Moving to Berlin
Affordability 4 out of 5
Safety 4 out of 5
Healthcare 3 out of 5
Traffic Flow 3 out of 5
Property affordability 3 out of 5
Climate 5 out of 5
Environment quality 5 out of 5
Berlin is the coolest city in Europe, no doubt. The German capital is home to some very multicultural, liberal and trendy people – 3.7 million of them, to be precise. Located in northeast Germany, not far from the Polish border, Berlin has got the perfect blend of tame and wild. Whether you’re moving there as a quiet bookworm or a crazy clubber (or somewhere in between), you’ll be sure to find your groove in Berlin. We’re talking beautiful parks, fascinating history, stylish bars and world-class nightlife. Wunderbar!
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about moving to and living in Berlin.
The River Spree and the TV Tower on a sunny Berlin day
A little bit of history
Berlin is absolutely swimming with history. It’s over 800 years old, but the city’s most defining moments have all come in the past century. There are signs of a dark and turbulent past all over Berlin, not least the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. Constructed in 1961, the wall divided the city into east and west for almost thirty years, preventing anyone from crossing to the other side. After the wall was dismantled in 1989, Berlin was reunified and it began a process of serious rejuvenation. Today, the city is thriving and it’s drawing in expats from all over the world.
Cost of moving to Berlin
If you’re thinking of relocating permanently to Berlin, you’ve probably got some belongings that you can’t leave behind. This could range from just a couple of boxes to the contents of a house. Here’s an idea of how much it will cost to ship your stuff from the Port of London to the Port of Hamburg (where it will then go by truck and/or train to Berlin).
|Container size||Average rate|
Source: WorldFreightRates.com. The above rates are based on the port-to-port delivery of household goods worth £40,000 or $55,000, which is the average value of the contents of a three-bedroom house (as estimated by Admiral Insurance).
Please note: these prices exclude typical add-ons such as basic insurance cover, door-to-door delivery and professional packing. Most of our suppliers include these services in their prices, so there will be some discrepancy between their quotes and the rates listed here. Use this table as an indication only.
For more information, check out our detailed guide to international container shipping costs.
Who lives in Berlin?
Berlin is sehr multikulturell; around 190 countries are represented there, making it one of the most diverse cities on Earth. What’s more, almost 20% of Berliners are foreign-born, so you certainly won’t be the only expat out there.
The city’s population just won’t stop growing. It’s currently at around 3.7 million, and over the last five years it’s increased by about 50,000 per year. Experts think there’ll be over 4 million people by 2035. Busy Berlin is going to get even busier.
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It might be wise to get a job sorted over there before you start planning your move. Life in Berlin ain’t free and you’ll have bills to pay. Fortunately, the German capital is a great place to keep your career going; it’s an ambitious and ever-growing city full of opportunities.
Most recently, Berlin has become a real startup hotspot. According to advisory agency Gruenden, the city gives birth to a new startup every 20 minutes on average. Ernst & Young estimate that Berlin has around 2,500 active startups. It’s a very exciting scene, and you can be a part of it.
To get your job hunt started, check out the Berlin vacancy boards on global websites such as Jobs in Berlin, Indeed and Monster. Knowing the German language is not essential to finding work over there, but it will certainly give you a big advantage when applying for certain jobs.
A bright yellow train trundles through Berlin city centre
You can get a lot warmer than Berlin, but people don’t go to Europe’s coolest city for hot weather. The climate is mostly a rather moderate affair, although harsh winters and summer heatwaves are not unheard of.
Winter (December to February): This time of year can be pretty challenging for new Berliners. Cold air comes rushing in from Siberia and the city gets rather chilly. Daytime temperatures will regularly dip below freezing (generally around the -5°C mark), although this can also bring some lovely layers of snow. Bring your best woollies.
Spring (March to May): The skies brighten, the air warms up and Berlin breaks out in bloom. This is the perfect time for exploring the city, as it’s not too cold and there aren’t loads of tourists. Temperatures tend to range between 12°C and 20°C
Summer (June to August): Berliners have to deal with pretty tough winters, so it’s only fair their summers should be sweet and balmy. It does get rather touristy, but the festival atmosphere during the summer months is irresistible. The temperature is usually somewhere between 22°C and 28°C.
Autumn (September to November): If you like your autumns traditional, Berlin will not disappoint. The city’s many green parks take on gorgeous orange hues, and suddenly you’ll feel ready for Halloween. Temperatures cool down a bit, ranging between 12°C and 20°C. It’s time to brace for winter again.
Getting around the city
Berlin’s an easy city to navigate, it just depends on how quickly you need to be somewhere.
If the weather’s alright, you can’t beat a proper stroll around the city centre. Berlin is mostly rather flat, which keeps things pretty easy on the legs. You can really get up close to the city’s incredible architecture and colourful street art. Plus, you won’t be spending any of your hard-earned geld.
As you know, startups are thriving in Berlin, and there’s no better example than the city’s bike rental scene. The German capital is laced with hundreds of bike lanes and a new generation of companies are making the most of them. Companies like Mobike, Lime, Byke, ofo, Lidl and Donkey Republic have filled the city with their brightly coloured bicycles, so you can keep fit and look fabulous at the same time.
There are great options for people who need something a bit more nippy. The U-Bahn is a system of (mostly) underground yellow trains, consisting of 9 lines and 173 stations. It’s an excellent way of zooming around the city.
The S-Bahn trains are all above ground, and they help connect the outer Berlin suburbs to the centre. This one has 15 lines and 166 stations. The combined efforts of the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn will help you reach pretty much anywhere in the city. The stations rarely have gates but that doesn’t mean it’s free. Get caught fare-dodging and you’ll be fined.
If that’s not enough, there’s also a very comprehensive bus network (151 lines) and a tram system (mostly in the eastern neighbourhoods).
So how do the Germans look after themselves? Through compulsory health insurance, that’s how. All citizens and permanent residents must have statutory health insurance, known as gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (it’s ok, you can call it GKV). However, if you earn more than €59,400 (about £52,093) per year (or you are self-employed) then you can choose to ignore GKV and take out private insurance (PKV).
GKV is mainly funded through income tax, which is currently set at 14.6% of gross wages and is divided equally between employer and employee. Statutory health insurance covers all essential medical treatment, but PKV can often help with the extra stuff.
As an expat taking up residence in Berlin, you are required to have some form of health insurance. If you start full employment in Berlin then of course you are able to start paying for (and using) GKV, otherwise you’ll need to go private.
The German for ‘hospital’ is krankenhaus, but hopefully you won’t hear that very often.
Cost of living
As far as European capital cities go, Berlin is famously cheap. In Mercer’s Global Cost of Living Survey 2018, the German capital ranked as only the 71st most expensive city worldwide. However, the times are changing; back in Mercer’s 2017 survey, Berlin placed 120th, meaning the city is becoming more expensive. According to Payscale, the average salary in Berlin is €44,881 (or £39,543) per year.
Check out the table below for an idea of typical living costs in Berlin, which are around 18% lower than in London (source: Numbeo.com).
|Monthly pass for public transport||£71.35|
|Monthly gym subscription||£21.94|
|One litre of petrol||£1.22|
|Mid-range bottle of wine||£4.40|
|Domestic beer (half-litre draught)||£3.08|
|Three-course meal for two at mid-range restaurant||£35.23|
There are lots of good homes in Berlin, and one of them is waiting for you. Over the past few years, the city’s property prices have been surging in response to the booming population, but they’re still comparatively cheaper than most other European capitals.
According to RentCafe, the average monthly rent for an apartment in the German capital in 2018 is $1,384, or £1,052. If you’re looking to buy in Berlin, Global Property Guide report that the median price of an apartment is €3,593 per square metre, while for a one- or two-bedroom house it’s €2,321 per square metre.
By European standards, Berlin is big. Its metropolitan area is about 892km², which makes it the same size as Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart put together. The city is about four times the size of Paris. When it comes to neighbourhoods in Berlin, you’ve got a lot of choice. There are 12 administrative districts comprising 23 different neighbourhoods (or kieze), but which one will suit you best?
We heartily recommend that you visit Berlin and see the kieze for yourself, but here are three of our favourites for you to think about.
You might be paying extra to live in Mitte (literally ‘middle’), but you’re also walking distance from a handful of the city’s best landmarks, including the TV Tower, the Jewish Memorial and Brandenburg Gate. This does mean the area becomes bit of a tourist trap in the summer, however the joys of living near Brandenburg Gate will never wear away. Mitte used to be the beating heart of Berlin’s grungy, underground scene before becoming the boutique shopping hotspot it is today. This is an unhappy transformation for some people, but others love to come here to buy nice clothes, sip coffee in trendy cafes and drink craft beer in cool bars. If you’re in this second category, we reckon the life in Mitte is perfect for you.
This one’s a bit less central, much more affordable and a heck of a lot cooler. Situated in southeast Berlin, Neukölln was traditionally home to large Arabic and Turkish communities, although it is now much more diverse. You will still find excellent restaurants and cafes serving traditional Turkish coffee, tea and baklava, along with a dazzling range of multinational cuisine. The nightlife here is lively beyond belief, and some people reckon it might be the best in Berlin. A Neukölln highlight is certainly Schillerpromenade, an abandoned airport that has become Berlin’s edgiest park.
Not everyone wants somewhere loud and hectic. Formed in 1920 of six villages in northwest Berlin, Reinickendorf is far from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. There isn’t really much nightlife here, and the people of Reinickendorf are absolutely fine with that. What they do have is a lovely bunch of lakes and forests, which becomes a recreational paradise on warm days. Tegeler See is a huge lake surrounded by woodland, manor houses and little beaches. Even Berliners who don’t live in Reinickendorf come here for a splash.
Things to do
If you’re moving to Berlin permanently then you’ll have bags of time to see and do everything, but we think these things should be top of your list.
Explore the history
Take a wander around the city and immerse yourself in Berlin’s past. Start with the obvious and pay a visit to Brandenburg Gate, that big stone thing with horses on the top that’s been a city icon since the 18th century. Check out the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall, including the East Side Gallery, where a section of the wall has been turned into the world’s longest open-air gallery. Checkpoint Charlie was the main crossing point for people entering East Berlin, and you can get a photo there with some fake border guards. Pay a visit to the Reichstag, Germany’s 19th-century government building that is now topped by a beautiful glass dome. There’s Museum Island on the River Spree, which is home to five fascinating museums, and of course you shouldn’t miss the haunting Holocaust Memorial.
Enjoy the parks
When the sun’s out in Berlin, you can’t beat a nice bit of green space, and boy is their grünfläche good. The best is probably the Tiergarten, a huge park in the centre filled with trees, flowers, streams and ponds. It also houses the world-class Berlin Zoo, home to the adorable panda Meng Meng. There are less conventional parks too, such as Schillerpromenade (an abandoned airport) and Mauerpark, located along the ‘death strip’ that once divided Berlin. Sundays are best for Mauerpark, when there is a flea market and “Bearpit Karaoke” in an outdoor amphitheatre. For something more rural, hop on a 30-minute train to Schlachtensee, a lake just on the edge of Grunewald Forest. Don’t forget to bring a towel!
Dip in the Badeschiff
Speaking of towels, you’ll need one for the Badeschiff. It’s a public swimming pool floating on the River Spree, so you can go for a swim right in the middle of the city and enjoy some brilliant views (especially of the TV Tower and the Oberbaum bridge). The Spree is too polluted to swim in, so this is your best opportunity for an inner-city dip. There’s a cocktail bar, beach volleyball, a wooden footbridge, hammocks, and of course a big pool. Everything starts looking a bit magical once the sun sets and the lights turn on.
Where to eat
Inevitably, you’re going to feel hungrig in Berlin, and you need to know the best places to deal with that. We’ve named three of our favourite food joints in the German capital.
Konnopke’s Imbiss, Schoenhauser Allee 44 B, 10435 Berlin
You can’t go to Berlin without having some proper currywurst. This curried corruption of a traditional German sausage has become a Berlin icon, and if done properly it can be truly delicious. Fortunately, Konnopke’s Imbiss know just how to do it properly. They’ve been making sausages since 1930, and in 1960 they became the first vendor in West Berlin to catch on to the new currywurst craze. Since then, Konnopke’s has become enormously popular with locals, and there are long queues every day. Their menu is extremely simple (you basically have currywurst or you go home) and their sauce spice scale ranges from ‘heavenly’ to ‘hellishly hot’. They even sell t-shirts and bags to their biggest fans.
Burgermeister, Oberbaumstrasse 8, 10997 Berlin
Here’s something else that’s wonderfully low fuss. Take a walk over Oberbaum bridge from the East Side Gallery and you’ll soon bump into Burgermeister, Berlin’s best burger joint. Situated in an old public toilet in the heart of Schlesisches Tor (a nightlife hotspot), Burgermeister will sort you out with a proper American burger until the early hours of the morning. The outdoor tables are literally sandwiched between two busy roads, but this is all part of the gritty urban experience. Fortunately, the burgers are not gritty; they are fresh, thick and sensational. Be prepared to queue for a bit.
Cookies Cream, Behrenstrasse 55, 10117 Berlin
Although it sounds like a sweet dessert specialist, Cookies Cream is in fact a vegetarian restaurant. It got going in 2007 when Berlin’s veggie scene was pretty sparse, and ten years later it became the city’s first vegetarian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. So, yes, the food is exceptional. Cookies Cream has the low-lighting and exposed-brickwork vibes that all trendy restaurants like to have, along with some phenomenal options on the menu. Highlights include the vegetarian caviar with avocado, Parmesan dumplings with Perigord truffle stock & spinach, and a herbal sorbet with oats and pink grapefruit. We’ve probably just chosen your three courses for you.
You could well argue that Berlin has the best clubscene in Europe, if not the world. Here are some of the best places to go once tag turns to nacht.
Watergate, Falckensteinstrasse 49, 10997 Berlin
Fancy dancing all night? Watergate is the ideal setting for a proper Berlin boogie. Named after its location right next to the River Spree (rather than the American political scandal), the two-floor club has glass windows from floor-to-ceiling, so you can see the Spree all night. The club’s LED lights are dazzling, the atmosphere is pumping and its DJs are internationally renowned. The music tends to be a mixture of break-beat, house and drum ‘n’ bass. A tip: make sure you know the name of the DJ who’s playing, otherwise they won’t let you in.
Monkey Bar, Budapester Strasse 40 | 25hours Hotel Bikini, 10787 Berlin
For something a little higher, climb up to the Monkey Bar on the 10th floor of the 25hours Hotel. Overlooking the monkey cages of Berlin Zoo, Monkey Bar’s main pull is its spectacular views across the city. You can have a drink at the roof deck bar, listen to the music and gaze across the Berlin skyline at night. Monkey Bar was voted the best hotel bar in Europe in 2015’s European Hospitality Awards, so you know it means business. Instead of Watergate’s hard German techno vibes, the atmosphere here is comfy and loungy.
Hofbräu Munchen, Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 30 | 10178 Berlin, 10178
Munich beerhall the Hofbräuhaus is legendary, and in 2011 it opened a second branch in Berlin. While some people fancy an all-nighter in an underground club, others just want a litre of lager and an oompah brass band. The Hofbräu is a huge wooden space with the capacity for up to 4,000 beery Berliners, and it’s open no less than 365 days a year. The staff are all wearing lederhosen, so it all feels very authentic. If you want to take the experience home with you, they sell traditional Bavarian clothes in their shop.
Find out more
Still keen to learn a bit more about Berlin? These titles should do the trick.
Berlin: Imagine a City (2015) by Rory MacLean – learn about the German capital from first-hand accounts of people who lived there, including Adolf Hitler, Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie.
The Berlin Wall Story: Biography of a Monument (2011) by Hans-Hermann Hertle – you can’t fully appreciate Berlin without first understanding the impact of the Berlin Wall, and Hertle provides a fascinating account of it here.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Berlin (2017) by DK Travel – a handy travel companion for exploring Berlin, full of tips, itineraries and maps.