Friday, December 9th, 2016

Berlin: City of Hipsters, City of Entrepreneurs

47

Berlin

What took me so long?

I’ve been living in Europe for the past year and a half, traveling to Europe for a decade before that, and I only just made it to the wonderful city of Berlin.

The secret’s out.  This place is BEYOND fabulous.  I fell in love hard and fast with Berlin, and it’s already become one of my favorite cities.

Berlin

Europe’s Hottest Start-Up Center

I have lots of friends — Americans, Canadians, Australians, Germans from elsewhere — who have moved to Berlin to take advantage of living in Europe’s hottest city for start-ups and entrepreneurship.

Why is this?  Berlin is central.  Berlin is easily accessible.  Berlin is cheap.  And Berlin is actually an easy place to get a visa.

While staying long-term in Europe can be a challenge for most non-Europeans and especially Americans, who have no working holiday visa options, Germany’s “artist visa” is one of the most straightforward ways for freelancers to stay in Europe long-term.  My friend Adam managed to get a two-year visa, and he details his experience here.

From the moment I landed in Berlin, I felt like I was in Eastern Europe — not even Germany.  There couldn’t have been a bigger difference between tiny, dated Tegel Airport and Munich’s chrome airport and shiny u-bahn system.

But that’s not a bad thing.  Berlin has all the advantages of being part of the economically strongest country in Europe — it just happens to look a bit grittier and cost a lot less.

Artist at work at Generator Hostel

Ridiculously Hip

Berlin’s nightlife is legendary.  When explaining Berlin nightlife in a nutshell, I love to use an example from my friend Cheryl, a former Berlin expat.  Cheryl once went out to a 90s dance party at a Berlin club. Nothing unusual there — you can go to 90s nights at clubs all over the globe.

Well, in the middle of the night, smoke started billowing in the center of the club — and who took to the stage but HADDAWAY.

Yes, THAT Haddaway.

Only in Berlin!  (The impromptu parties in subway stations aren’t that bad, either.)

A lot of people compare Berlin to New York in the 1970s — but it’s probably more akin to Austin or Portland today.  Proud Austinites Erica and Shaun say that Berlin is one of the few places where they could love life — and fit in with their tattoos and piercings.

Berlin Bikes

If I ever dared to ride a bike through a city — something I have yet to do — Berlin would be the place. Berlin is the single most bike-friendly city I’ve ever visited (though keep in mind I have yet to visit Amsterdam or Copenhagen).  There are bike lanes all over the place and even separate stoplights for bikes.

Toward the end of my time in Berlin, it snowed for three days straight.  Did this dissuade the bikers?  Hardly at all.  Berliners ride year-round, snow and all!

Honolulu Bar

What My Berlin Life Would Be

Oh, it couldn’t be easier to imagine what life would be like if I joined the masses and moved to Berlin with the rest of them!  I’ve already had a taste of it, with tons of my blogger in friends in town for ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel trade show.

There would be lots of business events and gallery openings.  Lots of nights out at funky piano bars with cheap glasses of prosecco.  Lots of lunches out — bibimbaps one day, banh mis another, cheap kebabs galore, and there’s always room for currywurst!

The cheap prices do make a big impact.  My friend Sebastian pointed out that living in Berlin means he can go out to lunch every day.  It’s such a little thing, but something that really makes a difference when it comes to quality of life.

But most importantly, I know I’d be among friends and fellow creative types.  Moving to London and being among so many of my friends and fellow travel bloggers has made such a monumental difference in my life.  Moving to Berlin would keep that up — only it would add a dose of eclectic artsiness.

Are there any downsides?  The weather is cold, gray and overcast much of the time (though living in London, I don’t think I have the right to say that!).  Smoking is common in bars, which I don’t like but can live with.

Without a doubt, Berlin has skyrocketed to the top of the “I Could Totally Live Here” List.  So will I end up moving here someday?  It’s a very realistic possibility — more realistic than any of the other possibilities so far.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Comments

47 Responses to “Berlin: City of Hipsters, City of Entrepreneurs”
  1. And now you know why Liebling is desperate for us to move back to his hometown! Luckily we only live a 90-minute flight away. Glad you enjoyed Berlin, I’ve been about 10 times now and am still discovering it! If you need any suggestions for places to go or things to do for your next visit, let us know. 🙂

  2. Sky says:

    Berlin is at the top of my list of places to visit in Europe. I love how artsy it is and just the general hipster vibe. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

  3. So when are you moving here? 🙂

  4. Sam says:

    My partner and I love love love Berlin, and will (almost definitely) be moving there at some point in the near future. As you say, the main downside is the weather, which is just like London’s (and is one of the reasons I left!), but it has so many more positives. It seems everyone is moving to Berlin these days, and for good reason!

  5. Adam says:

    Aren’t you glad that you finally made it here?! Next time stay a little bit longer, though, please 🙂

    Berlin rocks! It’s definitely got a lot of hype surrounding it but it’s also very well-deserved.

  6. And why haven’t I been here?! I love the hippie, eclectic side and Gerard would totally thrive on the start-ups/ business side of the city. Hrmmm… tempting temping..

  7. Julianne says:

    I am so excited you loved Berlin! While I was only there for 3 days, I felt try similarly — it was hip, creative, efficient, tech savvy, and I wanted to return the minute I left. I love the Haddaway story, and I feel like that perfectly sums up the nightlife. We went on a pub crawl, had a subway party, ended up in a converted warehouse for a rave in East Berlin, and having no clue where we were, used remnants of the Wall to guide us back to our hostel (no joke) … All in one night. On a more serious note, I also loved all the WWII and Cold War history, and I was enlightened and moved by the Jewish Museum. It was interactive and engaged all the senses (much like the city generally), and I highly recommend it. As my friend aptly stated, “Berlin is not the prettiest city,” but if you go with that in mind, it amazes and inspires in every other respect.

  8. Antoinette says:

    Kate, I completely fell head over heels in love with Berlin the same way you did two years ago. By the third day I really felt like I belonged in that city. From its palpable young energy to the hip yet unpretentious crowd especially on the East side, and the street art – Oh the street art, it wasn’t hard to fall for such a place. Since I’m totally obsessed with street art, I was swooning! It’s definitely a great place for a lot of young, creative people. I was biking around Kreuzberg one day when I saw all these “Berlin doesn’t Love You” stickers everywhere. I found out it was their anti-gentrification protest to keep the prices down and to keep foreigners from moving in. But change is inevitable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up like Williamsburg in Brooklyn – everyone and their momma’s moved in, it got too gentrified and the prices skyrocketed.

  9. Mike says:

    Berlin looks awesome! I had wanted to visit so bad when I was studying abroad, but the trip from southern Spain was too pricey. Since I’ll be teaching in Spain next year, Berlin is definitely on my short list of places to visit. Your post just solidified its spot at the top of my list. The “artist’s visa” is intriguing too. Thanks Kate!

  10. That’s so cool! I never would have imagined that Berlin would be like Austin. If my husband and I get stationed in Germany next year, you just moved a visit to Berlin to the top of my list!

  11. Erica says:

    Thanks for the mention lady! Care to be our next door neighbor or roomie? 😛

  12. I went to Berlin in the dead of winter a few years ago and, like you, fell hard and fast. I loved how hip it was, how cheap it was, and how international it was!

  13. Cheryl says:

    I am so happy to hear that you finally made it my former home and that you enjoyed it so much! Maybe we’ll be neighbours someday as it’s my intention to move back eventually. 🙂

    And yes, Haddaway! Ba ha ha … I was just telling some friends about that a couple of weeks ago and they thought it was weird yet kinda awesome all at the same time.

  14. Amanda says:

    Guh. Really need to get myself to Berlin ASAP! It’s definitely on the list for this summer.

  15. Laurie says:

    Great piece Kate.
    I too fell in love with Berlin. I travelled there last year with Busabout, I loved it so much I went back 4 weeks later. I would live there tommorrow. Thinking about finding a summer job there this year. It’s even better during the season.
    So much to see and do. I loved visiting tachelles.

  16. Stacy Seever says:

    Berlin is on my “I’d live here list” too! I fell in love with it when we did an apartment swap. I would freak out if Haddaway started playing out of nowhere at a party I was at. That is a great story!

    BTW, I just discovered your blog recently and am loving it! 🙂

  17. Jenna says:

    I would love to visit Berlin–it sounds like a city that would be right up my alley! I didn’t realize it was so easy to get an artist visa there, that’s good to know. I may have to make a trip there soon!

  18. Simon says:

    Berlin looks amazing, and not only that I think its pretty cheap to get to from various part of Europe because of all the low cost airlines.

  19. Brandy says:

    This post is so timely because I’ve been waffling over where to go on vacation this summer. I wanted to go somewhere in Asia, but airfare is ridiculous and I don’t have enough points right now, so I’ve been trying to decide between Berlin and Rome, two places I’ve yet to visit. I’m going to take this post as a sign that I should visit Berlin now and save Rome for another trip.

  20. Craig says:

    I agree 100%, its a helluva city! I’m lucky enough to be going back this summer.

  21. Vicky says:

    I recently went to Berlin for the second time – the first time was when the wall was still standing, and it was fascinating to see how the city had changed. I hope they manage to stop the apartments being built where the East Side Gallery is.

  22. Christina says:

    I’m going to Berlin tomorrow and your post has gotten me really excited! It’s sort of a last minute trip and I hadn’t planned on going to Berlin while in Europe, but it sounds like it’s definitely worthy of a visit. Plus I currently live In Sweden where everything is so dang expensive and we never go out for lunch, so dining out for cheap is music to my ears! Just the word cheap is unheard of here.

  23. Great you enjoyed the city I was born in – for further adventures I can recommend visiting Hamburg. But please wait until I’m back to show you around the hipster places over there 😉

  24. Sofie says:

    Totally agree on Berlin. Been there twice; once in summer and once in winter and I loved both visits. There just so much to do and see and it seems like there are a lot of possibilities for creative minds as well.
    I can see a link with London, but wya cheaper:)

  25. vira says:

    I read that quite a lot of Australian artists move all the way to Berlin to pursuit their careers as well. The artistic and creative ambience of the city (at least from what I’ve read) has made it into my travel list!

  26. Ah Berlin – I love it so much there. If you ever get a chance to head to Berghein and dance to techno then I highly recommend it!

    Me and my husband talk constantly about moving there…maybe we will someday…

    Glad you enjoyed it there!

  27. Agneska says:

    Berlin is overrated, much jobs are 400 euros jobs or trainee stuff and the locals are really FED UP with english speaking people moving to the city and causing the rents to explode. Most people you’ll see in bars are just tourists or long-term tourists like yourself. So the climate is getting more agressive towards english speaking hipsters, there are way just too much of them in the town living in their own ghetto and not learning a word of german.

    • I’m sure, Agneska. It’s inevitable in every destination.

    • Harriet Holms says:

      Very true, Berlin is very over rated! its past its use by date, and too many ex pat hipsters , who complain about “hipsters” taking over “their city” HA! No wonder the Berliners have had enough.

      I know a couple of people living there 4 and 5 years who have not bothered to learn to speak German. they dont have to as everyone speaks english in Kreuzberg , they work in seedy bars and restaurants and earn a pittance and live their “I’m so cool ” lifestyle…

  28. Love Berlin. Going there in two weeks to visit my best friend and I can’t wait. Haven’t been for a few years, but I am hoping that Haddaway will still be there. 🙂

  29. Luke says:

    Hey Agneska, actually the original people of Berlin are fed up with everybody moving there. Most people moving there are actually from Germanys wealthier areas of the South and West. But this is the cycle of urban developement and brings a lot of advantages and disadvantages with itself. And by the way, within Berlin you have lots of changes too. Hip used to be Prenzlauer Berg, then Friedrichshain, then Kreuzberg, then Neukölln (my favorit place so far, and i will move there this summer, i am from the South of Germany Bavaria by the way) and these days it is becoiming more and more Wedding. There are still a lot of areas which are perfect playgrounds for artists, anarchists, students, undergroundclubs etc. to explore.

  30. Fran says:

    Well I hope to give some balance between the post and the comments by Agnieska. Berlin has a very exaggerated sense of self importance, as do the majority of “original” or long term residents. They tend to amplify the stress of tourism by generally behaving as if they are the first, last and most beleaguered capital city – evidence of how unworldy many Berliners really are because New York and Amsterdam, two cities Berlin likes to measure itself against – have absorbed 1000s of times as many tourists and cultures and barely even hiccups afterwards. Whereas as Berlin tends to go into a meltdown. The people here need a reality check… They need English and other newcomers to stop enabling their behaviour by apologizing for being here all the time, and embracing the same petty behaviour. Having said that its not anything that affects most tourists enjoyment of the city, more of a long term issue. It’s a great city to see in summer, but don’t let any negativity you do encounter get you down. The problem with some Berliners seems to be a real inability to be flexible and laugh at things – and I think that is something they can learn from visitors to the city:-)

  31. Harriet Holms says:

    I completely disagree with these gushing sentiments on Berlin.
    Firstly its Grey, dull, flat and an ugly city.

    Personally I find people just try too hard in Berlin, trying to be something they are not, or living in the past in a city where years ago many artists flocked to to be different, those artists/ musicians have long moved on, understandably so.

    I have been to Berlin 3 times, in the mid 80’s before the wall came down, then during the 90’s and again last year. The city has changed dramatically in this time< I used to love it but alas, its lost its way, its no longer cool, it no longer holds mystery and excitement and I feel everyone is trying to revive the dream that many musos and artists lived by decades ago.

    Sure its cheap, for beer and food but the food is mostly awful and the beer is warm, sure you can smoke where you want including restaurants and cafes which is awful in itself Sure there is a general lack of rules and anything goes and yes everyone sports tattoos and piercings but who cares? Its not like you can't do that anywhere else in the world. Sure the bars stay open late or never close what ever they want to do and you can score what you want any time of the day, I think thats probably the real reason people flock there

    I was told by one person that they like Berlin because they can be themselves…well I have news for you, you can be yourself anywhere in the world, I am what people like to call an alternate artsy type (hate that tag) but really there is nothing that Berlin has to offer that I can't get in London, New York, San Fran, Barcelona or even Melbourne.

    • Yeah there is. Low rents. 😉 Good luck getting an apartment in any of those cities for what you’d pay in Berlin!

      • Harriet Holms says:

        Low rents maybe so, but the wages are also very low in Berlin, so there has to be low rent too.
        Anyone I know there works for such low pay and just has enough to pay their rent and buy cheap beer and drugs.
        basically the city has been done to death, its simply over rated!
        So dont kid yourself, Berlin is being gentrified like any other major city, rents ARE going up things chance weekly more and more for the worse and it is only just hanging onto its “used to be cool” threads.
        Have you actually seen all the hip new “art space” stores about? have you priced anything in these stores? clothing prices are expensive, home wears etc ridiculous prices! . London is far far cheaper and far more interesting and hey try San Fransico!
        Its all the ex-pats from other cities/countries that have moved into Berlin (to try and be cool) thats now starting to drive rents and pushing the envelope making the city so damn uncool now.

        Want cheap accommodation/ rent, art, culture, lifestyle and a young emerging art scene? Go visit Lisbon… The beer is cheap there too.

  32. Julie says:

    I have been to Berlin for a week end, alone! However, did not spend this week end alone: found cool people at the hostel I stayed in, and we ended up partying all weekend! It was great!
    I highly recommend Berlin! Not only for its night life, but also for its history and culture!

    Nice post 🙂

    Julie.

  33. chris says:

    Much of these comments are utopian dreamers. Sure, there are many artsy things to do but the gentrification akin to New York comments are so flawed and the comments about ‘low cost’ is also foolish and ill thought.

    Berlin does not have huge private property ownership such as NY did. Gentrification normally involves rich yuppies buying trendy nightspot areas, however, the current kids in Berlin are rich trust fund kids in early twenties who do not work professional yuppie type jobs but rather creative freelance (which i’m not against). The effect is low taxation receipts from salary and consumer goods – therefore the government does not get the same return as professional yuppies. The new kids don’t have the sustainable long term power that the government would like. My guess is that London/Hong Kong property tycoons will buy apartment blocks and rent to the ‘year in Berlin’ crowd at extortionate rates, thus pushing local people out.

    ALso on the low cost front, if you add in health insurance (you really should have this!) the living costs creep up to levels of other euro cities such as Barcelona etc…

    • Something I’ve been wondering for a long time — where are all of these “rich trust fund kids” of which you and many others speak? I know plenty of people who move to Berlin as artists and entrepreneurs. How did they do it? They have jobs. They make money. They’re not supported by their parents.

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