Rachel Bale is an Australian expat living and working in Berlin, Germany. She moved from Melbourne, Australia, because her boyfriend accepted a design position at Volkswagen and after a little time off to herself, took a job as a secondary school English teacher at an International School in Berlin. You might recognise her from her own blog, The Department of Wandering, which documents her explorations whilst living in Europe. I’m delighted to introduce her as the newest member of The WOW Team, and cannot wait for her to share her insightful knowledge as…
the WOW Expat Blogger.
Life as an Expat in Berlin
What is it like being an Expat in a foreign country where English is not their first language?
It can be challenging, but it really does force you out of your comfort zone to really make the effort to learn the local language. While my level of German is still fairly limited, I do try and use it as much as I can in everyday situations. I don’t think you can have a real, authentic experience as an expat if you don’t even try to speak the language.
Why is Berlin so great for expats?
Berlin is really international and has a thriving expat community. The cost of living in Berlin is remarkably lower than in other Western European cities, which means that your Euro goes a whole lot further. Another positive for expats is that the vast majority of Germans in Berlin speak English which definitely comes in handy for those whose German isn’t quite up to scratch. Finally, Berlin is fun! There is always something fun to do every night of the week, all across the city.
What are some cons to being an expat?
Being an expat definitely comes with its challenges. Not speaking the language fluently is probably the thing that causes the most difficulties in daily life. It’s also hard being away from loved ones and making new friends as an expat can be challenging at first. Adapting to the new culture can also take longer than expected.
Do the cons outweigh the pros or vice versa?
The pros of being an expat definitely outweigh the cons!
To start with, the travel opportunities that are available to those living in Europe are just incredible. I try to jet off to another country for the weekend at least once per month – it’s that cheap and easy to get away. Last month we flew to Copenhagen for only 25 Euros! Besides travelling, it’s great to live in a place that is so vibrant and interesting. I’m always conscious to not ‘waste’ my weekends – there’s so much exploring to do!
How is living in Germany different to living in Australia?
Life in Germany is quite different to life back in Australia. In Europe, I find that a much greater importance is placed on enjoying life rather than squirreling away to save for a deposit on a house and then drowning in a pool of debt for the next twenty years. I also find that Europeans have a much healthier work-life balance than Australians, who can get caught up in the daily grind. The efficient and extensive public transport system in Germany also means that I don’t have to rely on a car to get around like I did in Australia. Living in Europe also made me realise how consumer-based and materialistic Australian society is, which I definitely don’t miss! What I do miss about Australia is the beautiful weather, the wide-open spaces and the quality of the produce, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
B E R L I N
How would you describe Berlin in a few words?
Gritty, lively and historical.
How would you describe Berliners?
Berliners are gruff, direct and impatient. Behind the rough exterior though, they can be sociable and friendly; it just takes them a while to warm up!
Where are your favourite places to eat in Berlin?
Roamers (Neukölln): The best place for brunch in Berlin complemented by top-notch coffee. I order the french toast every single time.
Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle Neun (Kreuzberg): Berlin has more to offer than sausage and schnitzel. Every Thursday evening, the big Market hall in Kreuzberg turns into an enormous global street food festival, where you can sample everything ranging from Mexican tacos to American BBQ to Egyptian koshary.
Cocolo Ramen (Mitte and Kreuzberg): This authentic Japanese eatery serves up the best Ramen in town.
Shiso Burger (Mitte): This burger joint offers cheap, fresh burgers. I always order the chilli lemon burger, sweet potato fries and edamame beans.
W-Der Imbiss (Mitte): This is my go-to spot when I need a nourishing meal. This place has loads of personality and serves vegetarian and vegan fare but also does the most delicious tandoori salmon in Berlin. Don’t go past the fish tacos!
What are your three favourite neighbourhoods?
In Berlin, every neighbourhood has a personality of it’s own with each one being vastly different from the next. My favourites would have to be Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg.
Where are your favourite bars?
Luzia (Kreuzberg): This well-known, lively bar has a great vibe and gets pretty busy as the night wears on. It’s the perfect place for a few drinks before moving on to a club.
John Muir (Kreuzberg): This is my favourite cocktail bar in the city. The bartenders have got their cocktails down to a fine art here. My current favourite is the ‘Smokey Mezcalita’: mezcal gusano rojo, habañero infused agave nectar, pineapple juice, fresh lemon and brûléed pineapple. Divine!
Bar Brut (Mitte): The perfect place for a relaxed glass of wine with friends in a central location.
Weinerei (Prenzlauer Berg): Not only is there a huge variety of delicious wines on offer at Weinerei, but another thing I love about this bar is the ‘pay what you think’ system. After sampling a number of wines throughout the evening, you simply leave what you think the experience and drinks were worth.
What neighbourhood would you suggest visitors stay in?
I recommend that visitors base themselves in either Kreuzberg or Neukölln and away from touristy Mitte (the central district). These neighbourhoods have a large Turkish population which means that the food here is delicious. You’ll also find lots of street art and cool bars.
What is the best time of year to visit Berlin?
Summer! Berlin comes alive during the short summer months and Berliners are eager to make the very most of the season. Sand is spread along the banks of the Spree, the parks are packed full of sunbathers and the streets are alive. It’s also much nicer to go sightseeing when the weather is nice! All of Berlin’s seasons are beautiful in their own way though and I love witnessing the changes.
What has been your favourite memory so far?
One of my favourite memories of my time in Berlin so far has been last NYE when my best friends from Australia flew over to celebrate. We spent the night letting off fireworks on a friend’s rooftop and had a 360-degree view of the city bursting with colour. It will be a night I’ll never forget!
If you were to live anywhere else right now, where would it be?
Shivering through the interminable Berlin winter always makes me dream of moving somewhere tropical next. I’ve heard that Costa Rica is nice this time of year!
Rachel will be joining the WOW Team as the Expat Blogger this year. She will be sharing her expert expat tips weekly as well as sharing her adventures around Europe!