Berlin wasn't really on my list of places I considered moving to because of its long, cold, grey, and windy winters. So why did I spend a month there on my quest for a new home base?
It was a combination of things.
I was going to be in Innsbruck in Austria for an assignment at the start of the month and had to be in Berlin the beginning of March for a big travel trade fair, so I figured I could cut down on my flying by going from Innsbruck straight to Berlin.
And even though its climate isn't wonderful, Berlin is a pretty cool city. I'd been there plenty of times before and so I knew there'd be no shortage of cake cafes, interesting meetups, and yummy restaurants.
I figured I'd make use of the cold February temperatures to mostly stay inside and get lots of work done, especially since I knew that there'd be none of that once the travel trade fair week started.
Little did I know that the trade fair would never take place, and that it would take me three days rather than a few hours to get settled in the city because of major issues with my Airbnb.
The virus strikes
There's no way to write this recap without mentioning Corona. When I arrived in Berlin, the virus still seemed a far-away threat. The first two weeks I was there, its uprise was only noticeable by the lack of disinfectant in the stores.
But then Berlin had its first patient and sh*t got real, as they say.
In a matter of days, not only the travel trade fair ITB but also the Arrival conference and the Berlin Travel Festival – all taking place within the same week – were canceled. A friend of mine was forced to self-quarantine because someone working in the same building as him was diagnosed with the virus.
Things were changing but the true gravity of the matter didn't become clear until after I'd already left Berlin and so I still got to experience the city quite a bit.
Here's how it lived up to the criteria I've set for my future home.
The criteria comparison
The weather in Berlin in February is awful. Sunny days are the exception rather than the norm. It rains a lot and the sharp wind makes it all feel even worse.
When you mention the weather to people who live in Berlin, they'll tell you “But it's so amazing in summer!” It's true, the summers are warm and dry but they're much shorter than the winters are and while it's only one thing, the weather could be a big enough obstacle for me not to live in Berlin year-round.
But to split my time between Berlin in summer and somewhere with a milder climate for the rest of the year? That could be an option.
Live music scene
The reason is that Berlin has many of the other things I'm looking for. There's an active cultural scene with literally something for everyone.
When I asked tips for some jazz bars in one of the Berlin expat Facebook groups, it didn't take me long to collect a whole list of places to visit. I somehow only made it to Donau 115 – which was cool – but I know there are plenty of options.
As I was still struggling with my ankle (I'd sprained it heavily when I was in Valencia in January), I couldn't try any of Berlin's dance schools. I did do my research beforehand, though, and found quite a few promising urban dance classes in various places around the city.
Ah, the supermarkets. In Berlin, these come in all kinds and sizes. From big general supermarkets to tiny night shops and specialty stores. On top of that, the large chains such as REWE are often open late.
REWE also offers grocery delivery – important to me – and so I ordered from them as soon as I arrived.
How that went?
Not entirely smooth, I must say.
In Valencia, I'd ordered from Mercadona. They gave me a 2-hour window in which the courier would arrive and he did so beautifully within that time frame. When he wasn't sure which bell to ring, he called me on my phone and once he was in the building, he proceeded to bring my groceries up and all the way into my kitchen.
I thought: “If it's so easy in Spain, it must be even better in Germany!”
The first time I'd placed my order with REWE, the courier never showed up. Instead, I got an email after the delivery window had passed saying that I wasn't home and so my groceries couldn't be delivered.
I'd been sitting there waiting but nobody ever ringed the bell nor did they call me while they had my number.
I immediately contacted customer support but even though the courier was still on the road with my groceries, they claimed it was impossible for him to come and drop them off. They'd be taken back to the store and I'd have to place my order once more.
Annoyed but knowing I needed stuff for a whole month and not wanting to have to walk to the supermarket multiple times a week, I did as they said and luckily, the next delivery went smoothly.
Does this negatively affect my evaluation of the supermarkets in Berlin? Not really. There's such a big offer and I know the possibility to get groceries delivered is there. Customer service just isn't that great which didn't exactly come as a surprise (sorry, Berlin).
Meetups and community
Berlin is the place to be for startups and venture capitalists in Europe. I somehow ended up at a VC party surrounded by men in suites talking about investing and Artificial Intelligence. It was way out of my comfort zone but super interesting.
I also attended several events focusing on female entrepreneurs, women in tech, and women in investment firms. This hadn't really been my goal but these were the meetups I'd found online that caught my eye and because this year is all about trying new things, I figured why not.
Aside from business events, Berlin has communities around and meetups for just about everything from pottery to sexual development and computer games.
That's something I love about this city: I feel like it's the only place I've been so far where you can truly be yourself and find your people no matter what you're into.
Berlin has the big Tiergarten as well as many smaller parks dotted around the city. The area I was staying in, Prenzlauerberg, mostly had lots of fun small squares.
If you need lots of green and nature, Berlin probably isn't the best pick but with lots of lakes just a train ride away I think it wouldn't be too hard for me to get my fix. I'd have to try it for a while to see if I'd miss being able to simply walk to the woods like I could from my former place in Belgium.
Public transportation in Berlin is amazing. The U-Bahn (metro) and S-Bahn (trains) provide a 24-hour service on the weekends and during the week, the night buses and tram take you home during the late (or very early) hours.
A single ticket costs around €3 so I bought a 10 am monthly ticket for €61 as it was just the easiest solution. The 10 am ticket allows you to travel unlimited on the weekend and between 10 am and 3 am on weekdays.
Most areas of the city are well-connected by public transportation but if you find yourself having to switch lines a few times and you're not up for it, you can also call a ride share like Uber or FreeNow. If you don't have an Uber account yet, you can get a discount by signing up through my link;
Airport access and flights out
Berlin has two international airports: Tegel, which is close to the city center, and Schönefeld, which is located a bit further out. You can get into the city by public transportation from both and an Uber ride from Tegel will most likely set you back between €10 and €20 depending on where you need to go.
There's been talk of a new, modern airport opening for years but it has yet to happen. Until then, Tegel and Schönefeld offer plenty of connections for this traveler.
Access to cake
It's not hard to find good cake in Berlin. In fact, going out for my daily walks I came across new places every time and I would've been able to go for daily cake for quite a while just in the area that I was staying in.
Coffee shops are a thing here and lots of places pride themselves on having homemade cake. The city definitely scores some points in that regard.
Ah, a moment of shame for me. I've been wanting to learn German for years now and had finally planned to get to it during my month in Berlin. I'd found a school and figured out which classes I wanted to take but then canceled last-minute.
You could say I was a bit tired and overwhelmed.
Valencia had been great but it had also been taxing emotionally. Starting this quest for a new home I'd also started a journey to truly get to know myself, exposing myself to new experiences along the way.
Not being able to properly place and process these experiences just yet, I didn't exactly sleep a lot in January – falling asleep has always been a bit of an issue for me. The boatload of work added to that and the determination that I wanted to continue going to events and meeting new people made me decide that also taking on language classes would maybe be a bit too much of the good stuff.
So yes, I'd definitely be willing to learn German if I decided to move to Berlin. It probably wouldn't be necessary as so many people speak English there, but I'd always want to be able to speak the language of the place I live in.
Unique about my month in Berlin
While the last bit of my month in Berlin looked very different than I had planned because of all the event cancelations due to Corona, the virus creeping into my travels wasn't what affected me most.
What was, were the people.
The people that opened my eyes to different perspectives on doing business, on career evolution, on relationships, and on communication. Maybe most of all, the people who offered me a different look at myself.
- Airbnb: 1354.8
- Groceries: €130.35
- Rideshares: €63.31
- Public transportation: €61
- Entertainment and meetups: €0
- Eating out (includes cake): €115.53
- Happy Socks (birthday present for myself: €10
- Total: €1,787.99
This breakdown does not include any of my business costs.
As you can see, my Airbnb in Berlin was expensive. There are two reasons for that:
- I was supposed to house sit for someone I know who canceled only two weeks before my trip, so I had to book a place rather last-minute and had limited options left.
- I prefer booking through an official platform such as Airbnb rather than to rent unofficially from someone as you never know what might go wrong and if you then don't have some kind of contract, you also have no recourse.
Key moments from my month in Berlin
Berlin was the scene of quite a few key moments for me in terms of personal growth, which I won't go into here. What, or better who, was super important to me throughout this month, though – and has been for many times – is my bestie Amanda from MarocMama.com.
As she lives in Marrakech and has a husband, three kids, and multiple businesses, we only see each other a few times a year. She came to Berlin for a week and because all of the events we had planned to go to got canceled, we got to spend a lot of time together.
Now that a lot of places are on lockdown and we temporarily can't travel anymore, I'm super grateful we got that week together.