Aoife McKeon is a journalist and runaway from Northern Ireland, who has recently arrived in Berlin. We sent along to check out a service designed to help newbies just like her.
So, you want to move to Berlin.
You want to flee the tyranny of bars that close at 1am, work in an art gallery and find a cheap flat that’s at least six times as big as your hovel back home? Great! It’s a dream shared by countless others who want to do just that, so it’s time to start planning your escape.
Instead of figuring out all the boring bits for yourself, however, why not let someone else do it for you? Stephan Brenner and Tia Robinson had that idea, and little over a month ago they started providing “integration services” in the form of a seminar and German lessons for confused newbie expats wondering what exactly it was they were supposed to do when they arrived in Berlin. Welcome to Expath.
20€ gets you a two hour seminar with English teacher Tia, a Berlin veteran of six years, in their small office in a former toilet block tucked away in the huge redbrick Wye complex in Kreuzberg. Everything’s broken down into a simple step-by-step lesson plan, from basics such as how to register your address, how to get a visa, where to get a social security number for work, how to tackle the job market and subletting, to sorting out your banking and good places to hang out for networking. Clients are emailed a list of questions beforehand so Tia can focus on the stuff that’s really relevant to them, and given that seminars are taught in small groups, it’s easy to ask questions and find out things you couldn’t possibly know until you had lived here for a while. She can even recommend tax advisers and health insurance providers, should you last in Berlin long enough to worry about such things.
If you are planning on running away to another country, it’s probably best to do your research before you come. If you haven’t, Expath’s seminar is probably invaluable; even if you have, Tia and Stephan offer a friendly voice of reason among all the scary German words and horror stories about unemployment statistics and rising rents. It’s nice to hear someone tell you that “Anmeldebestatigung” only means address registration, and that, no, you won’t get kicked out of Germany if you don’t do it in time, or that there’s another place you didn’t know about to look for jobs. It’s more “Berlin for Beginners” than “integration”, as ultimately, that takes time.
There’s already a wealth of information on the Internet on what to do, how to move and where to go, something you’ll probably know as an überlin reader. I’d already done my research but if I could have paid 20€ to sit back, take notes and listen to useful advice instead, I would have done it as soon as I got here. Tia might not be able to hold your hand while you sit in the Burgeramt for four hours or magically make your visa application get accepted, but she does make everything seem a lot easier than trawling threads on irate message boards or picking through websites would have you believe.
Part of the fun of moving abroad is trying to figure it out for yourself, and if you fancy the challenge, do it. It’s what I did, and it’s what other people have to do. Berlin’s already a big enough place to get used to when you first get here, though, and all Expath want to do is save you a bit of hassle along the way.
Images courtesy of Expath. To find out more about Expath and its services for expats, check out expath.de.