2 Years & 200 Jobs - Thoughts on Leaving Berlin
I was born and raised in a place called Broughty Ferry, a serene picturesque suburb of the Northeastern town of Dundee in Scotland. It’s a former fishing and whaling village where boat sheds and fish markets have long been replaced with bars and gift shops. Although a picturesque and proud town with a strong identity, I couldn’t help but come to see the place as a cultural void. Things were happening in the world, and they weren’t happening in Broughty Ferry. So before the ink had dried on my degree certificate, I gathered the remainder of my student loan and booked myself on a budget flight to Schönefeld. I’d visited the city the previous year while ‘Interrailing’ and decided to come and experience the city full time.
I should mention that I met my girlfriend some 4 weeks before arriving in Berlin, a German-Italian also with intentions of moving to the German capital after university - one of life’s serendipitous moments. Desperate to begin post-university life, I decided to make the journey ahead of her and try my luck at finding work. I spent the first month sleeping on the floor of a bedsit in Rudow - the guy who was kind enough to lend me his floor was a programming student of some description, and spent his days (and evenings) playing World of Warcraft online and smoking an endless stream of cigarettes before flicking them on the floor. It drove me even harder to find a job and my own place - like many expats, I was racing against time to find a job before my sparse savings ran out.
Armed with a fistful of C.V’s detailing my limited and unimpressive experience, I headed out into the party districts and offered my C.V to anyone who would take one. Unsurprisingly, I heard nothing back. It’s almost as if there’s a surplus of expat graduates with no practical experience and limited language skills in Berlin. Eventually, I found a job teaching English to German kids during the summer, a position that gave me enough stability to begin language courses and even start an unpaid internship. That’s not to say I didn’t work countless low paid expat jobs around the city to make ends meet in the meantime. To name a few highlights, my favourites were the Segway Tour Guide post I assumed for roughly 2 hours. It was commission based, and I instantly knew I was in trouble – I’m a dreadful salesman. After a quick introduction on the Segway, I was set loose to harass tourists outside the Reichstag with a friendly Dutch colleague. Not long into my new two wheeled nightmare of a career, whilst zipping by a demonstration to reach a group of tourists on the other side I must have turned too vigorously and the wheels locked on my Segway, like a fresh faced Gondoliere in Venice plummeting into the water on the first day on the job, I was thrown over the handlebars, face first into the dirt. You can probably find it on YouTube somewhere under something like “Berlin Segway Simpleton Face Plants Ground”. It was the sort of incident where adrenaline kicks in, and you almost become a bystander in your own mini tragedy. While my face was skidding along the ground, I caught a glimpse of a group of tourists, watching in disbelief before bucking at the knees in hilarity. I picked myself and my Segway off the ground and headed back to the shop tender to tender my resignation.
Unfazed, a few days later I responded to an advert on Craigslist seeking agents for a call centre on Zimmerstraße selling mobile phone contract subscriptions. The wages seemed good and I needed the money, so I thought I’d give it a shot. On my second day, 2 hours into a training exercise which consisted of memorising a script, I excused myself to go to the toilet – I’m not sure if they still think I’m there or not. Eventually I settled in an internship with an English speaking magazine, and later found a job copywriting for a marketing firm. It paid the bills and they were a good firm to work for, something I’m very thankful for.
Aside from the struggle finding a stable job, Berlin presents lots of little challenges. Many of which I’m unsure I would have overcome if it wasn’t for my fluent German girlfriend. She found us a lovely little flat in Steglitz, where we lived until we moved to Cyprus at the end of 2015. People usually scrunch up their face and repeat “Steglitz?” in a confused sort of tone when I tell them which district I live in. It’s not got nearly as many contemporary art exhibitions or 48 hour ecstasy parties as say Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg, but we liked it like that. It’s a calm and quiet part of Berlin, and given we’re only 20 minutes from our door to the Brandenburger Tor (if you time it just right), we feel like we had the best of both worlds. When people ask me for advice about moving here, I always say consider Steglitz or Schöneberg.
Learning German is something I committed myself to 100% about 50% of the time here. I lived here just shy of 2 years, and I would say I was in education for about a year of that and as I was leaving, I was communicating at a level I’m happy with. Learning German in Berlin is like washing your hands in a public bathroom - you definitely should, but if nobody’s looking, you can get away with not doing it.
The people, culture and the streets I’ve gotten to know over the past 2 years made my time in Berlin an indispensable life experience, there were times when I was struggling financially, or grinding my face along the Reichstag courtyard wondering if it was going to work out or feeling small for not speaking German or generally feeling at odds with what can be a cold and unfriendly city. But overcoming Berlin’s hurdles is something that I’m sure will serve me well into the future. Affluent in culture, character and spirit, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been.
By Scott McBurney