Things that are Different in Berlin

I came to Berlin in late 2019 after living in Toronto for 12 years. I am originally from Turkey, and I wanted to position myself at a place where I could be closer to my parents. Canada is simply too far and too removed from the rest of the world. This became even more evident with the pandemic. It was virtually impossible for a lot of Canadian residents to visit another country during the lockdowns.

I came to Berlin through an internal job opening. Six months later, the pandemic started, and my company went completely remote shortly after. This essentially meant internal transfers became incredibly rare as you didn't physically need to be at a location to do your job anymore. It turns out I decided to relocate just at the right time.

Here is a long and random list of things that stood out to me in Berlin after living in Toronto for 12 years.

  • At first sight, Berlin can feel a bit sketchy. There is graffiti everywhere. You come across a lot of places that are run down, dirty and unsavory. You eventually come to accept it as part of its charm. I now get uneasy when visiting a city with spotless walls. It makes me feel like something is missing. ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿปโ€๐ŸŽจ
  • People can drink alcohol pretty much anywhere (as opposed to Toronto, where you can't drink on the streets). They also drink pretty much anytime too. It is not uncommon to see people taking the morning train with a beer at hand. ๐Ÿบ
  • Stores are closed on Sundays. This is a common thing in Europe but was super surprising coming from N.America. ๐Ÿช
  • Berlin is a significant tourist destination, so the city is full of rental bikes and e-scooters. That is something that I appreciate even as a local. Toronto used to be miserable in that mobility aspect, but things might have improved now. ๐Ÿšด๐Ÿปโ€โ™‚๏ธ
  • There are bike lanes everywhere! You need to be super careful of these lanes when walking, though. You can easily crash with cyclists if you are not paying attention. ๐Ÿšฒ
  • It is so common to see little kids riding bikes or walking around by themselves. The parenting culture here seems much more relaxed compared to Toronto/N.America. ๐Ÿฃ
  • Cash is still the king in Berlin. That is quite unfortunate. You would find a lot of places that wouldn't accept credit cards. This started to improve slightly with the pandemic when contactless payments became important for health reasons. The ATMs for your bank can also be sparse, so you need to have cash at hand when going out. ๐Ÿ’ธ
  • In Canada, you get paid two times a month. You receive half of your salary on the 15th and the rest of it at the end of the month. Having this kind of cash flow makes dealing with expenses much more manageable. In Germany, you have to wait till the end of the month. That was a bummer when I first moved here. ๐Ÿ’ฐ
  • Germans love cake! I don't know the historical reasons for it, but I am pretty sure they eat it every day. In fact, you need to bring a cake for your coworkers if it is your birthday. ๐ŸŽ‚
  • I don't know why exactly, but I never lived in a building where I could open the windows all the way in Toronto. I have always assumed it was a safety feature to prevent people from falling or throwing themselves out. In Berlin, windows work as expected. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป
  • Dates make sense again in Germany. The day comes first, then the month, and then the year. I don't know how Canada got this backward. ๐Ÿ“…
  • Bureaucracy is challenging to navigate in Berlin. Any preconceived notion about Germans being efficient is either an utter lie or doesn't apply in this city. Also, see "Germans aren't efficient", as explained by a Canadian comedian. ๐Ÿ“œ
  • There is a lot to be said in terms of the mindset of these two cultures. In my opinion, Torontonians were fairly pragmatic and results-oriented. It seems like Berliners tend to be more hierarchical and process-oriented. ๐Ÿ’ผ
  • Germans are incredibly concerned about privacy. Having said that, there are so many obvious privacy leaks that are taken for granted. Deliveries would end up at your neighbors and can be accepted by anyone. Your name is available for everyone to see on the apartment ringer (no reliance on unit numbers). Contact tracking data in restaurants were completely unsecured, at least during the first few months after the lockdowns. ๐Ÿ˜ถ
  • I was amazed to see unleashed pet dogs walking around in the city. They are usually incredibly disciplined too. I think I never saw anything like that in Toronto. But there is also a lot more dog poop around here compared to what I remember from Toronto. ๐Ÿ’ฉ
  • You can find pretty much anything you need in a large grocery store in Toronto. That is unlikely the case in Germany. It takes a couple of trips to different stores to get everything you might be looking for. Luckily, the delivery services have proliferated with the pandemic, and it started to get less painful to do grocery shopping. ๐Ÿ›’
  • In Toronto, to my knowledge, you need to pay the rent for the first and the last month when renting a place. That could be demanding when you are new in the country since it is two months' worth of rent that you need to pay upfront. Things even out when you leave the place since you don't have to worry about last month's rent. In Berlin, you need to put down a deposit that is worth three months of rent. And that is just a deposit, money that is held hostage until after you vacate the place. That is highly inconvenient and could be financially straining. Additionally, I hear it can be quite a hassle to get the deposit back. ๐Ÿ˜ฌ
  • Moving to Germany, I have always been told that the salaries might seem lower, but life is also cheaper, so that evens things out. That might have been true when rents were lower. But it is getting incredibly hard to find affordable flats in Berlin, and taxes in Germany are so much higher compared to Canada. You would keep less of your earnings living in Berlin if you wanted to have a similar lifestyle to Toronto. ๐Ÿ’ฐ
  • The housing market is a mess in Berlin. It is tough to find apartments. Part of the problem seems that there are almost no new developments in the city. Sometimes you would see dozens of people lined up for a rental viewing. Having said that, the Toronto housing market is also problematic. There is more stock available, with condos everywhere in Toronto, but the prices are unreasonably inflated. ๐Ÿ—๏ธ
  • My favorite pastime hobby in Toronto was just walking the city. I would start from my apartment at St.Clair West, walk through the neighborhoods of Dupont, Bloor, College, Dundas, Queen, etc., till I arrived at the lake. I would get to experience a lot of what the city had to offer on foot in continuity. Berlin is like several different cities in one. It is more like Istanbul or Tokyo in that sense. The city is vast, and it is not fit to be explored on foot. ๐Ÿ‘ฃ
  • Receiving your deliveries is a headache in Berlin. They will frequently end up with a random neighbor or at a remote post office. ๐Ÿค•
  • Life would occasionally get disrupted due to a newly uncovered WW2 bomb. You would have neighborhoods evacuated, or trains get diverted for the bomb to be diffused. ๐Ÿ’ฃ
  • People would tell you there is a lot of diversity in Berlin. Coming from Toronto, it is hard to agree with that. Yes, Berlin has a lot of people from different nationalities, but it is rare to see them represented in positions of power and influence. ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿฆณ
  • There are a lot of Turks in Berlin! Initially, that made me concerned since I am Turkish too. I dreaded going to a place where I belonged to a predefined category. In Toronto, as a Turk, you are this ambiguous foreigner that could be from Eastern Europe or the Middle East. There aren't too many preconceived notions there. In Germany, there are. ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท
  • It is easier to feel like you belong in Toronto. Integration is easier since it is a land of immigrants. Having English as the common language helps that too. It is hard to capture that feeling in Germany or Europe in general. Living in Berlin could be the closest you can get. ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ
  • Luckily it is quite possible to navigate life using English in Berlin. Occasionally you would get bad looks, but that is the price to be paid for being an ignorant "Auslander". ๐Ÿด๓ ง๓ ข๓ ฅ๓ ฎ๓ ง๓ ฟ
  • German super long words are real; this word actually exists: "wohnungsgeberbestรคtigung". ๐Ÿคฏ
  • Coming from Toronto, the weather is not really bad in terms of cold, but it can get pretty gloomy during the winter. ๐ŸŒง๏ธ
  • There is no culture of Air Conditioning in Berlin. That is in stark contrast with N.America. ๐Ÿฅต
  • There are no self-directed, tax-advantageous investment accounts such as RRSP, TFSA, or 401k in Germany. There are some pension schemes that feel incredibly complex, outdated, and inferior compared to other investment methods. This seems unfortunate. It seems like Canada really gets it right by providing you with power and control over your finances.๐Ÿ’ฒ
  • It seems like you need a lot of insurance in Germany. Getting private liability insurance is pretty standard, but I have been sold some additional insurance that is really specific, like coverage for glass damage. I now don't remember if this was essential, but the arguments at the time sounded convincing ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿปโ€โ™‚๏ธ
  • In my experience in Toronto, when you close the door of an apartment from the outside, you can still open it as long it is not locked using the keys. In Berlin, you are locked out of the apartment as soon as you close the doors. It essentially works like a hotel door. So you need to be very careful about not forgetting your keys inside.๐Ÿšช
  • In Berlin buildings, the door to your apartment also opens the main door for the building too. So when you lose a key, you don't only compromise the security of your apartment but the security of the entire building. This makes losing keys incredibly costly. This is a situation where private liability insurance can save the day for you. ๐Ÿ”‘

There are still a bunch of things that come to mind but this list is not meant to be exhaustive. Feel free to reach out to me if you think I have glaring omissions or want to hear more about life in Berlin or Toronto!

2021 ยฉ Engin Arslan
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