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Living in Berlin
A Comprehensive Guide About Living Well in Berlin
In this guide to living in Berlin, we tell you everything you need to know about important topics, like housing, healthcare, and public transportation. In Berlin, there is place for everyone: it is known as a city for creatives, while entrepreneurs, immigrants, and many more come together to make it a more interesting place.
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Life in Berlin is always changing—the city has survived dark times, came out strong, and, in recent years, has come to represent freedom of expression through music, art, and even politics.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, which separated West Germany and East Germany until 1989, helped the city move into a happier, more liberal era. The demolition of the Wall was seen in America and the Western world as good news for democracy, individual freedom, and the free market system.
Although Berlin is mainly a safe city to live in, different areas will meet your needs better than others. So in this section of our Moving to Berlin guide, we give you tips for living in Berlin.
Life as a Foreigner
What is it Like to Live in Berlin?
There are many pros and cons to living in Berlin. The most common issue Berliners complain about is high rent prices. On the other hand, while most government-related correspondence is in German, one of the pros for some expats is that many people in the city speak fluent English.
About one million of the 3.5 million people living in Berlin have an immigrant background, i.e. either they or their relatives moved to Berlin from abroad. Berlin has the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey with around 98,000 Turks living there and around 80,000 people with a Turkish “migration background” (they or their parents moved to Germany after 1955) living in Berlin.
You might be expecting all sorts of fancy and exotic food options and they exist, however, one of the most obviously popular types of food is the humble kebab. With the strong Turkish influence in the city (Doner kebabs come from the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey) and plenty of fast food and sit-down restaurants serving them at affordable prices, the kebab is arguably the food-of-choice after a night out. Currywurst, a sausage with a curry sauce, is another popular, affordable treat in the city.
Berlin has a thriving party culture, with people dancing to electronic music from dusk until dawn, every night of the week. You could describe the scene as sex, drugs and techno—you can hear techno music almost everywhere in Berlin, at open-air parties in the city’s parks, in the U-Bahn, and in cafes. There is more than techno though. Pay a visit to the Berliner Philharmoniker to enjoy the sounds of the Berlin philharmonic orchestra.
One of the cons of Berlin life is that, because increasing demand for housing is helping to force house and rent prices up, some local people see newcomers in a negative light, as part of the problem rather than people contributing to the local economy and helping the city thrive. However, this is an unfortunate theme that is being played out in major cities around the world, and it is hard to avoid.
Another potential downside of Berlin life is the relatively high unemployment rate. The Federal Statistical Office of Germany reported in July 2019 that Berlin has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country at 8%, below Bremen with 10.2%, and above third-placed Saxony Anhalt with 7%. However, this could be a blessing in disguise if you possess the skills that current Berliners lack, or you want to run or start a business in the city and recruit staff.
If you are a “culture vulture”, there is so much to see in Berlin, including around 440 art galleries. For a sobering experience, you could visit the Holocaust Memorial, which includes 2,711 upright pieces of concrete, each representing a person. Another site of cultural importance is the East Side Gallery, the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, which is adorned with works of art, including Dmitri Vrubel’s portrait of former Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev and former East Germany leader Erich Hönecker kissing.
Is it Expensive to Live in Berlin?
Like other major European cities, such as Rome, Paris, London, and Amsterdam, living in Berlin has become less affordable since the year 2000. In the German capital, house prices are increasing faster than salaries, making it more difficult to save to buy a home. In fact, data from Moody’s Analytics say it now takes more than 14 years of saving to buy a home without a mortgage compared to just under eight years before 2000.
Between 2012 and 2018, house prices in Berlin grew 30% faster than average, with recovery after the financial crisis and demand for housing helping to force prices up. Immowelt, a German real estate website, ranked Berlin as the eighth-most expensive city in Germany in which to rent at 11.70 EUR (12.90 USD) per square meter (10.76 square feet).
To help combat rising rents and make accommodation more affordable, Berlin is buying back 6,000 apartments originally built for social housing between the 1960 and 1990s. It will cost about 920 million EUR (1 billion USD) and mean 10,000 more renters will have access to an affordable living space. This is the largest project of its kind ever seen in Berlin.
Standard of Living and Lifestyle in Berlin
Berlin is something of an outcast city in Germany, with a more relaxed routine and a culture of its own. It has a rocky recent history and major changes in the last 30 years have shaped it into the vibrant land of opportunity it appears to be today.
Berlin is a city where it is easy to get out and about to exercise or simply enjoy the outdoors. French diplomat and writer Jean Giraudoux once described the city as “no city of gardens but a garden itself”. Some 46% of Berlin is green space or water. You can even go for a long run or bike ride around the runway of the out-of-action Berlin Tempelhof Airport, which is larger than Central Park in New York. The best cycling routes in Berlin can be found on websites such as Komoot.
Getting around Berlin is easy with its comprehensive public transportation system and road network. However, if you are driving a car, you will have to take note of the low emission zone in the city center. Drivers must attach a green badge to their vehicle to prove it meets low emission standards required to drive there.
Also, Berlin is a city where it is easy to go out and find culture, with more than 160 museums and Museum Island which is dedicated to displaying architecture and artwork.
Some of the city’s popular attractions give you a feel of Berlin’s personality unlike anywhere else. It is sometimes weird and sometimes wonderful. Take the abandoned Spreepark for example. Sitting outside the city center, it is more than a decade since it functioned as a normal amusement park, owned by a man called Nortbert Witte, who it was discovered concealed drugs in some of the park’s attractions.
Now the park attracts curious tourists and is set to be an arts and culture hotspot run by the company Grün Berlin GmbH, which helps to promote sustainability in the city. Another site of interest is Tempelhofer Feld, an abandoned airport and runway, which is now a public open space used by runners, cyclists, and even camper van dwellers.
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Tips and Practical Information
Sozialversicherungsnummer (fiscal number)
To work for a company in Berlin, to continue freelancing, or embark on a self-employed venture, you will need to register your address in the city and get a fiscal number (social security number or Sozialversicherungsnummer). This is the case wherever you have moved from outside of Germany.
You can apply for the Sozialversicherungsnummer at the State Pension Fund office, with your passport or residence permit, and your residency registration certificate, which you must collect from the town hall. Expect to receive your fiscal number after about three to four weeks.
For more information on how to get a fiscal number, visit berlin.de. Once you have your fiscal number, you will be able to open a bank account in Germany.
Individuals trading as an unincorporated enterprise, freelancers, and the self-employed will also need a business identification number.
Main Supermarkets in Berlin
These stores often contain a wide range of products, including non-food items, such as sporting goods.
These stores are usually medium-sized and sell a range of groceries of a favorable standard.
These value supermarkets offer competitive prices, but quality standards vary.
Places to Shop in Berlin
The most famous shopping area in Berlin, Kurfürstendamm, is home to stores from a long list of prestigious fashion designers, such as Versace, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Burberry, and Gucci. If you love luxury fashion, this is the place to go in Berlin.
This is the biggest shopping mall in Berlin at 94,800 square meters (1,020,418 square feet) and has department stores, clothes shopping, restaurants, and a cinema. You can find popular brands, like H&M, C&A, and G-Star Raw, as well as a Kaufland supermarket. The mall is located south of Neukölln and north of Berlin Schönefeld Airport.
Mall of Berlin
The mall, near Potsdamer Platz, is open from 10am to 9pm, Monday to Saturday, and has a similar offering to Gropius Passagen, but with some more upmarket brands.
If you are seeking something more traditional and potentially more fun, Berlin’s flea markets are worth a try. You can find virtually anything, such as antiques, rare records, and other exciting items.
Some of the well-known flea markets in Berlin are:
• Flohmarkt Treptower Hallentrödelmarkt
• Nowkoelln Flowmarkt
• Bodemuseum (antique and book market)
• Kreuzboerg Flowmarkt
Top Phone Providers
Top Internet Providers
• 1&1 Internet
• Deutsche Telekom
• O2 Internet
In this section, we give you information about where to live and how to find an apartment in Berlin. The city is going through a housing crisis with rent and real estate prices relatively high and investors hoping to take advantage of the situation. Berlin property experts have noted that young families are deciding to leave the city, selling their homes or leaving rented properties, to move to the more affordable areas around Berlin.
However, experts predict that construction companies will avoid Berlin in the near future due to the “rent brake” and environmental factors creating obstacles.
If you want to buy an apartment in the center of Berlin, you will likely have to pay at least 4,000 EUR (4,405 USD) per square meter.
Where to Live in Berlin: Popular Districts
There is nowhere more central than Mitte so if you don’t mind being stuck in the middle, this could be the neighborhood for you. Coffee shops, restaurants, museums, the Berlin State Opera, and other forms of culture abound here.
This is one of the most up and coming neighborhoods in Berlin, where artists and entrepreneurs have moved into a modest, working-class area. The place is highly multicultural and a honeypot for young workers.
So, despite the rent freeze in the city which looks set to scare investors away, Neukölln’s current appeal could be so strong it avoids any economic hit. There is a range of housing types, such as 1930s apartment blocks and housing estates.
This area was one of the main ones to play a part in the peaceful revolution that helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Since then, the district has been the subject of extensive gentrification.
However, the place maintains a vintage feel as the vast majority of housing was built before 1948—the neighborhood suffered less damage in the Second World War than other places in the city. Now, the district has more than 300 protected historic monuments, such as the swimming pool at Oderberger Straße.
Kreuzberg is Berlin’s creative home. The neighborhood is multicultural with around 30% of non-German citizens living there. Kreuzberg is another trendy area of Berlin which was once poor but has benefited from investment. You can find Michelin-star restaurants frequented by digital entrepreneurs, while industry and manufacturing sectors also thrive here.
Search for a new home here if you are not impressed by “cool” and “hip” scenes, like Kreuzberg. Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, a combination of two formerly separate boroughs to the west of the city center, is home to affluent residents. It’s also where you will find the Kurfürstendamm shopping avenue and its designer label stores, like Cartier and Chanel.
How to Find an Apartment
One of the easiest ways to find an apartment in Berlin is to hire a real estate agent (or Makler) to help you. A Makler can help with almost anything, such as making offers on your behalf for land, houses, and apartments to rent or buy. InterNations GO! can also help you find housing in Berlin.
Note that Maklers charge a fee for their services called a provision. This fee is capped at two months’ rent plus 19% VAT. Upon hiring them you also need to agree that you will deal with them and not directly to the property owner or landlord.
To rent in Berlin, you will need the following documents and identification:
- Your passport or equivalent identification
- You might be asked for a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung that proves you do not owe money to previous landlords. However, if you have never lived in Germany, it is unlikely any landlord will expect this from you. But it could still work against you if you do not have it.
- Three recent salary slips (payslips) or proof of sufficient savings
- Latest bank statements
- Mieterselbstauskunft form which gives the landlord information about you, such as what you do for a job.
- SCHUFA-Auskunft (credit report). However, if you have just moved to Berlin, data for this report will be unavailable, so you will have to show bank statements instead.
Find more information about housing in Germany in our Moving to Germany guide.
Things to Consider
As mentioned before, Berlin is going through a housing shortage and it can be difficult to find suitable accommodation in the city. However, if you know what you want and have realistic expectations, it is entirely possible to find somewhere you will be happy to live in about one month.
If you need to find an apartment, or even a house share in a short space of time, you can try services, like Uniplaces and WG Gesucht. These are especially suitable if you want accommodation for around six months to a year, or even less.
Tips and Mistakes to Avoid When Buying or Renting a Property
- Do not forget the fees associated with employing a German real estate agent (Makler) to help with your search. They will be able to speak German and understand any local documents, which you may not be able to read, however, you will need to pay them an agent fee (Provision) and a security deposit (Kaution) for the property, which can cost as much as three months’ rent and be paid over three months.
- Do not buy a property without having it surveyed by an expert or you could find that what seemed like a bargain will cost much more in renovation works. In Germany it is not a legal requirement to have an expert survey a property before purchasing it so beware. These experts are called Öffentlich bestellter und vereidigter Sachverständiger or Dipl.-Bau.-Ing.
- Don’t be surprised by hidden charges. Your landlord may want to charge you for things like removing snow, cleaning public spaces in the building, and to replace certain household items.
- Do not sign a contract you do not fully understand. Hiring a lawyer could save you a lot of money in the long run.
- Don’t forget to give your landlord a list of any major items you have bought for the property so there is no dispute over who owns them when you eventually move out.
- Do not allow the landlord to put your deposit in their personal account or it could be very difficult to get it back. Try to make sure the deposit goes into a separate account.
- Don’t forget to check what is included in the rent price, for example, heating and internet may be additional charges.
Average Rent in Berlin
Rents are set to be capped at under 8 EUR (8.80 USD) per square meter after pressure from residents. Berlin’s city government has made the decision to outlaw any increases in rent prices from 2020 for five years, except small, fixed increases that are approved by the city. Landlords face fines of around 500,000 EUR (569,000 USD) if they break these rules.
Despite the decision to put a freeze on rents, average accommodation prices in Berlin are still low compared with cities, like London, Amsterdam, or Los Angeles. A normal price for a one-bedroom apartment in Berlin is about 870 EUR (990 USD) compared to about 3,330 EUR (3,700 USD) in San Francisco and 1,250 GBP (1,580 USD) in London for a similar apartment.
Most Expensive and Cheapest Neighborhoods
In Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has the most expensive properties to rent, while Marzahn-Hellersdorf has the cheapest. Note that in 2017 the average size of an apartment in Berlin was 70.4 square meters (757.8 square feet). See below the most expensive and cheapest neighborhoods in Berlin, ordered by their average rents per square meter (10.7 Square Feet).
11.90 EUR (13.11 USD)
11.83 EUR (13.03 USD)
11.23 EUR (12.37 USD)
8.62 EUR (9.50 USD)
7.95 EUR (8.76 USD)
7.34 EUR (8.09 USD)
Types of Housing
These old buildings were mostly built around the end of the 19th century and before 1930. They tend to be around 10 square meters (107.6 square feet) smaller than Newbau buildings.
Altbau properties in good neighborhoods range from around 4,300 to 6,000 EUR (4,733 to 6,604 USD) per square meter (10.7 square feet) to buy.
Neubau (new) buildings tend to follow similar planning regulations as Altbau properties and look similar as a result, however they tend to benefit from more modern features, such as elevators and car parking for residents.
You can expect to pay around 5,000 to 7,000 EUR (5,500 to 7,700 USD) per square meter to buy a Neubau apartment in a good area of Berlin.
Furnished studio apartments at about 45 square meters (480 square feet) range from around 640 to 920 EUR (704 to 1,012 USD) per month depending on the area.
Local Furniture Shop Recommendations
- IKEA: normal quality, good design and prices
- Möbel Hübner: high quality, reasonable prices
- Möbel Höffner: good quality, fair prices
- Poco Domäne: cheap, decent quality
Healthcare in Berlin is generally very good and you should be aware that it is a legal requirement to have some form of health insurance in Germany, whether it is public or private coverage.
However, unlike in many other countries, in Germany you cannot simply choose if you want to have public (Gesetzliche Krankenkasse) or private (Krankenversicherung) healthcare. Everyone who works in Germany and earns less than 5,063 EUR (5,577 USD) per month is served by public (statutory) healthcare. They contribute to the public healthcare system through their salaries—between 14.6 and 15.6% of their income goes towards healthcare. There may also be a supplementary rate of about 0.9% which is paid by employers. To get public healthcare, you just have to register at your local town hall, have a social security number, and make your contributions.
If you earn 5,063 EUR (5,577 USD) or more per month you are eligible for private health insurance. The application process for private health insurance may involve a medical test and a questionnaire about your medical history. You might also need to submit proof of your income.
Top Hospitals in Berlin
- HELIOS Kliniken, Buch
- Vivantes Urban Hospital, various
- Immanuel Hospital, Wannsee
- St Hedwig Hospital, central Berlin
- Charité Hospital, Mitte
- Campus Berlin Buch, Brandenburg
- Meoclinc private hospital, Mitte
- St. Joseph Krankenhaus, Tempelhof
- Schlosspark-Klinik, Charlottenburg
- Martin Luther Hospital, Halensee
How to Find a Doctor in Berlin
You can find a doctor in your local phone directory or Gelbe Seiten under Ärzte. Every doctor in Berlin should be listed there. And your embassy or consulate should have a list of recommended doctors for Berlin that they can share with you but expect these top doctors to have waiting lists.
Checking out websites such as DocInsider could be useful too. It shares information on local doctors and a range of medical centers in Berlin and other German cities.
Public transportation in Berlin is relatively easy to use, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is affordable. A one-way ticket, valid for the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, and trams, costs between 1.70 and 2.80 EUR (1.90 and 3.10 USD) for zones A and B, and between 2.50 and 3.40 EUR (2.80 and 3.75 USD) for zones A, B, and C. You can also drive in the city but be aware of the Umwelt Zone where cars that do not meet low emission standards are not permitted.
The Environmental Zone (Umwelt Zone)
This area covers the center of Berlin, following the “S-Bahn-Ring”, where one million of the city’s 3.5 million inhabitants live. The zone was created to reduce emissions of diesel particles and nitrogen oxides from cars moving around the city. Now, only vehicles that comply with low emission standards are allowed to be driven inside the low-emission zone.
The introduction of the Environmental Zone has resulted in half the diesel particle emissions and 20% fewer nitrogen oxide emissions than expected without a ban.
You need a badge to drive into the city center’s Umwelt Zone without which you could be fined 40 EUR (44 USD).
Rules of the Road
- Most parking spots in Berlin carry a charge so it is worth searching on the internet for parking near your destination if you have not been there before.
- The speed limit is 50 km/hour (31 miles/hour) in most places.
- Look out for signs that say: einbahnstraße which is a one-way street, parken verboten which means no parking, parkhaus which means parking is permitted, tankstelle which means gas station, and ausfahrt which means exit.
You can buy tickets from multilingual machines on platforms at S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations. As well as using multi-use tickets, you can buy a bus ticket on the bus from the driver, while in trams you can purchase a ticket from machines inside vehicles. At major stations, there are ticket counters to buy from. You must validate your tickets before starting your journey at the yellow or red boxes on platforms, or inside buses and trams.
The U-Bahn in Berlin has both underground and subway services, ten lines, includes 173 stations, and runs along about 146 km (90 miles) of track. U-Bahn tickets are also valid for the S-Bahn and bus, and vice versa.
The U-Bahn runs from 04:00 to 01:00 on weekdays, with five-minute intervals during the day and 10-minute intervals at night.
On weekends, the U-Bahn offers a 24-hour service with trains at 10-minute intervals in the day and 15-minute intervals at night.
The S-Bahn mainly runs above ground on a regional network, covering 15 lines, over track 330 km long, and includes almost 170 stations. Look for the green and white “S” symbol.
In the week, services go from 04:30 to 01:30, in five, ten, and 20-minute intervals, with services less frequent later in the day. At the weekend, you can catch the S-Bahn 24 hours of the day, with night services every 30 minutes.
In Berlin, there are day buses, metro buses, and night buses. In the day, bus lines 100 to 399 take passengers to the suburbs, the center of the city, and S-Bahn and U-Bahn stops. Metro buses M11 to M85 run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every ten minutes. Night buses are marked with an “N” and carry passengers through the night.
Trams extend the reach of the U-Bahn, with 20 lines running mainly in the East of the city. Metrotram services come more regularly than normal trams. U-Bahn tickets are valid for trips on VBB buses, S-Bahn, and tram services.
Metrotrams run more often than trams, through the night, even during the week. The BVG Metrotram has nine lines and there are 13 tram lines. You can catch a Metrotram every ten minutes during the day and during the night, from 00:30 you can get them every 30 minutes. As you can see, there are always ways to get around the city on public transportation, day or night.
There are around 7,500 taxis operating in the city. The biggest companies are Taxi Funk, Funk Taxi, Quality Taxi, Würfelfunk, and City Funk.
- Standard price: 3.90 EUR (4.30 USD)
- 2 EUR (2.20 USD) per km (0.62 mile)
- 1.50 EUR (1.65 USD) per km for the seventh km (4.3 miles) and after
- 30 EUR (33 USD) for one hour waiting, including waiting in traffic
There are several bike sharing companies operating in Berlin, including LimeBike (electric and normal bikes), Jump (electric bikes), and Donkey Republic (regular bikes).
LimeBikes’ regular bikes cost 1 EUR (1.10 USD) for 30 minutes while their electric bikes are 0.15 EUR (0.17 USD) per minute plus 1 EUR every 30 minutes.
Jump’s electric bikes are 1 EUR (1.10 USD) for the first 20 minutes and 0.10 EUR (0.11 USD) for every minute afterwards. You will be charged 25 EUR (27.55 USD) if you park Jump’s bicycles outside of the service area.
Donkey Republic’s bikes are 1.50 EUR (1.65 USD) for 30 minutes, 12 EUR (13.22 USD) for 24 hours, and 50 EUR (55.10 USD) for seven days. These bikes must be returned to a Donkey Republic bike station.
The two main car sharing companies in Berlin are WeShare and Oply. It is 19.90 EUR (21.91 USD) to register with WeShare. It is then 0.19 EUR (0.21 USD) per minute and 1 EUR (1.10 USD) per trip and payments must be made by credit card. Prices are set to increase in 2020.
Oply cars have to be used and left in a certain neighborhood in Berlin. You can register with Oply using their free app. Flexible bookings are available for up to twelve hours, while you can schedule a booking for between twelve hours and 27 days.
Using Oply cars costs from 6 EUR per hour and can be more depending on the type of vehicle. You get 150 km (93.2 miles) of gas included and then it is 0.19 EUR (0.21 USD) for every extra kilometer (0.62 mile).
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