A Digital Nomad’s Guide to Berlin
Written by Thomas Carney
My first time living in Berlin was in the summer of 2007 when I flew over from Ireland to spend the summer to improve my German.
My plan was to find a summer job in Berlin, which I failed at entirely.
That was okay, though, because my rent in a one bedroom apartment was 150 euros per month.
For a long time, this low cost of living coupled with the extraordinary array of nightclubs, squats, artist projects and off-the-wall tech companies attracted hoards of digital nomads.
Tim Ferriss even listed Berlin in his famous “Four Hour Work Week” book as a perfect place for “lifestyle” arbitrage: living in a low-cost country while earning in a high-wage country.
The prices have, predictably, risen in Berlin, but it still remains a perfect place to spend a few months as a digital nomad. These days you’ll find Berlin is full of exciting tech start-ups, new art exhibitions and countless meet ups with fellow digital nomads so you can swap notes with.
As of right now, I can count about seven friends currently staying in Berlin that I met in at the KoHub coworking space in Koh Lanta, Thailand.
Below we’ll dig into how you can spend a month in Berlin as a digital nomad.
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Digital Nomad Accommodation in Berlin
When I first arrived in Berlin in 2008, I actually found a short-term furnished let via a real estate agent of all things. Thankfully, you no longer have to deal with real estate agents.
Typical neighborhoods that attract digital nomads include Neuköln, Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain. Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte are also popular, although they’re both more expensive these days. Finally, Wedding is an attractive neighborhood if you’re on a budget, as it’s situated just north of Prenzlauer Berg on the city ring light train line.
Airbnb for Digital Nomads in Berlin
Airbnb is the most hassle-free way to get a place if you’re staying for a few days to a few weeks.
Airbnb has had some troubles in the last couple of years, as Berlin clamps down on illegal holiday rentals. Now, there are tough restrictions on short-term rentals, so it’s harder to find places to rent than before. Rentals have gone way up in cost.
A 1-bedroom flat in one of the trendier neighborhoods starts at $1500 for one month and quickly rises from there. When I checked for August 2017, Airbnb said that the average price per month for Berlin is $2,818.
A room in a shared flat on Airbnb is cheaper, with Airbnb saying that the average price per month was $1418 USD.
Credit: Hector Bermudez
Sublets for Digital Nomads in Berlin
Airbnb rates might well be outside of your budget. It pays to do a little work on lesser known websites such as WG-Gesucht.de.
On these websites, you’ll find lots of students who rent out their room in a shared flat from anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year. Typically, they are doing an exchange year or an internship abroad, but they don’t want to give up their flat. Therefore, you can often sublet their room for anywhere from 300 – 600 dollars/month in prime locations, which is far cheaper than Airbnb
Examples of short-term lets available on more informal sites
The informal nature of these sub-lets means that they’ll need to have a lot of trust in you, so the more information they have about you, the better.
I’ve found that you’ll have the most chances of success if you send over a link to your Facebook profile, personal blog, and give them a good sense of who you are in your email. I usually also sent a link to my Airbnb references, as well.
Be warned, however, that some sub-lets will hold a “casting” session to see who should get the room. My first time at a casting session was quite weird: I had to sit in a circle of about ten other interested people as we all introduced ourselves and what we were about.
One of the other people introduced himself as a DJ who was just back from Nepal where he’d helped out at a children’s orphanage.
He seemed so cool even I felt he should get it!
It’s also harder to rent one of these rooms if you’re not already in Berlin, so plan a week stay in a hostel while you’re looking.
Best Hostels for Digital Nomads in Berlin
Some of the best hostels I recommend in Berlin for digital nomads include:
- Heart of Gold Hostel – in a central location in Mitte close to the Central Station, museum island and main sights with plenty of activities going on and comfy areas for socialising including a bar downstairs. They have private rooms (including single rooms) and dorms. Book here.
- The Circus Hostel – It’s easy to see why this is one of Berlin’s most popular and highly rated hostels. It’s in a great location only 50 yards from Rosentalerplatz U Bahn Station and close to everything. Rooms are spacious, clean and smart and the staff are really helpful. You can rent bicycles and even ipads and there is a nice cafe/bar on site. Click here to book
- Generator Berlin Mitte – Super cool and modern hostel with a colourful, funky and minimalist interior design and a sociable bar They also have a hostel in Prenzlauer Berg. Book here.
- A&O Hostels – This is a big chain of hostels with several locations around Berlin, including one just 5 mins walk from the Central Train Station and also one in Mitte, one in Friedrichshain and more. They are clean, well equipped hostels but they are really big so have less character. On the plus side, they usually have free spaces even during busy times and are super cheap. Click here for more info and bookings.
- 36 Rooms is a great place to stay in the hip Kreuzberg district near to the park and all the shops and close to Berlin’s nightlife. More info here
Rosa Luxemburg Platz at Night in Central Berlin
Long Term Rentals for Digital Nomads in Berlin
The market for longer term rents in Berlin is quite competitive, as thousands of new people move here every year. Consequently, apartments have become scarce on the ground.
Tenants enjoy excellent protections under German law, so landlords tend to have quite exacting standards for renting out apartments in terms of credit rating, a full-time job and evidence of paying the rent in the past.
In addition, apartments often come entirely unfurnished right down to the light fittings and without any kitchen.
For these reasons, I’d recommend avoiding longer term rentals if you planning on staying a few months at most.
When I moved back to Berlin in 2015, I rented a place on Airbnb for a month before subletting an apartment for 1 year from a couple who moved abroad before finally getting my own long term rent once I had all the extensive paperwork required.
Be watchful for scams. Generally, anyone who wants you send money sight unseen due to “being out of the country right now” shouldn’t be trusted.
Where do Digital Nomads work in Berlin?
Unlike more expensive cities such as Paris or London, it’s easy to find inexpensive co-working spaces and highly tolerant cafes in Berlin to work from.
Best Cafes in Berlin to work from for Digital Nomads
The St Oberholz cafe in Mitte is famous as the birthplace of the audio-streaming giant SoundCloud. You can hang out there amongst the creative set working on your laptop, as long as you occasionally order a coffee.
Let me know if you’re in town and we co-work together!
Coworking Spaces for Digital Nomads in Berlin
The Betahaus Co-Working Space
Berlin has no shortage of coworking spaces. Conveniently, you can often buy day passes or monthly passes.
The most famous coworking space is Betahaus in Kreuzberg. It combines a great cafe on the ground floor with hackerspaces and a coworking space on the upper floors. I’d recommend just working out of the ground-floor cafe, as you’ll meet more people there.
The Factory up in Prenzlauer Berg is a Google-backed startup space and innovation community that has over 800 people working out it, including companies such as Uber, Twitter, and SoundCloud.
Other options include the Co-Up coworking space in Kreuzberg that hosts almost daily tech meetups in the evening, or the quieter Launch/co in Friedrichshain, famous for the first coworking space in Europe to accept Bitcoins.
Meetups to Meet Fellow Digital Nomads in Berlin
The Berlin scene is full of so many meet ups it can be hard to keep track of them: from cryptocurrency meetups with the co-founder of Ethereum to CouchSurfing meetups with backpackers from around the world or co-working sessions designed to help you stay productive.
I keep an eye out on Meetup.com for interesting professional events. Couchsurfing events are great for meeting people who are into backpacking, music, and arts. There are multiple CouchSurfing events every week, including an Ultimate Frisbee game every Saturday in Treptower Park. Otherwise, Eventbrite can be a great source of interesting events.
Other Things to do in Berlin
Berlin is a vast playground from the chic neighborhoods to the more gritty, urban sectors to more sleepy suburbs. There’re lots of places to explore. Below are some of my personal recommendations.
Graffiti in the RAW Gelände
This long stretch of industrial buildings was once a train repair station but now has turned into an eclectic mix of clubs, skateboarding parks, gourmet food trucks, and flea markets. You’ll even find a Vegas-style day club nestling amongst the graffitied industrial factory buildings.
Every evening at 9:30 pm in the summer you can catch a film at the outdoor cinema at Cassiopeia. On Sunday you’ll find a second-hand, open air flea market.
Teufelsberg, or Devil’s Mountain in English, is home to a former US espionage station during the Cold War. Now, it’s a magnet for graffiti artists. The 80 meter climb up is rewarded with views of Berlin to one side and the Brandenburg countryside to the other. It’s also a nice day trip for hiking or mountain biking, as it’s one of the few hills in Berlin.
The Thursday Night Food Market at Markhalle Neun
Credit: Alper Çuğun licensed under CC BY 2.0
Foodies will love the various markets held in the Markthalle Neun building. Every day from Tuesdays to Thursdays it’s a regular grocery market with vegetables, meat, and speciality gro. On Thursday evening, however, it’s transformed into a street food market with food from all over the world. My personal favourite is the Breakfast Market held every third Sunday in the month. Berliners don’t like getting up very early, so it’s open until 5 pm in the evening.
Walking down the abandoned runway!
This Airport was crucial in resupplying Berlin during the Berlin Blockade right after the Second World War. Now, the airport has been shut down and turned into one gigantic park. You can longboard down the runways or sunbathe on the grassy areas in between. It’s perfect for a picnic or BBQ in the summer.
How to Stay Longer in Berlin
Like me, you might end up falling in love with Berlin and decide to stay longer term.
The good news is that getting a work visa for non-EU citizens in Berlin is not too difficult. You can even apply for an artistic/ freelancer visa if you’re planning on working in the arts without any full-time job.
On the other hand, Berlin was notorious in the past for high unemployment rates and low wages to go along with the cheap cost of living. That’s changing, as the German economy has been booming for years now.
Thanks to the large tech industry, people with tech, product design or marketing skills won’t find it too difficult to find jobs that don’t require German fluency. You’ll find many of the jobs advertised on Berlin Startup Jobs.
Learning German, however, will make your day-to-day life so much easier, as you won’t have to ask a German friend to accompany you on every small administrative task. And you’ll find that Berlin life comes with its fair share of bureaucracy from endless queues to register your address to paying various taxes and fees or filing tax returns. You’ll find plenty of options for German courses, including public subsidized beginner courses starting at roughly $2/class.
Otherwise, Reddit is a fantastic resource for learning more about living in Berlin. The Berlin sub-reddit has a great wiki with answers to almost anything you could want to know. And if not, there’s quite a friendly community who are happy to answer questions not answered in the wiki.
Have you visited Berlin? Do you have any tips for digital nomads visiting the city? Let us know in the comments below.
Author: Thomas Carney is an ultralight traveller based in Berlin, Germany. He writes about minimalist backpacking and merino wool.
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