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min read

A transferee’s guide to Berlin

Learn where to live, how to play, and more in Germany’s capital city

Greetings! My name is Denis, a Relocity Personal Host in Berlin, Germany, a city of vibrant culture, rich history, and endless possibilities. With a decade of firsthand experience living in this dynamic metropolis, I'm here to guide you through the exciting journey of relocating to Berlin, the capital of Germany. Hailing originally from the charming city of Stuttgart in southern Germany, I bring a unique perspective to your relocation process. After joining the Relocity team in August 2022, I’m thrilled to be part of an organization that’s been assisting transferees moving to Berlin since 2020. In this transferee guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about this captivating city to help ensure a seamless and delightful start to your new adventure in Berlin.

What to know about Berlin’s geography, history, and evolution

Berlin is a fascinating blend of urban life and natural beauty. The city is situated in the northern part of Germany, with a flat landscape that’s characterized by vast forests and numerous lakes. What sets Berlin apart from other places is the presence of a sprawling forest within city limits, which is quite unusual for a metropolis housing approximately 3.7 million people. A plethora of green spaces and lakes provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities, relaxation, and a breath of fresh air amid the bustling city life. Without a doubt, Berlin is a true gem for nature enthusiasts and urban explorers alike. 

Beginning as a modest town primarily inhabited by hunters, fishermen, and merchants, Berlin's history dates back to 1237 AD. Over the subsequent centuries, Berlin's population remained relatively independent until the end of the 15th century, when the city became the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg. At this pivotal moment in history, Berlin became a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire, playing a central role in the annals of Germany and Central Europe.

The 17th century marked a period of recovery for Berlin, setting the stage for prosperity during the 18th century, when the city evolved into one of Europe's most beautiful capitals. However, the 19th century witnessed political tension that led to two hostile alliances, ultimately contributing to the outbreak of World War I. Years later, following the devastation of World War II, Germany had a unique opportunity to rebuild Berlin. However, Cold War tension in 1949 resulted in the city being split into two sides: West Germany and East Germany. The capital of West Germany transferred from Berlin to Bonn, while East Berlin remained the capital of East Germany.

The most iconic symbol of Berlin's division was the Berlin Wall, erected by East Germany in 1961. This formidable structure physically and ideologically divided the city until its historic fall on November 9, 1989, a momentous event that led to the reunification of Germany in 1990. Berlin's 1990 rebirth as the capital of a united Germany marked the beginning of its recent growth and transformation.

Despite Berlin’s reunification, the city’s western and eastern regions maintain stark differences. A mere 30-minute train ride from one side of the city to the other can transport you to a completely different environment, distinguished by architectural styles and urban layouts. The narrow streets of the West contrast with the wide boulevards of the former East, serving as a visual reminder of the city's history.

Moreover, Berlin has transformed into a bustling business and innovation hub with the advent of the internet. This shift allowed the city to thrive as a hotspot for digital projects and creative endeavors. Today, Berlin is not only Germany's largest city, but also a vibrant, dynamic, and forward-thinking metropolis that continues to look toward the future.

Berlin stands as Germany's largest city, offering a diverse and multicultural atmosphere. As you embark on your journey to this remarkable city, you'll discover that Berlin's history and recent evolution create a culture where tradition and modernity coexist in harmony.

Where to live, based on your lifestyle

To get to this screen, navigate to the “Explore” tab in the Relocity app, select “Explore Rentals” on the top of the map, then choose your preferred district to start browsing available apartments.

Berlin, often dubbed the creative and entrepreneurial hub of Europe, has a diverse business landscape with three thriving business hubs in the Downtown area. Fueled by a multitude of industries, Berlin’s economic engine offers ample opportunities for professionals from various backgrounds from automotive and construction to life sciences, information technology, fashion, and the arts. Berlin's dynamic tech startup scene is also continually innovating and driving forward-looking projects.

As a Relocity Personal Host, my goal is to place you as close to your workplace as possible, while also considering the needs of your family, especially when it comes to education. It’s worth noting that the central areas of Berlin offer better school systems than the suburbs.

Choosing the right neighborhood is a crucial aspect of your relocation. For single professionals and couples, the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are vibrant options with lively nightlife scenes. Parts of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte also offer bustling bars that stay open well past 2:00 AM.

If you're a nature enthusiast, areas near the AB zone and Halensee near Charlottenburg offer proximity to forests and excellent air quality. However, if budget considerations come into play, family-friendly Schöneberg provides a more affordable alternative.

Overall, Berlin's real estate market has seen significant changes — including higher prices and less inventory — in the past couple of years. In fact, the city became the most sought-after housing market in Germany (besides Munich) after Brexit because Berlin became a more attractive destination due to its relatively lower barriers to entry for entrepreneurship and relocation.

A couple of other things you should know about home-finding in Berlin:

• Collaboration with a housing agency is necessary in this competitive environment. Identifying housing options before they hit the broader market is the best way to secure a place that suits your needs. I work with a wide portfolio of housing agencies to support my transferees who are leveraging Relocity Concierge.
• Germany has short-term and long-term leasing systems. It's advisable not to choose a short-term lease of less than three months due to credit check requirements, including three payslips from a German company. Long-term leases offer stability for extended stays.

Ultimately, my goal is to set realistic expectations and ensure that you find a home that suits your budget and preferences, while providing a comfortable and enjoyable living experience. This city’s dynamic business landscape and diverse neighborhoods are waiting to welcome you, offering countless opportunities and a vibrant lifestyle that's uniquely Berlin.

How to get around the city

Most of my transferees prefer short commutes of 45 minutes or less, which is absolutely achievable thanks to Berlin’s infrastructure. The city’s public transportation system is renowned for its efficiency and accessibility. 

The first thing to know is the city is divided into three fare zones: AB, BC, and ABC. The AB zone covers the urban center of Berlin, extending up to the city limits. This zone is primarily served by the underground subway, offering train service in two-minute intervals throughout the day. Commute times within the AB zone typically range from 20-25 minutes.

If you enter the C zone, you’ll be using the above-ground train. Commuting from the C zone to the city center takes approximately 35-50 minutes. For transferees who live in the suburbs beyond the C zone, commutes of one hour or more are not uncommon.

Germans have a reputation for having four to five cars each (depending on family size and income, of course) — a car for weekdays, a car for Sundays, a car for getting out of the city, and so on. Despite this deep-rooted love for cars, the reality of traffic congestion points to public transportation and biking as the most efficient ways to get around. For daily commuting, Berliners opt for a combination of public transit and bicycles. 

When the weather permits, biking within the metro zone is extremely common. In fact, Berlin is actively expanding its biking infrastructure, converting former train tracks into dedicated bike highways separate from the main streets. These efforts aim to promote cycling as a sustainable means of transportation and reduce reliance on cars.

Additionally, Berlin offers car sharing services that allow you to access various types of vehicles and pay per kilometer. Car sharing provides flexibility and convenience, allowing you to pick up a vehicle wherever you are and drop it off once you reach your destination.

If you do own a vehicle in Berlin and live in the AB zone, you must obtain a residential parking permit from your town hall to ensure convenient and legal parking. (The C zone has free parking.) 

In summary, Berlin's efficient public transportation system, coupled with the growing popularity of cycling, makes navigating the city a breeze — without owning a personal vehicle. While cars are valuable for trips outside of the city, public transit, bicycles, and car-sharing services are the most practical and eco-conscious ways to tackle your daily commute within this dynamic metropolis.

Where to work remotely, savor lunch, and unwind with colleagues

If you’re looking to work remotely away from home, I recommend WeWork, a renowned coworking space offering daily and monthly rates. When it’s time to break for lunch, you’ll appreciate Berlin's culinary scene, which reflects the city’s diverse population; enjoy foods from Germany, Vietnam, Israel, Turkey, China, and many more varieties, along with vegan and vegetarian options, and more. Here are some of my favorite lunch spots:

Orientalisch, a go-to breakfast spot.• Kantstraße, where you'll find a wide array of Asian dining options.• Markthalle Neun, a popular spot for locals and tourists to buy international food and shop. The market also hosts occasional community events.• Ming Dynastie for authentic and spicy Chinese cuisine.• NENI Berlin, a modern, light-filled restaurant with unpretentious but indulgent Mediterranean style food. • Dong Xuan Center, a 24/7 culinary haven in Lichtenberg offering Chinese and Vietnamese delights.• Mutter, which offers an authentic Thai kitchen experience.• Ständige Vertretung for traditional, reasonably priced German fare. Angela Merkel, Germany’s former president, is a regular here.• Thomas-Eck Berlino for favorite German dishes.

After a productive day or week at work, unwind and socialize with colleagues. While happy hours are more common in tourist-centric areas, you'll often find residents gathering at local corner bars. At a corner bar, you can enjoy a glass of wine or a local beer while cheering for your favorite sports team. Alternatively, some companies organize weekend kayaking trips, allowing you to explore Berlin's beautiful waterways while enjoying quality time with colleagues. 

In Berlin, your options for dining and leisure activities are as diverse as the city itself. Whether you're looking for delectable international cuisine or memorable after-work experiences, Berlin has a wealth of opportunities waiting to be discovered.

Culture and what to do as a Berliner

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Berlin is famous for its politics, music, and unique cultural identity reflective of the past and present. The city's political sector stands at the heart of Germany, symbolizing unity and democracy.

Berlin's culture is often described as a captivating melting pot, with approximately 170 different nationalities calling the city home. This diversity — offering a unique blend of traditions, languages, and flavors — makes Berlin a special location in Germany.

Because Berlin has Christian roots, almost everything closes on Sundays for Sabbath, giving the city a serene and reflective atmosphere on this day each week. However, Berlin also has spätis (which translates to "late shops" in English) open 24/7.

When it comes to music, Berlin reigns supreme in the world of electronic music. DJs and musicians from every corner of the globe flock to Berlin to showcase their talents. The city's vibrant nightlife and clubs — including Club der Visionäre, Berghain, and Wilde Renate — are legendary, earning Berlin a place on the global music map.

Art enthusiasts will appreciate the vernissages on Auguststraße, which showcase the works of new and emerging artists. Exploring an art district is a great opportunity to learn about Berlin's creative environment and even enjoy mingling with coworkers on an outing together.

Living in Germany, and particularly in Berlin, offers many advantages. Germany maintains an excellent public healthcare system that provides residents with access to top-notch medical care. Berlin, specifically, shines as an international city, celebrated for its diversity and inclusivity. Berlin’s education system is renowned for its excellent quality, with prestigious colleges and universities attracting the best teachers and professors. 

One of the most exciting aspects of living in Berlin is the endless array of activities and experiences that await you. Whether you're into arts and culture, sports, or simply enjoying the outdoors, Berlin has a community waiting for you. Here are some of the best things to do in the city:

• Take a leisurely stroll. A casual walk is an excellent way to get acquainted with Berlin’s vibrant spirit. 
• Take advantage of the city's outdoor spaces year-round.
Barbecue, picnic, kayak, and swim in the lakes.
• Check out the
government district if you’re interested in history and politics. Berlin's political sector, including the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate, are must-visits. 
• Explore the thriving culinary scene.
Restaurants, bars, and foodstands representing a wealth of international cuisines await!
• Enjoy a night out on the city's nightlife scene.
Try legendary clubs and cultural events that suit every taste. 
• Go to a sporting event.
Cheer on Berlin’s highly ranked ALBA BERLIN basketball team, catch a competitive FC Union or Hertha BSC soccer game, and watch an Eisbären Berlin ice hockey game at Mercedes-Benz-Arena.  
• Go to the
E-Prix. Berlin’s electric car scene is getting bigger and bigger, and this race proves it!
• Shop at
Kaufhaus des Westens and Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg. While Kaufhaus des Westens is a luxurious department store, Kurfürstendamm is Berlin’s most famous and popular shopping boulevard, located in the heart of the western city center. 
• Visit the theater. In the
Deutsches Theater (“German Theater” in English), contemporary productions and a powerful ensemble bring the three stages to life, while the program at the Berliner Ensemble includes current material by living authors such as Sibylle Berg and Alice Birch.
• Follow
Berlin Fashion Week. Twice a year, fashion designers take center stage to showcase their latest designs among today’s trends.
• Embrace Sunday’s flea market tradition.
Each Sunday, enjoy the flea market in each district. I recommend visiting the Mahwah Park flea market first! It’s located in the northern part of the city and is extremely big.
• Go to the
Nationalgalerie (near Potsdamer Platz). This group of six museum buildings offers an immersive experience with an array of captivating art.
• Visit the
Museum für Naturkunde – Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science if you have kids. Offering interactive and educational experiences, this museum is a top spot for children.

As you can see, Berlin is a city that invites you to explore, discover, and embrace its diverse and dynamic spirit.

Why diversity and innovation make Berlin so special

In conclusion, Berlin is a city of remarkable contrasts and endless possibilities. From its iconic political center to its pulsating electronic music scene, this metropolis is a captivating tapestry of culture and diversity. Characterized by multiculturalism and constant innovation, Berlin is a global melting pot and a playground for people seeking fresh ideas. Living in Berlin is not just an experience; it's an adventure in a city that continuously evolves and inspires. Welcome to Berlin, where the extraordinary awaits at every turn. I’m extremely excited to help you make this amazing city your home!

Check out our latest articles below or request a demo if you want to see how Relocity can help your talent thrive in Berlin – or your other key locations.

Denis Dubb

Personal Host

As a German native with a broad network, Denis knows most parts of the country. He made Berlin his home after falling in love with the city almost a decade ago.