Mandi: No apathy allowed
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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.
I’m an American public health geek living in Deutschland with my German sweetheart since 2008. After more than two years in Hamburg, we now call Berlin home. I also live part-time in Bremen while pursuing my PhD. Before arriving in Germany, I grew up in Seattle, lived in Uganda after university, and blogged my way through New York City.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I blogged for several years while living in New York, so it seemed natural to continue sharing my adventures after arriving in Germany.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Yep! I spent the first year or two in Germany really trying to master the language, and was so happy when I conquered the Goethe Zertifikat C1 test. After a year in Berlin, I was thrilled to run my seventh half marathon in my new hometown. And my four-year anniversary in Germany was also a good time to reflect on my experiences so far as an expat.
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?
After having already lived awhile in Germany before moving to Berlin, most of the culture shock associated with adjusting to life in Deutschland had already dissipated. In fact, if anything, living in Berlin feels like a perfect fit. I love the international flair of the city, with its delicious food and restaurants, plenty of art and great music, and its undeniable energy. It’s the one German city where I really feel like myself.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Berlin? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
There weren’t too many surprises in moving to Berlin, mostly because we had spent so much time in the city beforehand and my sweetheart lived there when he was in university. But if you want to talk about my move from New York to Hamburg, that was something else entirely! Although I arrived with a research fellowship in hand and a pretty good support network along with it, I was a bit surprised at just how exhausting it was to constantly be speaking another language and be gauging cultural expectations. If I could do it again, I would be more patient with myself.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
One of my very first Deutsche Bahn train rides was on an ICE from Berlin to Hannover. I climbed aboard, found myself a seat, and made myself comfortable. I remember thinking: ‘Wow, I knew German trains were better than Amtrak, but I had no idea they were SO spacious and comfortable!’ It was only after the conductor came around checking tickets that I discovered I was sitting in the first class wagon. Whoops! I had to promptly gather my bags and head back to second class. I knew it was too good to be true!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Berlin?
- Start learning the language before you arrive. If you already have a basic foundation in German, it’s going to make your immersion once you arrive so much easier, and you’ll become fluent much faster. Although it’s possible to get by in Berlin on only English, life is definitely more comfortable if you can master some of the German language.
- Visiting the sauna is really is the best way to cope with the gray, cold months of winter. But make sure to brush up on sauna etiquette before you go -- the Germans take their saunas very seriously!
- The German bureaucratic system can be overwhelming, so always keep all your important documents together in one easily accessible folder, and bring this with you every time you visit any of the Behörde, even if you don’t think you’ll need all the documents. Trust me on this one.
How is the expat community in Berlin? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Of all the places in Germany you could choose to live, Berlin probably has the most vibrant expat community. There are so many people who share my same interests and hobbies, and it’s easy to find interesting events via online expat websites. That being said, it’s also important to build a community of native Berliners and Germans in order to really integrate into the city’s culture.
How would you summarize your expat life in Berlin in a single, catchy sentence?
Native Seattleite, former Brooklynite, now living in Berlin: exploring the city, drinking coffee, and running where I can.