Thursday, 1 September 2016

Ich bin ein Berliner

I have neglected my blog badly. I know this. I know you know this. You know I know you know this. We all know this. Life has been a hectic, crazy, incredible roller coaster the last 9 months and yes, I have had time to write all about it, but often less energy to be able to.

I haven't told you about the Northern Lights on our Nordic Odyssey, nor Anzac Day in Belgium, guinness in Dublin, drinking 70% beer in York, the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff or exploring Cornwall. I haven't told you about Spain, my birthday extravaganza, Croatia or, most recently Edinburgh.

But most of all, I haven't told you about Germany. 

Today marks exactly 3 months since Daniel and I arrived in Germany. 

3 months since leaving London and preparing to attempt a new adventure in this different part of Europe (well, at the time the UK was still part of Europe…ZING! NB: I know it's still part of the continent Europe, I'm being facetious...)

It's been 3 of the most challenging months to date, far harder than starting anew in London. But if it hadn't have been for London, starting in Germany would have been damn near impossible. Finding housing, jobs, and dealing with things like bank accounts in a non-English speaking country, with no help whatsoever, has been eye-openingly difficult. But we did it. We got there. And it's all been worth it.

Oh my, do the Germans love paperwork. There's numbers for this and that. Can you apply online? Highly unlikely. Do you have to battle a 2 hour queue to discover that the computers are down and to come back tomorrow? Yes. The Germans are known worldwide for their efficiency but when it comes to red tape and paperwork, getting ourselves set up has been the most inefficient exercise I have ever encountered. And I say this affectionately (now, that it's all sorted), as I have spoken with locals who have to go through exactly the same process that we do any time they want to move house, and they agree and bemoan the situation too.

There are 3 main bits of paperwork required to be able to get a bank account, and each requires the previous to be gotten first.
  1. Anmeldung. I don't think it'll matter how long I live in Germany, I'll never learn to say this word. Basically, this is the registered address form, and the first thing you need to apply for once you have semi-permanent accommodation. This took us 5 attempts to get, 2 computer mishaps, 1 appointment for far too far in the future to be useful until finally, with a lovely lady who didn't speak a word of English, we got the paperwork sorted after lining up since 6.30am. Every single German resident has to do this every time they move house. It is the faffiest faff I've ever had to deal with and I almost cried with relief once we finally got it.
  2. Sozialversicherungsausweis. I think this is my new favourite German word (sorry, kartoffelpuffer!) Literally, "Social security card" or number. I braced myself for faffy faffness like the Anmeldung, but it was relatively painless. It still couldn't be done online, but thankfully once it's got, it's got. Dan and I are in the system now!
  3. SteuerID. Tax file number. This was meant to be sent to us after we applied for our Anmeldung but we never received it, so I braced myself to go into a Burgeramt (kind of like a town hall office) to deal with more faff. Thankfully again, this was a quick matter, with the lady behind the counter printing out two sheets of paper, and it baffles me that I couldn't do this at home.

However, geared with all 3, last week Dan and I could finally apply for bank accounts! (Which only took an hour and a half and about 300 sheets of paper).

Et voila! Dan and I officially have all the paperwork completed to be German residents.

I started applying for jobs while I was still in London. This tactic had served me very well for landing a job in London, where I interviewed for a role the day after I arrived. Not so with Germany. For both of us, the rejections came thick and fast, the number of jobs we could apply for not as great as we had been led to believe, and things were starting to feel a bit dire. 

We had a date to find jobs by: first week in August. We had already booked travel to Edinburgh on the 12th of August, and decided that if nothing had come to fruition by then, then we would make that our exit date. 

We applied for job after job. We spent our days applying for jobs, or searching for English-only speaking jobs, firing off as many applications as possible. They all started to blend with one another (and frankly, I should have kept a spreadsheet). Then one day while we were out: a phone call. Dan had an interview for a short-term role in a school. 

This sealed our fate, as the short-term role gave us an extra couple of months to find full time employment, and in that time, the offers started coming in. I ended up having about 4 phone interviews and 3 in-person interviews all in quick succession. Turns out the job turnaround in Germany can take quite some time (and that jobs remain on job boards long after they have been filled). A couple of the jobs I decided straight away were not for me, and this was empowering to realise - no matter how desperate I am for a job, I simply cannot do something I do not believe in or know I would be bored doing. 

In the end, it came down to two jobs. I had a great interview for a music education startup, even joined the team for breakfast but at the 11th hour, they decided that my visa situation was too difficult for them. They offered me an assistant role until the end of my visa, and I said I would think about it. In the meantime, I had an amazing interview for a company called e.on. Is it weird to say the interview was pleasant? Was kinda fun? I really enjoyed chatting with these people, and it seems they enjoyed chatting with me as less than 24 hours after my interview, I was offered the role.

It's a 2 year contract, however they were upfront with understanding that I may not want to stay in the role for the whole two years. They looked into visa options for me, and it seems that extending is as easy as walking into the tax office with a letter from my work. How about that, London?!

However, more German bureaucracy stood in my way. Even though I could start straight away (this was the beginning of August), due to payroll (and the same thing happened to Dan), I couldn't start until 1 September. This left me with a month to waste (and waste it I did) and dwindling funds. 

But no matter! Tomorrow I start, and I'm looking forward to it. It's been 3 months since I worked and while it's nice having time off, it can get a bit tiresome. I don't make a good housewife.

This is our final hurdle. We stayed in a hostel for the first few weeks either side of our Spain holiday, we stayed a week pet-sitting last minute in Moabit, we were lucky enough to be approached for a 7 week stay in a lovely apartment in Mitte, and currently we're in a 4 week stay near Wedding. However, it is proving very difficult to find (or be responded to about) long term accommodation. We have 2 weeks left in our current place and time is now of the essence to find somewhere - even if only for a few weeks - to move into at the end of this lease. 

We visited a place tonight that would take us to December. Later in the year we should have more luck finding a long term place, but I guess it might be interesting to take these couple of month flats and live all over Berlin - it's been fascinating exploring all the different areas so far! That's me being glass-half-full about the situation. Ultimately, a place we can call home for a year would be perfect, but it isn't likely to happen.

Before our funds dwindled significantly, Dan and I got out and around Berlin as much as possible.

Potsdam has become one of my favourite places (thank you, Nat!). It's a town just outside of Berlin (but still accessible by public transport) that is home to well preserved hundreds of year old castles and their estates. You can wander through the grounds free of charge, and many of them are spectacular. There are 3 main parks and we have explored 2 of them so far. There's interconnecting rivers and lakes, big expanses of wild park, perfect manicured gardens and elaborate castles dotted all over the parks.

Day trip to Poland
Yep, that's right. Just two hours from Berlin is a Polish town named Szczecin (which is virtually unpronounceable, so try Stettin) and we just popped over the border for a day trip. It's a cute little town with a dotted path encircling it so visitors can take themselves on a self-guided tour of the city. Why don't more cities do this? We saw some lovely architecture and ate some incredible food. Cheap food. Painfully cheap beer. 1L for €3? I'll take 2.

Unlike London, museums and art galleries in Berlin are not free. We have paid to visit a couple, including the DDR Museum which showcases what life was like in East Germany under Communist rule, the Deutsches Technic Museum where we spent a literal full day and still didn't see it all, as well as underground bunkers which German civilians hid in during WWII while Berlin was being razed. 

In addition, we bought tickets for the Lange Nacht der Museen (The Long Night of Museums), which, for the entry cost of 1 museum, gives you access to over 70 museums and art galleries across Berlin, and also includes all public transport costs to get between them. We managed:
  • Neues Museum (which houses the bust of Nefertiti, and I myself was busted when my flash went off trying to take a photo of her in the Do Not Take Photo's room!)
  • Pergamon Museum
  • Berlin Cathedral
  • The Wall Museum (Mauer Museen)
  • Deutsch Currywurst Museum (yes, that's right, a museum dedicated to that sausagey snack - it was the wurst!) Actually it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it :)

One thing I never knew about Berlin was how many lakes, rivers and channels divide the city. For the warmer weather, there are many lakes which you can go swimming in, however some enterprising person has added an entrance fee to most of these. We found one that was free called Schlachtensee that turned out to be perfect! It only has a couple of areas on its 7km circumference that has a very small sandy beach, but every few metres there's a small gap in the trees allowing you to set up your towel amid relative privacy and have your own little patch of shore. The water was very clear (the clearest in Berlin, apparently!) and I was doing fine until some little fishies started nibbling at my toes. I never expected to be able to swim in nature so close to the city.


There have been other little bits and pieces such as a quick trip to the Botanic Gardens, drinking lots and lots of beer, and exploring all the areas we have been living in (and finding interesting parks and lakes). We have had 3 big international trips; 2 weeks in Spain, 6 days in Croatia and 4 days in Edinburgh. In the near future, we have Oktoberfest in Munich and a trip to Bucharest, Romania on the cards. It's a crazy time!

And so I'll finish this long update here - we've made it. We actually made it. We did it. We're going to succeed. We are registered. We have bank accounts. We have jobs. It's going to be alright. It's going to be amazing, in fact, as we have bought ourselves another year in which to explore the rest of this diverse continent. 

Til next time,