Maike & Anne: Faces Of Berlin
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Berlin, etc.
We are two journalists from The Netherlands. Maike studied psychology at the University of Leiden and did a Master of Journalism and Communications in Melbourne, Australia. She worked for an English newspaper in Sri Lanka. Back in the Netherlands she got a job at Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Because of her curiosity to personal stories of people, she continued as a freelancer and travelled to East Africa. Maike came to Berlin at the beginning of 2013.
Anne-Ruth Schüssler spent most of her childhood overseas. First on the Caribbean island Curaçao, later in Israel. She studied journalism at the University of Leiden and history at the Free University of Amsterdam. She also attended Tel Aviv University for one year and took one semester at the Free University of Berlin. Her desire to debate and start conversations about difficult and controversial issues, led her to several internships in journalism. Her last internship at the Dutch NOS television news broadcasting organisation in Berlin, which brought her back to Berlin at the beginning of 2013.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
As we worked on various journalistic projects together in the Netherlands, we decided to meet up in Berlin once again. We were fascinated and inspired by the atmosphere and the history of Berlin, and wanted to get to know the stories behind all the people that we see or hear about. Known or unknown, German or foreign. At some point we decided to join forces and start our own online magazine.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
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?
With our European passports, moving to Berlin was quite an easy transition. On our bikes we discovered the city and slowly we began to feel really at home here. Maike took a language course, which improved her German rapidly. With German friends we try to speak as much German to keep improving our language skills. We do most of our interviews in German too, which sometimes, depending on the topic, can be a quite a challenge. We haven’t encountered real difficulties. Berlin has offered us many opportunities and people have been very supportive. We did notice Germans are not that keen on being mentioned with name and picture on the Internet. But this carefulness with information is what we really appreciate about the German culture too.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Berlin? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
We both came to Berlin without a real plan about what exactly it was we were going to do here. Anne-Ruth first finished her internship and Maike her German courses. Luckily there is something about Berlin that encourages people to be creative and start up projects of their own. This mentality also made us decide to start FacesofBerlin. We handled step by step and asked people for their help along the way. Looking back, the only thing we might have done different so far is, was bringing more summer clothes. We were really not prepared on a summer this warm!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Our magazine brings us to the most interesting places in Berlin. Sometimes we feel that being a foreigner helps us in our interviews. We get away with blunt questions thanks to our accent and we can ask the people to explain something again when we don’t get it straight away. We really try to discover many different sides of Berlin. Therefore we also end up in quite remarkable situations. For instance, we once did an interview with an elderly couple that was already living in the same ‘Plattenbau’ (typical DDR flat) building over fifty years. As we entered their flat, the 86-year old ask us to hand over our passports, so he could scan them and send them to his son: ‘just to make sure you aren’t criminals’, he said. Another interesting place was when we did an interview with an inhabitant of ‘Teepeeland’, a small squatter community on the Spree. He told us about the rats, mice and foxes, that he considered his pets. And about the benefits of living in a teepee. When we left, we saw a sign saying: ‘you are leaving the sexy-quarter.’ Nevertheless, we were happy to get home and take a quick shower.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Berlin?
- We would recommend every person that moves to Berlin to try to learn the language as soon as possible. German is quite a though language and hard to master, but he have noticed Germans really appreciate it if you try and forgive you the mistakes. Many things in Berlin are still organized in German and of course it’s a plus if you would like to make contacts with Germans too.
- Make sure to keep up with your administration. Germans are really keen on forms, documents and information, so make sure to be organized before you arrive -Particularly when you want to apply for a job or university here. In some cases they even want to see your high school grades. Also the tax system is quite a challenge; so here too, make sure to stay organized.
- Bring your bicycle or consider getting one as soon as you arrive. In this city you can do everything per bike, and it’s a lot more fun than taking the smelly and warm public transportation. It also saves some money too.
How is the expat community in Berlin? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
In the expat community in Berlin everyone seems to be very happy to help each other out. On several social media networks there are groups you can enroll too and many opportunities to ask questions or to meet other expats. We’ve also noticed the many meet-ups that are organized in Berlin for start-ups or other creative people. Many expats attend these meetings. To us, it was quite easy to find like-minded people. It’s just about how much you put yourself out there of course!
How would you summarize your expat life in Berlin in a single, catchy sentence?
Great city, amazing stories, cheap food.