Are you a well-paid tech worker who is sick of barely getting by in SF, New York or DC? Do you have a spouse who has health problems and doesn’t earn much money?
Are you exhausted from working 70-hour weeks and being constantly on call? Is your spouse sick of doing battle with the health insurance company over enormous copays and treatments they refuse to pay for? Do you feel like you can’t afford to have kids, even though you’d like to?
If that sounds like you, Berlin is your best shot at a decent life, maybe the kind of life your parents had. You might still have a chance at the American dream, in Germany.
Next, ask yourself some important questions.
Do you care about owning a house? Most Berliners rent for their entire lives.
Do you like public transport? You can certainly have a car in Berlin, but it is very difficult and expensive to get a driver’s license if your license is from a state that doesn’t have the wonderful reciprocity deal. Plus, the superb transit is really one of the defining characteristics of life here.
Are you ok with a life of modest expectations? This isn’t really a culture about getting rich or having huge successes. It’s about security, stability, and straightforwardness.
Speaking of that, are you ok with people telling you exactly what they think? Occasionally very rudely? A total stranger told me I was “doing it wrong” today, because of the way I was pulling my little shopping trolley.
Can you follow rules without losing a lot of energy over “why” and “that’s stupid”? There are a lot of rules in Germany. Most of them boil down to, “Be responsible for your own actions and don’t make life harder for your fellow humans”, but you still have to know them all.
Are you a good recycler? The recycling here is CRAY. I only recycle because my friends have kids, but 18 years in California, and especially Berkeley, trained me to separate and sort. Good thing, cause they are SO serious about it here.
We’ll close Part 1 with the most useful thing you can do if you are planning a move here.
Step 1: Learn some fucking German.
I had never been to Germany and did not know a single word of German except zeitgeist and schadenfreude. All the blog posts I read said that it was no worries, everyone speaks English in Berlin. This may be true if you spend all your time talking to expats in expat neighborhoods like Prenzlauerberg and work for a tech company whose HR department will manage every detail of your move.
But if you are moving yourself on a shoestring or limited resources, you will be well served to learn a bunch of basic words, like the word for apartment. Because trust, MOST people you will encounter in the process of setting up a life here do not speak English.