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Who’s writing: Cheryl Howard from cherylhoward.com is a real Super Hero: an Agile Coach by day and a Travel Blogger by night, the Canadian girl talks about moving from her hometown in Canada to one of the most exciting and fastest moving cities in the world – Berlin! Till now Cheryl has visited 38 countries and she is not finished with traveling any time soon…huh, really exciting! Today she is giving us her ultimate expat Berlin Guide.

There was a time in my life when I never would have thought of leaving Toronto. I loved my hometown (and still do), but there was something big missing, but it took a loooong time to figure out what it was.

On the surface, it seemed like I had everything going for me. I owned my own home, had a decent job, attended university part-time, played sports a lot, traveled often, and frequently attended cool events and parties. But underneath it all, I was a deeply unhappy person for reasons too sad to tell here.

At some point, I was laid off from my job, which happened to be right around when I sold my house. Being in a solid financial position for the first time ever in my life, I decided to take a sabbatical and ended up not working for the better part of two years. Best therapy ever! During this time, I started traveling, fell in love with Europe, and decided to make the move to Berlin.

When looking for places to live, Germany was the obvious choice, as the strong economy offered the best chance at finding work and its central location made it a good base for traveling around Europe. Somehow I ended up choosing Berlin (I almost moved to Munich!), which is a decision I never regretted. I know a million people feel this way, but Berlin is just “me” and where I feel most at home.

Blogger of the month - Interview with Cheryl Howard

 

 

By the way: We had a reaaally nice talk with Cheryl Howard in our category Blogger of the month! See the whole interview with the Berlin expat. 

When I struggled with the “Berliner Schnauze”…

Canadians are way more friendly than Germans. Not that German people are unfriendly (although that notorious Berliner Schnauze can really get you at times) – it’s more that they are not as chatty as Canadians. Whenever I visit home, I immediately feel the difference. Everyone says sorry and asks how you are. Even though I’ve spent the majority of my life in Canada, the friendliness back home almost feels weird now.

Some other differences? Germans, as with most other Europeans, take their holidays seriously. Coming from a country where you only get 2-3 weeks of vacation per year to a country where you get 5-6 weeks per year is a game changer. Last year, I couldn’t figure out how to use up all of my holidays! I also love that produce in Germany is only available seasonally.

… and some other cultural differences

It was more difficult than I thought it would be and it takes a lot of time to find out what they are and how to deal with them. It could be anything from nudity at the German sauna (hard for a person who grew up in a conservative, Christian household), to not being big on small talk, to how the doctor treats you during an exam.

While things may be shocking at first, ask questions, try to understand, be patient, and not treat certain situations as the worst thing in the world. You need to realize that you’re in a new country, things are different, and figure it out from there. Don’t expect that things have to be done your way. Have fun with it if you can and go with the flow.

Sometimes they ask “Hey Cheryl, did you find it easy to connect to Germans?”. Yes! Working with Germans and meeting others in local cafés or bars over the years made connecting with locals pretty easy. Somehow I’ve an uncanny knack for making new friends, even though many people told me that Germans were an unfriendly bunch and hard to get to know. I didn’t find that to be the case at all and I’m happy to call many German people my close friends.

Read my article about how to make friends in Berlin.

Even though I’m getting better in understanding all the cultural differences one thing is still shocking for me sometimes: people drink so openly in public! This would never happen back in Canada! No matter the time of day, it’s not uncommon to see someone slinging back a beer on public transit.

Berlin. There and back. And there again!

Expat Berlin Guide by Cheryl Howard
Source: instagram.com/cherylhowardblog/

I first moved to Berlin in 2011 and left a short 18 months later. Leaving broke my heart and I did everything I could to return, but luckily I finally moved back two years later. While there was no particular “aha” moment, I fell into my old/new life with such ease, it was as if I never left. The happiness was so overwhelming at times that it was hard not to be in a constant emotional state. Although saying goodbye to Toronto for a second time was hard, my move back to Berlin just reinforced that I’d made the right decision.

And Berlin has taught me a lot. It’s such a diverse and open city. While far from perfect, it’s the place where I can be my best self. It’s not an easy place to live, so if you can make something of yourself here, it’s a huge accomplishment.

It’s taken me a long time to get where I am now, as there were a lot of struggles along the way. These days though, there isn’t much I can complain about. I love my jobs (I work as an Agile Coach by day and a travel blogger by night), I have a good group of friends, and I get to travel around Europe a lot. Soon, I’m even going to be a permanent resident here!

One way that Berlin influenced me? My entire wardrobe consists of mostly black clothing. I rarely wear color and look like I’m going to bust into the Berghain at any second.

What happens after the Berlin-Honeymoon phase

First off, I just want to say that I love Berlin. But no place is perfect and there’s a number of realities you must come to terms with after being here for a while.

As I’ve been here for about six years (not counting my break), the honeymoon phase is long over so I’ve come to love complaining as much as all the locals do. Some minor frustrations include the unreliable public transit, rising rents, and dealing with any kind of bureaucracy.

My TOP 3 horror situations in Berlin:

  • Navigating the bureaucracy – like how to register my address or open a new bank account.
  • The language barrier – no matter what anyone tells you, you need to know German if you live here.
  • Working in the ever-tumultuous startup scene and having to change jobs multiple times in three years. Each new job meant applying for a new visa and it was always a stressful ordeal.

My TOP expat Berlin Tips for newbies and wannabes

Berlin newbies should enjoy all the city has to offer – the arts and culture, the endless offerings of food from around the world, the epic nightlife scene, and nature whether it’s soaking under the sun in a park or swimming in one of the many beautiful lakes.

Avoid only making friends with other internationals and go out of your way to befriend Germans. Avoid only speaking English. Don’t pretend to know Berlin and tell other people what Berlin is like when you’ve only been here for a few months. I’ve had some newbies scoff when they find out I live in Lichtenberg, instead of Prenzlauer Berg or Kreuzberg for example. I find it tough to accept such judgment when they have not been here that long. Little do they know, I have a large apartment, pay cheaper rent than most, and I can be in many cool neighborhoods in 15-20 minutes.

My TOP 3 tips to recommend people who are interested in moving to Berlin?

  • Do your research before you get here. Find out what you need to do and how, and then make plans. It’s not that hard, as you can find everything online, be it blogs, official websites, and even Facebook groups. There’s also several professional services out there who’ll assist you in the settlement process.
  • Enroll in a German class before you get here or as soon as you get here. This is essential.
  • Have savings in case you lose your job. If you get laid off during your probation period, you may only receive 2 weeks pay and if you’ve been here less than a year, you won’t be entitled to unemployment benefits. Read my guide to finding a job in Berlin.

Living in Berlin? Means traveling through Europe really easy

I try to make a trip at least once per month if I can!

This summer I wanted to see more of Germany and spent a couple of weekends in Lüneburg and Bremen. I particularly loved Bremen, especially the Schnoorviertel, as it looked like something straight out of a fairy tale. I also dug the area down by the river where I even had dinner and drinks on an old schooner parked in the Weser River.

My absolute favorite destination has always been Budapest, which I visited again in February. I think I’ve been there more than 10 times now. The city is absolutely stunning, the ruin bars are the coolest places you can ever hang out, and there are so many weird and offbeat things to do like take a tour in the dark to find out what life is like for visually impaired people at the Invisible Exhibition or play pinball for hours on end at the Flipper Museum.

Read my weekend guide to Budapest.

And when I need a break, I head to Vabali Spa for a day of rest and relaxation.

At this moment, I can’t imagine being anywhere other than Berlin. But who knows what the future holds? Read my guide to living in Berlin.

By the way: We had a reaaally nice talk with Cheryl Howard in our category Blogger of the month! See the whole interview with the Berlin expat.