Searching for a flat in Berlin is the worst thing about living in Berlin. A strong statement I know, but ask around any teacher’s room and you’ll no doubt encounter English teachers living a kind of ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence (only with flats), moving from one temporary WG to the next. Choosing a bezirk or district used to be just that, a matter of choice. Increasingly, newly arrived Berliners (especially freelance TEFL teachers) are having to take what they can get. Teacher’s also have to tow the line with respect to distance from the city centre. Living in the outlying districts may be far cheaper, but travel times to class are likely to drive you crazy.
Here is a run down of the main districts:
Berlin’s ‘city centre’ if it has such a thing. The main touristy sites like the Fernsehturm, Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island can be found in the district. Not many people live here, those that do pay ridiculous rents or have lived here since the 60’s. Virtually nothing to do after dark in this area. Unless you’re an investment banker on 60k, you’d do well to consider another area.
A beacon of gentrification and one of Berlin’s fashionable areas attracting young families. Probably Berlin’s ‘nicest’ district with an enviable mix of bars, restaurants and quiet, leafy streets. Summer hangout, the Mauerpark with the excellent Bearpit Karoke are highlights. All this doesn’t come cheap though and reasonable rents are difficult to find.
The middle ground between PB and KB. Lopped in two by the spectacular Stalinist architecture of Karl-Marx-Allee, this area is a great choice – lots of cool bars and restaurants centred around Straße’s Simon-Dach and Revaler , but with some quieter corners. Avoids the most ridiculous extremes of Kreuzberg’s rent levels, but still not a cheap option.
Adjacent to Friedrichshain. Cheaper rents, greater availabilabilty, but grey and miserable featuring Berlin’s greatest concentration of plattenbau (Soviet-style tower blocks)
Berlin’s hipster hub – the city’s Shoreditch, Williamsburg and Vesterbro. Expensive rents and high demand make it difficult to find a flat, although there are a lot of WG’s here. Definitely an interesting place for those who like to be surrounded by fun things like cool bars, restaurant and a Turkish market (and beards/sleeve tattoos), but is noisy.
The rapid gentrification starting in Kreuzberg in the 90’s is now spilling over into neighbouring Neukölln. Only 5 years ago, no-one wanted to live here. Now it’s like the new Kreuzberg complete with dive bars and an excellent kebab shop, catering for those who think that the former is too commercialised or those who are too skint. Reasonably cheap places can be found especially when you go further South. Beware of Altbau, which can be in bad condition.
David Bowie’s old stomping ground in the South-West of the city. Some nice bars and a cracking Ethiopian restaurant on offer. Not the cheapest area, but not as trendy as the East districts meaning it’s easier to find a place.
Wilmersdorf, Charlottenburg and Steglitz
Quiet, West Berlin (excluding West Berlin’s main shopping drag, Kurfürstendamm). Traditionally the posher areas of Berlin with appropriate prices. Much easier to find a place here, but feels very isolated from where all the fun happens. Caters for the older demographic.
In the North-West of Berlin, this area is a good choice. Although it’s not great if all your friends live in Kreuzberg due to pretty bad transport connections (basically the U9 and a few buses), there are some nice places like Kulturfabrik .
Gritty and much-maligned Wedding has so far escaped the wholesale gentification seen in other inner city districts and is consequently the area closest to the centre which offers the best value in the property market. Not the prettiest place to live, but with great connections to areas which are.