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Guide to Living in Berlin

Work is Plentiful in This Vibrant City

By Jon Levy

Berlin is a vibrant city full of cultural divisions, teeming with music and film projects, and home to writers, businesspeople, builders, politicians, and protesters—those who protest the old as well as those who protest the new.

Finding an Apartment

The variety of living opportunities in Berlin range from the East German highrises near Alexander Platz, to the elegant neoclassical buildings of Prenzlauerberg and Friedrichshain, to the experimental living communities of Kreuzberg.

One can find large rooms in attractive buildings—a bit shabby perhaps and sometimes heated by pungent coal, the prevailing smell in the East for as little as DM300 (1DM=$1.85). Brand-new places in refurbished buildings, with amenities beyond compare, go for DM1,100. All price ranges and configurations are available in all neighborhoods.

To find an apartment, cross Unter den Linden and check the bulletin boards in Humboldt University's main building where signs for shared apartments, known as Wohnung Gemeinschaft, are posted. City magazines Zitty and TIP have accommodations information and are also the entertainment bibles. Both have web sites. On Saturdays, look for the Immobilien issue of Zweite Hand (secondhand). For a fee, agencies, known as Mitwohzentrale or Mitwohnagentur, will find apartments to meet your specifications.

Learning German

There are endless numbers of language schools (Sprachenschule) to help you learn German. Two good private operations are The Neue Schule in Wilmersdorf (a disclaimer: I teach English for them) and the Friedlander Schule with classes in Prenzlauerberg and Friedrichshain. Another option is the inexpensive Volkshochschule—one in every neighborhood—which offer a wide range of classes, from pottery to Deutsch als Fremdsprache (German as a foreign language). Don't forget to listen to Deutschlandfunk, the wonderful public radio station, and read the paper for practice.

Making It Legal

Within seven days of moving into any apartment you must register with the local police. To do this, buy a blank Anmeldebestätigung form from a stationary store, bring a copy of your rental agreement signed by your landlord, and your passport to the local police station.

To obtain a residency permit you must first visit the central Landeseinwohneramt, at Friedrich-Krause Ufer 24, near Amrumerstr. on U-Bahn line 9. Get there early; it closes at 1 p.m. and is closed on Tuesdays. Bring proof that you have enough money to support yourself, either a bank statement or a letter from somebody asserting that they will vouch for you. You will also need to show that you have health insurance. Also bring your passport, the Anmeldebestatigung form, two passport photos, and DM50 in cash. (if you are also seeking a work permit bring DM100).

Two types of work permits are available: If you have a job offer from a German company, you can ask for a standard permit. For this, the permitting office will require a guarantee by the company offering you the job that the job cannot be filled by a German. They will need to provide documentation to that effect. However, if your interest is in English-language related employment, there should be no problem. What you want in that case is Selbstständig Arbeitserlaubnis, which means you will be self-employed and thus not a burden on the social security system.

Announce that you are applying for this permit when you apply for the residency permit. It will cost an additional DM50 and require a brief explanation of what you want to do and for whom.

Finding Work

German business needs global markets and alliances, so there is a massive need for English language speakers, particularly as teachers. Hordes of schools in Berlin offer everything from evening courses to intensive, industry-specific business English. The best way to find this work is to check the yellow pages under Sprachenschule and send off resumes. The schools will generally demand either experience or completion of a training course or both. The Zitty, TIP, and Zweite Hand magazines mentioned previously are a wonderful source of information for everything in the city, from apartment rentals to notices from people offering or searching for language lessons. A well-placed ad and a bit of patience can result in some private students. Another good tactic is to check the university bulletin boards or hang signs in bookstores and cafes. The going rate is about DM25 per hour.

Making a Life

Berlin is interesting, lively, and a very affordable place to live. It changes its feel every moment and the neighborhoods and cultural options are as varied as the history. For an exhaustive overview, see Alexandra Ritchie's Faust's Metropolis. George Clare's Berlin Days is a fascinating journal of the immediate postwar period as well as a thoughtful examination of the origins of Nazism.

JON LEVY writes from Berlin, Germany.

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