More than a year has passed since the wide-eyed wonder gal moved to Berlin, Germany. Packed with a giant Lowe Alpine backpack, she arrived in the mid-summer August of Berlin, greeted with brightness and warmth, a welcomed surprise compared to what she had in mind the last time she was here.
Armed with an innate motivation to blend in with the locals, speak German and make a mark in this new chapter, there were only a few things capable of throwing her straight-lined vision and plans a giant curved ball.
Que: German bureaucracy and apartment finding.
About a year ago I made the move from Singapore to the capital of Germany. Berlin is a dream to many. Cosmopolitan and sophisticated, yet kind on the wallet and generous with opportunities. Arguably the best city for entrepreneurs, students and musicians, one can imagine that there are many others like myself settling in this city.
I moved into what was a nice corner-block apartment located on the 3rd floor of a building in Prenzlauer Promenade, in the area of Pankow. It was sorted out by the language institute by paying an extra 500euros/month for rent + administrative costs. The deciding factor of paying for this convenience was due to the presence of many scams a new tenant could fall trap to, such as this typical one using Airbnb. Anyone looking to move to a new city without prior experience, should always be careful and do their own research.
Pankow marked the start of my life in Berlin. It was where I experienced Berlin’s surprisingly warm summer, warmer than Singapore minus our humidity. A common tip to survive moving to a new place is to begin a routine, so mine consisted of school, the CrossFit gym and social networking events in the evening. Much to my pleasant surprise, I learnt that Berlin always have something to offer. With social apps like Meetup and the Facebook communities such as ‘Berlin4Beginners’ designed to help an expat settle, I was able to navigate the first weeks without that dreaded sense of loneliness a new mover usually gets.
In my first Berlin home I had 2 students as housemates and a landlady whom stayed with us. I must say, having German-speakers in the house really helped as first-time movers can expect many bureaucratic procedures such as the compulsory ‘Anmeldung’ registration to be done within 2 weeks of moving, and not forgetting an oh-so-innocent-looking ‘Runkfunkbeitrag’ letter.
My room was quite a change from living in an HDB flat back at home. The first floor was a pub and I stayed on the third, being the glass-half-full kinda gal I’d argue that the noise might have helped me learn German in my sleep. What was interesting for a first-time Berlin tenant was that it was typical for apartments to not have a living room. Building levels starts with 0, not 1. This probably stays true for many other places in Europe. More importantly, two ways of burning quick holes in your pockets are by pirating movies and losing keys. The first one is illegal and the second one is a costly mistake, as all apartments share the same main-door key. Both careless mistakes will cost you up to 1000 euros, each. Welcome to Berlin!
Remember that compulsory ‘Anmeldung’ I mentioned? Well, complications arose to me not being able to attain one. And because it was a non-negotiable procedure, I have no choice but to relocate in a few weeks, to the district of Kreuzberg. Kreuzberg grew to be my favorite spot due to great memories of staying in this area of student apartments with my new found friends. I’d say student apartments are usually a hit or miss. If you’re lucky, you could be allocated with awesome flatmates, accessibilities and a spacious room. If you had the misfortunate of getting tied up with untidy flatmates and out-of-whack neighbors, good luck.
I shared an apartment with 2 other girls from the same language school. Staying on the fifth floor without lift-access means we get a daily workout – again, glass half-full. However this time round, the apartment had a living room and even a balcony where I started planting strawberries and greens before winter arrived. During weekends we’d gather friends, create makeshift tables to play beer pong, have ‘taco nights’ and do what you’d imagine college students do.
I stayed a total of 5 months in Kreuzberg before having to terminate lease. As it was all very last-minute, the only place I could move to was Hermsdorf, a district far away from Berlin itself, and into the state of Brandenburg. While living in Hermsdorf I found my love for Berlin’s nature. After chancing upon the majestic serenity of Tegel forest, the hungry search for more nature spots in Berlin began.
My stay in Hermsdorf coincided with COVID taking a turn of worst in Berlin. This would be around March 2020. Before long, work and school transited online and panic buying assumed. As we can imagine, populous parts of the city took the worst hits and hence I’d count myself lucky to be outside of the city during this period.
While living in Hermsdorf was enjoyable, it started getting stagnant after a few weeks. Deciding to move a little closer to the city, I found the district of Charlottenburg. This place was perfect, away from the current chaotic center and close to the best nature spots of Berlin. Some of the places I’ve grown to love and frequent includes Schloss Charlottenburg, Grunewald forest and Volkspark Jungfernheide, all of which kept me safe and sane during social distancing measures from COVID.
By this time, Berlin was still under strict restrictions from the pandemic. I made the decision to switch from using public transports to transiting only with a bicycle. It was getting kind of tiring having to deal with the few instances of racist remarks from drunkards and seemingly-normal fellows in the U-Bahn. On one occasion I had a short discussion with a Berliner who was German-born Asian, he sharing the same problems anyhow, shared that for some people it doesn’t matter how local you are, it’s the skin color and outer appearance they see, and what social media painted. Truth.
The silver lining was that getting a bicycle was one of the best decisions I’ve made. The strict bicycle laws and infrastructure put in place makes Berlin a heaven for cyclists. Unlike Singapore, dedicated bicycle lanes means cyclists and drivers share the same road, except the fact that it 100% works. The downside of having so many cyclists in a city? Bicycle thefts are common, and albeit reportable, hard to trace. That being said, if you could enjoy all the perks without getting your bike stolen, then join me in declaring my love for cycling in this amazing city!
After witnessing a decent snowfall, exploring countless nature spots in West Berlin, my stay in Charlottenburg had to come to an end. Why so? A friend of mind was leaving Berlin and I for one could not pass off the chance of taking over his lease at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, nothing but the most sought-after district of Berlin.
Right images source: berlin.de and mauerpark.info
In the heart of Mitte, living at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz is as wild as Berlin gets. The left side of our apartment got full blast of noise from the high traffic, but the right side pretty much guaranteed a good night’s sleep. A mid-sized apartment was shared between 3 other housemates and we had a lovely balcony overlooking the children’s play area and backyard. Some of the most interesting aspects of this place has to be its surroundings. This area is pretty much a stone’s throwaway to the best tourist spots, within it includes Alexanderplatz, Mauer park and Beach Mitte. Cluttered with all kinds of nightlight, bars and restaurants, a night’s out usually meant visiting one of the restaurants we’ve yet to try. If I were to hop on a business meeting, it would be a 10-30 minutes commute away. As much as living here seemed to be a city-gal’s wet dream, at times it did feel overwhelming. Ultimately, it was a well-lived experience and I felt appreciative of the perks of such accessibility, every single day.
Living in Berlin has been a dream come true. Although moving 5 times in a year is not something I’d imagined, without these inconveniences would not have been experiences and stories to share. Relocating to a new place comes with it’s own set of potential problems and issues. Akin to any problem in life, my advice has always been one from Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘Power of Now’. In the book, he advises that whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation, there are 3 ways to go about it.
Change it, or
Remove yourself from it.
This has been my compass and I hope yours too.