City guide: Living in Berlin
Our guide for expats moving to Germany's capital includes where to live in Berlin, where to register and where to find local gyms and swimming pools.
It is more than 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German capital still appears to be gripped by a sense of upheaval. Indeed, the city appears to change almost from one week to the next as renovations continue, neighbourhoods undergo a facelift and bars, shops and cafes come and go.
Where to live in Berlin
The process of unification drawing the two halves of the city together has opened up new parts of the capital, notably in the former communist east which has emerged as Berlin's new trendy hub. The result has been to drive up rents in central districts of the east such as Mitte (which literally means centre) and Prenzlauer Berg, both of which have been transformed by mass refurbishing programmes.
The higher rents have also meant that many people have moved further to the east, with Friedrichshain being a fashionable place to live. At the same time, Pankow, which was a major diplomatic area during the communist era, and even Weißensee, have been gaining in popularity.
Kreuzberg, which neighbours Friedrichshain and was traditionally a major centre for the city's Turkish and alternative population, has also been enjoying something of a residential renaissance in recent years. The Wrangelkiez in Kreuzberg, which is near the Oberbaum-Brücke, has lately become the place to be, with the new bars, parties and designer shops that have settled down here. Kreuzberg embodies Berlin’s 'poor but sexy' ethos more than any other district. Wedding, a former workers district, is said to be up and coming; not as a trendy location, but an affordable place to live near the centre.
In comparison to most other major European metropolises, Berlin’s rental market remains one of its major attractions. Indeed, despite Berlin's fast-paced change, the city's rents have hardly changed in recent years and are surprisingly low compared to other European capitals. Berlin apartments are also often surprisingly spacious compared to what is on offer in other cities.
This also includes the most sedate and established western areas like Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf and the villa apartments of Grunewald and Zehlendorf.
The fall of the wall has also meant that more people have been seeking places to live outside the city centre and in the so-called 'green' areas where rents are about EUR 50 lower even for larger apartments. This includes the great Prussian city of Potsdam, which acts as an urban ante-chamber of Berlin as well as a raft of smaller villages and new residential areas, the so-called 'speckgürtel' (flab-belt), that are dotted around the capital.
How to find rentals in Berlin
Unlike in other big German cities, you don’t necessarily have to pay an estate agent to find a nice flat for a reasonable price. Have a look at the so-called 'Wohnungsgenossenschaften' to apply for a flat. With your deposit you buy a share of the organisation, which you get back with interest when leaving. It is also not unusual to rent an unrenovated flat, which you have to renovate when moving in. In this case, the owners don’t take rent for the first few months.
While there is a seemingly endless supply of sources of information on accommodation (from websites to notes pinned on telegraph poles), the weekend editions of Berlin’s Morgenpost, Berliner Zeitung and Tagesspiegel are still a good starting point for exploring the city's rental market. For a room in a shared flat, check out the blackboards at universities and city magazines like Zitty or Tip. But be warned. You have to act fast.
Where to register after you arrive in Germany
Visit the berlin.de website and choose the district in Berlin you want to live in: www.berlin.de.
Where to arrange a German residence permit
Ausländerbehörde is the agency you must deal with for all residency permits once you are in Berlin. It is located in Wedding at Friedrich-Krause-Ufer 24, 13353 Berlin. The office is only open Mondays, Tuesdays (7am–2pm) and Thursdays (10am–6pm), so it’s best to get an appointment.
To make an appointment, visit www.berlin.de and click on Terminvereinbarung in the right-hand column to find the correct email address for making an appointment (it varies by which country you’re from) and clarify which papers you have to bring.
For detailed information, read our article on how to move to Germany legally.
Further reading: For expats in Berlin, flexibility is key
Where to arrange a driving licence
Puttkamerstr.16 - 18
Tel: (030) 90269-2300
(Also where you can swap national EU licences for EU licences)
Tel: 030 86 86 230
Fax: 030 86 13 287
Health and recreation
Whatever the season, for anyone interested in sport – whether as a spectator or active participant – Berlin has a vast array of alternatives. Apart from the German capital's own local teams, this also includes an extensive network of vereine (associations) or clubs for almost every imaginable sport. Start off by checking out the expat sports clubs listed under Expatica's groups and clubs.
The fall of the Berlin Wall opened up the new world of golf for Berlin which is surrounded by a string of golf courses. These include:
- Das Brandenburg at Bad Saarow: (033631) 63300, website click here.
- Golfclub Gross Kienitz: (033708) 537 70, www.grosskienitz.de
- Golfclub Schloss Wilkendorf: (03341) 330960, website: click here.
- Golfclub Berlin-Wannsee: (030) 806 70 60, www.glcbw.de.
Berlin's transformation over the last 15 years and the government's relocation to Berlin from Bonn has led to a mushrooming of fitness centres in Berlin, turning the city into Germany's fitness capital.
There are more than 40 major gyms dotted across the city, which means competition among gym operators is tough. Good news of course for anyone wanting to take out a membership. The name of the fitness game in Berlin is negotiation as many gyms will be prepared to do all sorts of deals. Although you may find the more centrally located and trendy gyms charge more for membership.
Many of the gyms are parts of chains and offer different services with some of their premises more spacious than others and including extras such as swimming pools. When signing up you should ask whether membership entitles you to make use of the company's other gyms which may be in other German cities.
Some of the most popular gyms in Berlin are:
- Apollo Sports Club, 784 82 03
- Ars Vitalis, 788 3563
- Elixia, 20 63 53 00 (Mitte)
- Fitness Company, 446 73 70 (Prenzlauer Berg)
- Gold's Gym, 443 7940
- Kieser Training, 97893841 (Mitte)
- Holmes Place, 20 62 49 49
- Meridianspa, 338 90 60
- Swiss Training, 44 35 83 44
- Vitalis Fitnesscenter, 415 38 80
Berlin has a wide range of public swimming pools varying in size and spread out across the city. The city is also surrounded by an extensive system of lakes where swimming is permitted.
There are indoor public pools (schwimmhallen) and in the summer, the city's open-air pools (freibäder) spring into action. Opening times can also vary as the pools have to accommodate various community groups from school children to pensioners, not to mention popular Berlin pastime, nude bathing. A single 60-minute ticket starts at EUR 4.
Serious swimmers may find some pools frustrating with only limited areas available for swimming laps. Berlin swimming pools are also one place where Germany's famed officialdom really does come to life in the shape of the pool bademeister(in) – pool attendant. Mess with them at your own risk and prepare yourself though reading and following the rules and regulations religiously.
A couple of pools to try are:
- Bad am Spreewaldplatz (the works: whirlpool, sauna etc), Tel: 69 53 52 10
- Stadtbad Charlottenburg – Alte Halle (25 metre pool with splendid painted ceiling). Tel: 34 38 38 60
- Stadtbad Mitte (popular with inner city dwellers), Tel: 30 88 09 10
For further information consult www.berlinerbaederbetriebe.de or the service hotline: 01803 10 2020.
Berlin opened up to the world with the fall of communism in the east. Now, supermarkets and the food departments of big department stores such as Kadewe, Galerie Kaufhof and Karstadt stock food and ingredients from all over the world, from Asian and Indian through Mexican to African and Italian. The French Galeries Lafayette in Mitte also boasts a substantial food hall.
At the same time, Asian food stores have sprung up across the city with several of the smaller shops, which have been taken over by Russians, now offering goodies from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Here is a list of shops in Berlin catering a little more exclusively to expat foodies:
Koertestr 10 Neukölln
Tel: 030 691 1227
Fax: 030 690 40 697
The English Scent
Tel: 030 324 46 55
English Food Shop
Tel: (030) 332 94 20
Tel: (030) 326 02 62-1
Whisky & Cigars
Sophienstr 8 Mitte
Tel/Fax: (030) 282 03 76
Books in Berlin
(030) 313 1233
01801 484 484
(030) 694 4675
(030) 238 4680
Unter den Linden 10
(030)881 11 12
(030) 2025 1111
Michele Carloni / Joe Niedermeier / Expatica
Housing section updated February 2010 by Joe Niedermeier, freelance writer and translator for the housing industry. Listings updated February 2010 by expat in Berlin, Michele Carloni.
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