-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with two flatmates, but all of my family are in Australia.
-How long have you been living in Germany?
Almost three years
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Germany?
When I was about 19 years old. I was studying German at university in Australia, I'd already been to Germany on exchange three years earlier, and I knew that the only way to get my German up to the level I wanted to reach was to move here. I lived here for a year as a trial on an exchange program, and decided that it was such a good idea, I wanted to move to Berlin. Two years later, I got on a one-way flight back to Germany.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
I started out on a visa linked to the year-long teaching assistant program I was participating in. When that expired, I got a Working Holiday Visa. By the time that ran out, the company I was working for at the time sponsored me to get a work permit and temporary residency.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No. Medical insurance was included in the contract I was employed under for the first year, since it was a special exchange program. I had to get my own medical insurance to get the Working Holiday Visa, but when I joined the company I'm with now, they took over my medical insurance.
-How do you make your living in Germany? Do you have any type of income generated?
I teach English here, but unlike the average English-speaking backpacker, this is my career choice. I'm a qualified secondary school teacher of German and English at home; I have a degree in teaching, as opposed to just a CELTA or TESOL certificate. This makes a big difference if you're looking for work as a teacher: CELTA or TESOL is usually the bare minimum that good language schools will require of their teachers. Some require you to be a native speaker of English - usually doesn't matter where you're from, but some schools have a definite preference for British or American teachers over others. My university teaching qualification and teaching experience was a huge advantage.
In terms of finding a job, my experience is a little different to most. The first year I was in Berlin I was teaching at a local high school as a language assistant as part of a German/Australian educational exchange program. I applied for the program and was accepted before I left Australia - the work permit and the residency were organised through the program. Six months before my contract and visa ended, I started applying for other jobs as I was determined to stay. I was offered a retail manager's job in another city in Germany just before my visa expired, which I accepted just so I could stay. Two weeks into the job, a large English school I had sent my CV to in January invited me back to Berlin for an interview. A month later, I moved back to Berlin and started work there.
-Do you speak German and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I speak fluent German, in addition to various other languages at conversational level. I started learning German at age 10 as the result of a change of school, and continued with it through high school and university. It was one of my two university majors, and I am now qualified to teach German in Australian high schools, in addition to having experience in translating. It's not essential to speak German to the level that I speak it to live here - I certainly know a few English-speaking expats here who have been living here for multiple years who speak little beyond a handful of basic words - but it certainly makes life easier. German immigration and various other authorities do not speak English - even if the individual case workers do have some English knowledge, they will never use it with you to help you, which means you are forced to either learn German fast, or to cajole your German-speaking friends to accompany you to every appointment you have with local authorities - these can be frequent and very stressful, especially at the start of the process.
Aside from just making life here easier, it makes life so much more interesting. Honestly, if you want to be taken seriously as an expat rather than just a monolingual English-speaking tourist, put some effort into learning German. Compared to other languages, its similarities to English make learning it relatively easy, especially if you're learning while living here, and it will make your experience living in Germany so much more exciting and interesting if you can communicate with the locals in their language.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.
Sometimes. Since my home city of Melbourne is over 14,000km from Berlin, I don't get to travel home all that often - once every 18 months is about as often as I can afford, in terms of time off work and also financing a plane ticket. Fortunately I can rely on two amazing pieces of technology to keep in touch with family and friends back home - email, and Skype. Being so far away from my family and from my friends in Melbourne would be so much more difficult without those two, and being able to see people in real-time with webcam is incredible. But I also have an amazing group of friends here - they truly are my surrogate family. A lot of them are expats - mostly Americans, which makes me a bit of a novelty as the only one of the bunch not from the northern hemisphere - but there are also Germans among the group.
In terms of recreational activities, I've discovered some new activities in Berlin which I never would have thought of at home. Berlin is an incredible city in itself - the historical sites and cultural activities are truly fantastic, and there is always something to do here. Speaking German also gets me access to the local event websites - cultural festivals, concerts, random events and museum and historical and art exhibitions, for example. Berlin is far from the ideal city for astronomy, which was one of my favourite hobbies in Australia. The skies are too light at night, there are less bright stars up here, and public transport into the outer suburbs with darker skies at night is neither frequent nor especially safe, all of which is the reason I don't have a telescope here. I've traded that for other activities though, particularly photography and urban exploring. Travel is also a major part of my life here: since I've been living in Berlin, I've used it as a base to backpack through Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Balkans, northern Africa, Turkey, the UK and even venture across the pond to the USA. That was one of my goals while living over here - to visit as many countries and regions in the area as possible while I have the chance - and I think I've done a pretty good job of it: sixteen new countries so far, but there's plenty of Europe still left to discover.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I definitely want to keep travelling. I don't know how long I'm going to stay in Berlin for, so I want to see as much of Europe as I can while I have a base here. Finland, Lithuania, Ukraina, Belarus, Russia and a few more Scandanavian countries are definitely on the list, as are return trips to Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. I also plan on returning to studying, and my Masters is my next target.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I share a flat with two guys, a German and an Irishman, in a relatively central area of southern Berlin. Unlike in Australia, people living in share flats seldom know each other before moving in. Usually it starts out that way, but people move out and others move in over time, and most share flats are occupied by people who didn't know each other before they moved in. It works well though, and I got extremely lucky with my flatmates. The area where I live is experiencing a stark increase in rent prices at the moment, but my flat has been in the same hands under the same contract for over a decade, and has managed to avoid the increases, so I'm not sure what the prices are for my area. My guess for a 3 bedroom apartment in my area would be anywhere between 800-1200EUR, depending on the location and style of the flat (old-style or renovated).
-What is the cost of living in Germany?
Compared to Australia and the other European capital cities, it's cheap to live here. As with every city, you can adjust your standard of living depending on where you live, shop and spend your time, but in general, Berlin is cheap to live. It's possible to get by on 800EUR a month (rent and utilities included) if you watch your spending.
-What do you think about the locals?
Depends on which locals you're talking about. My German friends and most younger Germans are friendly, welcoming, interested in your reasons for coming to Germany, and eager to include you in their world. They usually embrace international visitors, are open to different cultures and really love to party and have a good time. This only happens though if you find a way into their group. Many Germans retain the same group of friends from high school all the way through their twenties into their thirties, and it can be difficult for outsiders to find a way in. This is where share flats are great - it's an instant inroad to a friendship circle which would otherwise remain off-liimits. Work colleages can also have the same function.
There is still the lingering xenophobic stereotype as a residual of the history here, and there are definitely far-right groups and areas which are best avoided, especially if you are not caucasian, but since these areas do not tend to be in central Berlin or in areas which your daily life takes you to or through, it's not a problem.
In terms of the locals you deal with in the service industry, whether it be retail, hospitality, day-to-day administration with large companies and on public transport, German service is, as a rule, terrible. You will get the occasional positive experience, especially if you become a regular at a particular store and deal with the staff there on a regular basis, but generally, the golden rule of "The customer is always right" simply does not apply in Germany. It seems that they can quite simply treat customers however the hell they want: the view is that the customer wants something from the business, and the business simply deigns to deal with them. My favourite example is the customer service hotline here. In Australia or anywhere else for that matter, customer service hotlines are almost always toll free - at most, the cost of a local call.
In Germany, not only do you pay by the minute, but you pay about 15c a minute. On top of that, service calls to German companies on average take half an hour. Each. If Telstra (the national phone company in Australia) for example tried to charge its customers to call them for service enquiries, I could well imagine there would be a national outcry, if not a mass exodus. Here, it's something you have to deal with if you want a problem fixed.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Germany?
The positives: the weather in summer, the public transport system, the travel opportunities and the location in central Europe, the history and culture, the summer festivals, the night life.
The negatives: the service industry, the occasional outright rudeness of Germany, the winter weather (especially if you're accustomed to warmer climates, or the southern hemisphere in general!), but all these are trumped by the absolute insanity of German bureaucracy.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Germany?
Learn the language (or at least attempt it). Do your homework. Be prepared for an onslaught of bureaucracy, and be sure that you have the time and the patience to deal with it. Be open-minded. Give all of these a good go, and you'll love living here.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Germany?
My Berlin blog - http://kangaroosindeutschland.blogspot.com
Gratis in Berlin - free activities on offer in Berlin. http://www.gratis-in-berlin.de
Best free travel guide for Berlin - even three years after moving here, I can still find new and interesting things to do here in this guide. Great alternative if you want to avoid Lonely Planet. http://www.inyourpocket.com/germany/berlin