Better Late than Never writing blogs is admin, too
Getting started in Germany, working out the language, the paperwork, and planning a wedding remotely.
What a crazy year. After getting engaged, quitting our jobs, leaving London and going travelling for five months we’re now three months into living in a new country!
We’ve talked for a long time about wanting to move abroad for a while. We looked at Australia for a while, though our parents are pleased we decided not to move so far. Besides, the weather didn’t seem so good there after all. We’ve also wanted to go somewhere with another language, and Australia (mostly) didn’t tick that box either.
I got chatting to SoundCloud and after emails and phone calls from campsites and hotels (including one in Hong Kong with a view of a North Korean flag on the building opposite!) they flew me out to the offices in Berlin, when it was sunny and around body temperature, and offered me the job before I got home. So here we are, starting the next part of the adventure in Berlin!
Work at SoundCloud is a mix of music and engineering that I didn’t expect to happen. Most people here, maybe two thirds or so, are people who have relocated for the job, and the mix of nationalities is incredible. The office language is English (phew) but around my table sit people from India, Brazil, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Italy, the US and Germany. I’ve been able to fill quite neatly the role of the native English helper for resolving grammar arguments. I’ll write more about SoundCloud work further down the to-do list, and once I’ve worked out how much legal approval I need…
Ich bin wieder angemeldet!— Joe Kearney (@joejkearney) December 15, 2015
Life in Germany for the first couple of months seems to have been basically a game of keeping on top of admin. They love a bit of paperwork.
Two days after we landed, we had to get up at 5am to get in line for an Anmeldung, a bit of paper confirming our temporary address for the first month. That allowed us to get a Schufa, a credit check to show that we aren’t bankrupt in Germany and which allowed us to get a bank account and apply for house rental. We’ve taken out more forms of insurance than we can remember. We had a letter in the post to tell us that the internet provider didn’t have enough detail of our postal address, adding a couple of weeks to delivery. Most phone contracts seem to require you to go into the shop each month to buy more credit. Jo has to fill in a form for her employer’s insurance just so that she can work from home.
Since we moved at the start of October we have to get another Anmeldung for our new address. You’re supposed to get this within two weeks of moving, but there are no appointments until December. They know they’re busy so they don’t mind the delay so much, except that after a certain date you need an additional bit of paper to take to your appointment, a letter from your landlord stating that you live there. Apparently a signed contract isn’t enough paper!
After about three months of paperwork (not to mention the four trips to Ikea) and it finally feels like we’re close to the end of the admin. It really feels like it!
If Germany has failed categorically to deliver on a reputation of efficiency, Berlin has certainly lived up to its reputation – it’s cool here. Much like the Melbourne type of cool there’s no pretentiousness. Everyone has tattoos of different varieties, you wear what you want, cut your hair however. And yet somehow there is still this high fashion – on the metro you’ve never seen so many different ways of wearing all black. I definitely feel like the middle-class Englishman not even attempting to fit in. But that’s ok, there are plenty of observer-mode locals and ex-pats too.
We live on the edge of the lovely suburb of Prenzlauer Berg, full of cafés and bars, young families and little parks. The story goes that after the wall came down, everyone who was still there left to go to the west and the area was taken over by the hippies. They settled, grew up, turned into hipsters, coupled up and had babies, and now it’s the most middle-class gentrified area you could imagine. We hit peak hipster while flat-hunting, when we stopped for a drink of rhubarb juice in a vegan organic cafe, next to a square full of prams.
Near our flat and further afield it’s easy to find a delightful array of ways of keeping the palette richly occupied, and we recently discovered KulturBrauerei, an old brewery converted into a cultural centre that would fit just right in Clapham. We’ve been swing dancing and been to the cinema, and as the cold nights have increased in bitterness the Scandinavian Christmas market has fought back with glühwein in mugs with sugar-encrusted rims, bratwurst twice as long as the roll and shredded, deep-fried potato fritters covered in apple compote. Mmmm lecker!
While we’ve started exploring our local area we’ve made a poor start to tourism. There is so much history here, and though it’s difficult to miss the remains of the wall and the memorials, it’s only now that we’ve had a couple of sets of visitors from home that we’ve started to get to some of the important sights and sites together. There are countless museums on all eras of the country’s history, so we should have plenty to see for a while! So far:
- the Berlin Wall Memorial Museum, the Gedenkstätte, which has a good timeline of the events from the creation to demolition of the wall, which was seasoned with some historical context provided by my own personal historian (BA Dunelm).
- the depressingly thorough Topography of Terrors museum that documents the politics of the rise of the Third Reich and the administration of the Holocaust, with many unavoidable parallels with Tuol Sleng.
- the DDR Museum, showing life in East Germany under communist rule. Interactive and (literally) touchy-feely, but at the expense of providing much actual information. All a little bit Disney.
There are plenty more to go, but it’s already clear from the museums, tourist spots and memorials that the country really goes in for forensic exposition of the atrocities of the past.
That said, Berlin isn’t the sum of its museums any more than London, Sydney or Shrewsbury. It’s been interesting to get to know the present-day quirks of the city from being here a little longer, and the defining features for me are no longer those that hit me first.
When we first arrived it was impossible not to notice the graffiti everywhere, on every wall in sight on every street. Now we’re so used to it that it’s just vanished into the fabric of the place. On a Sunday everything shuts and no food shops is a huge pain in the ass, but for the rest of the week, so long as you’re not in a rush, the city functions pretty well. The metro honestly isn’t all that bad, even if you have to wait #8minutes for a train occasionally. Massive queuing in understaffed supermarkets gets old pretty quickly. It hasn’t taken long to tire a little of the abundance of cured pork products that were so tasty in the first few weeks, but which seem to take the place of most other meats that we’re used to. (We almost yearn for the rotisserie chicken counters that we so overused in Australian supermarkets!) Even the weather has been pretty consistently good, at least until it tumbled to freezing temperatures and snow.
Much of this is just adaptation that we have yet to concede, and this is all exactly the point of moving away, to try all of these new things in a new setting. On the plus side, there is so much more space than in London!
So the first three months has been great. It’s exciting, we’ve done far too much, even if half of it was admin and wedmin, and we’re definitely beginning to get to grips with quotidienne life here. It’s easy to complain about the little things but the adventure is so much bigger than the paperwork and range of charcuterie. One of these days I’ll write a blog in German, which will feel like a real milestone. For now, back to the paperwork.