me+cacti

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Moving Abroad to Berlin: Why I Chose to Live in Germany's Capital City

Moving Abroad to Berlin: Why I Chose to Live in Germany's Capital City

I’ve sat down many times to write this post and every time it turns out a little differently. As you may already know, I spent all of last year traveling solo through Europe, Bali, India, and South Africa, Namibia, and Dubai. After traveling nonstop for a full year, I decided that I don’t really want to continue moving around as much as I did in 2017, despite all the good times and adventures had. Now, I want stability, routine, and a place to call home, at least for a few years.

 Visiting the Reichstag / Bundestag in Berlin

Visiting the Reichstag / Bundestag in Berlin

I first visited Berlin in October 2017, right when it was beginning to get cold and gray. But despite the cooler weather and not as many sunny days, I liked the feel of the city. Parts of it reminded me of New York but without as much pretense. There’s a more laid-back vibe in the way that people dress, behave, and spend their time; the more I explore and learn about Berlin and it's deep history, the more I like it. 

 Charlottenburg Palace in West Berlin

Charlottenburg Palace in West Berlin

A Progressive, Changing Environment

Berlin has changed and evolved so much in the last few decades, bringing with it an influx of migrants, new businesses, and lots of creative-minded individuals. It’s clear to see this all around the city in the street art, shops, restaurants, markets, events, cafes, historical tourist attractions, and especially in the people who live here. I find that I naturally gravitate towards places like this, where lots of cultures and nationalities converge—there’s always something exciting and new happening, and you feel like you just want to be a part of it all.

Of course, you could say that about any big, international city. Having lived in New York for three years, many people have said to me, “Well, New York is like that, too.” Personally speaking,  I feel like there’s something different about living in an international city abroad compared to living in one in the country you grew up in. Don’t get me wrong — New York is no doubt a great city, but having grown up in the States, it still felt a little too comfortable for my liking. I didn’t make as many international friends, I didn’t feel the need to try and learn a new language, and I largely stayed within my comfort zone of doing the same things every weekend. Plus, I barely traveled abroad when I lived there because Americans have a negligible amount of vacation days. In short, I got kinda fed up with many aspects of life in the U.S.

Initially, I just wanted to live somewhere—anywhere— in Europe. But my decision to move to Berlin specifically was not all that random. There were a few other reasons that justified my move here that went beyond the fact that it's just another European city:

  • It’s one of the cheapest cities to live in Western Europe.
  • It attracts a lot of creative professionals.
  • It’s very international and therefore, English-friendly (although I am trying to learn German).
  • It offers the artists/freelancer visa (more on that in another post).

Why Is Berlin So Cheap?

I'm no history buff, but I have a general understanding of why Berlin is a relatively cheaper city to live in. Despite a gradual increase in the cost of living, it’s still one of the least expensive cities in Western Europe. This all comes down to its long history of wars, division, and reunification. If you want to know more about Berlin’s current economic status, this article gives a quick, bulleted explanation.

Sometimes I can’t believe how much I was spending to live in New York City. The cost of rent, a gym membership, a phone plan, going out with friends, and other general expenses are so much higher in NYC than in Berlin. For example, when I lived in Brooklyn with two roommates, I was paying $1,350/month; in Berlin, I’m paying 550 €/month (around USD $640) with one flatmate.

Having spent some time traveling and/or living in other big cities like Hong Kong, I found that there are so many other people around the world living really well at a much lower cost. I’m not saying this to compare Berlin to any Southeast Asian City per se, but having lived in both major Western and Eastern cities, I find that it strikes a balance of developed, first-world lifestyle with affordability that isn’t comparable to cities like Paris, New York, or London.

 Turkish market in Kreuzberg

Turkish market in Kreuzberg

Berlin Embraces Different Cultures and Diversity

Berlin is home to over 190 nationalities and is one of the most tolerant cities in Europe when it comes to the LGBTQ community according to Berlin.de (Berlin's official website). Living in a place that is not only tolerant but welcoming of all types of individuals was something that also drew me here. 

Home for Creative Professionals

In Berlin, it always seems like people are doing cool things pertaining to the arts: acting and performing, designing, making art and music, launching small business ventures. Creativity is everywhere; you see it in the graffiti-lined streets, the social events and parties, the way people dress, the music scene, the architecture, and more. Looking deeper into the general creative professional population, I noticed that there was quite a mix of people living here who were non-European citizens. In fact, there are a lot of Americans, Australians, and other non-EU expats living and working here and I wondered how they were able to do so. That’s when I found out about the Freelancer/Artist Visa which I am currently applying for.

The Berlin Freelancer/Artists Visa

When I first learned about this, I went into a deep Internet wormhole of figuring out how I too could apply for this super cool-sounding visa. The freelancer/artists visa allows self-employed individuals, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to live and work legally in Germany. As I had been skipping around and working in different places for all of last year, this seemed like something pretty well-suited for my nomadic freelance lifestyle. I hadn’t heard of many other cities offering something quite like this.

However, taking German bureaucracy into account, the application isn’t as straightforward as it seems. For example, you have to get an apartment and registered address to do basically anything here (get a tax ID number, a bank account, etc.), and many prospective employers will ask you if you have an address in Berlin when you're going through your job interviews. Before arriving, people told me finding an apartment was probably one of the most important parts of applying for the artist's visa. So, if you're considering moving to Berlin and applying for this particular visa, renting an apartment (even for the short-term) and getting a registered address at your local bürgeramt (citizen office) is the first thing you should do. Since I’m currently going through this visa application process myself, I am writing a longer post about it and all the steps. Just trying to get through it first!

 Bradenburg Gate at sunset

Bradenburg Gate at sunset

Finally in Berlin

From last October until July of this year, it took me a full nine months before returning to Berlin. Coming here in the summertime was the best decision I made—the streets are so lively and everyone is out and in a good mood. I feel really happy and at ease here, and hopefully in a few weeks time (pending my freelancer/artists visa application), I’ll be able to say that I officially live here. Despite the ups, downs, and mishaps of being here thus far (like losing my phone), I'm trying not to take anything for granted and just soaking in every little occurrence that's happened here in the last two months. I'm excited and ready for whatever comes next!

Have you ever lived abroad before? If so, where and why? Leave a comment below!

xx,

Steph

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