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Moving to Berlin – a starter’s guide to your new home

Berlin is a vibrant city with lots to explore and lots to do. But Berlin, one of the biggest cities in Germany, has plenty of secrets worth sharing. Read on to learn more before you go.

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When the rest of the world thinks of Germany, they probably think of lederhosen and beer mugs, fast cars and the Autobahn, and World War II. But there’s so much more to this rich country. If you’re planning on moving to Berlin, get excited! Of the biggest cities in Germany, the capital city of Berlin has the most citizens, and the most going on. Dance and sweat in techno clubs, spend your days wandering through beautiful museums, or get into nature – you can do it all here. When considering all of the biggest cities in Germany, Berlin also boasts the largest expat population. You’ll be able to meet people from all over the world.

But before making the move, learn a little bit more about your new home.

Which neighborhood is right for you?

When moving to Berlin, take the time to find out where you’d be happiest. With many diverse neighborhoods, there’s a different pace and atmosphere to each Viertel (quarter) in the capital city. Like small communities, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for if you read up before you go. If you’re a party animal, you’ll be happiest in East Berlin. Right now, Warschauerstrasse is the best area for nightlife, so stick to this neighborhood if that’s important to you.

Cool kids will thrive in trendy Kreuzberg. If you’d prefer a more upscale feel for your new neighborhood, look for flats in Charlottenburg. Berlin Mitte has all the tourist sights, so consider living close to the center if you’re new in town. The city itself is very large.

While many German cities are mostly walkable, Berlin is more expansive and sprawling. But an extensive public transportation system will make it easier to cover more ground, faster.

Nightlife and culture

If you’re thinking about moving to Berlin, you’ve no doubt heard about the party scene. Notorious for club culture, the birthplace of techno is a mecca for house music fans. For those looking to sweat in a warehouse next to hundreds of “new friends,” clubs like Tresor, Sisyphus and Berghain are standards and can offer plenty of fascinating experiences for music fans. But there are also countless bars, music clubs and restaurants for expats looking for a more relaxed experience. Berlin also has a reputation as the go-to city for artists, as the fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in a new generation of revolutionaries amidst the rebirth of a unified Berlin. Traditionalists will delight in a visit to the museum island, Spree Insel, in the middle of the city. Five great museums, the Pergamon, the Bode Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte National Gallerie, and the Alte Museum, offer sculpture, paintings, archaeological discoveries and more.

A rich and complex history

The rest of the world has not forgotten about Germany’s role in World War II, but neither has Germany. When you first move to Berlin, you’ll immediately notice the differences between different areas of the city. Divided into two halves, East and West Berlin, it was then further split into Russian, French, and American quarters. Famous sights in one of the biggest cities in Germany aren’t just known for great photo opportunities, but also for their historical significance. The Brandenburg Gate, one of Berlin’s most famous symbols, stood directly in between East and West Germany, with many important moments in history taking place in front of its majestic columns: JFK’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech, for example.

Just a few hundred meters from the Brandenburg Gate is the Holocaust memorial, a somber and abstract scattering of concrete pillars, meant to inspire awe and reflection.

Although those moving to Berlin can expect plenty of fun and levity in their new city, it’s important to keep the history in mind too, as the events that transpired in Berlin helped to shape every dynamic part of its culture. Each quarter of the city is strongly characterized by decades past and understanding this context will enrich the experience of living there. To get a quick introduction to your new city, try a city walking tour. Plenty of companies offer different kinds of tours, like a street art tour, an alternative tour, or a classic historical tour. 

Learning the language

There’s good news and bad news about moving to Berlin. The good news is, most people speak English! Germans are known for their language skills and the rich international culture means that you shouldn’t have an issue with settling in if you speak English fluently. The bad news is, you won’t have the pressure to learn German as you might in other smaller cities in Germany, so you’ll have to make an extra effort if you want to brush up on your German skills. If you’re dedicated to learning the language before moving to Berlin, try watching movies in German with English subtitles, or apps like Duolingo. Once you arrive in Germany, there are countless options to continue improving your language skills. Consider taking up a tandem learning course with a German: you can share your native language skills while benefiting from their German skills. Or look to organizations like the Goethe Institute, a trusted group with learning centers worldwide and countless resources to help you get fluent in no time.

Moving to Berlin is an exciting opportunity for expats who like action and adventure. For more advice on getting your visa in Germany, check out this guide. Or if you’re looking for a new job, you can find advice on job-searching in Germany here.