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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.

This post has also been published with permission on Finanz.nu.


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.

Caveats

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.

This post has also been published with permission on Wohnung.nu.


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

 
Don’t have a flag? A passport will do (file). Photo: jpvargas/flickr[source]CC BY-SA 2.0

The German bureaucracy likes to keep an eye on you. And it might be something in it for you as well.

German law demands that you register with the authorities, which is called Anmeldung, if you’re planning to stay in the country for a longer period (more than three months).

You should register within two weeks of your arrival in Berlin. If you don’t comply with these rules you might get slapped with a fine.

What’s in for you then? Aside from not having to pay a fine, you’ll get a piece of paper called Anmeldebestätigung from the registration office. Without this paper, which confirms your address in Germany, you’ll have a hard time applying for gym membership, opening a bank account, or renting a car at Robben & Wientjes.

Where you register depends on where in Berlin you live (although you should be fine picking the one closest to where you work or go to school as well). Here’s a list of registration offices throughout the city. You should be aware that there’s often a lot of people at these offices, so be prepared to spend two hours or more waiting for your turn. If you don’t speak a word of German it might be a good idea to bring a German speaking friend with you. While some of the clerks do speak English, it’s not to be taken for granted.

And don’t forget your passport.