Angela Merkel at CeBIT 2012 in Hannover. Photo: CeBIT

Angela Merkel Does Stuff with Tech

Classroom (file). Photo: Tulane Public Relations/flickr[source]CC BY 2.0

You might think that English is the official language of Germany as long as you only hang out around Rosenthaler Platz in Mitte. But just go slightly north, to Pankow, or a few miles south, to Neukölln, and you’ll find yourself in acute need of some basic German vocabulary.

How should you go about this predicament then? Well, there are a couple of ways, and all of them aren’t that unpleasant.

The fun way

Like all of your expat peers in Berlin, you’ll need to know at least what Wurst and Bier means. And there are some German lads out there that are keen to get some English going for themselves. Why not join forces and head to a Language Exchange? There are several weekly meetups in Berlin where you can practice German in a very informal way. You can find them on, Facebook Groups and other community sites, such as Toytown Germany. Usually these meetups are completely free, but the organizer might appreciate a donation of one or two euros.

The free way

If your schedule doesn’t allow excursions to a language meetup, then apps are your friend. Duolingo offers courses in German for English, Turkish, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese speakers. Competitor Memrise also has several German language courses. Deutsche Welle holds an interactive German course for English and Russian natives.
These courses should at least give you a quick start and prepare you for some common situations, and it won’t cost you a dime.

The hard way

If you’re up for it, and don’t mind paying a few hundred euros, there are several language schools that are happy to teach you German. Some of the more popular schools are VHS Mitte, BSI Berlin, GLS Berlin, Goethe Institut, Hartnackschule, Die Neue Schule, Sprachenatelier, Die Deutschule, and Friedländer-Schule.

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The original version of this article was first published on 2012-02-12.

Berliner Bank (file). Photo: Thomas Quine/flickr[source]CC BY 2.0

If you’re going to live in Berlin, one of the first things you’ll need is a German bank account. We’ll explain how you get it.

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After a few days in Germany you realize that quite a few shops refuses to accept your Visa or American Express card. Sure, you can carry around a big pile of cash, but there is an alternative. As soon as you open a German bank account you’ll get a Girocard. This is the card that German shops like.

You’ll also need a German bank account to receive salary, and to pay your bills. A common practice in Germany is Lastschriftzahlung. This means, for example, that your phone company withdraws money for your monthly bill directly from your bank account.

Online banks

Which bank you should choose is up to you. Some of them charges a monthly fee to hold your account while others offers their services for free. Most of the online banks have free accounts. Comdirect is a popular bank where you’ll get both a Girocard and a Visa card for free. They also have an iPhone app where you can check your balance and transfer money. A newcomer is Number26, a completely mobile and digital bank.

Most banks require that you have registered with the authorities before you can open an account with them, but there are exceptions. One of them is DKB, Deutsche Kreditbank. They offer a service similar to Comdirect, with the important difference that you can sign up without a permanent address in Germany, you just use your address in your home country. You can even sign up prior to moving to Berlin, and have your cards and passwords sent to you by mail.

Traditional banks

If walking in to a bank in person is your thing, then you’ll have to choose a traditional bank. You will of course get an online bank as well … and you probably have to pay fee every month. There are a lot of banks to pick from, and some of the more popular include Berliner Sparkasse, Postbank, and Berliner Volksbank. When you choose it’s important to check that there is an office close to where you live or work, and where you can withdraw cash from ATMs (read more below).

Don’t forget…

When you’ve got your account and girocard you might think you’re good to go. But think twice before you withdraw money from an ATM. If the particular ATM is not affiliated with your bank, you might get charged a fee of up to 8 euros for a single withdrawal. That can be some expensive 20 euros… Check with your bank where you can get your cash safely.

A few German banks have their own iPhone apps, but if your bank’s not among them you can probably use the free app OutBank. There is a lite and a pro version, but if you just have one or two accounts you’re fine with the lite version.

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The original version of this article was first published on 2012-02-16.

Apartment building in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Photo: Berlinow

So, you’ve finally decided to stay in Berlin. Even though it might not be for good, you’re considering a more permanent living situation.

Rental apartments are the norm in Berlin. While some expats buy their apartments most of them, as the Germans, rent. Some even buy an apartment merely as an investment and then let it to someone else, whilst themselves renting another apartment to live in.

If you’re in Berlin all alone you might consider finding a WG (Wohnungsgemeinschaft), a collective of two or more people sharing an apartment. You might make new friends, or worse, enemies… It’s always easier to live with likeminded people. Shop around on the marketplace WG Gesucht, and while having a look at the vacant room, try to meet all of your flatmates to-be before signing a contract. Although most WGs work out very well, we’ve heard some horror stories.

Your own place

Have we scared you into getting your very own apartment? Well, even though Berlin has quite a few empty apartments and relatively low rents, it’s not always that painless to get that desired lease. As an expat, you’re often seen as a less reliable tenant than a German fellow. Therefore you should be very well prepared before arranging a Besichtigungstermin with a broker or landlord. Dressing up in a business suit, or at least some clean clothes, and having your papers in order might increase your chances in getting that crib considerably.

Getting it right

What documents to bring you might ask. The most important is a copy of your passport and, if you’re already registered with the authorities, your Meldebescheinigung. If you’re employed in Berlin you should bring copies of your last three salary slips (Gehaltsnachweis). If you’re currently not working or are self employed a recent bank statement showing some financial stability could do as well. You should also order a Schufa-Auskunft, a German credit report showing that you’re not having unpaid debts. Last but not least, most landlords want something with a very long name – Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung. This a document where your last landlord grant that you don’t have any outstanding rent debts. You can get this from your landlord, even if you’re currently subletting. If your last apartment was abroad you should have a corresponding document translated to German (some landlords will accept an English version).

Where should you look for that apartment then? The answer is almost always Immobilienscout24, this is the largest marketplace for renting or buying an apartment, house, office etcetera. Other websites are Immoworld, WG Gesucht, and Immowelt. Checking Facebook, the message board at the supermarket, and asking friends are of course also alternatives.


There are some things you should be aware of when looking for an apartment. Taking over a lease from another tenant (becoming a so called Nachmieter) can be a good way to get that coveted apartment. The tenant might ask for an Abstand. This means you have to buy their newly installed kitchen, washing machine, or just a piece of furniture they like to leave behind. If you don’t wanna pay, they will of course choose another Nachmieter. Sometimes you get a really good deal on their washing machine, but you might also end up paying 500 euros for an old sofa you just wanna throw out.

There are scammers lurking around on Immobilienscout and other websites. You often spot them by a too good to be true offer. If you contact them, they will tell you that they are currently abroad and can send you the key to their apartment, so you can have a look yourself. Of course, they want you to transfer a key deposit via Paypal or Western Union… The key? It’ll never show up.

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The original version of this article was first published on 2012-03-07.


How to: Pay


Cash Is King in Berlin

Get your cash ready. Photo: Berlinow.

You’re probably used to pay with your Visa or American Express card when you’re abroad. In Berlin, Cash is King.

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At Kürfurstendamm and Friedrichstraße, and other areas frequented by tourists, you can usually use foreign credit cards. Supermarkets like Kaiser and Rewe has also begun accepting cards like Visa and Mastercard. But smaller shops, restaurants, cafés, and some large chains like Mediamarkt and Ikea does not accept foreign cards.

The easiest alternative is to withdraw cash from an ATM with your credit card. Be sure to check with your bank before though, different charges apply for different cards.

If you’re staying in Berlin for a longer period, you might consider a German bank account. Then you’ll get a Girocard, which can be used almost everywhere in Germany.

Fiaker Kaffeerösterei
Fiaker Kaffeerösterei in Moabit. Photo: Carolina Löfstrand

Cozy Coffee in Moabit

Moabit may not be best known for it’s cafés. Therefore is Fiaker Kaffeerösterei a welcome addition in the quieter part of the neighborhood, on the border of Bellevue and Tiergarten. Choose between a real, Austrian melange or an Italian espresso, a French breakfast with croissant or a Tyroler style cheese variety. The very best of Austria and Italy in a homely setting with a cozy patio. – Carolina Löfstrand

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