Ah Berlin, where to start? You glorious, sprawling behemoth of a city; a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, wrapped in a kebab. When visiting most big cities, the first thing many people do is go to the highest point to see the city from above. Of course this is also possible in Berlin, but really, the beauty, grime, glory and quirkiness of Berlin is best seen at ground level – from the street art to the vast green spaces, from the architecture to the history of this once divided city – everywhere you look, there’s something new to be discovered so life here never gets dull. Unless you’re dull – then even Berlin can’t save you. But you’re not visiting; you’re here to stay so you’ve got a big decision ahead of you. First things first ...
Obviously, this varies from district to district but, on the whole, Berlin is relatively safe in comparison to other major cities. Walking around or taking public transport after dark usually isn’t a problem and, if you’re a woman, you’ll also be largely left to your own devices. Unless you want to be asked if you want to buy drugs 15 times in 15 minutes, you should probably avoid Görlitzer Park and the surrounding streets, although the police have helpfully drawn little pink circles on the ground which the drug dealers are kindly asked to stay inside… According to crime statistics, Alexanderplatz, Karl-Marx-Allee and Kurfürstendamm are also hot spots. As in all big cities, use your common sense and you should be fine. Unfortunately, some people struggle with this simple concept.
The Berliner Schnauze (or typical Berliner attitude, which you may come to find endearing) is everywhere so don’t let that be a factor. Berlin is divided into 16 districts (Bezirke) which are further divided into Kieze or neighbourhoods and, in Berlin, the Kiez is king and each has its own charms – or lack thereof. Your Kiez is where you will be spending most of your time and some people rarely venture outside theirs. Some are filled with cafes, restaurants, yoga studios, galleries, wine bars, and yummy mummies who think it’s cute to let their two-year-old make the decisions about what to buy in the bakery (Prenzlauer Berg); some have an eye-gouging amount of leopard print and women with permanently surprised expressions whose lips resemble pillows (Charlottenburg); some have a whole lot of nothing but towering grey apartment blocks as far as the eye can see – oh, and Gärten der Welt (Marzahn-Hellersdorf).
In this imposing metropolis, how do you find the cosy, arty, family-friendly, cheap, green, alternative, gentrified, diverse, expat-welcoming, start-up sodden, sex-clubbing or techno-y corner that’s right for you? Because Berlin is all of these things and more. So, if you’re a family with small kids, you probably don’t want to live in an area full of bars and clubs, or where men in assless chaps walk past your window on a regular basis. (“Mummy, why can’t I go to Kindergarten dressed like that?” “Erm…”)
A great way to see who your potential new neighbours might be is to ride the public transport. Hop on the U1 in the direction of Warschauer Strasse and, at around Prinzenstrasse, all of the relatively “normal” people disappear to be replaced by the great unwashed, the drunk, the drugged, the loud, the pierced, the tattooed, the holey, the beardy and the weirdy. Nearing either of the Hermann stations on the U8, you’ll suddenly notice that the predominant language in your carriage has switched to Turkish.
Yeah, about that. No. Just no. It’s time to leave la-la land and join us back here in the real world. A lot of people come to Berlin with rather ridiculous expectations and are quite shocked to find that apartments here do actually cost money. Real money. How about that?
Since most people are appalled at the thought of living (shock horror) OUTSIDE THE RING, here’s an idea of what you’ll be paying for a 100 m² flat in a few of the more popular districts inside the ring.
If you’ve picked yourself up off the floor and dusted off your broken dreams of being a hipster artist in Kreuzberg, we can continue. Of course, this is just an indication. It’s possible to find much cheaper and, most likely, much more expensive apartments – it just takes time. The rental market in Berlin is pretty brutal so be prepared for a lot of rejection before you find your perfect pad. Or consider looking OUTSIDE THE RING…
OK, let us break it down for you. Pretty much every district in Berlin has expansive green spaces, transport connections, playgrounds, a wide variety of supermarkets, shops, cafes, restaurants and bars, healthcare facilities, gyms, libraries, banks and everything else you need for your everyday existence. If you’re raising a family here, however, you may want to consider moving a little further out to avoid the seedier aspects of the city. If you’re still undecided, here’s a short questionnaire. Whichever questions you answer “yes” to, that’s the district for you!
(Warning: may contain sweeping generalisations.)
Do you find mounds of broken furniture and household appliances on the street appealing?
Do you like wearing trousers that don’t reach your ankles? Do you enjoy street art? Do you know the difference between a decent cold brew and a flat white?
Do you like Turkish food at any hour of the day? Does the feeling of having a Späti available every 100 meters soothe you?
Do you mind living in a neighbourhood that was supposed to be up-and-coming but never came?
Do you like walking at a snail’s pace because you can’t get around the three-deep baby buggies in front of you? Do you like waiting half an hour to order a bread roll? Do you like yoga? Are you a vegan? Do you believe in the power of healing pebbles? Do you consider gentrification a good thing?
Do you like a bit of luxury? Are you a fan of Botox? Do you speak Russian?
Do you want to live in Berlin's original gaybourhood? Are you a leather daddy?
Do you like GDR (DDR) architecture? Do you… (hmm, not much else to say here).
And there you have it – your definitive guide to finding your place in Berlin. Good luck!
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