Guide to Living in Berlin
Work in a 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 protestersthose 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 buildingsa bit shabby
perhaps and sometimes heated by pungent coal, the prevailing smell
in the East. Brand-new places in refurbished buildings, with
amenities beyond compare at 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 websites. 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.
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 Volkshochschuleone in every neighborhoodwhich 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,
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.
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.
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.