Today Fortune.com ran a post about Spaniards emigrating to Berlin, where I was interviewed among others.
The article features a few personal stories: entrepreneurs taking part in the gold rush, young lads searching for better working conditions, etc. But there’s a lot more than just work life, so here’s my experience with Berlin.
How I ended up in Berlin
I left Barcelona a few months ago, hoping to live as a nomad until I get tired of it. My co-founder, Pedro, joined and we headed first to the Canary Islands, and then to Berlin.
At first I didn’t know what to expect from the city. We booked a hostel and airbnbs, and soon rented rooms in the eastern part of the city.
Time flies: I just realized I’ve been here for almost 5 months! I will move away next month, but I’m sure I’ll be back to this city.
Berlin is an adult playground
Life here has been simple, cheap and enjoyable. I’ve been living in a shared apartment, since it was easier than renting my own place and I got to meet new people. Every day I wake up without an alarm, head to a coffee-shop where we put hard work into 8fit. Sometimes I work out and sometimes I spend the night out.
It feels a lot like a holiday. You’re “away” for everybody back home, and the phone rarely buzzes. Being new to a city is refreshing.
I’m not in the habit of month-long holidays. Traveling this way feels more fulfilling: work becomes your storyline, and life is everything else that happens in the way.
The city, at least in spring and summer, is full of energy. Sometimes it feels like you’re being dragged down the stream by it. I found it easy to meet new people in parks and spätis, and the clubbing scene is friendly and fun.
The startup scene
"That sounds great", you might be thinking, "but I thought you were there for the startup scene". Honestly, no, not at all. I’m here for my project – a very different story.
I love building companies, but working on a project and “networking” are very different things. I really value the time to work on 8fit, and being able to cut all the interruptions.
People often spend too much time meeting other entrepreneurs, beyond the point of diminishing returns. It’s when networking becomes notworking. If you’re lucky, all your business needs is to ship good products, find new customers and make sure nothing breaks. As a small team, you can do all of that from a café.
As an early-stage startup, Berlin has a lot to offer: co-working spaces, great cafés to work from, cheap food and housing, and a vibrant culture. That’s everything I need right now.
Being an ex-pat
Working nomadically has been relatively easy. I still pay my taxes and health insurance in Spain, which covers me here. My companies are US-based. I’ve got everything set up to work online from anywhere.
You can really live here without ever learning a word of German, although learning it will help you experience it more fully. The city is 24-hours, bike-friendly and the public transport is great.
On average, I’d say I spend less than in Barcelona and significantly less than in San Francisco. I eat out practically all the time and hasn’t been a problem.
Spaniards in Berlin
Take a walk down Kreuzberg and you’ll hear a decent amount of Spanish in the way.
It seems like everyone I’ve ever met is moving to Germany. People from Barcelona, Madrid and California are either visiting or staying here, or planning to move soon.
I neither seek nor avoid Spaniards. If somebody’s in town, we’ll meet, but I’ve tried to avoid becoming an “ex-pat” hanging around with all the other foreigners. Every other nationality seems equally interesting.
Nobody likes a closed community of noisy ex-pats, and I think getting involved with locals is an important part of experiencing life in Berlin.
Artists and DJs
When I lived in San Francisco, it seemed like every conversation started with “where do you work at”, as if work was the defining part of your identity.
Not in Berlin. I called it an adult playground before, as I find a lot more people taking time off, trying to set up an art exhibition, or DJing at events, and they take it just as seriously as others take their “grown-up” jobs.
That character extends to the venues, also. Cafés and clubs have their own character: spacious, sometimes delirious and often with lots of outdoors space. Events are intense and playful.
The vibrant and diverse art community adds a lot to the city, much like it turned San Francisco into the city it is today.
Working for others
For those looking for a job, it doesn’t seem very hard to find one once you’re here. English will do in many cases, although German definitely helps.
Skilled jobs at startups and other companies seem to pay well. You might not get as many 0s as in London, but your money will definitely get you more in Berlin.
Cost of living and properties
Berlin used to be incredibly cheap, after being deserted in the nineties. It’s been changing little by little, as artists moved in and then other communities.
Kind of like San Francisco, the huge wave of young immigrants has been driving prices up year by year. You can rent a room for 350€, or sublet a studio for 650€, get a co-working space for 80€/mo, and even buy property for a bargain.
However, it’s quickly changing. Myself, I’d be happy to buy a flat if I found something nice enough.
That’s been my experience for the last months here. I’m leaving now, escaping the winter, but I’m sure I’ll be back to this city.
And if you’re also wandering around, you should definitely spend some time here. It might not stay like this forever.