An Englishman abroad
A few days ago, we booked some flights to Berlin. It’s not our farewell to England just yet, it’s just an apartment hunting visit. Between now and take off, we need to fill our trip with viewings and scoping of areas.
There are all kinds of logistical things we need to sort out – bank accounts, health cover, tax status, German SIM cards for our mobiles etc etc. These will hopefully work themselves out as we go but the simplest issue is the hardest to answer – where do we want to live?
Berlin is a big sprawling conurbation. It’s full of apartment blocks and, like any major city, it’s full of different areas and districts. If you haven’t worked it out yet, we’re taking a big leap into the unknown with this move. I’ve travelled all over Berlin during my previous visits. I have enough knowledge to get my bearings but not nearly enough to give me the low down on where to live.
When I first visited Berlin (2005), Prenzlaurberg was the coolest district. It was full of edgy bars, young and arty creative types , graffiti and squats. From what I’ve heard, Prenzlaurberg has become a little more gentrified since then. Nowadays, Kreuzberg (my old favourite) seems like the coolest district. So much so that the neighbouring district of Neukolln is the up and coming place to be. At my last visit, Friedrichsfelde looked pretty cool and dynamic.
The truth is, I’ll have my fortieth birthday in Berlin in 2011. I’m not so bothered about living in the coolest districts. I’m not trying to re-capture my twenties, I just want to experience life in Berlin. Cool is great, but it can be a bit noisy, naive and unnecessarily expensive (excluding the squats, obviously). Of course, being forty doesn’t mean I can’t live in these areas either.
So where do we live? I’ve had a few apartment notifications from all over the place – Pankow, Wannsee, Tegel, Charlottenberg, Neukolln, Mitte, Friedrichshain. The best one we’ve seen so far (according to the photos) is in Tegel.
Tegel is a bit out of the way out of things but it’s still only 20-30 minutes on the S or U Bahn into the city centre. It’s also better known as the location of one of Berlin’s airports. I’m happy to live with some noise but I don’t want to live on a flight path.
Tegel seems to have a lot in its favour. It’s close to Tegeler See and Tegel Forest. We would have large green areas nearby and I’m sure we’d enjoy that. The flat on offer seems to give an awful lot of space for the rent too (compared with most). But with only twelve months in my favourite city, I don’t want to miss out on real Berlin life (if there’s any such thing).
There is part of me that would like to live in the former East. That has always been a strong part of my affection for the city. But whatever is left of the DDR, it isn’t a theme park for people like me. And I want to get to know today’s Berlin, not to find a myth of the Berlin that might be in my head.
So, the question remains – where shall we live?