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Ashley: Chasing Heart Beats

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Berlin makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Berlin, etc.

I am a wedding, travel and lifestyle photographer from the sunny central coast of California living and working in Berlin. After 3 years living on the French/German border, my husband and I moved to Berlin in December 2011. 

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I originally started blogging in March 2009 to share my life and adventures abroad with family and friends back home. After years of working as a photo editor, I had stopped taking pictures for fun and blogging sort of forced me to pick up and camera and start documenting life again. My blog is now a place I share my work, travels and adventures in Berlin.

Do you have any favourite blog entries of yours?

Not one entry, but I enjoy my exploring Berlin series as it follows my adventures getting to know the city and all it has to offer.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Berlin differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

When I moved to Berlin I had already lived in Germany for three years, so the difference that surprised me the most is how non-German Berlin can be. Berlin is very unique and is very different than other German cities. People in Berlin are overall more laid back than in other German cities which remind me of my home state of California.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Berlin? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I was prepared, but I also knew what to expect before I moved to Berlin as I had visited a lot prior to moving. One thing I would change would be where we live. We only had one weekend to find an apartment in Berlin and when the rental agent told us we got the last apartment we viewed that weekend, we took it even though it wasn't exactly what we wanted. I always tell people looking for flats in Berlin to show up to apartment viewings with all the documents in hand, so if you want a flat you can apply on the spot. I learned that trick from apartment hunting in San Francisco. The competition for flats in Berlin is really high and anything that can help you get your dream apartment is worth it. Also if possible, be patient and do you research about neighbourhoods before you move. The city is BIG and every neighbourhood is quite different, exploring them before you move is the best way to figure out where you fit best.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us? 

One experience that sticks out was soon after my arrival in Germany. In order to get my German driver's license I needed to have my California driver's license translated. At the time, my German was really terrible and I asked the woman at the ADAC if she spoke English. She said no and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to communicate to her what I needed with really broken German and a lot of hand gestures. When it came to pay, she said to me in perfect English: "your total today is 15.72€". I don't know if she just wanted to mess with me, but that sort of thing happened a lot in the beginning. Sometimes Germans can be really modest about their language skills. When they say they speak "a little" English, it usually means they are fluent.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Berlin? 

  • Take a German class (or two) - you can definitely survive in Berlin with very little German language knowledge, but you will miss out on a large part of what makes this city so special. The German language is not easy and still sometimes makes me want to pull out my hair, but I find it to be an important and essential part of my life in Germany. 
  • Come prepared with lots of documents. For non-EU citizens, the visa process requires a LOT of paperwork. Also start organizing and keeping all written documents you receive. Coming from the US, this was a shock at first. Now I have binders full of paperwork because you can be asked to show a document from years prior. Germans love paperwork. 
  • Berlin is an attractive city for expats because of the cheap rents and low cost of living, but the word has spread. Fortunately, I am a freelancer and am my own boss, but from the experiences of my friends, finding a job as an expat in Berlin can be quite difficult. Before you arrive, I would highly recommend making some contacts and applying for work before you even get to Berlin.

How is the expat community in Berlin? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

The Berlin expat community is quite large and I feel really lucky to have made some great expat (and German) friends in Berlin. Blogging has helped connect me with a wide range of different people, but I think even for non-bloggers, Berlin offers lots of ways to connect with like-minded expats.

How would you summarize your expat life in Berlin in a single, catchy sentence?

Life in Berlin is never boring. :)

Sean Henderson

"The good thing about InterNations is that I got to know the expat community in Berlin as well as internationally minded locals."

Anna Maria Osario

"Through InterNations I met so many other Argentinean expats in Berlin, which made the transition period really easy for me."

Global Expat Guide