcome) offensive comments, and even the odd snarky liberal condescension. It’s a must-join for all new Berliners.
How to Enjoy Berlin
Once the essential life admin is in order, and Free Advice Berlin is just a click away, you’ll be ready to settle in and enjoy all the city has to offer. First things first, get a bike to enjoy the reasonably flat, cycle-friendly city like the locals. This site will keep you up to date on the next Fahrradmarkt in Kreuzberg and Moabit, and you’ll also find plenty of second-hand bike stores dotted about the neighborhoods.
In addition to bike markets, there are a plethora of flea markets where you’ll find bargain-priced and some not-so-bargain-priced vintage clothes, furniture (to furnish your new, anmeldung-certified room), and whatever else takes your fancy. Mauerpark flohmarkt in Prenzlauer Berg is the most well-known: there’s food, buskers, and drunken Sunday afternoon karaoke in the amphitheatre. Be sure to check out the smaller markets such as the Nowkoelln flowmarkt and the Kreuzboerg Flowmarkt, too.
Drinking in parks, by the canal, and on the Spree are essential summer activities; Tempelhofer Feld, Admiralbrücke by the canal, and Treptower Park on the Spree won’t disappoint. And, while supermarkets are closed on Sundays, you’ll be sure to find a nearby Späti to meet your ice-cold beer requirements. Make sure you enjoy the long, warm evenings — while you can — with a film en plein air at one of the many open-air cinemas springing up around the city over summer, such as Freiluftkino Kreuzberg, Freiluftkino Hasenheide, and Freiluftkino Insel.
When winter hits, and Späti beers by the canal become but a distant memory, this map is your go-to for clubs located near U-Bahn stops. If you haven’t experienced Berlin winter at its lowest temperatures, you won’t yet understand just how life-changing this map will prove.
The city is somewhat bi-polar: when summer abruptly turns itself over to below-zero temperatures and 4 p.m. sunsets, it may become not only unrecognizable but a little depressing. But don’t despair, it’s part of the magic — you’ll get to experience two cities in one.
Cee Cee, an online newsletter with German and English versions, will steer you in the direction of delicious restaurants, cosy bars (where you’ll likely find an army of hipsters, with roll-your-own cigarettes, smoking inside) and cultural activities to keep you occupied year round. Stil in Berlin is another handy online resource for some of the best Berlin has to offer, while Exberliner — online and in print — branches out from cataloguing the trendy waterholes to keep you up-to-date with what’s happening in the city more generally.
Next up, here’s how to day drink without getting trashed, sleepy or sick.
- Words: Melissa Harrison
- Illustrations: Stephen Cheetham