You’ve always been able to just pack up and move, but technology is making it easier to do just that, as Tristan Rayner discovered when he made the move to a place where he didn’t speak the language.
Last year, I made the move to Europe, making Germany the destination I planned to spend the next few years of my life.
Now, Germany is one of the great countries of the world, and Berlin is truly a world city, but one reason it’s not higher on people’s lists is simply because they don’t speak German.
Neither do I, but that hasn’t stopped me setting up to live here for the short-term.
So how do you get by?
Truth be told, a significant number of Germans speak and write English, and can probably do it better than you.
Until you start saying things like “Yeah, nah, she’ll be right” without taking a pause, that is. Or try and explain Vegemite on toast. Something about spreading the leftovers from beer brewing just doesn’t compute. Can’t imagine why.
Outside of those curious translation issues — because Vegemite is hard enough to explain to Americans who speak a very similar language — there are some instances where you’re going to have to know aspects of the other’s foreign language.
1. Getting a German bank account, made easy
Germans can be overly bureaucratic about things, one might even say stuffy. There are just so many steps, it reads like a drawn out procedure from Douglas Adams’ poetry-reading race of Vogons.
If you want to move here you need to register your apartment or house at a local office. Once you have that registration, you can then get a bank account. Once you have a bank account, you can get a job. Then you’ll need to get a tax number based on you now being gainfully employed. And so on, and so on.
It’s like restarting every possible aspect of your life again, and you can’t do anything without that first step.
Without that registration, it’s very hard to do anything, and you can’t just register your hostel or a long-term stay at Airbnb. It’s a classic catch-22 situation, but not a particularly fun one that you read about when it happens to you.
Thankfully, technology is helping.
Number26 (now “N26”) is a brilliant online-only bank account connected to one of the best designed apps I’ve ever used. It’s not that far in front of Australia’s own banks in terms of app functionality, but its whole suite is far better.
If you have the right details, you can verify yourself via a video call. If not, they send you a form you take to the Postbank to have verified for free. In the space of a few days, you get your bank card, German bank account, and the ability to get paid and pay people in Euros without copping transfer fees. Not bad.
This isn’t some kind of paid-for affiliate deal. It’s just what worked for me!
2. Need to register an Anmeldung? Scripts will help.
As I was saying previously, you need to register your address in Germany at Government offices called a bürgeramt with a document called an anmeldung.
The problem? In Berlin, you won’t be able to get an appointment to do so.
If you go online to book, you’ll regularly find there are just no appointments for the next month. At all.
There’s a phone number to call but if you spreche kein Deutsche (don’t speak German), but that’s not helpful either.
Generally, the answer for desperate people is to turn up at 5am or earlier and wait for the limited number of appointments given out each day. It works, but it’s not fun.
Enterprising programmers came up with a better way in Reddit’s /r/Berlin, which is a lovely script which polls the service until it finds an appointment. Not bad.
3. Google Translate
This one is so obvious that you probably know all about it.
But it is incredibly helpful when you’re just not sure what’s going on. I mostly utilise the camera feature when confronted with a wall of text, with Google’s translation system able to do an impromptu text conversion and replace what’s on the sign through my phone with something in a language I speak and read fluently.
This comes in handy with signs, when shopping, trying to read a document, or working out how to cook the thing you bought, figuring out what the washing machine settings need to be, and more.
It’s about as close as we’re getting to the universal translator.
4. Facebook Groups
Although it’s a cringe, Facebook Groups seem to be very popular in many European cities, including Berlin.
The expat and travellers groups are useful just to join and read to find out more about the city and what’s on, but can also be great for advice and for helping others.
One of the biggest Facebook groups in Berlin is ‘Free Your Stuff Berlin’ and it’s a menagerie of items up for grabs and in any group with more than 50,000 members, the weird and wonderful often bobs up.
Mannequins. Left-over food. Even fairly adult related material. Anything goes, really. Go nuts, people.