illustrations: Berk Karaoglu.
Berlin is often thought of as a capital of individualists, and its inclusivity is something we’re grateful for every day. But as many of us Ausländers know, the idea of having to integrate into life in Germany is still very much preached by some institutions, and its principles are accordingly taught in special courses. Obviously, the western mindset of molding unique people into perfect(ly boring) citizens is inherently flawed and we can do better. But why not have a little laugh as we’re striving for social change? We’ve put our own spin on the integration process, and present you with our iHeartBerlin Guide to German Integration that will finally let you fully immerse yourself into life in Berlin!
Live With Germans
When I first learned from a German textbook that the mighty abbreviation “WG” stood for “Wohngemeinschaft” (which could be literally translated as “residential community”), I never expected that this seriously sounding concept is really used in everyday language. Little did I know that it is in fact the German equivalent of a “flatshare”, and let alone that I would actually get to live in a few of these.
In hindsight, it’s definitely a great recommendation if you want to get “integrated”! Having some German-speaking friends who are well versed in the mysteries of bureaucracy and trash separation (more on that later) can be quite a blessing. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll be so lucky – finding an apartment with Anmeldung is a formidable enough quest, and flatmates often become a secondary concern. Curious who you might encounter? This game will give you an idea about some of the most notorious flatmate types in Berlin and what it’s like to live with them.
Catch Up On Some Casual Language Skills
One would assume that German is the spoken language in Germany, but that’s not always the case in Berlin. Don’t let not knowing German discourage you from moving here. The city is full of multilingual folks, many of whom are happy to help in situations where German skills are absolutely necessary, but very often you’ll find that English works okay. Other than that, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with some basic Arabic and Turkish, and once you’re ready to enter the mythical realm of learning German, start with these quick and easy words that’ll make you sound like a pro.
Complain Like A German
If you’ve mastered the casual German phrases and are still hungry for more, this list will help you towards another milestone on your German integration journey: complaining like a German! Whether it’s about the weather, expensive prices, or the evergreen bike lane etiquette, a complaint is only as effective as you are annoyed.
If you’re put off by the concept of focusing on the negative aspects of life, you should know Berliners are notorious for being grumpy. So while we don’t advise against an attitude of gratitude, we definitely recommend knowing a few typical complaints to understand your Berlin environment.
Know Your Way Around German Obstacles
You won’t experience the real spirit of integration until you arrive at the obstacle course that is the German bureaucracy. You’ve probably heard of Anmeldung by now, but wait – there’s so much more. It feels like every area of life has to be regulated by some law with an extremely long and/or particularly impossible to pronounce name. Especially if you’re working as a freelancer, you may find yourself in need of professional assistance while dealing with the Finanzamt. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – Germans do it too!
In this article, we highlighted 9 different paperwork-related concepts that you might want to start wrapping your head around.
Get Your Trash Game On
This one might surprise you. Separating waste is a big thing in Germany, which you’ll be able to tell by the number of trash containers in a typical household – I’d say at least three. Dividing general waste, glass, and paper trash is a good start, but you could try harder.
There are also special trash rules for outside that you should abide by. It might feel counterintuitive at first, but should you find yourself finishing a Wegbier while out in the neighbourhood, don’t throw away glass bottles. Most of these are marked with a so-called “Pfand”, which means you could bring it back to the supermarket and get a few cents back. If you don’t want to do it yourself, give that chance to others by placing your glass bottle by the trash can.
Befriend A DJ
This one’s easier said than done. Although you could say that Berlin is a natural habitat for DJs, only rarely do you come across really authentic specimens. It’s worth the search, though – especially if your new friend is willing to put you on the guest list for their gigs – otherwise, you have to accept the fact that a significant portion of your nightlife will be spent queuing up for the entry.
Learn How to Get Around
Berlin public transportation is pretty good and reliable, although buses might be confusing at first and some are notoriously late. U-Bahns and S-Bahns are usually reliable, but watch out for the dreaded Ersatzverkehr (replacement transport service) that has the potential to make your otherwise chill commute into a series of trials and tribulations.
Alternatively, you could opt-out of using public transportation and navigate your way on a bike, as many a Berliner has done before you. The thing to keep in mind here is that you probably don’t want to splash too much cash on a brand new bike – unfortunately, these have a tendency to disappear from the busy Berlin streets, sometimes to be re-encountered at a flea market. We’ve already covered that issue in this article, along with some other essential knowledge for Berlin newbies.
Find Your Favorite Beer Brand
Berlin is a great place for beer aficionados. Apart from the solid Späti offering consisting of Sterni, good Czech beers, and German staples, there’s a lot of microbreweries. That together with the fact that Berliners turn hanging out into an art form is usually conducive to enjoying some cold beers. This isn’t unrelated to our next point…
Find Your Favorite Lake To Escape To
The city summer can get tiresome. But Berlin is surrounded by many beautiful lakes, most of which you can quite easily access by public transport and/or bike. Here’s an ultimate guide to our favorite spots! Btw, beware that some Berliners have a strong affinity for FKK (Freikörperkultur), and it’s not uncommon to accidentally run into a nudist beach area.
Have A Coping Strategy By November
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the dos and don’ts – we get it. So do we. That’s why you should find a coping strategy, especially for the harrowing winter months. Some people run off into the warm countries, others choose a weekend escape onto the dancefloor, and there’s always the option of hibernating in a warm cocoon of summer memories. Whatever you do, you can at least have a laugh while relating to this Berlin winter comic.