Workshop: How to Become a Freelancer in Berlin

by James Glazebrook

How to become a freelance in Berlin

“How to Become a Freelancer in Berlin” is now new and improved! Based on the feedback from our popular workshop, we’ve added in tons more useful information, and allowed more time for your all-important questions.  Because of this, the workshop will now last an extra hour and cost a few Euro more to attend. Given that you’ll learn pretty much everything you need to launch your freelance career, it’s still a bargain!

Since moving to Berlin, we’ve learned the hard way how to set ourselves up as freelancers in Germany. Every time we tried to decipher another letter written in Deutsch officialese, navigate the corridors of one more Amt, or (shudder!) do our taxes, we wished there was someone to explain what we should be doing, and why. That’s why we’re really excited to announce this all-important überlin workshop, in conjunction with the experts at ExpathHow to Become a Freelancer in Berlin.

This is the workshop for you if you’re thinking of going freelance, or if you already have and don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Maybe you’ve moved to Berlin from outside of Germany, and want to know how the country’s laws affect you. Or perhaps you’re working cash-in-hand and want to “get official”, lest you get locked up or deported or something (just kidding!). Or maybe you’re just wondering: do I really need all this insurance?

Join our workshop to get an expert’s answers to questions like these:

  • What kind of health insurance do I need?
  • What other insurances are a good idea?
  • How do I get a tax number and invoice clients?
  • How do income taxes work?
  • What is VAT and do I need to charge it? Are there other taxes I need to know about?
  • What is the difference between freelancing, self-employed and being a Gewerbe?
  • What are the special German laws regarding marketing, advertising, your website etc?

How to Become a Freelancer in Berlin takes place on Saturday, from 2 – 6pm in our beautiful coworking space. It will be in held *in English* and costs €35 (plus VAT) to attend. Sign up for our upcoming workshops:

Saturday 14th November @ 2pm.

Happy freelancing!

Learn German with our favourite Berlin language school Expath

by James Glazebrook

Expath logo

We know it’s hard to learn German in Berlin. Ours is a city so international that some expats actually ask themselves (and us!) whether it’s worth learning German at all, and the business ventures they start can spark fierce debate when they are criticised for not adequately catering for Germans in their mother tongue. Of course, if you’re only in Berlin to party your summer away, you won’t experience much pressure to speak German and, given most locals’ readiness to speak English to you, you won’t be given much opportunity to.

But if, like us, you plan to be here long term, and you want to be able to communicate with the locals and learn more about them, their culture and their city, you need to learn German. Most jobs outside of the ultra-competitive startup scene call for at least basic German skills, as do meetings at any government building and phone calls to your landlord. The only way to truly integrate into Berlin life is to learn German and, we’ve found, the best way to get a solid foundation in German is with structured classroom learning.

Expath classroom

That’s why we’re happy we discovered Expath. They have been on our radar ever since they wrote some articles for überlin helping expats to look for jobs and accommodation in Berlin, and generally find their feet here – all services that they provide regularly on an individual or group basis. So when we were ready to commit again to learning German – after an extended break from our mixed approach of underwhelming classroom courses, expensive private tuition and pot luck tandem learning – we gave Expath a go.

Expath water coolerWe were happy we did, as Expath’s language courses are the best we’ve experienced. The classes are small (with an average of eight students), conversational, student-centred and taught by the liveliest, loveliest teachers we’ve ever had. We’re quickly picking up the grammar grounding and relevant vocabulary we need to be able to talk about the stuff that matters to us, and, at the same time, meeting like-minded and motivated students we can practice on. Another bonus is Expath’s location – in the Wye complex on Skalitzer Strasse, which is only ten minutes’ bike ride away from us, and convenient for anyone living in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain or Neukölln… you know, where all the expats live!

So whether you’re an absolute beginner, or an accomplished German speaker looking to polish your skills, why not join us on one of Expath’s language courses?

How to find a job in Berlin

by Guest Blogger

So you’ve fallen head over heels with the threadbare charm of Berlin and want to move here faster than you can say “Hartz IV”. But while the German capital might traditionally be the home of drifters, dreamers and dropouts, unless you’re burning through your trust fund, or are planning on a career as a punk at Kotbusser Tor, those bills still have to be paid.

While “real” jobs can seem to be thin on the ground in the Berlin, armed with the right preparation and information, you can snag yourself a position you might actually not hate.

Here Tia Robinson from Expath.de – a startup helping expats find their feet in Berlin – shares the best way of finding gainful employment in Berlin.

There are two main challenges you’ll face when looking for a job, which are much the same the world over: finding the right position and actually securing the position once you’ve applied.

Sites with Berlin-specific job listings such as The Local, Berlin Startup Jobs, Berlin Xpat Jobs and VentureVillage are full of interesting openings in international, creative surroundings and are a great way to start your search. However, to go from reading job ads to signing a job contract, you’ll also want to ask yourself the following…

Where are you?

Many companies prefer candidates to have a German address and contact information – that shows HR managers that working in Germany isn’t just a whim and that you’re serious about relocating.

Being in Berlin also makes it easier to approach companies in person, attend interviews (and start working) at short notice, as well as build up your professional network. If you’re not already living in Berlin but want to be, why not save up money to come for a few months and search for jobs on the ground?

Who are you talking to?

Applying for jobs online is only half the battle of effective job-hunting. Many Germans use “Vitamin B” (B for “Beziehung”, or relationship) to help them get a foot in the door. You can get your own dose of Vitamin B by building up your own network of professional and personal contacts who can keep an ear out for job openings and possibilities.

Meet “your people” by attending lots of events – not just events for your industry, but also gallery openings, international language events, street festivals, flea markets, etc… Good places to find international events include Spätschicht, MeetUp, Art Connect, The Wye – the list goes on. You’ll meet fascinating people from a wide variety of countries, companies and professional backgrounds. You may even make some friends in the process.

In Berlin you’ll hear English (or Spanish or French, etc) on a daily basis. Take every opportunity to try to talk to interesting strangers – in the train, in a café, in line at the supermarket. Make sure you’ve got a business card with your name and contact information, ask for their contact information – and be sure to follow up.

berlin_02.06.2010_6859 by Patrick Lauke under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

berlin_02.06.2010_6859 by Patrick Lauke under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How to present yourself to companies

We’ve interviewed several German HR managers working in international companies about typical mistakes non-German applicants make. Their answers may surprise you.

Firstly, all our HR managers agreed that it’s absolutely no problem to have an English CV and covering letter. While this may not be the case for older, more traditional German companies, many international companies, especially startups, care more about the quality of your work than what your native language is.

Many companies use English as their internal working language. However, even if the internal company language is German, our HR managers said that a B1 German level would be acceptable at first so long as you don’t have to pitch to clients or deal with customer service.

Our HR managers also confirm that you should put your date of birth, place of birth, and a photo on your CV with the caveat that no photo is better than a bad photo. What’s a bad photo? Germans typically have professional “Bewerbungsfotos” taken at a studio (for about €20) but if you don’t like that option, just make sure the photo is a clear headshot of you dressed professionally and smiling (or at least looking friendly).

One HR tip we especially love that goes for how to dress in both the CV photo and interview: look at the photos on the website of the company’s founders and match their style and formality.

The covering letter is an extremely important part of applying for work, and should not be generic but tailored to the particular position and company, and addressed to a specific contact person whenever possible. Your letter needs to state precisely why you’re so excited about the company and what makes you special or distinguishes you from other candidates.

Germans often submit an “Initiativbewerbung” (unsolicited application) to companies they are interested in, even if no current openings are posted – feel free to do this too, following the rules above and making sure to say which department or role you would want to interview for.

And no matter what language your CV and cover letter are in, PROOFREAD carefully.

A Job for Life by Sky. under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Job for Life by Sky. under licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Are you using every available resource?

The governmental job agency (Agentur für Arbeit) provides free job-seeking services to EU and non-EU citizens alike. Which services you can access depends on your nationality and visa status, but anyone can register for the online Jobbörse (jobs search engine). If you’d like to go in person, it’s a good idea to take a friend who speaks German or book a translator such as Red Tape Translation to go with you.

Create a great profile on both LinkedIn and Xing, and get previous employers and colleagues to endorse you and write full recommendations. Think about setting up a simple website showing examples of your work, or if that’s too time-consuming try an about.me page or similar as a digital alternative or supplement to your CV.

You can also register at a temp agency (“Zeitarbeit”) or recruitment agency (“Personalagentur”) where they’ll do some of the work for you. Manpower, Randstadt and Robert Half are popular international choices, among many others.


Don’t take it too personally

A rejection – or simply not being called back – is not the end of the world. As with everything in Berlin, the successful expats don’t take it personally or become cynical. Determination and patience in the face of adversity, always being proactive and planning carefully are the keys to success. Thousands of others have done it – you can, too… Happy hunting.

This post was originally published on Venture Village.

Ask überlin: How can I find an apartment in Berlin?

by Guest Blogger

The latest installment in our ask überlin series was written by Stephan Brenner of Expath – a company that helps expats get established in Berlin – and illustrated by Josh Bauman of Caffeinated Toothpaste fame.

Can anyone recommend a shipping company that caused you medium-to-low trauma (from London to Berlin)?

I’d be interested to find out what anybody knows about the rough prices or best services for shipping things here from abroad? (London to Berlin, especially!)

If you’re anything like me, you have a mom in California who is just itching to sell or (gasp!) donate your boxes of assorted trinkets and angsty teenage poetry, so she can use her garage for car-related matters again. But what can pack rats like us do? Shipping is, by all accounts, very expensive (especially since the US Postal Service got rid of international surface mail in 2007). Here are several realistic suggestions  – and an obnoxious one.

The first option, for those arriving from very faraway places, is to simply bring it along on the plane. Two suitcases, a stuffed carry-on bag, multiple seasonally inappropriate layers of clothing on your person and voilà! In addition, depending on the airline, paying for extra baggage may not be a comparatively bad option, and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (see Fare Compare’s Worldwide Baggage Fee Chart).

Similarly, when coming from European destinations, using a car filled with one’s precious belongings is a popular option. If you can’t drive, negotiating with rideshares to transport your luggage along with yourself for the price of one or two additional passengers is also a possibility (see Mitfahr Gelegenheit and, specifically for rideshares from London to Germany, the Deutsche in London forum).

For smaller parcels containing important  items (i.e. things you may want to track or insure), and for very quick international shipping, the standard UPS, DHL, FedEX and local post office would be secure options and they usually help take care of customs, but they’re not cheap. With the not-so-standard delivery companies, one would be well-advised to first check online for other people’s experiences. For a comparison tailored to your unique situation, try Shiply.

Handle with Care by Josh Bauman

Also consider local moving companies and international freight forwarders (with shared containers) like UPakWeShip and EuroUSA. This is the slowest option and you absolutely must pay attention to customs regulations (especially for new items) and where your shipment can be picked up. For more information, have a look at the forums on ToyTown Germany dealing with this topic.

Taking a load with you whenever you return to Berlin from a visit home, and having friends and family bring along items when they visit is a great way to increase your cheap-suitcase collection.

The last, and most obnoxious, advice is for you to simply come to terms with the realization that you don’t actually need all those things. Two suitcases are more than enough for the transition, and almost anything else can be found quite cheaply here in Berlin.

What are your thoughts on renting houses as opposed to apartments? Is it easy to get garden flats? Do you know of any areas where it might be easier to find them or a house? Or as soon as you hit areas which have houses does it suddenly turn boring?!

In which area should I stay when I visit? Where should I live when I move here?

I am really curious to how much an apartment costs. And like any city there is certainly a range, but if you could shed some experiential advice about monthly rent, good areas for english speakers, bad neighborhoods for english speakers, and anything you think might be useful on the topic of a room.

Berlin real estate is currently a contentious topic, as it is becoming more challenging to find and obtain the perfect set-up – at first glance. Price, size and location are factors that, when varied even slightly, can lead to very different and potentially interesting results. Getting what you want takes time, a strong spirit and the willingness to compromise (at least in the beginning).

Cozy by Josh Bauman

The all-important questions here are whether to rent temporarily or long-term, and whether to live in a shared apartment (“Wohngemeinschaft”, or simply “WG”) or alone. Temporary arrangements are sometimes significantly more expensive, but not a bad place to start – especially since there’s less hassle and bureaucracy involved (try Craigslist). This gives you an address to register and some breathing room to get a lay of the land. Shared flats are also not very bureaucratic, but there are interviews! Your potential flatmates will only accept the candidate with their idea of the perfect personality. Listings can be found at WG-Gesucht and Studenten-WG. For those craving independence, privacy and a longer commitment, who can spare some time for the process and are willing to diligently prepare and deal with setbacks, renting one’s own apartment is the way to go.

When looking for an apartment, as Patrick Wilken points out in his excellent response to the original query, a good price in Berlin is roughly €10 per square meter “warm” (i.e. including costs like heating). In other words, a monthly rent of €500 for a 50sqm apartment is generally not a rip-off and would be considered a bargain in the more desirable areas.

Very roughly speaking, the two Eastern quadrants within the S-Bahn ring are the most sought-after areas by expats. Apartments here are among the most challenging to find and obtain because demand exceeds supply. However, looking just outside of these areas, a difference of mere minutes with Berlin’s magnificent public transport, may yield excellent value for money, especially in terms of space – and much less of a fight to actually end up signing a contract. The downside here is that the buildings and neighborhoods may not be as pretty or lively. As Patrick mentions, Wedding is very up-and-coming and Moabit is still underrated. Our advice is: to go and explore the different areas yourself. You may just be pleasantly surprised, and if you happen to get a bad vibe, then skip it. To find rental apartments or houses (usually in quieter neighborhoods and on the outskirts of the city) check out Immobilienscout24 , Immowelt and Immonet for listings. As with much else, having a network of friends in the city will expose you more directly to available rooms and flats before they’re on the market.

Garden Flat by Josh Bauman

The best advice to actually GET the flat of your dreams is to have all the standard documents prepared before the viewing (!) – which may take more than a week. Have the following in both paper and digital format: a copy of your photo ID (for non-EU: also your residence permit), income statements from the last three months (“Einkommensnachweis”), a letter from your previous landlord confirming that you don’t owe rent (“Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung”), your “Schufa” credit report , a neatly filled-out application form (which you receive at the viewing) and a nicely written (ideally in German) text for the body of your email. For EU citizens, a letter guaranteeing that someone, e.g. a parent, can cover the costs in case you can’t (“Bürgschaft”) may also be possible in lieu of the income statements. Decisions on whose application actually gets processed are based on the completeness and timeliness of the application, which of the applicants is most likely (able) to pay the rent and, all other things being equal, a good impression in person and in writing. An excellent way to ensure that your application makes it to the top of the pile is offering to pay six months’ or even a year’s rent in advance, especially when lacking the income statements.

Sincere thanks to Berlin real estate agents Aljona Brysch and Michael Rost for their insight and help researching this information.

Help a Berliner out. Do you have any top tips for finding rental properties in Berlin, or making moving here easier?

Expath: Helping you get started in Berlin

by Guest Blogger

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.

expath logo

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.

expath Wye complex

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.

expath flow diagram

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.