First months back
It’s been roughly 3 months since we moved back to Berlin from London at the start of May. I was traveling a lot for the first few weeks in Stuttgart and Munich for work so didn’t have time to write about it before. I also spent some time in Berlin earlier (in 2008 and 2012 as an expat from Futurice) but this is the first time I’ve properly lived here.
One thing I can already say that the pace of life is much more relaxed over here than in London. I’ve felt my stress levels go way down during the first months here.
We had booked a fully furnished temporary flat for May expecting to spend a lot of time flathunting based on stories from friends and colleagues. The flat was a bit further off in Lichtenberg/Marzahn but it was ok for a few weeks. As luck would have it we found our flat after 2 weeks though. We were using a relocation agency for all the paperwork here in Berlin and thru their network we found a really nice 2-storey flat before it even went on the market. It is also centrally located in Mitte and my commute is now a nice 20-minute walk (half of it thru a park).
Some of the differences I’ve noticed
Pace of life is slower. In London especially in the City everyone is always in a hurry and almost running to get to wherever they need to be. It is contagious and that sense of urgency will start to stress you out after a while. In Berlin people take their time and have no problem just sitting down and relaxing and enjoying things.
Cost of living is lower. For example our flat here is 2x the size of the one we had in London but still only half of the price we paid in there. So basically 4x cheaper. Food and beer are cheap as well.
Space. Berlin is much more spacious than London. The streets are wide and even the subway platforms are nice and wide. Central London is of course restricted by streets from an era with no planning and also the tube has been built for another era and volume of people. Of course because Berlin is only ~3M people compared to London’s ~9M in about the same physical space it is a lot less congested.
History. I loved London for it’s history. Every place had a story and a history spanning hundreds of years. In my neighborhood in Angel there was a place where a pub had stood for almost a thousand years and there still was a pub in the very same spot. Berlin on the other hand was heavily damaged during the wars and a lot of the history beyond recent decades cannot be seen anymore.
Green vs gray. Even though London has a lot of parks as well, the City especially feels lifeless and cold due to everything being just concrete and tarmac with no trees in sight. In Berlin they try put trees in a lot more which makes places feel much warmer and livelier.
Here the car is king, where as in London the pedestrians are. You have to be careful when stepping on to the street here even at zebra crossings as not to get run over. In London cars usually give way to pedestrians nicely. That is maybe down to the fact that there are so many people on the streets in London that drivers are used to having to be on guard against people jumping in front of their vehicles at all times.
Public transport works well. I’m amazed at how well the public transport works in London since a lot of the infrastructure there is really old and meant for a lot fewer passengers but the public transport in Berlin is really really good.
Bureacracy that usually works. You have to register within 2 weeks of moving in the city and you get a certificate from that which then helps you in everything from getting a bank account to getting a flat. In London you have to register as well but communication and lack of common systems between boroughs lead to situations like I had for example where there were 7 previous tenants also officially still registered at my address. I don’t see how that could be possible in Berlin.
Payments. In Finland and to a certain extent in London you got used to being able to pay with a credit card everywhere. In a lot of the cases it’s also true in Berlin but I’ve had to switch from my handy SecurID credit card wallet to a proper one with room for cash as well. Be prepared to carry cash with you. Also mobile payments with Apple Pay and Android Pay were a lot more commonly supported in London.
Phone networks. In this regard Berlin is a third world country compared to London. Coverage and signal strength are somehing I’d expect from places like India ;) Prices are really high as well. I got 12GB for £20 a month where as here you are more likely to spend 40€ a month for 3-4GB. Thank God our Telekom VDSL lives up to it’s speed promise of 50/10M.
Multiculturalism. London is a huge melting pot and for cultural diversity it is far better than Berlin. Berlin is an international place as well but nothing compared to London.
People. I’ve got a lot of good friends in London but I find that people in general are friendlier over here. Random people you meet are much more happier to give you advice on the street for example than in London. Maybe it’s the rush again. Also I’ve found that most people are eager to use their English skills here when they get a chance. Maybe in some government offices with older people you can’t cope with English but otherwise there have been no problems. But still I am planning on taking German courses in the fall and I already can follow slow conversations without too much special vocabulary.