Happy in Berlin / by Nicole Paulus


Well it’s official, I am allowed to stay in Berlin another year. I was recently granted my one year visa from the (very scary sounding) Ausländerbehörde office. Though I  was a nervous wreck leading up to my appointment, it really wasn’t that bad. My first appointment was three months ago and my flatmate (who speaks both German and English) accompanied me to help translate. It was then that they told me I would have to provide a bank statement proving I made a certain amount of money as well as two job offers from potential German clients. They would grant me a temporary 3 month visa in the meantime. Not good news, but certainly not bad. 

For my appointment last week, my roommate (and German bureaucracy translator) was unable to attend. If I thought praying to all the deities in the world would have helped, I would have. Instead, I just made sure all my papers were in order and that I gave myself plenty of time to get there (which for me, meant arriving ridiculously early.)

When my number was called, I entered the sterile room with enough fear and trepidation to fill a swimming pool. To my surprise, however, the woman immediately began speaking in English. She asked me a few questions about what I did and I gave her the same ambiguous answer that I usually give to anyone crazy enough to ask me what I do, “digital marketing.” Her face looked puzzled. She told me that I couldn’t do marketing, that she would have to take my application to another department and then they would decide if my profession would count towards the Freelance Visa. I stammered. “well, uh, I do lots of things, social media, blog writing, website management.” She still looked puzzled and I felt discouraged. Not one to give up easily, I shouted, “I am also a web designer.” Her puzzled face morphed into something resembling amusement, “OK, go wait in the waiting room and I will call you back once I take your application to my supervisor.”

Expecting to be in the waiting room a long time, I cozied up in the chair and tried to take my mind off of the decision at hand. About 15 minutes later, my number was called again. Before I knew it, the woman was explaining to me the rules of having a Freelance Visa as she handed my passport back to me. At that exact moment, I was the happiest girl on the planet. I don’t even think I walked out of the office, I’m pretty sure I was floating. 

Before I give you a brief list of some Berlin Etiquette that I have acquired since being here, I have to get something off my chest. The stars were not aligned that day. The gods were not smiling upon me. Karma was not doling out reparations. I am not 'lucky' nor am I 'blessed'. I am determined. I did this myself. I moved here not knowing one single soul and within 6 months managed to build a community of supporters, friends, and collaborators. I had a goal and I accomplished it. I didn't wait for an opportunity to fall into my lap. Instead, I went out into the unknown and did what I had to do to get it done. Was it always easy? No. Was it it always fun? No. But now that I am on the other side, I realize how much happier I am for having done so. I have adapted to a new culture and settled into a new city that brings me so much joy. Not a day goes by that I don't wake up and think, "I love my life." Everyone can and should feel this way. If you don't, what is stopping you? 

And now -- here is a brief list of things I have observed whilst adapting to life in Berlin (Berliniquette, if you will):

  1. Leave your empty beer or water bottles beside the trash can.Everyone is charged a pfand (or deposit) when you purchase something in a plastic or glass bottle. You can then take your bottles to your local grocery store and cash them in for money. Because there are people who actually make a living off of collecting bottles, don’t place the bottle IN the trash (that’s just rude.) Instead, leave it on the ground beside the trash can. Someone will always pick it up. 
  2. Don’t take pictures in the club. Coming from the US where you go to a bar and find everyone glued to their phones, it was a bit of a culture shock when I realized Berliners actually talk to one another when they are surrounded by friends. Many clubs will even place a sticker on the camera on your phone upon entry as a reminder to not take it out. If you are caught taking pictures, videos, or snaps, you will be asked to leave. Don’t be a newbie, keep that thing in your pocket (or better yet check it in at the wardrobe.)
  3. Don't automatically start speaking English. Just because most Germans CAN speak English, doesn't mean they want to. Instead, you have to do what I call "the language tango." Ask them first if they speak English (in German of course) -- "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" or better yet, ask them, "Können wir sprechen Englisch?" ("Can we speak English?"). You’ll get a much friendlier response than if you just immediately start the conversation in English. 

Thanks to everyone that has supported me through this arduous process. I can feel the love even if we are thousands of miles apart :)

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