Berlin is the city I keep trying to move to, but something stops me every time. This time I got as far as booking flights, arranging interviews and securing accommodation for my first six weeks when an irresistible opportunity came up which meant that in the end, I’m staying put in London. I’ll talk more about that in another post, but for the meantime I am in Berlin until the end of March enjoying some early Spring weather and working hard on lots of exciting projects.
Of Europe’s cities, people most often compare Berlin to London. Both have a certain vibe, an energy, a feeling of the world in one place, and both Brits and Germans have spent decades moving to one or the other. But for all their similarities, in many ways London and Berlin could not be less alike. In this post, I’ll explore why that is:
Berlin is roughly the same geographical size as London, but has less than half the population. That means that unlike London, Berlin hardly ever feels crowded. The transport system works like a dream, high emissions vehicles are banned, and in 15 years of visiting the city I have hardly ever seen a traffic jam (at least, by London’s standards). If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, Berlin is definitely the place for you.
That said, if it’s interesting, varied and stable work that you are looking for, Berlin’s job market is not a scratch on London’s. Berlin has far higher unemployment rates than the rest of Germany, in part due to its long period of division, but also its lack of any real economic identity. Nowadays start-ups are moving into the German capital fast, but many of these remain underfunded and often fail within a few years. In London you will most likely earn more, pay far less in tax and social security payments, and have a shorter probation period (3 months vs 6 months) than in Berlin.
Cost of living
There is no denying it, London is expensive. For rents you will pay 50% more and get 50% less, the cheapest pint of beer will cost you twice as much as your standard half litre in Berlin, and a monthly pass for the tube (£120/€140) will cost you almost double an Umweltkarte for the U-Bahn (£69/€81). This is largely balanced out by the fact that Berliners earn less and pay more tax than Londoners, but is still something to consider. London is the perfect place for rich people to feel poor, and if you’re relying on savings and freelance income, think Berlin.
Anyone who moves to Berlin will be hit by the mind boggling horror that is the German bureaucratic system. Even just to get a flat you will need to provide proof of income and a German credit report (Schufa). However, for a Schufa you will need a German bank account. To open a German bank account you will need proof that you are registered with the local authorities (Anmeldungsbescheinigung) and to get that, you will need to have an address, where you have the owner’s permission to do that. And of course, in most cases to get that, you go back to needing a Schufa. Bureaucracy is always harder when you’re not from the country, but my experiences of it in the UK are that there is usually far less of it, and in any case people are far more flexible about it.
Both Berlin and London are real cultural capitals and have a wealth of different options in terms of entertainment. London boasts the Southbank Centre with its concert venues, theatres, skateparks and cinemas, as well as world-famous art galleries and hundreds of smaller venues across the city. East London also boasts the highest concentration of artists per square mile in the whole of Europe. Berlin, on the other hand, is famous for its Berlinale Film Festival, and its lower cost of living has been steadily attracting artists from all over the world. Berlin is a city that lives and breathes art and music everywhere you look, perhaps in part due to the more relaxed and steady pace of life. London has the grandeur and the variety, but Berlin has the energy which makes this one very hard to call.
Both cities are a dream come true for anyone interested in languages and other cultures. You hear foreign languages everywhere, both have excellent restaurants and cafés from all over the world, and both cities exude a high degree of tolerance and acceptance towards different cultures. Both cities feel extremely European, but due to liberal immigration policies for much of the 20th Century, London has slightly more of a global feel. In London you will find well-established communities from almost every part of the world, which gives the place a very special atmosphere, matched in my experience only by New York.
Winner: London (just)
So to conclude, having to choose between these two great cities has always left me feeling very conflicted. But for the time being, and for me at least, London just about wins, for now.