Hello, Ian and Ebe!
My name is Sarah and I've been wanting to take a few semesters to teach abroad and experience another culture, and I was stuck between choosing Germany, Norway, and Russia. Because of some of the things you said while explaining why you liked Berlin so much, I am choosing Berlin, so thank you for that! You seemed like you really cared about the city and you felt at home there, so I feel like I could feel at home there, too.
So glad you are excited for Berlin. It is a world class city with some of the most innovative, creative people & something to do every moment of every day. Berlin is also much cheaper than other places in Germany, and especially low cost of living compared to Norway or Russia.
I'm the content editor for EasyExpat & wrote the Berlin Guide. We feature a forum, blog directory, and helpful articles on expatriating, like
A New Path to Visas in Europe: EU Blue Card (German particulars here )
Eat Like a Local
Understanding International Shipping & Finding a Reputable Mover
The Needle also has good starter info for moving here: http://needleberlin.com/moving-to-berlin-the-needle-guide-2012-edition/
I have some questions for you and I wanted to know if you might have the answer, or opinions to share.
1. I have three cats! What are the odds I'd be able to bring them to Berlin? I saw you had a cat, but I don't know about the policy. Is it difficult to rent an apartment if you have cats? Where I am now, it is, so I usually lie and say I have one.
The trouble with bringing cats is the paperwork and expense. Far from impossible, it is quite expensive. My mum actually took care of the paperwork to bring our cat over. Check out duetsch bitte! who successfully brought 3 cats from California to Berlin.
It is easiest to take your pet on the flight with you, but you can also hire (expensive) services to do it for you. Start with "Expat Pets", and find great info on Toytown: http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t24767.html . Apartments are usually no problem with small pets.
2. Is the U-Bahn the main transportation, and is there a good transportation system there? I don't drive, so I don't know how important it is to be close to the U-Bahn, or if there are other alternatives, like trollies.
There is a superb transport system of UBahn, SBahn, regional trains, trams, buses, & boats. I cover it in depth in Berlin: By Foot, By BVG, By Bike, By Car, By Boat, By Train, By Plane
3. What are areas that you would recommend for me? I'm a student studying History, Sociology, and Psychology; I'm not a big drinker and I don't party, but I love reading, writing, art, seeing movies, etc. I'm very liberal. And again, I'd need to live in a place where I can easily move around.
The "best" neighborhoods are understandably up to personal preference and different neighborhoods have wildly different personalities. Which neighborhood is hot right now changes frequently with Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain , Kreuzberg, and Neukölln usually top picks. We now live in Wedding (the ghetto), but love it as an up & coming neighborhood. Frommers has a decent guide to 'hoods: http://www.frommers.com/destinations/berlin/0046025074.html.
4. You said on your blog that your apartment was 600 euros, all-inclusive. Is it easy to find apartments that price, or is it kind of like you have to get lucky? Are landlords willing to negotiate? Also, is that a good price for the living wage in Berlin? If I'm there, it will be for less than a year, so I want to make sure I have enough money to travel and explore, so I want to make sure I make enough to do so
Prices are rising but still fair. Everything depends on your budget, but we moved here dirt poor in 2008 and found decent studio sublets in good areas for 350 euro. Negotiating is unheard of. The biggest problem we come across when searching for homes is:
a) competition (we have showed up to a viewing with 30 people already in the flat handing in paperwork and more on the way)
b)agency listings (hefty additional charges - we've never actually rented this way)
c) disparate listings (we've seen 3 on the same day in the same neighborhood all listed for 450 euros that have been strangely arranged and in disgusting condition to dream apartment with balcony over a park).
We have primarily sublet... which has been good & bad . Though you don't see the final product (who am I kidding, our place is always going to be a work in progress) you can see the place we are now outright leasing on our House Hunters International episode for 520 euros warm. I would also recommend SlowBerlin's Guide to Renting.5. Are there any bad areas I should avoid? Do you have any tips for me as a traveler?
Bad areas like in unsafe? No. There is always talk of neo nazis out east in Marzahn, but I have never felt ill at ease in Berlin. It's not all gumdrops and rainbows, it's still a big city, but violent crime is uncommon. We always reassure my parents that crime is higher in our ritzy Queen Anne neighborhood in Seattle than in Berlin. Sad, but true.This e-mail is proof that I can wax on poetic about Berlin unendingly and am advice giver extraordinaire. Fall weather has chilled the city in the last few days, but not our love for it.
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