It’s been two months (!!) since we moved to Berlin and I thought I’d share an update on how it’s been. We’re slowly settling in and getting to know the city. So far so good! But I thought I’d share with you some adjustments we had to face when we first arrived.
No complaints in being this city since I’m now really enjoying it. However, I want to share some realities with you in case you’re thinking of moving here or to some other city in Europe as some bits may be applicable. Just to avoid a teeny bit of shock and hopefully, help you adjust faster. 😉
1. Finding the Perfect Flat in Berlin
It took a while for our unaccompanied baggage to arrive but it ended up being a blessing in disguise since finding an apartment took longer than expected. In Kuala Lumpur, it was a lot easier because of the availability of units in the city centre – it took us a mere two days. But in Berlin, however, finding a flat was like an adventure in itself.
It’s literally a competition. Apartments get snapped up quickly and it’s almost impossible to find a unit that has everything that you want and need, in the location you prefer. Frustrating and stressful at times, to be honest. I’ve always known how spoiled we were in Asia when it comes to choices and prices. But somehow, I still didn’t feel quite prepared when we got here and I found myself sighing and getting stressed over the process.
With the booming startup scene in the city and the number of expats in Berlin growing by the day, the competition is getting a lot more tough and also quite expensive. We viewed around six flats and I was starting to get tired. People were saying that this was still a low number as some had to view over 20 before finding theirs. I knew that would be too much for me and I was starting to worry.
But a little over a week later, we found the perfect flat. Serendipitously too, if I may add. Alvin and I, being the worry warts and ‘plan everything’ types that we are (him more than me though, to be honest), were totally on the edge about getting a flat before our two-week hotel allowance provided by our government was up. Mainly because we didn’t want to move our things twice as that will cost more time, effort, and even gas money for the people from our embassy who were helping us out.
And one day, while walking around one of the neighbourhoods we love in Berlin to check out a building with a vacant unit that we saw online. On the way there, we passed by a gorgeous building, and we found ourselves wishing we were viewing a unit there instead.
Lo and behold. The next day, our embassy’s administrative officer took us inside the building we were ogling at just the day before since there was a unit available. We did get lucky. More on the apartment hunting later, I swear.
2. Spricht du Deutsch/Englisch?
German is truly one of the toughest languages to learn. Words seem pretty easy. But the grammar? Insanity. However, it would be such a missed opportunity to live in Berlin and not even try, right?
Truth be told, since of the words are similar to English and Dutch (which I have a working knowledge on since my Mom became a Dutch citizen and time spent with her there meant picking up words), I tend to pick up what people are talking about – most of the time.
A lot of young people do speak English but when it comes to the older generation, Deutsch is still preferred. Not that they are huffy about you not knowing their language – they try to communicate in English as well but of course, the mother tongue is the mother tongue.
With a bit of exaggerated gestures, blurting out random German words I know in between English sentences, and apologising while smiling sheepishly that I’m new in the country and that I intend to learn their language later on, I’m able to communicate with the delivery guys, the painter, the plumber, our hausmeister, and older shopkeepers. They are usually understanding and very helpful despite the language barrier.
We do plan on officially sitting down and learning German once we’ve settled. However, if I were to be honest, settling down would be much easier if you know at least A1 or A2 Deutsch.
Forms in banks (even for the Diplomatic Service!) are in Deutsch, contracts for the flat, applying for a mobile phone contract, calling hotlines for customer service for just about anything – nothing is in English. So knowing a little bit about what you need and the Deutsch words for “Press zero for operator assistance” would go a long way.
Pro Tip: If you’re a Vodafone subscriber, just wait out the *ultra long* welcome message and menu recording when you’re calling their customer service hotline. In the end, a recording in English would play and will tell you how to get to an operator. It’s time consuming but it works! Gracias to our friends from the Ecuadorian embassy for this. 😉
My love affair with Duolingo started because of my friend Sarah who’s been studying here for about a year. She swears by how much help this app has been and after deciding to try it out myself, I can attest to its efficacy as well.
I admit that I don’t have time everyday to sit down and practice with it. I learn with the app 2-3 times a week and so far, it says that I’m now 6% fluent in Deutsch. It doesn’t seem like a lot. But knowing the words for ‘please’, ‘see you tomorrow’, vegetables, beef, pork, and chicken, can go a long way when ordering at a restaurant or doing the groceries.
Download it if you’re looking into learning a new language. It really helps! #NotSponsored
3. Is Berlin Still Cheap?
Why yes, it is. Compared to a lot of cities in Europe, it is still considered affordable. However, with gentrification, I don’t think it will last for too long. At this point, a speedy rise in costs have already started, much to the dismay of Berliners who have been here for quite a while.
Rents have gone up due to the startup scene and expats flocking to the city, especially in the hip neighbourhoods.
However, I do find food and booze pretty cheap so that truly keeps me happy. All those food markets are such a hazard to our waistlines but we can’t help ourselves. Good thing gym memberships are really cheap in Europe!
There’s so much choice in the food scene and there’s always something new going on as well so there’s enough to keep me from getting bored. I can’t wait to start writing about places we’ve visited.
But if, like me, you’re coming from Asia where you’re spoiled to death by delivery guys who also assemble furniture, you’re in for a bummer. Europe has always been expensive when it comes to anything concerning labour. So, buying furniture is a lot more work for Alvin and I.
We sold everything before moving here because we love starting from scratch and doing some decorating every time we move to a new place. This also ensures that we are flexible when it comes to choosing apartments. We aren’t hindered by our stuff’s size or the colour of the wood, etc. It’s a personal preference thing.
In Kuala Lumpur, it took us merely a few weeks to get the household up and running. We would shop for furniture on weekends and they are delivered and assembled by the company just a few days after – for a very minimal fee. I think the highest we paid was RM50 (approx EUR10 or USD11) for delivery and assembly of furniture.
It was always quick, easy, and painless.
Here, though, is a different story. You buy your furniture and appliances and pay a minimum of EUR30 to get it delivered to your flat’s door – literally. Yes, just up to the door.
You pay extra for them to bring it to the room you want, take it out of the box, plug it in if it’s a machine, and get rid of the mountain of boxes, styrofoam, and plastic they come with. This is roughly around EUR50.
For furniture, assembly fees are different from delivery fees. Getting something assembled would cost an average of EUR80 and if it’s from IKEA, you still need to top up with 15% of the value of the item you bought.
Needless to say, Alvin and I have been spending most nights playing with what we like to call adult Lego. We’ve been assembling furniture and getting rid of the boxes so we can save on some costs. Eighty Euros is already another piece of furniture so we may as well do it ourselves and get some skills and muscles in the process.
My friend Sarah and her boyfriend Sergio even came over one weekend to help us out and that was a lot of fun/calories burned. Especially for the boys. 😉
Pro Tip: Buy an electric screw driver and significantly cut the time you spend in assembling furniture. Doing it manually can add hours to it and will leave you exhausted!
Services are also expensive – manicures, pedicures, and don’t even get me started on the waxing. I am this close to messaging my favourite waxer in KL just to tell her I miss her.
But to be honest, if you compare the prices to Paris, Scandinavia, or London, you still can’t really complain. You can get a basic manicure starting at 15 Euros and even eat a three course lunch at a really fancy restaurant for EUR13. Not bad. Not bad at all.
4. Things Take a Little While
It is true that Germans are efficient. However, tasks are specialised and almost everything is by appointment. Walk-in customers for services are rarely accepted.
Getting someone to come to install your router and turn on the main internet switch in your cellar so your Wi-Fi will be up and running will take a week.
When I had to get a minor factory defect in my dryer repaired, a technician was able to come in 4 days. However, they sent only one guy and the dryer is on top of the washing machine and I had to help him bring it down. I was glad to help but man, dryers are heavy and I think I sprained my pinky in the process.
Once he was done, he told me it wasn’t part of his job to put it back. Of course, I was panicking internally and told him that since I’m alone (husband was at work so this is technically true), I won’t be able to put it back. One look at my tiny bones and I guess he felt bad for me and said he’d help me.
We weren’t able to put it back by ourselves and I had to ask our hausmeister for some emergency weight lifting help. But in the end, all went well.
5. Hard Water
While the city’s water department says that water from the tap is potable, we found ourselves doing what other locals do – buying mineral water in bulk. We tried drinking it the first few weeks but somehow, I can’t seem to get used to the different taste.
After getting really tired of hauling water bottles from our nearby REWE, we decided to get a Brita water filter. One of Alvin’s bosses invited us to dinner at their place and they showed it to us. And let me tell you – it worked wonders for us as well. It’s my new favourite thing we got off Amazon. Again, not sponsored. (Sir Ady, in case you see this, thank you so much for the recommendation!)
Also, I’m not a fan of what hard water does to chrome fittings in the showers, the kitchen sink, and eventually, the washing machine. Thankfully, I’ve already found ways to go around the staining in the shower and kitchen. Also, there are products to keep your washing machine from getting clogged by the calcium it has. These products are also cheap so it’s no biggie. A separate post on removing hard water stains is also down the pipeline.
Bad pun, I know.
Hard water also affects the skin and hair so switching to clarifying products are a must if you’re staying in Berlin for more than three months. I found that three months is my limit for hard water before things go awry in the skin and hair department. It may be different for other people though.
I’m also considering a once a week vinegar rinse for the hair. Will let you know how that goes.
So there. Quite a number of adjustments that we had to go through during our first 2 months here. To be honest, at almost two months, I’d say we’re pretty much well-adjusted by now.
Now that the household is pretty much up and running, maybe I will have more time to blog. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we? 🙂