Berlin was my home for 3,3 years. I came there July 2011 after graduation in England and was ready to start a new period of my life. I knew nothing or very little about Germany and Berlin in general, but I was tired of the UK and naively believed this was my chance to start a career.
A year before I moved to Berlin I visited a friend in Berlin. She lived on a vital full of bars, cafes and restaurants Falckensteinstr. and I fell in love with the city immediately. It felt both familiar and new at the same time. It felt like this is the city that never sleeps and this is what I need because I don’t wanna sleep.. I wanted to work hard 5 days a week in a media company and do my own video projects in the spare time. And so I started a German course on my 3rd year of studies, and a year later moved to the German capital with 50kg in my hands, paying a €300 big fine for the overweight in Luton Airport. Honestly, I did not know back then Berlin is such a popular city and that 95% of planes that land here bring whether expats full of hopes or party tourists who won’t even see Brandenburger Gate.
Kreuzberg remained my neighbourhood from the very first to the very last day, even though I moved several times like a proper Berliner, because if you haven’t changed at least three flats within the first half a year, then you are not in Berlin. A typical Berlin flat is located in an old building with wooden floors and a high ceiling, some of them still have coal heating and a stove that takes the 3rd of your 12 square meter room that costs you now €300. When I moved to Berlin, the Neukoelln boom has only started. While some only spoke about it, many others already were moving there, paying €200 for a 25 square meter room.
The first three things you have to get used to are: that Berlin drinks, smokes and parties a lot and everywhere; that friends you had yesterday, might be gone today because it’s a transit city and last, but not least that there is no work. Sitting in a park with a 0,70 cent bottle and a €2,90 kebab is comfortable and cheerful, smoking a joint is legal and relaxing. When there is a party – you don’t have to rush there, because: 1. everything in Berlin starts late 2. if you don’t go there, there are another 105 variants today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. With the friends situation I never figured out what to do – whether not to get attached to anyone and be just “whatever” or simply hope that I leave faster than my new friends.. Anyway, the reason why all the friends/expats/people are leaving is exactly work.
I did a 100 different jobs in Berlin. I worked for a paleo restaurant, film festivals, Berlin Fashion Week, creative agencies, model agencies, tourism agencies, startups, art and film projects, production companies, Rocket Internet + I did various freelance jobs and ran workshops on the internship economy. After a month I moved to Berlin I already had my collages presented at the public exhibition. Seems like a lot going on, but all that does not make you financially stable. There is no minimum wage in Germany (even though this shall change soon) and many places offer you black work, which means that no one pays the taxes, and you end up without a pension scheme and most importantly without a health insurance. Having no health insurance in Germany is a tragedy. Yes, you can come with an EU or whatever insurance from your home country, but it still will cost you money OR will cover only emergency. All in all you gotta love German bureaucracy in order to survive.
Berlin is definitely one of a kind. It’s a city of freedom. You can do here whatever you want. Participate in any kind of activities, climbing walls to check abandoned spaces, going to wild, experimental parties or riots, attending tantric or DMT gatherings, having a dinner with your own table on the underground station, traveling naked etc etc etc. See my The Very Berlin Moments blog post. Whatever you want to try in your life, you can do it in Berlin and no one ever will ask you anything or give you a judgemental look, because here everything is normal or abnormal, but still acceptable. Berlin is a vegetarian city that stinks of urine, beer and weed. Berlin’s true face is “I work at the party”. Because most of the people work in the bars, cafes, galleries, tattoo salons, festivals, shared spaces etc. Startups work hard, but Friday afternoon you already see boxes of beers in the office. Fashion shops in the city centre open at 11am. And even big international companies will end up sniffing coke, because they are young, because the young rule the city. It’s like a big community and in the end of the day it’s just a big party where everybody knows each other. Not that it does not happen in London or other capitals, but here it’s more public and sexual. It’s more dirty by all the means, like New York in the 80s. Creativity for the creativity’s sake, not for the money. I am a freelancer, I pay my rent, but I can’t pay for anything else.
Berlin is beautiful in it’s own ugly way. It’s grey on the outside, but it’s the most saturated on the inside. Walking the right streets and entering the right doors open up a completely different view on the city. Berlin is absolutely anti-romantic, rough, but very cosmopolitan. Berlin is the city where you can discover something new every day, I’ve gone to random stations and came across with mind-blowing things. Berlin is a cheap prostitute without a health insurance. And yet it is full of talented and amazing people, important and special places. Berlin is the city to love and hate. With all these wonderful opportunities, there is no industry here and respectively no money. Poor artists’ myth has died with the previous century. An artist is also a job not a style of living.
There are now mainly three work options in Berlin:
- You run your own business, and you earn enough to live in prosperity.
- You are a freelancer, who is lucky to have clients who pay enough to live in prosperity.
- You do a simple job (example: bartender, sale’s person, call centre) and you are happy with €700 – €1000 a month, because you do not care about the career
All these options are a headache, because there is no money in the city and you are in a constant run for the client who pays. Berlin is NOT the city for those who want to build a career. To register a new company you need €1, to make sure your business gives an income, it has to be international. Same goes for the freelancing – locals won’t pay much for your most wonderful design; often they won’t pay at all. It’s a normal practice – work for nothing. Herz lV is not an option. Living on benefits is not an option, because to move out from this city was the option for me. Because working for free was not something I came for. The experience I gained in Berlin is unbelievable. Nowhere else in the world I would have had a chance to do what I did in Berlin. But you get tired from working for free, because working for free is volunteering.
It’s important to understand that there are job offers in Berlin, but mostly internships, badly paid or unpaid. I’ve gone to interviews to find out they have no money to pay. My friends had high positions, but their payment was delayed. I was also told stories when applying for a cafe job a boss would ask:”Do you want to get paid?” It is also important to understand that there is a high competition absolutely everywhere, especially because us Latvians, Polish, Romanians, Bulgarians etc. don’t want to stay in the home country. We increase the amount of applicants for a good position up to 300 and up. But if other cities have well paid options, Berlin mostly does not.. Even IT specialists are paid much less in Berlin than the rest of Germany.
Berlin is a city of change, Berlin won’t be poor forever. The business centres are being built, the clubs and graffiti being removed, even the Wall leftovers.. More than half of my friends have left Berlin, and a few are planning to move out soon. This blog post is also written for those who plan to move here. My advice is – know exactly what you want from the city. If it is just a year for the experience sake – it is a great place, if you think “career” and “family” – this is a sad place. Not being able to pay for the dentist is sad, not being able to fly for a holiday is sad. Berlin is sad during the day and fun during the night.
A few days before leaving for good I’ve filmed the places I have been cycling through on a regular basis. This is Berlin I will remember.