Berlin: Love it or Leave it…

Living in Berlin featured image

I have planned to write a blog about living in Berlin for quite some time, but somehow found it difficult to actually start. Not because the city does not inspire me to write about it, but it is a matter of an experience that has two faces. A story that represents the good that Berlin has to offer and also the dark side that comes with it.

After living in Berlin for over three years I can say that everything said or written about the city is completely true. Life in Berlin is an amazing journey packed with art, history, music, crazy events, an impressive diversity of people and cheap and good food. It truly is incredible what Berlin has to offer, with almost every weekend feeling like we are city-tripping without traveling abroad.

With a broad diversity of Kiez (neighborhoods) Berlin offers something for everyone. And the cool thing is, that every Kiez feels like a village or city on its own. To highlight our favorites: the fancy and posh Prenzlauer Berg, the alternative Friedrichshain, the chique Charlottenburg and Schöneberg and of course, the amazing Kiez where we spent our Berlin-lifetime: Mitte.

I must say that we were pretty blessed with our location and apartment in Mitte, which is situated in the Strelitzer Strasse. With an every day view on the inspiring Fernsehturm, the amazing Factory Berlin Startup Business Community around the corner, the Berliner Mauer Gedenckstätte at the end of our street and of course the apartment itself, authentic with over 90m2 of living space. If you can imagine that I beat over 40 people (!!) while viewing the apartment, you could say that we were very lucky with finding this amazing place.

Music (and food) will make your world go round

Living in Berlin comes with quite the amount of ‘luxury’ in what the city offers its inhabitants. I for instance am very impressed by the amount of concerts that are organized in the city on a weekly basis. Not only does Berlin have a crazy amount of music venues, it also welcomes almost every (un)known artist you can think of. The ‘downside’ of this all, is that the vast amount of offering makes it harder to choose what (not) to attend. Being new in the city you probably want to watch every act perform, soon realizing that the offer does not match your agenda or budget.

What I also really enjoy about living in Berlin, is eating out. There are so many affordable and good restaurants in every Kiez, that you will be probably eating out twice or even thrice a week! Imagine having yourself a very large plate of pasta, Vietnamese food, burrito’s etc. for only € 10 (!!). Crazy right? Berlin has so many nice restaurants (and bars!), that it will probably take you a couple of lifetimes to discover them all.

Last, but not least, I want to mention that Berlin brings out the ‘Indiana Jones’ in everyone. There is so much to explore and discover. The city offers a vast diversity of urban locations, cool buildings, hinterhöfe, outdoor markets, forests and lakes to discover. You will NEVER have a dull moment in Berlin. And let’s not forget Potsdam, a beautiful small city outside Berlin. It is one of our favorite places to go.

Living in Berlin feels close to paradise, it actually isn’t

So, yes… all those online magazines, blogs, social posts that mark Berlin as ‘amazing’ are true. You will enjoy spending your time in the city, and we also do / did. But unfortunately all those good things also come with a dark side. Otherwise Berlin would be a paradise on earth, right? And that it actually also isn’t. Reading all the stories about living in Berlin, I find it quite shocking that the ‘dark side’ of the city almost only refers to what happened in history, and that Berlin nowadays is mostly presented as the most trendy and coolest city in Europe. Hmm..

I also want to shine a different light on the city, to prepare you for a different color than those in the rainbow. Therefore I have chosen to share our experience with the dark side of Berlin.

*) Before you continue reading: this is my personal and honest opinion, without any intention for hurting anyone’s feelings or painting a different picture. I also want to mention that no animals were hurt in the process of writing this blog.

Ok, here we go: my top 5 (or 6) of Berlin dislikes:

1. Berlin can be very, very… very dirty

What surprises and bothers me most, is how dirty Berlin at some places is. I even dare to say that – after living in quite some countries and cities in Europe – Berlin probably can be marked as the dirtiest and unhygienic city I have ever lived in.

The government does its best to keep the streets clean, but with over 4 million people inhabitants and all the tourists and homeless people, it is a battle they can not win. The smell of urine, the dirty floors, stairs and walls in the U-bahn stations, graffiti spam and litter in the parks and streets. It all makes an impact when I step outside our apartment for another day in the city. And of course this varies per Kiez (neighborhood), with Neukölln and Wedding probably topping the dirty-list.

2. There are many homeless, drunk and addicted people on the streets

If you think of a number of homeless, drunk and addicted people that you will encounter on your journey through Berlin, you will probably still end up on the downside of reality. It really is quite shocking how many helpless or lost people you will notice in the streets, parks, subway stations etc.

I often ask myself what brings all these people together. The answer probably can be found in a) the lack of support from the government, b) cheap alcohol (which is also allowed on the streets), food and easy to buy drugs and c) companionship in sorrow.

3. People in Berlin can be very, very unfriendly

I have read many stories about the Berliner Schnauze – “verbal attitude of the inhabitants of the city of Berlin, characterized as being outspoken, lacking politeness and using coarse humor” – and unfortunately must confirm that it does exist. Berliners – non expats – can definitely be very unfriendly or even extremely rude. Which was also something that I needed to get used to. The times we walked away from a restaurant due the mentality of a waiter or the moments we were barked at for nothing, is something I also never experienced anywhere else abroad.

A Berlin friend explained me that the origin of the Berliner Schnauze lies in the fact that the city is being taken over by expats. This creates a sense of frustration among the true inhabitants of Berlin, as they feel that the city is losing its’ identity at a fast pace. A German politician even shared his concern about the English language slowly becoming the leading language in Berlin (!!). Crazy indeed.

4. The horror of visiting a Berlin doctor

You better not get sick during your stay in Berlin, because making a doctors appointment and visiting one really is a true horror. An experience that definitely tops any Stephen King novel ever written.

Your first challenge will be finding a decent (and friendly) doctor that actually has time for you, as the overload of people moving to Berlin has resulted in a shortage of practitioners in the city. Don’t be surprised when your first appointment will be scheduled in a month (or even later) from now! When you finally manage to make it to your appointment, there is no victory yet. As you will probably be waiting another two hours before you are actually invited in.

Going to see a doctor in Berlin feels like a constant and nasty game that you are caught up in, which you will need to start over again. This because it is required to re-register at the doctors office every new quarter of the year. Uff.

5. Living in Berlin will not make you rich

Berlin is a city of startups, which means most of the jobs available will be offered by early stage tech companies. Nothing beats being part of an innovative adventure, if it wasn’t the case that most of the startups only aim for the dollar or euro signs. This means that they will generally invest in growth, which does not include your bank account.

Settling in Berlin and earning an income means that you will mostly be working hard and earning less. You will probably generate enough income to enjoy the Berlin-lifestyle, but it totally does not match with what people get paid in Hamburg, Leipzig or Munich for example. And yes, of course there are exceptions as Berlin also hosts established international agencies and companies.

6. You will never have a good relationship with your neighbors

Ok, the last thing I want to share with you totally depends on where you come from, culture-wise (and what you find important). It is all about the relationship you have or want to have with your neighbors, as in Berlin such a thing unfortunately does not ecist.

As the social TRVLBUGZ we are, we decided to introduce ourselves to our neighbors upon our arrival in Berlin. This we did with a box of delicious chocolates and a bottle of good wine, to make the best of impressions. But we received nothing more than a friendly smile and a quickly closed door. After 2.5 years of greeting our neighbors – sometimes without even a reply – it is clear that Berliners (non expats) do not want to be disturbed by all those people taking over their city. A DHL delivery creates a small but negligible moment of social interaction with your Berlin neighbor, with their only goal of getting a package from you… which you were so friendly to accept for the 100+ time.  

Berlin needs more love than we are currently giving it

So there you have it. A small summary of what challenges you can expect when you choose to settle in Berlin. Just to prepare you that this amazing city is more than a party or be-who-you-want-to-be Valhalla. With all the stories about the greatness of Berlin, it is also important to be aware of the other side of Berlin. Out of respect for the true inhabitants of the city, who are ‘imprisoned’ by its’ popularity and its dramatic changes and who are paying the price for it.

To end this first blog about Berlin with a high note: I will soon follow up with a top 10 of our local – positive – recommendations. Places where we enjoy eating or drinking, locations we love visiting and things to do that make us happy!

Living in Berlin featured image
A piece of fine art, just around the corner from our apartment…

Thank you for traveling with us!

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