How to Adult in Berlin


Der nachfolgende Artikel aus offensichtlichen Gründen auf Englisch.

I have lived in this city for about 35 years now, I’ve had addresses in six districts, apartments in all but one of the Eastern ones. That doesn’t mean there are no blind spots in my biography or daily life (clubbing, music festivals, childcare). But I do think that in several areas there are some basic tips that can prevent the worst outcomes. I’d been a member of the Berlin Expats group on facebook for a while and there seem to be some common questions where I thought I could help!

My experience as a white guy who does not belong to any marginalised group will be different than others, and I obviously acknowledge that my life (not only in Berlin) is on the lowest difficulty setting. Therefore there’s no section here about how I never had any trouble with the cops and neither should you and so forth. Also, as a German, I have no experience with many legalistic intricacies regarding residency permits et cetera, so I won’t pretend to be knowledgable here. Likewise, my overall living situation means I am able to afford the services I recommend, and that might not be the case for everyone.

There are links to several sites in this article. None of them earn me a commission or any other reward. I will keep updating this article and add things when needed. This is not legal advice, I am not a lawyer.

The Language

You can get by without German for many of life’s pleasantries – your job at that startup, eating out, clubs, dating and drinks, museums and original language theatres… but there’s plenty of aspects that are both unavoidable and German-only. You might be able to find a dentist that speaks English, but your options with your landlord’s facility management or the Bürgeramt will be more limited. I know it’s quite a climb to get to the point where you can understand legalese and doctor-ese(?), but it will genuinely increase your quality of life in this city if you don’t have to rely on some google translate/deepL mixture. In the meantime, find a person you trust to help you with arrangements and translations. Coworkers are an obvious start.

Also also, I promise this is actually a wonderful language. Find an avenue that works for you – films? Songs by bands like the Wise Guys, Alte Bekannte or AnnenMayKantereit? Poetry? Switching your favourite video game to German voice over? Go for it! (Also, really, give the Simpsons a try, it’s a divine experience.)

A hostile Environment

This is not specific to Berlin, but I’ve added it here anyway because a lot of people encounter scammers. I would generally treat all of the interactions with unknown entities as possible hostile encounters. By ‘unknown entities’ I’m not referring to grumpy bus drivers, but to anybody you interact with on an online platform, when selling or buying stuff, looking for an apartment, or picking up the phone from a person you have not talked to before.

Here’s the simple thing: At every step, if the other person elicits even a shred of doubt, if there’s even a hinge of a “huh, weird” smell – go. Run!

Don’t wait until the mother-in-law of the exchange student who’s currently gone but would like to rent out their home has sent you a link to a phishy-looking website. Don’t waste time in a long WhatsApp chain arranging some odd DHL pickup for a laptop purchase. If anything, and I mean anything, is out of the ordinary, leave. It’s not worth it.

You should never ever even have to wonder “is this a legit website”. But if you do – check the URL in your browser’s address bar. If you’re supposed to be on eBay but the URL is random word salad – run. If you’re on PayPal but the url is something like “”- run.

Also: never buy anything on eBay/Kleinanzeigen with the PayPal friends and family option unless it’s a physical pickup that happens simultaneously.

Okay, we got some fundamental opsec stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the Berlin brötchen and butter items.


Did I mention not to ever pay money for a viewing or for somebody to send you the keys? Let me mention it again.

Finding an apartment in the city is not getting easier. There are no silver bullets, but I can recommend not limiting yourself to the ring – going a few bus stops outside can give you 80% of the convenience and at least some reduction in the competition you face.

At the beginning of your search, something like wunderflats, a cheap hotel or a homestay might be your best option. I know that sounds a bit much, but it’s better than getting ripped off for something that was indeed too good to be true.

I have heard from people that having a premium immoscout account is a huge advantage as some listings become available more quickly for those users. Sounds plausible. Obviously, always keep your application documents ready to send.

Once you have an apartment, become a member of a tenant’s association. I know this sounds like typical old-man yada yada, but the old man is right.

Please. I’ll wait. Go to e.g. the Mieterverein site now and sign up. Do not wait until you “need” it.

Why not wait until you need it? Because while the consultation is available immediately to new members, the actual legal aid has a waiting period, and it counts from the moment your problem is first occurred. You cannot join, then wait six months with your questionable rent increase and be represented. (See „insurances“ for that below, though.)

So please do this now. It’s less than ten euros a month that will not only potentially save you hundreds of Euros in the future, but also make you feel much safer.

Furthermore, I have heard good things (from real people, saving real money!) about using services like Conny to have your rent lowered. While the process may take a while thanks to, as you know, appointments for everything being quite a rarity in this country, in the end, the result can be quite a sizeable reduction in your rent with a retroactive payout and if they lose, you didn’t spend any lawyer money.

Document any existing damages on the day of the move and email them to your landlord or Hausverwaltung, even if it’s just an FYI. This is for the (fairly unlikely, but still) case they all of a sudden make a fuss about a scratch in the floor and want to ding your deposit. Also, normal wear and tear is completely expected, your dumbbells falling on the floor will probably exceed that though.

„Normal“ rental contracts cannot actually be time-limited without a pre-announced „good reason“. A good reason is the owner or their family needing the place, but not „I want to see who else can move in now“. A contract with invalid reason would theoretically automatically become an unlimited one – for this to work, however, it’s good to have legal representation (see Mieterverein above and legal aid insurance below). One exception is the vorübergehende Gebrauch though.

Once you have registered (yaye, Anmeldung) ar your own place, you will receive an invoice from the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice (it used to be called Gebühreneinzugszentrale and many Germans still refer to it by its former acronym GEZ). This is the fee (not a tax for legal reasons) for public TV, radio and internet broadcasting, and unless you have one of a set of very limited circumstances, every household has to pay it. No, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a TV or don’t watch it.

Three cold rents are the standard for deposit (Kaution). Once you move out of a place, your landlord has six months for any damage claims. Afterwards, you can ask for the money to be wired back. Landlords tend to hold back some amount until the final utilities bill (Nebenkostenabrechnung) has been processed, so this might take longer. It’s customary to keep ca. half for this time, though that might change with steeply rising costs in 2022. Courts have just said the amount needs to be „reasonable“.

Regarding trash: There’s a neat explainer for what the differently-colored bins do. It’s quite straightforward – blue is for paper, yellow is for recycling (metal, plastic…), brown is for compost, black/grey is for waste, glass is usually outside and specifically colored to match. Additionally, please note that „paper cups“ do not actually go into paper as they’re laminated to hold water. Spoiled pizza delivery boxes will actually not recycle well as paper and are waste. If you do use the composting, please do not put everything in a plastic bag, not even a „compostable“ one. Just empty the stuff right into the bin.


I have only added this section recently because I feel it is the one where it’s hard to give unambigiously good advice. However, readers mentioned that this is an area where new folks also need guidance, so here we go.

Disclaimer: I work for SumUp. Though not a consumer bank, SumUp has banking-adjacent products and obviously an interest in people not using cash.

I have been with a „legacy“ bank (one of the ones with big buildings in Frankfurt Main) that has real offices (though fewer and fewer) for about twenty years and it works well for me. If there’s ever an issue, I can email a person, not some info-at-email, directly at the bank and they will get back to me within the same day. To me, that is easily worth the additional cost. Plus, bank account fees are tax-deductible.

However, if you think you’ll never have any complex banking issues and you just want an account, the new #fintech banks like N26 or Revolut are there and the setup will be a breeze I have heard, plus English-speaking support. However, many of these banks don’t offer wiring money outside the SEPA region, but instead rely on 3rd-party apps. Also be aware that some banks like Revolut or Bunq don’t give you a German IBAN, which occasionally will cause issues, for instance with Vattenfall.

The DKB is a good choice for many as they allow free cash withdrawals – though now with a monthly fee for the card – domestically though their service is atrocious. The GLS bank offers a full service account with a good conscience.

Either way, keep in mind:

  • It has become noticeably easier to go through the city without cash. For those scenarios where it’s not, consider where the nearest free ATM is. If you need cash frequently, don’t go for a bank where every withdrawal comes with a free 5K run.
  • There have been numerous reports of people’s bank accounts being frozen, ostensibly without a reason and much communication from the bank. While this terrible from a customer’s perspective, my assumption is that there’s sadly a good reason: If a bank’s fraud/money laundering algorithm catches on, they cannot tell you that you’re being investigated for money laundering because that could be constructed as aiding/abetting. So often people have to wait a long time without access to their bank accounts and money. This sucks obviously, and I’m not sure the advice „Have two bank accounts that you can switch between“ is extremely realistic. One thing I can add is that cash deposits seem to be triggering the algorithms. Also, when your friends wire you money or vice versa, it’s not a good moment for „uranium-238“ jokes.
  • Do read messages from your bank, whether by paper or in whatever digital inbox solution they provide. It’s usually easy to find out quickly whether it’s just yaddayadda or something serious like a change to your overdraft limit, which you do not want to find out by surprise.

Save your bank statement PDFs as accessing them after a certain period of time might cost you.


Germans love insurances. I personally have a neat little collection indeed, but there’s one I generally strongly recommend: Haftpflichtversicherung (liability insurance). This is not so much for that time your landlord’s a jerk and makes you replace a 35 Euros bathroom sink but for the really bad stuff. You let a candle burn too long at a friend’s house. Your washing machine floods your downstair neighbour’s apartment. You lose the house keys and they actually get replaced for everyone. A liability insurance will protect you from truly existential threats. You can reduce your payment by having a higher personal deductible (Selbstbeteiligung), but please do get one, and be sure to include gross negligence (grobe Fahrlässigkeit) and the aforementioned „lost the keys“ case. Find one at check24 for instance.

Together with the first „hostile environment“ advice (free!), this is the one purchase I urge you to make, even if it means a temporary hardship to pay for it. I have seen people go into personal bankruptcy without liability insurance.

Liability insurance often covers your partner living with you (check the contract of course), but not any damages caused by your pets, especially dogs.

Something that does not come up a lot in discussions but is worth a thought: Occupational disablement insurance (Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung). This seems like a luxury to people, but consider this: If you work around 40 years for the median income (a bit less than 3500 Euros), your overall labour will come around at nearly 1.6 million Euros – definitely an asset that’s worth insuring. Even if you’re „just an office worker“, back or mental health issues can render you unable to work and in this case, the state offer is rather Dickensian.

Other insurances you can consider depending on your risk profile and your expenses: housewares (Hausrat), legal aid (you can add building blocks like renting, traffic or employment), extra dental care. People in the facebook group recommend Roland legal aid premium and while it has a high monthly fee, it has a tier that’s available immediately with some English-speaking service. If English service is most important, Getsafe and Feather are your choices, though be aware there is a half-year waiting period as with most insurances.

Health Care

There are two health care systems in the country, the public system and the private one. Outside of extreme edge cases, you will need to be insured through one of those. The simple case is when you’re dependently employed and make less than 64.350 gross per year: Welcome to the public insurance. Your employer might pre-select an insurance like Techniker Krankenkasse for you. The service difference between the public ones are fairly minimal – some cover ‘natural remedies’ more than others, some give you a few more dental cleaning vouchers if you prove your overall healthy lifestyle. The fee is a percentage of your gross income and will be automatically deducted from your payroll; it varies by a few percentage points per insurance, but not so much that on average I would recommend switching to a dinky small place where no-one speaks English. The coverage will be the same – no public institution will be significantly easier in, say, giving therapy spots or covering glasses or complex dental procedures.

If you make more than 64.350 Euro or if you’re self-employed… you can still be publicly insured! This is called “voluntary” insurance. Your payment is capped at a maximum of c. 770 Euros. You do not get any special treatment as a voluntary person other than perhaps the good feeling of staying in a social-contract-based system and avoiding some of the pitfalls of the private system.

Alternatively, if you meet the aforementioned criteria, you can also opt for private insurance. Your monthly fee is not based on income, but on demographic criteria and a health questionnaire. As opposed to public insurances, private institutions can refuse to cover you. Also, children or spouses need be enrolled and paid for individually in private health insurance whereas the public option mostly covers families out of the box. Also also, your monthly premiums will go up as you age, which is why some people try to leave the private system once they reach their mid-50s or so, but that’s actually fairly difficult.

A bit of a surprise for some people: With private insurance, you have to first pay an invoice yourself and then get it reimbursed, with a few exceptions like hospital says. This is a bit annoying, but with some discipline to immediately scan/send the invoice to your insurance the reimbursement should happen at the same time or not shortly after the invoice’s due date.

So why go private? In short, the access to many doctors and procedures is much, much better, and the fee is lower for quite a few scenarios (though tax-deductibility for health insurances negates some of that). You can probably see a doctor of whose speciality you had never heard of by tomorrow morning and bypass the waiting line for public patients. Often private doctors have their own phone line to get an MRI appointment within the next hours. The reason: private health insurances pay significantly more for the same treatment so that many doctors and service providers can only operate on a mix of public and private patients.

Note that you can also use a private doctor as public/voluntarily insured person – you just need to pay for it out of pocket. Whether this is an acceptable option will of course depend on your situation, urgency and financial status. Your average single GP or OB-GYN visit without any super-special machineries/imaging involved will probably clock in at 60-100 Euros. A neat little ultrasound or some blood tests can easily bring you into a 300 Euro region though, and obviously frequent visits can add up.

So what should you do? I can’t make that decision for you, but: the healthier and more financially stable and interdependent with other family members you are, the more private insurance will appeal to you. If you go for a private option, I would suggest putting the money you save every month into an EFT or the like (but please not in crypto). This way, if you’re still in the country in your 50s and the payments start getting annoying, you actually have saved some money to pay for a health insurance is about – access to healthcare! And if you leave the country, well, here’s some money for you!

Side note about dental care: For whatever reasons, various health care systems around the world do not consider your eyes and teeth part of your body that a health insurance should cover. That means in most cases, you have to pay glasses completely out of pocket and any complex dental procedure (root canal, implants…) can easily rack up four- and even five-digit sums on the final invoice. Be sure to ask about costs for anything that goes beyond a normal cleaning at a dentist. There is a proper procedure for any complex operation where the dentist is supposed to send a Kostenplan to your health insurance to get coverage for the pittance that they will pay for. I have encountered several times people being surprised by the high invoices after the fact. Some people argue that you may contest these bills outright as you were not in a position to make the „purchase decision“ correctly, which… could work based on some legal theories, but also has the massive, massive tail risk that not paying for a valid bill can even lead to parts of your income being seized. I would not advice any such step without taking legal consultation! What I can safely advise, though, is that massive health care costs are tax-deductible as außergewöhnliche Belastungen.


Dependent employment contracts – as opposed to freelancing (real or gig economy style) come with a probation period of up to six months. Contracts can be limited and extended, but only twice, and not beyond two years (without a fundamental reason such as covering for parental leave). While it is a rare occurrence, be advised: longer probation periods or additional extension periods are not legal just because your employer presents you with a piece of paper to sign it. I would not generally advise suing your employer because I can’t imagine it’s a fun place to work after that, but errors such as erroneous limitation can actually result in an unlimited contract so on balance it could be worth it.

Download your payslips onto your private computer and do not delete them for at least a few years (but honestly, it’s a PDF and we’re not jugging 1.44 Megabyte floppy disks anymore). Also, check them – you’d be surprised how often payroll can make small or big mistakes!

If your employment is terminated by the employer or your contract is not renewed, it is your duty to inform the Arbeitsamt right away. Registering as looking for work (arbeitssuchend), unemployed (arbeitslos) etc. can be done online! Failure to do so within three days of knowing about the status will result in your unemployment benefits (Arbeitslosengeld 1) being blocked for a month. If you give notice yourself, you will not receive benefits for three months, so that can get fairly annoying and quite a few decent employers offer to „fire“ you so this doesn’t happen.

On the other side, if your employer wants a mutual dissolution of your contract (Aufhebungsvertrag) – this will count against you from the Arbeitsamt because you volunteered to give up your paid employment. A post-termination contract for details (Abwicklungsvertrag) may also seen with some suspicion, especially if you waive rights to fight your termination in court. Maybe, however, the deal offered to you is also really sweet – gardening leave plus several months of severance when you think you’ll find a new job easily in three weeks. So judge this situation wisely.

In order to qualify for Arbeitslosengeld 1, you have to have been gainfully employed for at least twelve months within the last two years. Otherwise, Arbeitslosengeld 2 Bürgergeld could be an option, but it is a) significantly less and b) comes with more requirements regarding how much wealth (down to the apartment size!) you’re allowed, though recent changes have lessened these and/or given people more time where they don’t count.

If you’re registered unemployed, the Arbeitsamt pays for your public health insurance, even if you’re in a blocked period. Not registering because you think you won’t be receiving any ALG anyway but might save you a few forms, but will result in a bill from your health insurance provider if you’re publically insured. You will then be treated as if you were an income-less freelancer and have to pay the minimum fee (around 200 Euros) for each month.

There is a free (with appointments) multilingual consultation service for employment- and migration-related questions available.


This is not tax advice.

Your tax id is a fixed one bound to you as an individual. It does not change and you get it after registering. If you don’t have Anmeldung, i.e. no official residence in Germany, you can use the form on this page to get a tax id anway (via reddit).

If you’re employed, your income taxes as well as all mandatory social insurance are automatically deducted from your payslip every month, no action necessary. Only exception: If you have private health insurance (see above), they will directly withdraw from your bank account (and your employer will add a little subsidy).

Often you do not have to do tax declaration at the end of the year. However, I strongly encourage you to do so nonetheless, for a simple reason: You are extremely likely to get back a substantial amount of money.

  • Got a salary adjustment of any kind sometime this year? Been unemployed for part of the year? Switched jobs with a salary change?
  • Bought any, and I mean any, equipment for an existing, prospective or potential job, including books, furniture, online classes?
  • Traveled to work or for a job interview?
  • Paid any money to a liability insurance (as you should, see above) or a legal aid insurance with an employment part?
  • Got anything fixed in your apartment or any house-cleaner with an invoice?
  • Made any charitable donations?
  • Massive health-related costs? (see dental section above)
  • Had a move and an invoice for the services?

In any of these cases, your taxable income will be lowered accordingly. It is really worth it. There’s plenty of English tax software such as wundertax or taxfix out there While I have personally only used old-school “used to come on CD” applications for the last decade, the functionality for most simple cases should suffice.

Sadly, I do not have any recommendations for tax consultants, much less English-speaking ones.

Freelancing requires that you get a distinct tax id and, if you’re not a small business (Kleinunternehmer, overall gross revenue below 22.000€) a VAT id, and usually goes beyond the capabilities of the simple tax apps above. But unless you have multinational clients or employees, it is also manageable on your own via Elster.

Tax classes

There’s some amount of confusion about tax classes and how much they actually matter. In the end: not that much. The tax classes are designed to match your monthly income tax to what you will most likely owe or be owed at the end of the year to avoid massive payments to or from the Finanzamt. Also, your unemployment benefits depend on your net salary.

Private pension plans

This is not investment advice.

Many larger employers as well as most banks or consultants offer various forms of pension plans. The trick usually revolves around taking some amount of your gross income pre-tax and investing it or using a particular scheme that gets additional matches/tax deductions from the state.

While those can be useful, by definition they come with a waiting period – often you cannot access the money without a significant penalty within at least the first twelve years. Also, depending on your payroll team’s competence (I have heard stories), occasionally payments get nixed and sorting that out is not a fun way to spend a Monday afternoon. Also also, depending on your situation as an expat

That being said – and I am not on the “doom and gloom” side of evaluating the public pension – it is definitely worth to save something in anything that is not a Tagesgeldkonto. I would caution against buying stocks individually unless you really like the thrill and against crypto unless you just want to see everything burn.

A managed ETF with a medium risk profile could be a good start. When talking to your bank, be aware that they obviously have financial incentives to push certain products – they’re more transparent with regards to the commission than twenty years ago, but in the end you’re about to see a sales pitch. If you’re with an independent consultancy, check reviews first (see “hostile environment” above).

Getting around

The BVG and S-Bahn provide decent public transit in Berlin, though especially the southern and eastern ring of the s-bahn experience frequent delays. If you’re on Twitter X, I recommend checking s_bahn_berlin before embarking on any s-bahn connection.

There’s three different fare zones in Berlin: A (everything inside and including the ring), B (the rest of the city proper), C (parts of Brandenburg). Almost everything in Berlin is reachable with an AB ticket, with the crucial exception of the BER airport (all terminals). Do not under any circumstance think you can weasel-word or “I am just a tourist I have no idea” your way out of it. You need an (A)BC ticket or an extension ticket to go there, full stop.

The airport is in the C zone, no ifs or buts. Von CellarDoor85 (Robert Aehnelt) – Eigenes Werk, CC-BY 4.0,

Your favourite maps application as well as the official BVG app do an okay job of finding connections. The latter also allows you to buy tickets, and this is where we get into some more fine-grained stuff.

If your employer offers you a job ticket, it’s probably a better deal than anything else, also because it takes away from the constant “is this worth a trip?” thoughts. If you have to pay for a monthly ticket on your own, the price is more of a deterrent and only makes sense if you really use public transit at least every other day. Update: With the Deutschlandticket at 49€ a month, this is less of an issue. Rule of thumb: If you travel at least two to three days a week, it’s the better deal.

If you’re an infrequent user, I strongly recommend buying the 4-trip-ticket, as the discount per trip is fairly generous – even three single trips on it are cheaper than a day ticket!

Important notes: You have to activate a digital ticket before you enter the train and yes, the people checking for ticket validity can see if you spotted them and then quickly purchased your fare. Don’t be like that.

A single ticket does not allow return or round trips. Strictly speaking, this means you cannot go through any station twice on a single fare. This is probably the most frequent reason I see people getting fined on the train. Not worth it. And I would also not encourage anybody to try their luck with a “not so strictly speaking” return trip where you ended up on a bus stop 50 meter from your original departure.

As the s-bahn has frequent construction works, checking out regional trains can be an option. A normal ticket entitles you to travel on RB and RE trains (plus the airport express FEX) and that can save quite a bit of time between larger stations. The airport has a good app (Apple link) that indicates the current business levels across the security gates.

MetroTram and MetroBusses run 24 hours a day, though usually only ever half hour at night. S-Bahn and subway lines run c. 20 hours (24 hours on weekends/holidays), other trams and busses more sparingly. Being close to an M/S/U and gaining familiarity with the networks at least on your common routes helps. There is at least some logic behind some aspects:

  • For the S-Bahn, S1 and 2/25/26 are north/south lines that go through Südkreuz/Schöneberg, Potsdamer Platz, Friedrichstraße, Gesundbrunnen and Bornhomer Straße. S3 and S5, S7(5) are east/west lines crossing through Ostkreuz, Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstraße and Westkreuz. S41/42: the ring, going through Ostkreuz, Südkreuz, Westkreuz and Gesundbrunnen (yes it is also called Nordkreuz, take that for your next pub quiz). S41 is clockwise! S45/46/47 – southeastern lines that merge with the southern ring. S8/S9 – southeastern lines that go on the eastern ring and the either north or towards the west. Be aware the S9 skips Ostkreuz!
  • For MetroTrams: If it’s one digit (M1 to M8), it’s a line from the outskirts to city center, clockwise starting in the north. If it’s a double digit line (M10, M13, M17), it’s a semi-circle/north-south line that that intersects with the others.

Taking around in the country, you will often find yourself on the Deutsche Bahn website. Let’s get one thing out of the way: Nobody besides last-minute business customers pays the Normalpreis. That’s indeed a debatable marketing strategy, but here we are. So what do people do instead?

  • Buy a SparPreis or SuperSparPreis. Works great, but you have to take the specific long-distance trains (IC/ICE) that are on the ticket. Sometimes getting a time-limited ProbeBahnCard (yes, the Bahn loves CamelCase!) will be a cheaper result. There’s times when a first-class ticket sparpreis will be cheaper than what’s still left in second class.
  • If you’re a very frequent traveller, get a BahnCard 50 and be flexible but always pay „only“ half the normal price. The BahnCard 50 also gives you 25% off on any (Super)SparPreis. Be aware those are auto-renewing subscriptions.
  • You can look into FlixTrain and FlixBus as an alternative.

The DB app is actually quite nice and allows you manage tickets, connections, see rakes etc. And you can even check in yourself on long-distance trains so you never have to show your ticket or talk to anyone.


On many moves within Berlin, I have used Zapf and it was a blast every single time. People loading your stuff as if they’re on a Matrix-style bullet-time versus the old “having friends over” version that takes three hours for a handful of boxes. Yay Zapf!

Also, I have heard good things about this guy on Instagram, who by all accounts is very helpful, LGTBQ+-friendly and very multilingual. You can tell him berlinauslandermemes sent you!


When receiving parcels from outside the EU (including from the UK) they may be subject to customs. Some merchants try to get around this by labeling shipments as gifts, but the good people at the Zoll have caught up to this fiendish plan.

The shipment company (DHL or UPS usually) can process customs for you – they will do so automatically and charge a little fee. Your DHL/UPS delivery person will collect this when they – surprise! – come to your house. Cash only, and for once this is not a scam (other than the fee charged for it is on the high side of course).

Alternatively, you might have to venture to a customs office (usually the one around Schöneberg) where your parcel is inspected and evaluated right at the spot. You have to bring paper (see the printer point below!) receipts for it unless you want to use the shared computer at a public place to login to your email and paypal to print. Please don’t.

Appliances at home

Not really Berlin-specific, but nonetheless worth sharing! If you have a dishwasher, I recommend against using the eco 45 degrees program, unless you really only have some glasses and plates with breadcrumbs or so. Not because it won’t clean, but the way the ecological programs work is essentially soaking and slowly rinsing away dirt rather than destroying its molecular building blocks (that happens only at temperatures starting from 65 degrees on). What’s bad about gently washing away your oils and greases? They cling to the tubes and machinery, making it more likely to break prematurely. On the bright side, modern detergents mean you no longer need to pre-rinse your dishes.

For washing machines, given the notoriously „hard“ water in Berlin, be sure to adjust the dosage accordingly. While I’m not endorsing any brands, in my experience your standard big brand detergents (for both dishes and clothes) will do a good job and be better for your machine in the long run. (And buying a new machine years earlier has a significant environmental impact as well.)

When your washing machine starts to sound really unbalanced and cannonball-y during the spin cycle, it’s time to call the repair even if still works fine. A fix at this point is much quicker and much less expensive than the more massive damage (think short-circuiting…) it’s building up to.

Regularly use cleaners just for the machines themselves.

Don’t get a washer-dryer. You can „tower“ a washing machine and a dryer even if they’re from different brands and it will a much better experience for everyone!

Neat little tricks

The Bürgertelefon 115 does wonders when you’re stuck with an Amt or need an appointment – I’ve heard stories of an actual working email address for a seemingly lost-in-translation driver’s license and „would tomorrow 10 work for you?“ Anmeldung spots. Downside: It’s a phone number, and of course you need to speak German.

Get a printer or at least don’t throw it away if you have one. No matter how cool and uber-digital you are, there might always be moments where you need (or even want!) something on paper. If that’s not an option for you, at least have a thumb drive with both USB-A and USB-C for documents, and see where the closest place to print things out (such as CSV) is. My neighbourhood group is full of people who urgently need to print on a Sunday.

Having a monitor of your own will be a godsend for your neck as well and will make worky-work or admin work a lot more pleasant and professional without relying on your employer to ship you equipment! Likewise, while it’s tempting to just rely on the company laptop if they provide it, do not use it as the only place for your files and have a backup computer in case your employer goes belly-up or there’s a sudden HR meeting.

The superpower in this country is being able to send faxes for cancellations, notices etc. I use pixelletter for these purposes.

Having a DVD/CD-drive can come in handy for some X-Rays or other medical stuff, so don’t toss one if you have it.

Many of the larger movie theatres offer movies in original language. Search for (OV) in the title or, as an alternative, OmU (=subtitled). Please observe the code of conduct in the theatre.

If your iPhone screen gets cracked, do not go to one of those dingy corner shops to get it fixed. They rarely use original parts and this will a) disable certain phone features and b) dramatically reduce the value when you sell off the phone, easily wiping off whatever money you saved earlier. In addition to Apple themselves, Gravis as well as Mediamarkt are good sources for official repairs.

Do not torrent stuff at home (or at work, please). While downloading materials with questionable copyright status is not a crime, re-destributing it is, and that’s how torrents work. You’ll be in for potentially very expensive letters from lawyers specialised on this case, and the results vary from „pay legal aid insurance once to make it go away“ to „even with legal consulting, lost nearly 2000 Euros“.

Cancelling contracts from your ProbeBahnCard to your phone contract can of course all be done by yourself and has become considerably easier in the last years as companies are (mostly) not allowed to insist on physical letters anymore. However, if you’re a bit too lazy to dig through your binders to find the address etc., a quick trip to Abo-Alarm can help you pre-fill or even send the cancellation right there!

Final thoughts

I will keep updating this guide with feedback and experience from others over time. The main takeaways I will now repeat like that really annoying teacher who couldn’t shut up:

  • Hostile environment (not Berlin-specific, but just the world in 2022), assume bad intent online
  • Mieterverein membership please
  • Liability insurance please

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