It’s been a little over six months since I moved from LA to Berlin, and to be quite honest, I’m still not completely settled. I haven’t posted on the blog as often as I’ve wanted because…let’s just say that I’ve been job hunting, and winter was the darkest timeline. Nevertheless, a couple awesome things happened while Joy In Europe was on mute. I was featured in a Norwegian newspaper story about the influx of expats in Berlin. I also got to chat to The Daily Meal about one of my favorite things, hipster food in Berlin.
There are some things you can’t prepare for when moving to Berlin. I learned the hard way, but I’m sharing these tips with you so you don’t have to.
#1 – Be Prepared to Move A Lot
In six months, I’ve moved four times, and I’m preparing to move again in a few weeks. I know someone who’s lived here for seven years who has moved 12 times. I was not mentally prepared to have to move around this much. Sure, I knew coming in that Berlin’s in the middle of a housing shortage that people are blaming on vacation rentals like AirBnB. Whatever the case, finding an apartment or room in Berlin that you can live in for more than a month or two is like finding a unicorn galloping down from heaven. Your best bet is to have the least amount of possessions you need to survive that will fit in a DriveNow car.
#2 – Don’t Eat Too Many Doner Kebabs
I moved from the land of tacos to the land of doner kebabs. After a night out, I’d say, “Hey, this is the street food of my new town. Why not have a doner kebab?” However, since doner kebabs are super cheap, filling, and everywhere, I had about 15-20 within my first month of living in Berlin. By the time I’d been here two months, I was flat out sick of doners kebabs. I can honestly say I haven’t had a doner in the last four months, except once from Hasir Kreuzberg with a friend who was visiting from LA. (Fact: The durum doner at Hasir is especially delicious and Anthony Bourdain approved.) My new Berlin street food obsession is chicken shawarma, especially from Maroush. Still, I’ve limited myself to one shwarma a week, so as not to fall out of love with it so fast.
#3 – Choose a Bike Wisely
When it’s not a cold, rainy mess, Berlin is a cycling city. As I pointed out during my first two weeks living in Berlin, you should definitely buy a bike as soon as possible once you move to Berlin. That said, you should do your research and try to test drive the bike to see how fast it goes. I’ve been told my bike is a classically German affair. It’s adorable and blue–my favorite color–so points for that! But other than how quintessentially German it looks, it is slow. So slow that when Google Maps says it’ll take me 15 minutes to cycle somewhere, I know that it’ll take me at least twice that time. You might be thinking, “Maybe you’re just really out of shape.” Well, I might not be able to run a marathon, but I’m not that out of shape. When I’m pedaling just as hard and fast as other cyclists around me, they fly by, while my bike clickety-clacks along. This is no bueno.
#4 – Don’t Wear Uggs at Night
Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukolln are the most popular Berlin neighborhoods for expats. They also happen to be the most dog poop-filled. There is dog poop smeared on the concrete in front of my favorite cafes, piled high on my building’s front doorstep, and my personal favorite, plopped down in a step-stone trail down the sidewalk. Every day living and walking through these neighborhoods is a day spent avoiding stepping in dog poop. That being said, if it’s winter and you have shoes made of suede or cloth DO NOT WEAR THEM AT NIGHT. I repeat, no matter how warm and snugly Uggs may be, DO NOT WEAR THEM AT NIGHT.
When it’s dark out, you cannot see the poop. All you can do is smell the poop. And by then, it’s probably too late.
Avoid suede and cloth fabric boots during winter, and wear easily wipeable leather or rubber boots. It’s been two months and I’m still trying to clean the dog poop off of my Uggs. Ugh.
#5 – Check Facebook Before Posting on Toytown
For searches about where to buy American products in Berlin and the best doctors in Berlin, the Toytown Germany forum is very popular. But if you have a question about something that hasn’t already been answered on Toytown, do not post on the forum. The responders at Toytown Germany will eat you and your innocent question alive with unhelpful snark and condescension. Instead, head over to the Toytown Young English Speakers Facebook group, which is much more friendly, and subsequently, much more helpful.
#6 – Know That January is Special
If you’re from a warm place, January is the worst weather-wise in Berlin. This January, it was as if somebody transported London’s gray skies to Berlin, and said, “Here, take that!” Every day for a month it was freezing, rainy, and cold. But it’s the grayness and not seeing the sun for 30-plus days that really does you in and gives you a case a of what I like to call The SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and probably a nasty cold or two. However, if you’re into shopping and fashion, January has a bright side in Berlin. There are sales. Great sales. Amazing, 70% off sales at almost all the stores. It’s amazing. Not quite so amazing, when you don’t have money to burn on clothing. But if I could do things differently, I would’ve put aside a little money each month for a January Sale Shopping Fund to snag up all those amazing shoes and sweaters at & Other Stories.
#7 – Don’t Depend Solely on Startups
Working at a startup is basically a rite of passage when you move to Berlin. To me, it’s the equivalent of working in the entertainment industry in Hollywood. Seems like everyone does it, but the pay is often crappy, the hours can be terrible, and it’s incredibly hard to find steady work that lasts for longer than a couple months. So while getting a job at a startup might be the easiest and maybe even the best thing for you to do when you first arrive, make sure to diversify your income. People in Berlin combine all kinds of different jobs to make a living here, which is one of the things I love about this city. You should move prepared to do the same.