In 2004 Berlin's long-standing mayor Klaus Wowereit ushered the words “Berlin is poor, but sexy”, which seemingly stuck like a mantra to the city. In 2011 he referred again to the quote saying: “We want Berlin to become richer and stay sexy.” Which is exactly what is starting to happen, with the city getting more expensive and an emerging creative sector highlighted by better support for start-up companies. For British expats looking for an overseas destination with potential, a thriving arts and cultural scene, open-minded attitude to life and that won't break the bank, Berlin is the perfect option.
Berlin is the only European capital that is poorer than the country it rules. It's unemployment, around 15%, is close to twice the national average. Their way out of this situation appears to be through the creative industries. Berlin is after all one of the few cities in the world where bureaucrats don't need to propose grandiose arts and culture projects, these things happen naturally. It's the reason why Wowereit has been aggressively marketing Berlin as a creative capital, specifically emphasising the art, music and fashion industries; it's these industries which have seen the most growth. There are over 6,300 design companies in the city, generating £1bn of revenue with year-on-year growth. With the Government putting more emphasis on supporting start-ups this is sure to be the industry which helps Berlin establish itself as an economic power.
The tourism sector is more established, and is always a solid source of income, with visitors specifically coming to Berlin to see Sir Norman Foster's visionary Reichstag (the icon of modern Berlin), and the many museums, galleries and shops that the city has to offer.
Cost of Living in Berlin
The original allure for migrants to move to Berlin following it's reunification in 1990 was the low cost of living, turning the city into a magnet for artists who found a city where they could viably pursue their work. Now, the cost of living in Berlin has increased, making it more expensive than Porto or Warsaw though still far cheaper than London, New York or Paris. It's also fair to say that Germany has weathered the financial crisis better than most European countries, offering a stability that few others can manage.
Rent varies from €500 to €700, with electric and heating costs on top. A modest budget for a month in Berlin is €1,500, with €2,000 allowing for a very comfortable lifestyle. One of the frustrating aspects of renting in Berlin is the fact that agencies will generally ask for a large fee as well as a few month's rent in advance – even asking for as much as six months rent in some cases – which can make the initial move expensive. For this reason many people sublet or flat share upon first arriving in Berlin.
If you're still working for clients or businesses in England once you move to Berlin you will be eligible for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If working for a German company you will need to find a local health insurance company and this can often be very expensive with some premiums taking roughly 15% of your earnings. Health insurance is mandatory so there is no getting away from this cost.
Arts, Music and Culture in Berlin
Anyone who has watched the London Olympics this summer will be more than familiar with David Bowie's “Heroes”, one of the songs chosen to soundtrack victory celebrations. What you may not know is that “Heroes” was recorded by British-born Bowie in Berlin. Released in 1977, it was the title track from the third of his Berlin trilogy of albums, and one of his biggest hits. It's just one example of a link between popular culture, arts and Berlin that goes back many years. Other prominent people to have lived in Berlin include Marlene Dietrich (who was born there), Iggy Pop, Albert Einstein and Billy Wilder.
The Language Barrier
What's great about Berlin for British expats is that speaking German is not essential. Most people speak English and are more than happy to take the chance to practice with you. Of course, speaking a little German can help you get along with the locals and show your affection for the culture in Germany, but this is something that can come later, especially as there are many cheap and intensive German courses available in Berlin.
Quality of Life in Berlin
Berlin has over 2,500 public green spaces, including notable parks Tiergarten, The Japanese Garden and Volkspark Friedrichstein. People who like getting outdoors and enjoying fresh air will never have to go far with so many parks inside the city limits, and spread amongst the neighbourhoods. It is possible to swim and fish within the city, and even during the cold winter months there's plenty to do with ice skaters heading to the many frozen lakes and tobogganers and skiers finding plenty to keep them occupied in the forests and parks.
Berlin may not be an academic city on the scale of London or Paris but it is home to two of the world's top universities and has a high level of international students as many courses are run in English. A simple and effective transportation network attracts many expats who enjoy the fact they can roam the city without the hustle of most urban environments. With many urban renewal programs supporting the growth of playgrounds and places where children and teenagers can play sports and games it's also a great place to bring up kids.