Finding Your Feet In Berlin – A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt
By John Perye . February 23, 2015
Not long after first arriving in Berlin I found myself going into relatively small bookstores, all the way up to giant-chain ones, searching for a detailed guidebook that would assist in my discovery of the city. Since my German reading skills, or lack thereof, narrowed my options only to books written in English, I left each store empty handed and dissatisfied with the lackluster selections. I had no interested in the same old generic, boring book filled with pictures of monuments and not much else.
Then, at the beginning of the summer, a copy of Finding Your Feet In Berlin – A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt made its way into my hands. Written in English by Giulia Pines, the book became my very own advice-filled companion that also fit conveniently into my back pocket during summer adventures. Pines is on the level, not holding anything back on what the experience for a newcomer planning to stay in Berlin will likely entail.
In impressive detail Pines covers the gamut of Berlin life in a refreshing way, making it feel like you’re having a conversation with the person to be asking all the important questions to. After a brief history of the city, Pines gives a rundown on the 12 official districts of Berlin, which contains valuable information for someone wanting to select an area that suits their specific needs. I like how that not only does she give you an idea of the surroundings, but also what kind of money you’ll likely be spending. The “Best Kept Secret” sections are also a nice added bonus.
Next, and in my opinion the most crucial chapter in the book, “Official Stuff” is what you need to read if you want to lawfully stay in Berlin for any extended period of time. It will prepare you for the Beamten and if you don’t know who that is you’ll definitely want to read this chapter closely, with a highlighter in hand. “If you come to Berlin as a non-EU citizen, you’ll be looking at a distinct disadvantage: you’ll have much more to do when you get here.” Having recently gone through the process of getting a visa, I found that Pines suggestions on how to prepare are absolutely accurate. Sure, there is a lot you’ll need to organize and have ready before the big appointment but do not be discouraged, “In fact, it is one of the easiest places in the EU to get a visa.”
After you get your visa it’s time to pick a place to live. If you struggle reading German, words like Kaltmiete, Warmmiete, Maisonettewohnung and even Kachelofen, Erker, Balkon, or Hinterhaus will confuse any foreign renter browsing the available listings. Know what, who, and how renting in Berlin works before advancing on the market. Pines brings up that where you choose to live in Berlin will no doubt play an important role with your overall experience and I couldn’t agree with her more.
If you’re still having trouble by this point, the next chapter, “Learning German,” offers the other key piece of advice you’ll need to find your footing in Berlin. “If you plan on staying in Berlin long-term, and long for the feeling that you’ve truly integrated, there’s no better way to start than by learning the language.” Pines is encouraging and doesn’t hide, “The truth? The German language is tough, but you’ve already made the best step towards learning it by moving to Germany.” Her reasoning for putting forth the effort to learn the language really hits home, and made me realize that although many people speak English here, I am still in Germany, and not giving it a shot is somewhat disrespectful to locals.
Finding Your Feet In Berlin also has a chapter for the parents, covering everything from schools to babysitters, to what to do for fun with kids in the capital, and most importantly, what to do in case of emergency. Students and workers each get a chapter devoted to them, as well as where to shop, cook, and eat. Of course there is also a chapter on where to spend your free time. Getting any suggestions on what to do with yourself is essential for any newcomer who doesn’t want to fall in the trap of having a set routine. The book reinforces that we are in Berlin and there is tons of stuff to take part in and enjoy. Whatever it is, there’s something for you.
Expats will also find the chapter on resources offered to them very handy. Peppered throughout the book are photographs taken by Paul Sullivan, depicting the reality of Berlin from a first-person point of view. All in all, Finding Your Feet In Berlin is fantastic for newcomers and even those who’ve been in Berlin for a while but want to engage the city more. Even if you have never stepped foot in Berlin but are curious about the place, I highly recommend this book. It is not only current, but once again, it’s extremely detailed and genuinely helpful.
Get your at copy at Berlin Story Verlag
Photos by Paul Sullivan
(Photos Copyright Paul Sullivan and Berlin Story Verlag)