Living in Berlin
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A comprehensive guide about living well in Berlin
Berlin fascinates numerous people — not only history buffs interested in its eventful past. Expats living in Berlin come from all over the globe and all walks of life. Our InterNations GO! guide prepares you for Berlin with info on permits and transportation.
Life in Berlin
- In Berlin, there are only two education routes after primary school: the Gymnasium or the Integrierte Sekundarschule.
- If you would rather your children learn a different curriculum, many international schools are also at your disposal.
- Cycling is an increasingly popular form of transport in Berlin, as it is cheap and safe with many bike lanes.
- There are 12 boroughs in Berlin to choose between when you look for a home. They offer a variety in pricing and local environment.
Berlin is one of the most exciting, interesting, and multifaceted metropolitan cities in the world. There are about 3.5 million people currently living in Berlin, making it the largest city in Germany.
You aren’t likely to get bored if you move to Berlin. About one third of its surface area consists of parks, forest and gardens, and for the less than outdoorsy types, there are about 170 museums to visit. Due to the city’s international flair, the cuisine varies immensely. If you consider relocating to Berlin, you’ll be able to find anything from burritos to kebab to sushi to traditional Currywurst.
Once you arrive in Berlin, it will quickly become clear that it is a very international city as well as a cultural, political, and scientific center. Its quirky festivals, vibrant nightlife, countless art galleries, and impressive architecture also significantly contribute to the quality of life.
Due to its eventful past, Berlin offers quite the historical experience as well. You will find reminders of contemporary German history on practically every corner, from Checkpoint Charlie to remnants of the old Berlin Wall. Living in Berlin does not have to be expensive either, as it offers a host of cultural free activities.
An Essential for Non-EEA Citizens: The Residence Permit
If you do not come from an EEA country, you will not only have to go to the Einwohnermeldeamt and register your new address. In addition, you are required to apply for an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (a residence permit) once arrived. Please note that this is in addition to any visa you might have already needed to enter the country. To get the permit, you need at least a valid passport, proof of enough financial means in order to support yourself (i.e. a bank statement or an employment contract), proof of health insurance, and proof of your new residence.
If you are a highly-skilled worker with an annual income above a certain threshold (as of 2016, 49,600 EUR or 38,688 EUR in case you are working in a field with a shortage of applicants), you may be eligible for the so-called EU Blue Card.
In general, residency permits are split into two different types: limited or unlimited permits. As the name implies, the latter is valid for an infinite period of time and you don’t have it renewed. The other, though, is to be renewed on a specific date (e.g. after one year). Since you may, as mentioned above, have needed to apply for a visa for Germany before beginning your life in Berlin, it is very rare to be then denied the residence permit later on.
Registration for New Residents in Berlin
The only thing EEA members planning on living in Berlin must take care of is a registration of their residence in Germany, called a Meldeschein. This requirement is mandatory for every resident, whether you are living in Berlin and want to move two houses down the block or from Athens to Berlin.
To complete the registration process, simply take your passport and your rental contract or sales agreement (with the address on it!) to the local Registry Office (Einwohnermeldeamt).
There are registry offices throughout the city, one per borough. In Berlin, they are also called Bürgeramt and belong to the local borough’s municipal office (Bezirksamt). The registry office will become crucial concerning a variety of legal issues such as driving licenses, income tax cards, German IDs, etc.
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Berlin: International Schools & Transport
Getting an Education in Berlin
As each federal state of Germany is responsible for its own education system, schools in Berlin may differ from those in other German cities. Children must attend school until grade ten. Around grade five, they are tested to see whether they are able to attend the Gymnasium, a type of secondary school with a very academic focus. The Gymnasium will continue on to grade twelve when students graduate with the Abitur (German high-school diploma).
Students who do not qualify for the Gymnasium will attend the Integrierte Sekundarschule. Following the Integrierte Sekundarschule, they can attend a Berufliches Gymnasium. Some Sekundarschulen also offer the Abitur, which is mandatory for studying at university.
With the pilot project of the so-called Gemeinschaftsschule, another type of school is currently in the testing phase. Covering pupils’ education from first grade onward, this type of school gives its students the opportunity to stay at just the one institution of education up until they take the Abitur exam.
A Multicultural Education: International Schools
As Berlin is host to numerous embassies, there are many diplomats living in the city who send their children to private international schools; this is also an option if you would rather your children receive a multicultural education. The John F. Kennedy School in Zehlendorf is an option for, primarily, German and US American children It offers a free bicultural and bilingual education from kindergarten through to high school.
The French Gymnasium in Berlin — founded in 1689 — is one of the oldest international schools in Germany. It offers bilingual studies in French and German. Both the Berlin International School and the Berlin British School are also well-known and quite popular among expats and diplomat families.
There is limited admission and international schools may be quite expensive, so be sure to check the individual websites for more details.
Various Means of Transport in the City
Driving in Berlin can be stressful, and parking is rather difficult to come by. There are several large parking garages in Berlin, but these are often very expensive and tend to fill up fast. Most Berliner rely on public transportation to get them where they want to go.
Berlin has a very high-end public transportation system, with one of the largest underground and suburban rail networks in Germany. The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) manages buses, streetcars, underground lines, and suburban trains. The BVG attaches great importance to environmental awareness and has tested different methods for energy-efficient vehicles. Its buses, for example, are run on hydrogen motors to keep the Berlin air clean.
The BVG covers the entire metropolitan Berlin area, from Reinickendorf in the northwest to Treptow-Köpenick in the southeast, with suburban trains (the S-Bahn). Although locals like grumbling about late trains and understaffed lines, the Greater Berlin Area couldn’t do without its S-Bahn. Buses, streetcars and the underground (the U-Bahn) can easily get you from one corner of downtown Berlin to the other.
Getting In Some Exercise: Cycling
Berlin has a highly developed network of bike lanes, which are not only safe, but fairly quick, too. Locals save time and stress while exercising when riding through the city on their bikes. There are currently more cycle lanes under construction to ensure safe connections between all Berlin destinations for the many cyclists in the city.
There are also many bike rental stations (city bikes) throughout the city offering rates from just half an hour to a whole day. So if you need to get from A to B quickly and do not want to deal with traffic or the underground, you can hop on a bike for a small fee and leave it at the next bike station 30 minutes later!
Popular Expat Neighborhoods in Berlin
As you can probably imagine from the sheer size of Berlin’s 892 square kilometers, there are tons of neighborhoods and areas to choose from. There are 12 boroughs (Bezirke) in Berlin, each of which is divided into smaller neighborhoods.
Some of these should be avoided as they have a history of violence and drug use. Others can be quite expensive and rather difficult to find housing in. The following boroughs are some of the preferred neighborhoods among locals and expats alike. All are accessible by public transportation.
Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, in the heart of Berlin, is very beautiful and home to the famous Schloss Charlottenburg. It also has some upscale neighborhoods, such as Grunewald or the Westend, and can thus be expensive as it accommodates Berlin’s crème de la crème.
It is home to the International Congress Center (ICC) and may be a good area for living close to work. The seven districts within Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf do not only offer plenty of cafés, restaurants, and shopping centers, but many different types of housing as well. Town homes, condominium complexes, and residential estates can be found side by side. It is also an ideal district for expat families with children, as it has many parks and playgrounds.
Younger singles and couples may choose to move to Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Located to the south of Berlin-Mitte, this borough used to have a reputation as punk central. However, the city of Berlin and its inhabitants have discovered its hidden beauty and have begun renovating it.
The beautiful art nouveau façades of the old buildings and the green areas along the river Spree have made it one of Berlin’s up-and-coming neighborhoods. It is consistently listed as one of the top hipster neighborhoods in the world. Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is also home to many galleries and artists, and housing can still be found for relatively low rents. However, there is a definite tendency towards gentrification (and thus higher prices).
The largest and least densely populated borough is Treptow-Köpenick southeast of Berlin-Mitte. It has the largest body of water in Berlin and is mainly composed of forests and parks. The main type of housing here are residential neighborhoods with family houses, and it is as an ideal place to live with children.
Pankow is also a popular borough in Berlin, located to the northeast of downtown Berlin. It has seen significant developments of new housing districts during the nineties, especially in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. For more information in English on these and any of the other eight Berlin boroughs, please visit their independent websites.