Berlin has long jostled with New York and London as the place to be for trend-setting hipsters and alt-culture aficionados. David Bowie and Iggy Pop are just two of the famous expats who’ve lived in the former Prussian capital in decades gone by and who contributed to Berlin’s reputation as a safe haven where artists and musicians could live cheaply and meet like minded folk.
If you’re planning on moving to Berlin, be it for the cheap rents or cosmopolitan lifestyle, read on for Movehub’s guide to the best neighbourhoods, cost of living and things to do in this buzzing city.
Cost of living
For everyday necessities like groceries, travel and going out, prices in Berlin are cheaper than what you’ll be used to in London. As with every country, there are some expenses that new residents might be surprised by - the cost of electricity is very high in Germany, about 45% more than the UK. There’s also a hefty fee of about EUR 2000 if you want to be fully trained and certified with a German driving licence.
Much has changed in Berlin in the past couple of decades. The arty, liberal vibes that attract so many to the city still remain, but inevitable gentrification of many neighbourhoods has brought rising rents and a fast-moving market with it. However, compared to many other major European centres, you will still enjoy huge savings compared to London on property in and around Berlin, whether you’re looking to rent or buy.
For those ready to make a permanent move and buy property in Berlin, on average you’ll be looking at around 70% savings on similar sized properties in London. Renting is a lot more common in Germany than in the UK, and again, the savings compared to London are significant. A two-bed apartment in upmarket Charlottenburg, with good schools, therefore popular with families, will cost around EUR 800-1400 per month. Or perhaps a place in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg with independent cafes and galleries on your doorstep is more what you’re looking for - a two-bed apartment here will cost around EUR 600-1000.
Many newcomers to Berlin will opt for a WG (Wohngemeinschaft) - these shared flats are very popular with young people here, a great option for those on a budget, with a readymade new friendship group to boot.
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The low cost of property, large community of expats and creative spirit of Berlin have all influenced the vibrant start-up scene in the city. Creative entrepreneurs have flocked here over the years, with some breaking through to the big time with their tech start-ups. Recipe box delivery service HelloFresh, and holiday rental platform Wimdu are both based here.
You’ll find all the main players in the tech world have offices in the city too - Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. In a lot of these companies, and for those freelancing or working remotely, it’s possible to get by with only basic German, but for more traditional job roles in the city, you’ll need to demonstrate advanced language skills. Outside of the start-up scene, there’s fairly high levels of unemployment in Berlin, so be prepared for a tough job hunt if you’re not moving with an offer already in place.
Berlin is a great place to study. More and more people are seeing the benefits of travelling abroad for their further education, where there’s plenty of savings to be found on rent, cost of living and university fees. There’s 5 public universities in Berlin, and plenty more colleges and private universities too, plus a growing number of programmes taught in English.
If you’re moving with your family, Berlin also has some highly regarded international schools, to help with the transition to a new country for your little ones. The Berlin British School has an excellent reputation and is handily located in Charlottenburg.
If you’ve visited Berlin before, you’ve likely seen all the big tourist attractions: the Brandenburg Gate, a walk round the Reichstag, and views from the TV Tower. They’re all worth a visit if you are looking for a spot of sightseeing to settle into your new city. Berlin is a city shaped in part by war, and although sobering, the war memorials and museums are all unmissable stops to help in your education about the city’s past.
Take time to visit the Memorial to Murdered Jews, the Jewish Museum and the Topography of Terror which all commemorate the Jewish experience in the country - also, the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park. There’s much more culture to be found in Berlin as well, and not just in the beer halls! Museum Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to 5 of the city’s top museums. See the staggering Roman market gate of Miletus at the Pergamon Museum and Impressionist masterpieces by Cézanne and Monet at the Alte National Gallery. If contemporary art is more up your Strasse, check out the Berlinische Galerie or the KW Institute for Contemporary Art.
Things to do
Berlin is a huge place with a great transport network, so the best thing to do in this city is to get out there and explore all of the fantastic neighbourhoods, each with their own character and charm. Prenzlauer Berg has seen arguably the most changes in recent years as Berlin has become more popular and gentrified. Nowadays, it’s the place to be for young parents looking for cafe culture. There’s lots of pretty streets in this area to wander round, and you can end your day at the KulturBrauerei, a complex of restaurants and galleries in a converted old brewery, with a lovely courtyard area for summer evenings.
Friedrichshain is hipster-central in Berlin - you’ll find the best nightlife here, including the legendary (and somewhat infamous) Berghain nightclub, and tonnes of independent shops, bars and cafes.
Beach bars aren’t necessarily something you’d expect to see in Berlin, especially when you think of the sub-zero conditions in wintertime, but trust us, summer in Berlin is glorious, and the locals love to make the most of the weather. Beach bars and outdoor pools crop up across the city and are the perfect places to chill out in the summer. The Badeschiff pool and bar is a must-visit - the pool floats on the river Spree and the surrounding deck is the best place to enjoy views of the city with a fruity cocktail in hand.
If a leisurely swim and stroll to the bar aren't quite energetic enough for you, Berlin is a great place for those who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle. The city is surrounded by lakes and forest, offering stunning scenery for long hikes and bike rides. Closer to the centre, in the south of the city, is the Tempelhof Airport park. This disused airport was turned into a huge city park and is enjoyed by locals for leisure and the occasional concert too. The old runways are still intact, so cycling and rollerblading down the tarmac here is really popular and a lot of fun!