Tag Archives: moving to Berlin because of Trump

Moving to Berlin in 2018: a trip to the Zoll.

Schoeneberg Zollamt by Suzanne Forbes June 10 2018The Zoll is where packages from America are held for ransom, if they don’t get lost.

I finally had to go there a while back, due to the error of an Amazon seller. I had scrupulously avoided it for three years!

Of course I made a drawing. Everyone there was perfectly nice, contrary to the yelp reviews.

If you are planning a move to Berlin, do not mail yourself anything or have anyone mail you anything bigger than a postcard.

The Zoll will open it and charge you duties on it probably even if it is a gift or even if it is your old clothes from college. It’s just not worth it to wait a million years for your package to arrive, then get a letter from the Zoll, schlep over to the Zoll, take a number, wait in line, go through the scary mystery door, and experience your package being probed before you pay at least 18% duties on it and probably also 18% on the cost of shipping.

Items under 20-25 euros including shipping are exempt, but the exact amount seems to be variable and they still take FOREVER to arrive. If you must go, follow this excellent protocol from yelp user Karim S.:

Both eBay.com and Amazon.com have a “Duties/Import charges” function that sellers can use. If your checkout includes those, and you pay them, your item will arrive fine.

This is the only exception to shipping stuff from the US. eBay’s International Shipping Program is fantastic and now even ensures items from the UK make it here, as previously they never made it. They would just disappear or be returned. (See my post on my hatred of the German postal system here).

Schoeneberg Zollamt detail by Suzanne Forbes June 10 2018Etsy’s function for this doesn’t seem to work properly, etsy sellers aren’t aware or made aware of Germany’s duties, and etsy stuff will be lost in the void or Zoll’d.

Amazon.co.uk also works fine, much better than an ebay.co.uk transaction without the International Shipping process.

If an Amazon.com seller doesn’t list duties/import charges for an item over 20 bucks, they didn’t set up the item sale properly and your stuff will wind up at the Zoll. Don’t risk it.

Just ask your friends to bring you your stuff when they visit. *cough* or your mom who might heroically bring an extra suitcase just of your stuff.

Or buy it from the UK, til Brexit. The equivalent of Target here for cheap good value basic clothes and household furnishings (but only online) is bonprix.de. You can get a LOT of amazing stuff on the eBay.de free classifieds, ebay kleinanzeigen. There are Facebook groups for free stuff and “sell your stuff”. Avoid craigslist, it barely works here. Also, IKEA delivers. Other Nature, the lovely queer sex shop, sells US brands of toys, harnesses, packers etc. which *they* pick up at the Zoll and pay the duties on, specifically so you don’t have to have a creepy violating experience ordering the intimate products you like best.

Just don’t ship stuff from the US.

Well, if you must, you can use MYUS.com, which is a shipping service. You get a shipping address in the States from them, you ship your items there, and they ship your items to Germany. (Or anywhere, I think?) The items arrive at the one FedEx office in Berlin, which is out somewhere near the Zoll, and then FedEx ships them to you. And THEN, a week or a month later, you get a big bill from FedEx for your duties! Which if you don’t pay, will promptly be referred to collections, which you can’t really dodge in Germany, and you’ll pay another 50-75 euros in fees! Not that I know anything about that. Cough.

My Moving to Berlin series:

Basic Needs on Arrival.

Happyfuntimes at the Foreigners’ Registration Bureau!

How to move to Berlin in 2016, Part 1.

Finding a flat in Berlin, in 2015.

How to move to Berlin in 2016 or 2017, part 2: Registration!

Things I HATE about Germany.

Moving to Berlin in 2017: Basic needs on arrival!

Scotty the Blue Bunny in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

Scotty the Blue Bunny in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

When you arrive here from the US, you will need money.

You may have gotten some euros in advance- that’s a good idea! Because we just had our first prospective relo whose credit union debit card does not work anywhere, at any bank or ATM, in Berlin. He sent us money via Paypal and i took out cash for him, but obviously that’s not optimal. You will want a way to access your bank account.

Step one: get a debit card from your bank that has a chip, and make sure it works. Because atms here are almost all chip-and-pin based.

So to withdraw money, you will most certainly need a chip-enabled card. You can use a standard American debit card or credit card that works on the Maestro/Cirrus credit card network to buy goods at large grocery stores like Kaiser, at hotels and a few touristy places. But practically no place here that you’ll encounter in your daily life takes American plastic. You need cash or a German bank account and German girokarte (debit card). BTW, they hate VISA also, Mastercard is preferred.

Ah yes, you have a pocket computer to tell you everything. But your pocket computer, it may not work here.

Arriving at the airport, you should have your travel instructions printed out on paper. In case your phone died inexplicably and your charger doesn’t work, inexplicably, or you lost the adaptor for the charger. Or your roaming plan isn’t enabled for some reason. Or the wifi at the airport isn’t working.

Networks and sim cards and all that are weird. There is plentiful free and unsecured wifi, but you will need a charged phone to hunt for it. Regarding power, it might be easier to order the wall plug charger or power supply for your computer/devices from Amazon in the US and bring it with you. Things like flat irons, ironing irons, and hair dryers you can buy cheaply at Rossman, the sundries/drugstore. Like ten euros and made to a far more robust standard than US ones.

Your laptop, if it’s fairly new, will work fine if you have an adaptor or power supply with an EU plug.

Modern computers are made to operate dual-current, as are modern phones. Check to be sure though, cause that German current in the wall will fry your stuff within an hour. As in, you may plug something in, see it turn on, think everything is fine, and find it burned out an hour later. Like my awesome new Halloween lights 🙁

For any important or valuable electrical thing that’s *not* a modern phone/computer, you’ll need a Step-Up/Step-Down transformer. Again, though they are heavy, you might want to buy one to bring along. You can buy one here at a store like MediaMarkt, but what if you arrive on some German holiday weekend when everything’s closed for five days? Or on a Sunday?

Stores aren’t open on Sunday, fool! And you can order it from Amazon.de, but they only deliver things sometimes. (See my post on Things I Hate About Germany for more on the unreliable postal systems).

Prescriptions for medicine: don’t bother to bring them!

Your US health insurance is worthless here. And you may not yet have secured one of the various European or UK insurances that are currently valid for Germany (constantly in flux, check Facebook). Those are really crisis coverage anyway.

So if you don’t have German health insurance, you can go to a doctor and for a like 35 euro visit they will write you what is called a “private” prescription. This is a prescription you can take to any Apoteke and use to get your medicine, which will be ridiculously, hilariously cheap even without insurance. You just hand the pharmacist your prescription and they hand you the box of meds- no waiting to “fill” it or count pills.

US doctors’ prescriptions are worthless here.

Also: there are Apotekes, where you get serious medicine, and there are drugstores like Rossman, where you get things like cough drops and makeup and toothpaste. Toothpaste and such is a little or a lot cheaper than in the US. Lots of medicines you can buy over the counter/off the shelf in the US you have to buy from a pharmacist (likely with face tats and earplugs) here. You just tell them your symptoms and they give you the right medicine. But that includes, huge surprise to Americans, ibuprofen. It comes in tiny packs of ten, costs a euro a pill, and they ask you if you familiar with this drug. So bring lots of Advil!

How do I go places?

I find it very helpful to think of Berlin within the RIng (equivalent to Manhattan and most of Brooklyn or the 7×7) as a clock face. The various transit vectors can be treated as clock hands. To use the transit system, you need a ticket, which is good for two hours in one direction. You MUST validate the ticket in the yellow validating machine next to the ticket sales machine before you start your trip. After two hours the ticket is just a piece of paper- it’s not reloadable.

Your ticket works interchangeably in the entire U-Bahn, S-Bahn, bus and tram systems; you only validate it once, at the beginning. There are also “kurzstrecke” tickets, cheaper tickets for a three-stop journey.

An easy way to start is to buy the 4-fahren deal, which is 4 tickets for 9 euros.

The subway, or U-Bahn, is a city-wide snarl of spiky vectors. It is open til midnight, which is to say the last train through each station leaves some time after midnight and generally before one. On Fridays and Saturdays it’s open all night. It runs both above and below ground. It is supported and interwoven with a kind of light rail system called the S-Bahn, which both runs through the city and forms the ring that defines the central city. The S-Bahn runs both above and below ground as well. Then there are buses, loads of nice clean constantly running buses, and in the East, the lovely clean speedy trams.

There are always at least two ways to get anywhere in Berlin, and often four or five.

Transit is fast and plentiful. Subways come every few minutes. There is an U-Bahn stop within a few blocks everywhere. In short, it is a real city, with real mass transit. And that includes taxis! You can hail a cab in many neighborhoods, just like you would in New York. Or you can grab one at the cab stand at the S-Bahn or a hotel. Or use some fucking app, I’m sure. If you call a cab on the phone, they have to come. And it’s fast.

If you flag a moving cab in the street, and you know you are going less than two kilometers, you can tell the driver you want a “kurzstrecke” or short trip. Then instead of running the meter, the driver drops the flag for a flat fee of five euros. It’s a great deal, especially since you only need to tip the common courtesy 10% or tip-the-change of Berlin. I like the cab drivers, though YMMV.

You can eat and drink whatever you want on the transit system, though technically it is forbidden, and get food from donuts to beer to noodles on the platforms. Speaking of food…

What can I eat?

By having our first vegan relo prospect we really experienced the difference between East and West Berlin. In the West, where we live, everything is easy and convenient and available for the lifestyle of a typical middle-class foodie urban American of the 1990s or Oughts. That is, you can get most kinds of food and excellent cheese at the supermarket, there are plenty of fancy shops for fancy European foods, teas, coffees, perfumes etc., and there are shopping malls that sell anything you would buy in the US.

There are nice organic grocery stores like Alnatura and BIO COMPANY everywhere of course, including West Berlin, but they are very expensive, almost ridiculously so compared to the discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. And of course, all supermarkets are closed on Sunday, unless it is one of the designated Shopping Sundays! (There are actually also a couple supermarkets, at the big train stations, that are 24-7.)

At KaDeWe you can get pastries from the Berlin concession of the Parisian pâtisserie Lenôtre, and every other imaginable traditional European delicacy you’d get at Fauchon or Harrods. But not much vegan, let alone gluten-free or paleo. You have to go to the hip part of Schöneberg to get a green smoothie, an artisan chocolate with fennel pollen, or kale. And even at a trendy Charlottenburg juice bar like What do you fancy love?, the guacamole bagels had hidden cream cheese, unmentioned, on them.

If you are a person who wants to go out and get NY or San Francisco style trendy food, you had better land in the East.

In the Eastside neighborhoods that are full of expats, like Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, you can get your third-wave coffee and your vegan cookie without much trouble. Same in Kreuzberg and, increasing daily, Neukölln. These neighborhoods also stay up later. But after midnight, if you want food you should have a plan. You will generally find only döner shops and spätis (like bodegas) open in most areas. Also, understand this: in much of Europe, closing times are not the sacred compact they are in the US. Restaurants close early, or aren’t open when the website says they are, or close because they ran out of something.

Don’t ever make a big plan around a destination restaurant meetup without someone who lives nearby walking over and actually checking they’re open. Our French bakery downstairs closes whenever they feel like it, at a different time every single day. And don’t run up on a place that’s closing and expect them to make an exception or help you at the last minute like one would in the US. They will laugh in your face. They’re not here for you!

Why are they so mean?!?

They’re not mean, they’re just not…wrapping everything in padding. The ameliorating, softening language of highly educated Americans is a huge time-waster to Germans. They simply don’t see a need to be anything but direct. Don’t waste their time with pleasantries and you will get along fine.

*why is there a drawing of a large gay man in a rather high quality blue latex bunny suit? Why, it’s Scotty the Blue Bunny introducing Amanda Palmer on Nov. 1 in Berlin!

Other posts in my “Moving to Berlin” series:

Happyfuntimes at the Foreigners’ Registration Bureau!

How to move to Berlin in 2016, Part 1.

Finding a flat in Berlin, in 2015.

How to move to Berlin in 2016 or 2017, part 2: Registration!