We are about two and a half months into our Berlin adventure, so I thought an update is in order.

Landing an apartment and settling in

In my last report, we were still in corporate housing, namely a hotel in a Berlin suburb. After a pretty brief search, we landed on an apartment at the Northern edge of the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.

Our new neighborhood is dominated by blocks of 5-story apartment buildings, most constructed in the early 1900s. Originally built for factory workers, these blocks were dark, crowded, and cheap. This area was largely spared allied bombing during the war, making it one of the few neighborhoods where you can get a sense of pre-war Berlin. After the war, this was East Berlin, and largely neglected by the GDR authorities and their grand plans to reshape the city. With the fall of the Berlin wall, Prenzlauer Berg became known for its counter-culture movement, and many of the buildings were home to artists and squatters. Now, with rapid gentrification, high rents have pushed out most artists (and, sadly, many native Berliners), while chic restaurants, bustling cafes, and trendy boutiques have moved in.

This was the area we were most interested in, so we were happy to land this apartment. It is smaller than our Seattle place (as expected), on the ground floor, and faces an internal courtyard. This makes it very quiet, one of our main requirements after seven years in construction-mad Seattle. While it gets less direct sun than we’d prefer, it means the temperature stays wonderfully moderate, an unexpected blessing in this unseasonably hot Berlin summer.

Despite our (relatively) high rent, the first few weeks in our apartment felt more like squatting than living. With most of our household goods on a ship somewhere on the Atlantic, we were using a cardboard box for our dinner table and sleeping on an air mattress. Since apartments in Europe, and especially old ones like ours, lack build-in closets, our few possessions were stacked in piles on the floor. Many apartments in Berlin don’t even include build-in kitchens but, thankfully, ours did. However, we still needed to buy a refrigerator and washing machine. After many trips to our local Ikea (once the largest in the world), several large Amazon.de orders, and a generous loan of furniture from a friend, we now have a places to sit and eat, wash our clothes, and store our stuff.

Also, since I was pushing for this move over Daniela’s initial reticence, my offer included a promise that she’d get some nice furniture out of this adventure. So, we’ve been scouring online stores and local vintage shops for a few higher-end pieces. Germany is, after all, home to the Bauhaus, and a stone’s throw from the promised-land of Scandinavian design. After a small snafu with a local vintage dealer, we landed a gorgeous mid-century sideboard at a generous discount. Coupled with our new, and rather stylish sofa and rug combo, our apartment feels like it is finally coming together.

Now, we sit in wait for our shipment from America. With it comes our bed (and a reprieve from our air mattress), kitchen pots and pans, a dining room table, and the comfort of knowing the last major step of our move will be complete.

Other updates

German classes: Within a couple weeks of arriving in Berlin, Daniela found, enrolled, and started her intensive German classes. And they mean it when they say “intensive”. For three hours a day, 5 days a week, she’s fully immersed in learning and practicing German. Then, after that, there’s a good two hours of homework that evening. She found the first few weeks exhausting and occasionally frustrating, as the sheer amount of focus and effort proved mentally taxing. But, through an excellent teacher and dedicated effort, she’s acclimating and gaining a grasp on good portions of the language. While I’ve learned practically no German in the last two months, Daniela has progressed from A1.2 to starting her first B1 class in July.

Smoking: If there is a single thing that I dislike about Berlin, it is how much people smoke here. It is difficult to find things positive to say about American healthcare, but here’s one: anti-smoking efforts have been impressively effective at curbing cigarettes (at least in coastal cities). Berlin? Not so much. While you’re not allowed to smoke inside public spaces and our lease stipulates no smoking, smoking on the street or outside restaurants, cafes, and bars is very prevalent. Considering how otherwise health-conscious people seem to be here (organic food is everywhere, many people regularly exercise, and so on), it is disappointing that this incredibly unhealthy habit persists.

Restaurants on the Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg.

Exploring Berlin: Although most of our weekends have been full of apartment-related tasks, we have spent some time exploring our new home. A few highlights were trips to many biergartens, walking around the Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg neighborhoods, and sampling nearby restaurants. With luck, once our apartment is more settled, we’ll have more time to do some further exploration (and I’ll have more time to share our experiences here).

I’ve written up some learnings from our move so, if you’re interested in a similar adventure, you can avoid making the same mistakes we did. I broke this down into two posts: Logistics and learnings and Selling (almost) everything.

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