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Moving to Berlin

Expats moving to Berlin are lucky enough to find themselves in Hemingway's romanticised idea of what life overseas should be – far too much talking and far too little working. More than two decades have slipped by since the city was reunified after the Cold War. Since then, continental Europe's largest capital has built itself up, attracting a variety of expats to a city that thrives on creative prowess.

Berlin is cosmopolitan and eclectic. The cost of rent is cheaper than most European capitals, and accommodation is certainly considerably more affordable than one would find in Paris or London. As a result, the relatively low cost of living in Berlin has beckoned those that flourish in the underbelly; namely artists, designers, musicians, writers and performers.

However, unemployment rates are relatively high, the social pressure to work is low and tolerance has been taken to a new limit – in fact, locals are known to be less open-minded than they are outright experimental. Suits are relatively rare on the city's wide avenues and job opportunities for expats in the formal sector are decidedly limited. Even so, for those with an entrepreneurial edge, the city can become a centre stage for residents.

Furthermore, a tradition of intellectual freedom and a policy of loose liquor laws that only require bars to close once the last patron has finished have created a throng of hip cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs that cater to every taste. Because of the city's long division, there is an abundance of attractions and features, from train stations to zoos and art studios.

Berlin also benefits from civic services that are commonplace to any major metropolis in Western Europe, including an easy and efficient public transportation system, effective healthcare and first-rate education opportunities, especially when it comes to higher learning.

Though many native Berliners are abandoning the city for greener pastures of employment, there continues to be a massive influx of internationals, and expats who move to Berlin can certainly look forward to a healthy community that is imparting its own character on the German capital.

Working in Berlin

Berlin is not the place for expats looking to climb the corporate ladder and land themselves a highly paid expat contract. For that type of work, expats are better off heading to Germany's automobile capital, Stuttgart, or the financial hub of Frankfurt. 

That said, each year, both foreigners and Germans working in the creative industries flock to Berlin to establish themselves. It is also a popular destination for entrepreneurs looking to set up their own businesses, especially in technological fields. 


Job market in Berlin

For many expats, finding work in Berlin is difficult. Year upon year, Germany's capital claims the highest unemployment rate of any city in the country. Previously a divided city, for many years Berlin was forced to put economic growth on hold in order to rehabilitate or eradicate inefficient East German businesses, and to integrate the separate infrastructures of the formerly spliced metropolis.

The economic funk has done little to dampen the spirits of Berliners though and, in fact, it seems to have only shifted the paradigm – poverty has become the unassuming aesthetic of many residents.

As a result, it has beckoned a young, creative expat community interested in working in Berlin to tap into its culture of innovation and to have access to a milieu of residents inspired by bohemian living. Studio space is cheap in the metropolis and collectives are abundant; thus artists, performers, writers and musicians will find plenty of opportunity to get involved and be inspired. That being said, there are also those who arrive jobless only to find themselves returning home after a short stint.

Despite Berlin's relatively high rates of poverty and unemployment, it ranks near the top of German cities when it comes to job creation. Thus, those with the skills and the drive have the potential to find a professional niche for themselves.

Expats who prefer a path paved by more formality should look into one of the many internet and media start-ups that have popped up in Berlin. The city has also taken steps to establish itself as a global competitor poised to attract high-tech, modern service companies and those in the processing industry.

Furthermore, with dozens of universities, colleges and polytechnics, as well as over 200 research institutes, Berlin also boasts job opportunities in research and development.

As a final alternative, English-speaking expats should consider teaching English or working part-time in the tourism and hospitality service industries, the city's largest source of employment. These professions pay little, but are often easier to come by than freelance work or a position in a more formal sector.


Finding a job in Berlin

Expats trying to find work in Berlin can start by using online sources for some useful insights into the types of job available in the city. However, those looking for work in niche industries will benefit from networking and making contacts with those already in their field in Berlin. 

Speaking German is not a prerequisite for many jobs in Berlin, but some knowledge of the local language will certainly be beneficial to new arrivals hoping to pursue a successful career in the metropolis. 

Expats moving to Berlin from outside the EU or newer EU-member states such as Bulgaria or Romania must ensure they have the necessary work permit for Germany so they can legally take up employment. Realistically speaking, without an EU passport or sought-after qualifications, expats are likely to struggle to find work in Berlin, more so than in any other German city.

Cost of Living in Berlin

As one would expect in any European capital city, the cost of living in Berlin is fairly high. Berlin was ranked 81st out of 209 cities surveyed in the 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Survey. According to the survey, living in Berlin is cheaper than in other major German cities such as Frankfurt (74th) and Munich (67th), but more expensive than some European cities such as Barcelona and Prague.

Regardless, expats will find that certain things like the cost of rental accommodation are just a fraction of what they would be in other European cities, like Paris or London. On top of housing costs, expats moving to Berlin will need to consider the expense of commuting, groceries, entertainment and eating out.

Health insurance is an expense that no-one moving to Germany can avoid, so expats are advised to negotiate for a provision for this within their employment contracts wherever possible. While expat parents moving to Berlin will have a wide variety of choices when it comes to schooling, the cost of international school fees in the city is very high. 


Cost of accommodation in Berlin 

As is the case throughout much of Germany, the majority of Berlin residents opt to rent rather than buy property. Expats who move to the city also generally tend to rent accommodation in Berlin due to the short-term nature of their assignments.

Rent in Berlin is generally lower than that in other German cities. Generally, there are even cheaper accommodation options as one moves further away from Berlin’s city centre.


Cost of entertainment and eating out in Berlin

Naturally, the cost of entertainment and eating out will vary in accordance with an individual's tastes and preferences. However, those moving to Germany will find there are opportunities to either save or splurge in accordance with most budgets.

When it comes to food, Berlin has everything from upscale bistros to street food stalls, so expats are sure to find good quality food to satisfy any craving and fit any budget. While entrance to Berlin’s top nightclubs comes with a small fee, the city has lots of bars and eateries where visitors can grab a drink and listen to live music at no cost. 

Other activities on offer in the city, such as enjoying a summer day in the park, visiting local markets or going for a cycle, can be done at little or no cost. Therefore, even those that want to save while living in Berlin can do so without missing out on a social life. 


Cost of transport in Berlin

Berlin has an excellent public transport network and it is generally more affordable than transportation in Frankfurt and Munich. It is not necessary to have a car in Berlin and most expats prefer to make use of buses, trams and the metro.

Expats who plan on utilising public transport to commute to and from work on a daily basis can save money by investing in a travel pass. This is valid on all modes of public transportation.

Cycling is popular with the local population in Berlin and is by far the most cost-effective way to get around the city. Furthermore, Berlin's infrastructure caters well for cyclists with plenty of cycle lanes and storage facilities for bicycles scattered throughout the city. 


Cost of healthcare in Berlin

Berlin is home to some excellent hospitals and new arrivals can be reassured that they will be well taken care of if they were to fall ill during their stay in the city. However, it is compulsory for everyone in Germany to have some form of health insurance, so this is something that expats moving to Berlin must budget for. 

Anyone who is employed by a company operating in Germany can take advantage of the state health insurance plan, which is well subsidised, although those earning above a certain income bracket will not qualify for public health insurance. In this case, private insurance becomes compulsory. In this situation, expats are advised to try and negotiate a healthcare allowance within their contract of employment. 

Freelancers and those who are self-employed will need to purchase private health insurance, which is significantly more expensive. Private health insurance varies according to the age and health of a person as well as the type of cover required. 


Cost of education in Berlin

While Berlin has a large number of international schools, expats will find that tuition fees are particularly high. Expats who are not lucky enough to be given an allowance for their children’s school fees should investigate the prospect of bilingual schools in Berlin. These are public schools where children are taught in both German and another language. Bilingual schools in Germany operate at a low to no cost, which makes them far more affordable than international options. 


Cost of living in Berlin chart

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices for March 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 800 - 1,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 600 - 800

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,500 - 2,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 1,000 - 1,200

Food and drink

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 0.85

Eggs (dozen)

EUR 2

Loaf of bread (white)

EUR 1.40

Rice (1kg)

EUR 2

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 7.50

Pack of Marlboro cigarettes

EUR 7

Utilities

Monthly internet (uncapped ADSL or cable)

EUR 25

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

EUR 0.10

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

EUR 130

Hourly rate for a domestic cleaner

EUR 13

Eating out and entertainment

Three-course mid-range restaurant meal for two

EUR 40

Big Mac Meal

EUR 7

Cappuccino

EUR 3

Coca-Cola (330 ml)

EUR 2

Bottle of local beer

EUR 3.50

Transportation

Taxi (per km)

EUR 2

City-centre bus or train ticket

EUR 2.80

Petrol per litre

EUR 1.45

Accommodation in Berlin

Expats looking for accommodation in Berlin will find a wide variety of options ranging from homes amid Cold War-era East German high rises, the sophisticated neoclassical buildings of Prenzlauer Berg, or the experimental collectives of Kreuzberg.

The city has long been renowned for its reasonable housing options, and foreign nationals looking to dive head first into Western Europe's coolest capital will find a real estate market defined by oversupply and subsequent low costs.

For those fortunate enough to consider purchasing property, apartments in Berlin's cutting-edge central district of Mitte are somewhat reasonable; especially in comparison to the exorbitant sums paid for precious space in the likes of London or Paris. However, most of Berlin's population is too poor to purchase property, and therefore the majority of the capital’s residents rent property.


Types of property in Berlin

Expats moving to Berlin will be pleased to find that few other European capitals have as much variety in terms of property. From old-world townhouses to Soviet-era apartment blocks, Berlin is home to a truly eclectic range of accommodation options. 

The standard of accommodation in Berlin is generally very good. Even in buildings with a somewhat dated facade one will find that the apartments themselves have either been very well maintained or even completely modernised. Refurbished buildings with beautiful amenities are also plentiful but are naturally more expensive. 

Generally, accommodation in Berlin tends to be spacious for the going price. Apartments tend to be around 40 percent larger in Berlin than in other European capitals.

While expats may find furnished properties to rent in Berlin, these will mostly be holiday lets which are available for the short- to medium-term and often cost quite a bit more than the average. Generally, property in Berlin will be unfurnished so expats should consider having to invest in some basic items of furniture. It may come as a surprise to some that unfurnished properties in Berlin are typically empty, often without carpets, light fittings or white goods. The advantage of this is that tenants are allowed more leeway in terms of decor. While many people do paint their apartments, tenants are required to repaint in white or neutral colours at the end of a lease. 


Finding property in Berlin

There are a number of different ways to find a property to rent in Berlin. Expats who are lucky enough to be relocated to Berlin by a company may find that their employer assists them in securing suitable housing. For those without such a luxury, the best place to start the search for a home in Berlin would be online. While some sites and accommodation portals may provide listings, it is always beneficial to have some knowledge of German terminology. 

Alternatively, print publications such as Zitty or the Immobilien issue of Zweite Hand (secondhand), which is published every Saturday, also contain property listings. 

However, by far the most efficient and stress-free way of finding accommodation in Berlin is by using the services of an agency. Known as Mitwohnzentrale or Mitwohnagentur, these agencies have intimate knowledge of the city's property market and can assist new arrivals in finding a home that meets all their requirements. It is important to note that estate agents in Berlin do charge a fee for their services. 


Renting accommodation in Berlin

As mentioned, cheap real estate has attracted so many young, creative expats to Berlin's centre and suburbs. That being said, the face of the Berlin housing market is changing in small ways, and expats should take note. Rent has steadily increased in the city and average incomes in Berlin are still relatively low compared to other cities in Germany.

Those arriving in Germany without a firm job offer need to have a substantial amount saved to cover the cost of accommodation while they look for employment. Bear in mind that most landlords can ask for up to three months' rent to cover the security deposit on a place.

Once expats have found a property that meets their requirements they will be expected to complete a detailed application form and provide evidence on their income and legal status in the country. In some cases, they may be asked for a reference from a previous landlord or a certificate (Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung) indicating they have no outstanding rent due.

Areas and suburbs in Berlin

Berlin is a dynamic city in constant change, and no other metropolis in Germany has created so much history. Once divided into East and West Berlin, both halves had to reconnect after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As a result, elegant boulevards alternate with trendy and alternative neighbourhoods. The futuristic architecture in the government district and at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin-Mitte contrasts quite dramatically with the Wilhelminian-style architecture seen in Charlottenburg.

Expats looking for a home should seriously consider which area of Berlin is most suitable for their needs. Accommodation options differ vastly in each of the city’s twelve districts, each of which consists of several neighbourhoods.

Certain districts are more popular than others. Expats will need to consider their priorities carefully before choosing an appropriate area of the city in which to settle, but whatever the demands, Berlin leaves no wish unfulfilled. In this multifaceted city, there will be something to suit every taste.


Popular districts in Berlin

Berlin-Mitte

Berlin-Mitte is very international; an eclectic mix of cultures and nations intersecting and co-existing. Residents live between world-famous sights, government quarters and cultural temples. Nowhere in the capital is reunification more evident than in Mitte. Here beats the heart of Berlin, and desired addresses are aplenty, including Friedrich-Wilhelm-Stadt, Spandauer Vorstadt, Rosenthaler Vorstadt and the historic Nikolaiviertel.

The district also consists of the neighbourhoods of Tiergarten and Wedding; that are, in contrast to the exquisite Mitte, multicultural and less fashionable. Nevertheless, these districts can also be quite attractive. The Tiergarten in Berlin is what Hyde Park is to London and Central Park is to New York. This park, located in the Tiergarten district, is Berlin's largest and most beautiful and lifts the area's image accordingly. Even Wedding, despite its low-brow reputation, reveals its handsome side with imposing architectural facades.

Expats who choose to live in Mitte will quickly find that parking is a problem. Spaces are rare, and the traffic can be nerve-wracking. However, Berlin has an excellent public transportation system by which one can reach almost every point in the city. 

Charlottenburg Wilmersdorf

For expats who prefer the quiet life, the district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is a perfect choice. Residents are typically cosmopolitan, tradition-conscious and ambitious.

In addition to the upmarket neighbourhoods of Grunewald and Schmargendorf, Charlottenburg stands out for its solid middle-class respectability. Unlike in the student districts of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, in this neighbourhood expats can anticipate living alongside the affluent and those who value a certain quality of life.

Wilmersdorf is a cosy area to the west of the city. Also, normally thought of as bourgeois, wealthy and conservative, the neighbourhood is evolving slightly due to the return of a younger, more vibrant crowd. Wilmersdorf offers an environment with lots of green space and a wide choice of schools, making it popular with families.

Although Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is not a hip area overall, Savignyplatz - with its countless restaurants and bars - is one neighbourhood that’s become a magnet for the younger generation.

The main attraction in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin's most popular boulevard and shopping mile. In the immediate vicinity lies the Zoological Garden, a must-see and the best-stocked zoo in the world. In the heart of this area lies the magnificent Schloss Charlottenburg, affectionately known as "Little Versailles". The famous Olympic Stadium built during the Third Reich is also worth a visit.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

Young expats who want to live where it happens, as opposed to just nearby, should seek housing in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Though this area used to be a predominately working-class district, it has evolved into a fashionable area that captures the attention of young international expats, students and artists.

Both Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are among Berlin’s trendiest neighbourhoods; countless bars, clubs and pubs pop up on every corner. Because of the cheap rent and burgeoning nightlife, Friedrichshain has become the student quarter of the city. Expats will find a lively scene around Simon-Dach Straße and Boxhagener Straße, in particular.

In Kreuzberg, many different cultures co-exist, and the residents have a different approach to everyday life – easy going and unassailable. Kreuzberg, together with Wedding, claims the most Turkish residents in the city.

The Berlin Wall used to run between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, and though the feeling of division is still present in many minds, residents add a lighter spin to the location by organising a water fight each year at the Oberbaumbrücke, which connects the two parts of the district. Other attractions in this quarter include the East Side Gallery, with remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the former prestige boulevard of the East, the Karl-Marx-Allee.

Pankow - Prenzlauer Berg

Expats with more refined tastes may want to move into the densely populated and trendy Prenzlauer Berg. In addition to actors, designers and artists, this area also attracts foreign academics and a large contingency of families, hence its nickname, “Pregnant Hill”.

With its countless bars, clubs, theatres and clothing stores, Prenzlauer Berg is one of the most modern districts of Berlin. It is also home to the famous Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery.

Healthcare in Berlin

Expats can expect not only a high standard of healthcare in Berlin but also a culture created around the idea of healthy living.

The city and its surrounding state is considered a leading health region in Europe and forms Germany's largest centre of medical activity. Expats will find a range of services available, from basic care and high-end medicine to prevention and rehabilitation.

Berlin has a rich history steeped in scientific research and pharmaceutical brands such as Bayer, Pfizer and Berlin-Chemie have labs and production facilities in the area. More than 150 companies based in Berlin manufacture cutting-edge medical equipment such as CT scanners, X-ray and laser machines.

As a result, local hospitals certainly appease international standards and, in many cases, set the precedent themselves. Expats with specific concerns will be relieved to find that there are numerous hospitals in Berlin available for specialised treatment.

The Charité Hospital has an exemplary reputation, as does the Max Delbrück Centrum and the German Heart Centre. Sankt Gertrauden Hospital is well known for its focus as an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) and Breast Centre; Waldfriede Hospital for its gynaecology, obstetrics and diabetology; and the Westend Klinik of the German Red Cross for paediatric, neurology and radial therapy services.


Hospitals in Berlin

Below is a list of some of the most prominent hospitals in Berlin. Expats should receive a high standard of treatment and have access to English-speaking medical staff at these hospitals.

Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin

www.charite.de
Address: Luisenstrasse 65, Berlin

 

Martin Luther Krakenhaus

www.pgfiakonie.de
Address: Caspar-Theyß-Strasse 27-31, Berlin

 

Park Klinik Weißensee

www.park-klinik.com
Address: Schönstrasse 80, Berlin

 

Sana Klinikum Lichtenberg Krankenhaus

www.sana.kl.de
Address: Fanningerstrasse 32, Berlin

 

Vivantes Klinikum Am Urban

www.vivantes.de
Address: Dieffenbachstrasse 1, Berlin

Education and Schools in Berlin

Expats will find that, as in greater Germany, education and schools in Berlin are considered very important. Teachers are paid honourable salaries and university employees are often given higher regard than esteemed businessmen.

Berlin has a particularly pointed emphasis on higher education and boasts numerous universities, colleges and polytechnics, and over 200 research institutes.

Unlike many countries, Germany's education system gives a good deal of independent power to individual states (lander); the federal government mainly retains responsibility for university and post-secondary education. Thus, those moving to Berlin from another part of Germany may need to once again acquaint themselves with the ins and outs of the system.


Public schools in Berlin

Expats who have children young enough to pick up the local language quickly, or who foresee themselves relocating to Berlin on a long-term basis will certainly want to consider standard German public schools. There are no tuition fees attached to these institutions, but there may be registration or minimal extras that will need to be financed.

Expats may initially find the system complicated, but it is ultimately based on achievement. 

In Berlin, parents and students can choose the school they wish to attend. There are no catchment schools, and students are not "zoned" to a particular place of learning. It follows that it is necessary to do adequate research about which institutions best align with a particular child's needs and priorities.

Children attend Kindergarten at the age of three, and start Grundschulle (primary school) at age six. From this age students learn a standard set curriculum, which lasts six grades in Berlin. After this point they attend one of three types of secondary schools: HauptschuleRealschule or Gymnasium. German education is thus not divided according to age from this point forward, but rather according to what direction a student chooses to take their education.

A child's academic ability usually determines which school they attend, but the final decision also often rests with the parents. Bear in mind, though, regardless of which school a child attends, all students are required to complete at least nine years of education. Also, as schooling is usually conducted during the morning, students often receive a lot of homework and are thus unable to involve themselves in too many extra-curricular activities.

Hauptschule, while offering the same subjects as Realschule and Gymnasium, teaches children at a slower pace and includes vocational courses. During grade 10, students study at a vocational training school, and then attend Berufsschule, where they receive further education and apprenticeship training up until grade 12.

Realschule, on the other hand, is attended up until and including grade 10, after which students go straight to Berufsschule. Depending on their academic progress, Realschule students can go to a Gymnasium upon graduation.

Gymnasium is generally accepted as the type of school for top students. Subjects covered include mathematics and natural science, as well as classic and modern language studies. The grades range from 5 to 13 and successful scholars receive a degree called an Abitur, which offers university and college preparatory classes, or combined academic and vocational training.


International and bilingual schools in Berlin

Berlin has a few private international schools and public bilingual schools. These are often the best options for expats as they eliminate concerns around the language barrier.

Private international schools catering to a variety of nationalities can be found in the city. Expats can choose the school that offers their preferred language of learning and the curriculum of their home country.

These schools tend to uphold high standards of learning, boast smaller class sizes, have first-rate facilities, and often offer a larger variety of extra-curricular activities than bilingual schools or German public schools. Students tend to find their comfort zone easily in these spaces; however, in some cases they will be missing an opportunity to have a positive multi-cultural experience.These schools also tend to come with a hefty price tag, depending on age and institution.

As an alternative, the public bilingual schools come with no fees attached and act as a good middle ground, allowing for integration and cultivating a comfort zone for kids. The Nelson Mandela School and the JFK School are two examples that are well-respected by the expat community.

In these state-sponsored schools there are usually two streams of curricula based on a child's mother tongue, the difference being the language of teaching.

Space does tend to fill up quickly at popular bilingual schools in Berlin, so expats preparing for a move to the city would do well to start making arrangements as far in advance as possible.

In the case of both school types, preference may be given to students based on nationality; this does not apply at all institutions though, and does not guarantee entrance. Admission and enrolment procedures vary from school to school.

International Schools in Berlin

There are a number of international schools in Berlin which cater to the needs of the city's expat population. These schools follow various curricula and help students to make a smooth transition into life in Germany.

The majority of expats living in Berlin opt to send their children to international schools. While fees can be very high, international schools offer the option with the least disruption to a child's education.

For those who cannot afford to send their child to an international school in Germany, the option of a bilingual school is also worth exploring.


International schools in Berlin 

Berlin Bilingual School (Formerly Berlin Kids International School)

www.berlin-bilingual-school.de
Curriculum: German/IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

Berlin British School

www.berlinbritishschool.de
Curriculum: British/IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Berlin Cosmopolitan School

www.cosmopolitanschool.de
Curriculum: IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Berlin International School

www.berlin-international-school.de
Curriculum: British/IB
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 4 to 18

Berlin Metropolitan School

www.metropolitanschool.com
Curriculum: IB/IGCSE
Gender: Co-educational 
Ages: 3 to 18

John F Kennedy School Berlin

www.jfks.de
Curriculum: American/German 
Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18

Lifestyle in Berlin

Berlin has been compared to Paris in the 1920s and New York City in the 1970s; it is modest yet inviting, attracting the young and the restless from all corners of the world. Lifestyle in Berlin is a lesson in bohemian living, and expats moving to the once-divided German capital should be prepared to immerse themselves in the alternative.

Fashion, design, music, art and architecture are many people's mainstay and their source of enjoyment. These 'modern hedonists', as they are often called, have blurred the lines between work and play, and the result is a constantly changing and culturally rich metropolis.

Internationally acclaimed outdoor festivals come to rest in the summertime, galleries have stopped squatting and have started opening up shop, and the fashion district is bursting with enough cuts and colour to fuel the counterculture movement for decades to come. 


Nightlife in Berlin

Berlin's nightlife is second to none; boasting full-throttle sex clubs, dimly-lit cafés and even opportunities to enjoy a night as an opera-goer. Specifically, the districts of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are saturated and any space is likely to become a venue for young Berlin to dance the night away.

Those who enjoy anything with an intellectual edge will find a fertile nesting ground in hip Berlin. Art galleries and live music venues are often open till late in the city.


Shopping in Berlin

In a city as innovative as Berlin, lifestyle and fashion go hand in hand. It follows that shopping in Berlin is an experience defined by both style and originality. While each area in Berlin has its own commercial hub, the two most well known in West and East Berlin respectively are Ku'damm (Kurfurstendamm) and Mitte. 

Ku'damm is a two-mile (4km) stretch of avenue in Charlottenburg where everything from department stores to designer outlets can be found. This area is akin to Berlin's Fifth Avenue and can seem a bit claustrophobic with both locals and tourists during peak shopping season. Alternatively, Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse in East Berlin are beginning to rival Ku'damm as the city's premier shopping mile. Once host to a bevy of tacky souvenir shops, these areas have become home to a number of well-known and luxurious fashion houses in recent years.

Mitte, on the other hand, is full of funky finds for those more artistically inclined. In contrast to West Berlin's tradition of mainstream megastores, this East Berlin area boasts an array of second-hand shops and flea markets.


Eating out in Berlin

Expats living in Berlin will find that the food in the German capital is fuss-free and delicious. Much of the local cuisine in Berlin has been influenced by immigrants from neighbouring countries and ingredients such as pork, goose, fish, cabbage, turnips, pickles and potatoes commonly feature in the German cuisine in Berlin.

If German fare doesn’t suit one's tastes, there are plenty of international options to be had in cosmopolitan Berlin. The city is home to a whole host of top-quality restaurants featuring cuisine from across the globe, including Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, French, Turkish and Spanish.


Outdoor activities in Berlin

Active expats will find plenty to keep themselves busy in the city. While football (soccer) is probably the most popular sport in the capital, expats can also take part in a number of different outdoor activities such as horse riding or hiking. Cycling is a favourite pastime of Berlin residents and there are many great biking trails which will allow new arrivals to explore the city and its surrounds. Those that enjoy a spot of golf will find some great scenic golf courses also located close to the city. 

There are over 2,500 parks and green spaces in the German capital. Expats should certainly take the time to visit one of the city's greatest green assets such as Tiergarten or Viktoriapark. These parks offer a great environment for runners, walkers and cyclists, but even those that would prefer to enjoy a good book or have a picnic in the sunshine will enjoy these spaces.

See and Do in Berlin

Berlin's role in two of the world’s largest wars has left lasting impressions on the city and how it functions. Sobering attractions like Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag and the Jewish Museum are intriguing and haunting, serving as constant reminders of the tragic past the capital once faced.

There are an abundance of museums and galleries around, or for those expats who prefer to simply sit back and relax, sidewalk cafés, bistros, restaurants and coffee shops crowd the wide avenues and narrow side streets.

For kids, there is the Legoland Discovery Centre, two zoos and other child-friendly attractions.

For those that prefer a more potent dose of Berlin's famous counter culture scene, the East Side Gallery displays the work of 118 graffiti artists from around the world made from the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Regardless of what one ultimately decides to see and do, the Berlin Welcome Card offers discounts on most of Berlin's major attractions, as well as free travel on public transport within the city for one adult and up to three children aged six to 13. The Berlin Museum Pass is also a great bargain to bag; it's valid for three consecutive days and allows free entry to over 50 museums.

Expats can purchase both cards from tourist information centres or railway centres.


Recommended sightseeing in Berlin

Below are some of the best attractions in Berlin for expats to explore:

Brandenburg Gate

This massive sandstone gate was once inaccessible and unusable, abandoned in the "no man's land" behind the Berlin Wall. These days it has been renovated and is once more a testament to some of the beautiful architecture found in the German capital.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was the notorious border crossing marking the division between East and West Berlin for nearly 30 years. No longer functional, a museum has been constructed as a testament to the many brave attempts to go over, under or across the wall unnoticed. While the original metal shed is now on display elsewhere, the soldier's post can be visited, and tourists can be photographed under the border sign.

East Side Gallery

What is left of the infamous Berlin Wall has been transformed into the largest open-air alternative art gallery in the world. Graffiti artists have used the space to showcase their skill on the longest section of the wall, which stretches from Ostbahnhof station to the Oberbaumbrucke. The collection has since become a tourist attraction and is recognised as a memorial to freedom.

Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum has gained international acclaim for its unique exhibition space and dynamic architecture. Visitors enter the Jewish Museum through the Berlin Museum to explore the exhibition rooms, which are clustered around the main axis void, designed to signify the empty and invisible aspects of Jewish history.

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz was originally one of the busiest junctions in Europe, but the damage done during World War II left the vibrant square in a state of decay. Now years later, large-scale efforts have been made to revitalise the wasted space, and today the square once more boasts an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafés, cinemas, shopping centres and theatres. Expats, locals and tourists alike will find something to enjoy, whether it's the Sony Centre, the Imax Cinema or Berlin's popular Film Museum.

Reichstag

The Reichstag has been the seat of the German parliament since 1894 and is undoubtedly one of Berlin's most famous buildings. Damaged in the carnage of World War II, the structure was famously wrapped in white fabric in the late 1990s by the well-known conceptual artist, Christo.

Charlottenburg Palace

Schloss Charlottenburg was built in the baroque style in 18th century Berlin. The structure is the largest palace in Berlin and was constructed as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Elector Frederick III, the Prussian king.

What's On in Berlin

If expats exhaust all the activities on the usual list of things to see and do in Berlin, they will have a whole host of annual events and festivals to keep them occupied.

Regardless of whether expats enjoy culture, film, music or sport, there is sure to be something on Berlin’s calendar for every expat.

Here is a list of the main events and festivals that take place each year in Berlin.


Annual events in Berlin

Berlinale Film Festival (February)

This is Berlin’s major international film festival and takes place each year in February. It is one of the largest film festivals and most reputable movie events on the German calendar. Moviegoers can choose from up to 400 films shown at cinemas across the city.

Carnival of Cultures (June)

This annual event is a celebration of Berlin’s ethnic diversity. It is definitely one of the city’s most colourful and vivacious festivals. Here one will find thousands of representatives from over 70 different cultures who get dressed in the national costumes and take to the streets of Kreuzberg. With a number of purpose-built stages playing host to all sorts of eclectic performances, this is an event not be missed.

German-American Festival (August)

This annual event has been in existence since 1961 and serves to celebrate American culture. The festival is based on the idea of an American county fair and includes attractions such as carnival rides, American-style food and a reconstruction of a Wild West town. Visitors are even treated to a rodeo complete with bull wrestling.

Berlin Marathon (September)

Each year in September, around 30,000 runners from across the globe gather at the Schloß Charlottenburg to take part in one of the world’s most prestigious marathon events. Participants run through ten different districts of Berlin covering the 26-mile (42.2km) distance before crossing the finish line through the historic Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin Okoberfest (October)

An event that really requires no introduction, this is a celebration of beer and German drinking culture. While Berlin’s Oktoberfest, held at Zentral Festplatz am Kurt-Schumacher-Damm, can’t be compared with the main party in Munich, this is still a fun-filled event and something that expats living in Berlin should not miss.

Jazz Festival Berlin (October)

Since 1964, Jazz Fest Berlin has brought jazz musicians from across the globe to the city. The swinging concerts and great atmosphere across the city are not to be missed. This is a must-do event for all music fans in Berlin.

Christmas Markets (late November/December)

A German tradition that should not be missed by expats living in Berlin, the Christmas markets are held throughout the city and are inevitably bustling with locals and tourists, full of Christmas cheer, Glühwein, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. Eager shoppers will find plenty of traditional decorations and Christmas paraphernalia on sale. The biggest Christmas markets in Berlin are held on Alexanderplatz, Unter den Linden and by Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Berlin

Before moving there, expats are bound to wonder about living and working in Germany's capital city. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Berlin:

Do you need to know German to find a job in Berlin?

Finding a job in Berlin is difficult enough in itself without a working knowledge of German. The city suffers from a high rate of unemployment, and foreigners moving to the city without a job organised prior to arrival will most likely find that opportunities are few and far between. It is therefore advised to learn conversational German, in order to gain an advantage in the job market.

Expats who do not speak German will want to consider teaching English or approaching multinational companies headquartered in Berlin which may need foreign employees.

Is it better to live in East or West Berlin?

Although the city is no longer divided, many locals and expats still see a clear schism in the greater cosmopolitan character. No one side is necessarily better than the other, but both do have their pros and cons.

Both luxurious and cost-effective accommodation options exist on each side; though the drawcard of Berlin's hip, young counterculture mainly makes its home in the East. This area is also subject to more construction and is associated with certain areas that are considered unsafe at night.

The West had the benefit of receiving funds from the Allies post World-War II, and therefore is more developed, notably so in architecture and such.

However, the fantastic public transportation in Berlin makes getting from point to point fairly easy, so access to all there is to see and do in Berlin is efficient and convenient no matter which side one lives.

Getting Around in Berlin

Berlin is a huge, cosmopolitan city with excellent roads and public transport networks. Expats will find that they can get just about anywhere relatively quickly and efficiently, although they should be prepared to get caught in traffic and crowds at peak times.

Most Berlin residents do not find it necessary to own a car. Traffic can be terrible during peak times and parking expensive and extremely difficult to find. Even those that do have a car more than likely opt to use public transport to commute to and from work on a daily basis. 


Public transport in Berlin

All modes of public transport in Berlin are interconnected and use a common ticket, with prices varying according to how many zones one travels through. There are a number of ticket options for tourists and commuters, which are very reasonable.

Commuters can buy tickets from vending machines at U- and S-Bahn stations, and then validate the tickets once they climb aboard a bus or train.

Buses

The bus system is extensive and using buses is a good way to travel to any part in the city that is not close to an S-Bahn or U-Bahn station.

Expats can use the same tickets bought at S-Bahn or U-Bahn stations on the trains as long as they are valid within the zone they are travelling in. Simply validate the ticket at the machine inside the doors of the bus (or train).

U-Bahn (underground trains)

The U-Bahn is Berlin’s underground metro system, which functions with characteristic German precision. Commuters can get detailed maps and tickets at all U-Bahn stations (marked by a big blue “U” symbol).

The frequency of U-Bahn services depends on the time of day and the line on which one is travelling. Expats are advised to consult a schedule when planning their journey.

S-Bahn (suburban trains)

The S-Bahn is the quickest way to get to an entirely different area of the city. Lines run in a mostly east to west direction in the city centre, and there is another line that goes in a circle around the whole city. Expats can find maps on the S-Bahn website or at stations.

Trams

The tram system is the third largest in the world and offers a fun way to get around the city. Tram maps can be found in S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations, and passengers can buy tickets on the tram.


Taxis in Berlin

Taxis are plentiful in Berlin and they are cheaper than many other large European capitals. Most drivers speak English and are generally helpful. 

Expats can either flag one down in the street or find a taxistand (taxi rank). While taxis are easy to find in Berlin's city centre, if travelling to or from the suburbs it is best to pre-book a vehicle ahead of time.

Travelling by taxi can be useful late at night, and it becomes a cost-effective method of transport if a single vehicle is shared by a group of people travelling in the same direction. 


Cycling in Berlin

There is over 620 miles (1,000km) of bike paths, dedicated bike lanes and combination foot/cyclist paths across Berlin, and many locals find that getting around Berlin by bicycle is a cheap, healthy and feasible way to travel.

Berlin is largely flat and cycling is a pleasant experience, as most drivers are aware of the large numbers of cyclists on the roads and are accordingly cautious.

Expats who wish to cycle in Berlin will find that there are plenty of places where they can hire a bike. Alternatively, it is also possible to buy a second-hand bicycle quite cheaply. 


Walking in Berlin

Often the best way to explore the centre of Berlin is on foot, and walking is sometimes the fastest way to travel short distances in the city.

While there are plenty of pavements available for pedestrians, be careful not to mistake them for the red-brick cycling paths, which are for cyclists only.

Jaywalking is illegal and most pedestrians in Berlin stick to the rules.


Driving in Berlin

As in any large, bustling city, driving in Berlin can be more trouble than it is worth at peak times or through busy areas where parking is scarce. That said, the road networks have been expanded and streamlined over the course of the city’s long history and driving is for the most part a straightforward experience.

Drivers in Berlin tend to obey traffic laws and give way to pedestrians and cyclists, although in peak times the sheer number of cars and traffic light intersections in the city will inevitably cause congestion. That said, be prepared for the Germans’ famous love of speed on motorways.

Expats moving into inner-city areas or areas with metered parking on the streets can apply for a resident's permit to be exempt from the fees.

All expats can drive in Germany for six months after relocating. Thereafter, it depends on a person's nationality: EU licences are valid in Germany, while American, Canadian and South African expats will need to exchange their licence for a German one. Expats from other countries will need to apply for a licence from scratch and take both written and practical tests.