The Mole Diaries: Berlin (Volume 2)

Berlin by rakastajatar

This article was written by Nathan-Aarash Akhavan-Moossavi, published on 4th May 2012 and has been read 5430 times.

Nathan is studying Law with German at the University of Sheffield and is on his year abroad studying German Law at Freie Universität Berlin. Here he passes on his advice about student survival in the city: finding somewhere to live in Berlin, registering your address, setting up a bank account, thing to do during the day and at night, travel, insurance and the Berlin dialect...
As I sit here, looking out the window of my apartment in Friedrichshain at the clear blue skies over Berlin, I think to myself: I am so happy that I chose Berlin.

Berlin is a great city all year round. When the sun shines, Berlin comes into its own. After a long winter, with temperatures getting to -20°C, Berlin has a new feeling of being refreshed and getting ready to start the sunny summer! It was 30°C at the weekend! Everything and anything goes in this city and there’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s everyone flocking to the Spree, Tempelhof or Tiergarten to enjoy the sun, street performers or the mix of artists inhabiting Tacheles, flea markets, students, workers, cafés, hipsters, singers, actors; there's something for everyone. Berlin is famous as the capital of bohemia, cabaret and openness, as well as for many writers, such as Brecht, Christopher Isherwood and for being the birth place of Marlene Dietrich. But oh, there is so much more to Berlin. As the famous Berliner Pilsner tagline goes, ”Berlin, du bist so wunderbar”.

Berlin is a buzzing hive of activity but first things first: you have to get yourself sorted and settled in.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Be prepared for a shock with your emotions. I haven’t met anyone so far who hasn’t said that they didn’t realise just how much they’d either miss home or friends as much as they thought they would. Amongst the whole hype of going away, being alone after being left at the airport where no one has any idea that you’re moving to Berlin, it is a shock to be living in a different country. Especially if you’ve left your mobile at home as you’re going to get a new one once here. But, chin up! Once you get settled, it is just like when you moved away to uni.

Finding somewhere to live

This is one of the most important things. In Germany, you need to register living here within 10 days of arriving. The most important recommendation for looking for a flat is that it’s never too early to start! There are three main websites for finding a flat if you don’t want to live in student accommodation. If you ask anyone how to find a flat, they’ll point you in the direction of one of these websites:
wg-gesucht.de www.studenten-wg.de www.immobilienscout24.de
Finding a flat can take a while but can also take no time at all. A lot of people stumble across places and are very lucky that they get a flat so quickly. If you can find somewhere before you move over then that’s the easiest. Some places will want to meet you too which can be annoying if you have to plan to travel over there. A few people stayed in hostels and then found flats and got them quite quickly. Rent in Berlin is pretty cheap, and finding a WG with other Germans is an added bonus for the language side of things.

Registering your address

This can be very annoying, but it is one of those bureaucratic things that you have to do in Germany. Don’t worry, it’s not because you’re a foreigner — all Germans have to do it, even if moving across the street. You have to do this within 10 days of finding an address to live at. If you know well in advance when you’re moving, then you can book an appointment, but be warned they’re for quite far in advance so only recommended if you know a while ahead the dates you’re moving over. If not, get to the Bezirksamt before opening times; you’ll already find people there but you then generally wait 1 hour or 1hr 30 mins. You need your passport and contract for the flat. You have to register within your Bezirk, and you can find information here. It’s the first step to experiencing German bureaucracy!

Getting a flat with people who are already living there helps because they will already have internet access and bills set up etc. However, be prepared to be interviewed, although it depends who you come across to get an apartment. I was lucky with mine — it’s rented by a landlord so there was no need for an interview!

Out and about during the day

There is so much to fill the days in Berlin. Whether it is sightseeing, going to cafés or restaurants or finding an open space to sit and watch the day go by. A definite recommendation for cafés and restaurants in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain (Simon-Dach-Straße), Prenzlauer Berg, Schöneberg and Charlottenburg.

At the weekends, flea markets spring up all over the place. The most famous is Mauerpark, where there’s Sonntag Karaoke where anyone can sing, and it’s such a casual, relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. When it’s sunny, pop down to Tempelhof Airport, where the airport has closed and the grounds have been opened as a mass-air “park”. It’s huge, where people are go for ‘Grillen’, flying kites and hanging out. Tacheles, whilst it’s still around, is a must-see!

KaDeWe is recommended for those special shopping trips, and failing that go to Kurfürstendamm, combining it with a visit to the bombed/ruined Gedächtniskirche.

Treptower Park is a must. It’s a huge Soviet memorial, with depictions on stone and a huge statue with a memorial room (where flowers are laid and you’re not allowed in). Climb the statue and you can see the Fernsehturm.
Wannsee/Schlachtensee are huge lakes where you can sunbathe, swim, have boat rides and generally relax. It's beautiful in the summer.

Bank account

In Germany, you have to pay a monthly charge for a bank account, usually around €5. However, if you are a student and get a student bank account then there is no charge. Sparkasse charges for money to be taken out except for in their Sparkasse branches. Deutsche Bank has a partnership with Kommerzbank and Berliner Bank so you can take money out for free at all of these places. You’ll need to take your passport and a copy of the form you get from the Bezirksamt.

Clubs

Berlin has such a variety of clubs. There is something for every interest. Don’t forget that, being a capital city, some places can be a bit pricey for entry. Places can be quite strict on dress code, and how much you’ve already had to drink. Large groups are generally dissuaded.

Berghain is Berlin’s famous club, boasting the best sound system and playing mostly techno/electro music. Entry is around 14€ but drinks are relatively well priced once inside. Door policy is erratic, and queues can be long, so have a back-up plan in case you can’t get in. Fritz is around the corner from Berghain in Ostbahnhof’s Postbahnhof. On Friday nights, students get in for 3€ with a student card. It plays chart music, old music — basically, a variety of music. If the bouncers think you’ve already had too much to drink they won’t let you in. Cassiopeia, located on Revaler Straße (near Warschauer Straße), is highly recommended! Cheap drinks and shots, and open till the early hours. It’s a fairly open club, so the sun shines through in the early hours when you’re still partying. Watergate, located by Oberbaumbrücke/Schlesisches Tor. 21+ club, so I haven’t been yet, but people have recommended it! Weinerei Forum, located at Rosenthaler Platz. Wine bar with food too, comfy sofas and very popular. Pay 2€ for a glass, drink and eat as much as you want and pay an honesty box at the end. Be warned, if the owners don’t think you’ve put in enough they’ll have a go at you…but, who can blame them if people abuse it and pay nothing/hardly anything. Matrix is a recommended club by most people who are in Berlin! 
Don’t forget, there are also a fair few Erasmus parties that spring up, generally at the beginning and end of the semesters, so watch out for them, but they are very popular with potentially very long queues to get in!

Travel

Berlin travel is very good. Buses and trains are generally punctual and you know what time you’ll get to B travelling from A. If you’re a student for the year, you pay a fee for a ‘Semesterticket’ which gives you travel for all A,B,C zones, and on S/U-Bahn, Bus, Tram, Regionalbahn and some ferries. If you’re not a student, you can get monthly tickets for each zone from 52€ upwards. Or, if you would rather see Berlin by bike, then bikes can be very cheap, especially from Mauerpark, and Berlin has so many bike lanes that it’s pretty easy to cycle around the city.

Insurance

It goes without saying to get an insurance package that suits your lifestyle. If you plan to go travelling a lot during the year, then look into travel insurance anddon't forget health insurance. Make sure you have an EHIC card. When I was sorting my year abroad, I rang up the NHS and asked if I would be insured and they said I was, I just had to tell them from when I needed it and until when, with no extra charge.

People studying for the year need proof of health insurance. Pop along to AOK and show them your EHIC and they’ll give you a certificate to say that you're insured.

Miscellaneous

1. Be prepared for the Berlin dialect. Generally, you will understand what people say, but in case you come across a proper Berliner, here are a few tips:
The hard ‘g’ is pronounced ‘j’ like as in Juni: Gut = jut Genau = jenau Gemacht – jemacht Keine – keene Was/das are sometimes pronounced as wat/dat Nicht is pronounced nüscht Ich is pronounced Ick (A general greeting is ‘na’. It’s not just for Berlin, but it’s a short greeting to mean hey)
2. Some supermarkets are not open on Sundays. If you live near a big mainline station, e.g. Ostbahnhof, then their Lidl and Rewe are open every day.

3. Pfand – Some bottles come with a Pfand, money that you get when you return the bottles to the machine in the supermarket. Don’t throw bottles away! A collection of bottles can add up to a tiny fortune.

4. Get out and meet other people. Meet Erasmus students, meet German students. Get involved in extra-curricular things, anything to make the most out of your Year Abroad.

5. Remember that everyone is going to get something different out of their Year Abroad, depending on what they’re doing. If you haven’t had time to travel around Germany, this is not a negative! Make sure you do things on your year abroad that you really want to do!

6. Enjoy your year abroad! Even if you have to work a lot, and study a lot, and you don’t feel you have too much free time, still enjoy being in the city and experiencing the way of life!

Read another Berlin Mole Diary for more advice and tips about Berlin survival...

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