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My first interview- Brian from the UK

I wanted to interview people of color living in Germany, so I got some responses. This black man is from United Kingdom and now lives in Berlin. He goes by the name of Brian. Here are the answers to my questions. Note the featured image is not him.. just someone I thought looked like him. Thank you Brian.

Where were you born and in which countries have you lived?
Born in UK, lived in UK & Germany only

Describe your first trip to Germany?
I was a bit nervous, due to initial rumours about neo Nazis but enthusiastic as I already knew many djs/ artists and musicians here, who encouraged me to check Berlin out, especially for the nightlife!

When did you realize that you had the Expat bug?
When I realised how much cheaper it was compared to London, plus at that point wanted to live somewhere a bit more laid back, however, Barcelona was initially my first choice.

What has been your most enlightening experience while living in Germany?
The lack of violence in comparison to London.

What has been your most disheartening experience while living Germany?
Lack of manners. At times, it seems as if the words “excuse me” or “thanks” exist here!

Which customs from home do you miss the most?
British humour, politeness and small talk + British/ Jamaican culture

How important is it to learn German?
Very important if I intend to stay here for many more years to come

Do you have proficiency in Germany?
Intermediate at the moment, but slowly improving – need to make more effort though.

How have you gone about making friends?
Most of my friends are either expats or through work to be honest. It can be difficult at times to make friends with the natives.

Have you connected with the expat community where you live?
Yes, but I also find it a shame that I don’t have more German friends in my inner circle.

How do you keep in touch with family and friends from home?
Facebook, Skype & Phone calls.

Are you working? Is it difficult to find a job?
I’m currently working full time and yes, it is difficult to find a job, as employers know that they can exploit the market here due to high unemployment + high number of over qualified professionals.

Have you found that you have to live on less income? And if so how have you made the
adjustment?

I manage on less income, as cost of living is still lower in comparison to UK.

How hard is it to find a good place to live?
Very difficult in the current climate, especially if you live centrally, unless you happen to be a “nachmieter” based on someone’s recommendation.

What are the opportunities to buy property?
No idea, but would like to find out in the near future.

What are the top 3 attractions or places of interest?
The lakes that surround Berlin, the Museums and of course the general nightlife!

Where are the best places to vacation in your region as a single person? A
couple? A family with children?

To be honest when I take vacation, I usually go abroad.

How would you describe the Germans mentality?
Unless the Germans you’ve met have travelled or lived abroad, that many of the people can be quite rigid in their thinking and do not think outside the box.

What would you say to a friend or relative who is considering moving to Germany?
Try and at least learn some German beforehand or as soon as you arrive. Also, if possible, try and visit beforehand and experience the city as an ordinary person living/ hanging out in a neighbourhood away from tourists or expats. It’s also worth speaking to people who have lived here for at least 3 years or more as to give you a balanced view.

Do you consider yourself a permanent expatriate? or…
– a temporary expatriate? – an incidental expatriate? And why?

A temporary expatriate because I cannot imagine growing old here, as I can imagine it would be quite lonely without a solid cultural circle, plus Germany is still far from being a proper integrated society.

How has your life as an expatriate changed who you are?
Yeah, as at times feel unable to express my true self, due to cultural differences.

Do Blacks (or foreigners in general) in your view have any problems with adjustment or
discrimination in Germany?

They do, but coming from the UK, USA or Canada, means you’re will be probably better than others imo..however this doesn’t make me feel better as I know some of the crap many Africans and Turkish have to deal with. There is no class system like in the UK, however, the educational and employment system needs a desperate overhaul due to it’s discriminatory nature.

Cost of living and quality of life questions
Rent costs-Approx. €1050
Cost for meals- €7 -€15.
Transportation costs- I mainly use a bike.
Compared to your home country are most things cheap/same/expensive?
Rent, entertainment and food is cheaper – consumer goods on the other hand are more expensive.

Any legal hurdles all foreigners have to face to live there?
From the UK no – I have no idea about non-EU countries.
Top 3 things you would recommend someone to bring when they come
6 Months worth of savings, a laptop and a stock of favourite toiletries 
Top 3 things you would recommend for someone visiting or living here to do
Most of the museums, parks and outdoor bars in summer.

I hope to get more submissions from other Black expats living in Germany… for more information on how to submit, click interview submissions.

How To/ My hair/ Uncategorized

Natural Hair in Berlin

Natural Hair in Berlin

Almost a year before I decided to move to Berlin, I went to the barber and had them cut my hair completely off. Why? I wanted to go natural. I had been reading so much about women going natural, and said.. ‘I can do that too.’ It was definitely a big decision. I was living in Los Angeles, where everyone is wearing a weave. Even the non- black women. Rarely, did I see women wearing their own hair, let alone in their natural texture. Walking around with very short hair in a city like LA was tough. Not as tough as it has been in Berlin, I came to find out.
There really aren’t too many black people here. I read that there about 500,000 Afro German people living here, and who knows how many other non German blacks. It is hard to find actual stats on this after some research. Almost every black woman I see has some horrible weave or wig on that does not even come close to looking ‘natural.’ I have been asked questions by some such as: ‘Why don’t you just buy a wig? Can you afford one, are you growing locs?’ Some have even gone as far to say Black people in America are all mixed up, so you can wear your hair like that, but my natural hair would not be acceptable. I encourage those who will listen that it really is about embracing what nature gave you. Personally, I did it to save money. The amount of cash I was spending on weaves and braids was insane. Even though, I do my own hair (thank you beauty school), I have spent thousands of dollars for my ‘European hair hats.’ Do not get me wrong, I have no animosity towards the women that still wear them. It is an easy way to avoid a bad hair day. However, wearing a wig every day and covering my hair just is not for me.
In Berlin, it is very interesting how Europeans respond to my natural hair. I work at a very international company, and many of my coworkers just reach out and touch my hair. I have had to check many of them explaining to them that it was rude to do that. I never go up to them and just start playing in their hair.. why would they think this was ok for them to do. There are also the questions.. ‘How does your hair do that? Why don’t you straighten it?’ And, the comments: ‘You should wear your hair straight, I am sure it would look better like that.’ Sometimes, you get the ones who think your hair is cool, and they wish their hair could do what mine can. I am rather creative ( I would like to think) in my range of styles, and many still think that it is not my hair.. When one can clearly see that is growing from my scalp. Overall, it seems to be the curiosity factor.

My biggest challenge with natural hair…finding products. I have completely given up on this, and now make my own. I am actually planning to manufacture and sell my products soon to people in mainland Europe. That is my dream, and something I am actively working towards. Instead of women having to pay so much to ship it here, my products will do the same as the major labels do, with natural ingredients, and without the extra tax one has to pay in shipping them to Germany. Afro shops here just do not sell them. However, I understand. In my quest to start this business, I contacted some natural product lines like Miss Jessies, Mixed Chicks, Kinky Curly. They do not ship wholesale to Germany. Some never even responded. Most naturals I know here rely on youtube and natural hair websites for ideas. I want my shop to not only sell products, but to have a natural hair stylist to help women find innovative ways to rock their natural hair. It is still a work in progress, but so far so good.

How has your experience been being natural abroad?

Some pictures of my natural hair

How To/ Uncategorized

Only thing that’s for Sure..

I am a huge Marvin Gaye fan, and one of my favorite songs he has is ‘Trouble Man.’ There is a great line where he says: ‘The only things that’s for sure: taxes, death, and trouble.’ This blog is about Germany and taxes. As you know, or may not know, I am American. The taxes for my wage level are generally low, despite what most people tell you. In California, we do pay a lot more, however. In Germany, they pay much more. Their tax rate for my new income level is 50%. When I saw this, I wanted to cry. My already low salary, will not be much after the tax man is done with it. That is if I can ever get paid. With getting this job, I have had to get health insurance (out of pocket), my work permit, and something the Germans call a Lohnsteuerkarten. I hope I spelled this right. This is my actual tax card. I would equate it to my social security card. I got my number in the mail, but you have to either order one online, or sit at your local municipality. If I do not have this cardboard card, I will not be able to receive a check from my employer. I have been waiting after ordering this online for over a month. Personally, I do not like working for free, but I do not see another way around it.
German citizens to pay a lot in taxes, but I must say I really see the taxes going to work here. The roads are clean, they are not riddled with pot holes. The electricity infrastructure is modern. They don’t have to worry about downed power lines in a storm. There are social programs for people, and health care. You almost do not mind that taxes are high. Now, this is my perspective as an American and only living here less than a year. My boyfriend moans and groans about it constantly, and wonders why we complain over what he calls pennies. He wishes he paid the taxes we do. I wonder how the Germans are much more efficient with more taxes and a lot less people than the states, while the United States has more than twice the people and our tax dollars seem to go down a black hole of spending. I cannot say that it is all a black hole. I went to public school all the way through college. It obviously works in that respect. Although, I do feel gipped about the level of education I did receive. I feel way behind, intellectually than my foreign counterparts.
There is one thing I think the American tax system does do well, it sure is easy to file taxes. My boyfriend was watching me do my taxes online. I am single, no kids, never been married. It is rather simple to file my taxes. Even with my old business, it took about an hour at the most to input all the information, and know exactly how much I had to pay, or how much of a refund I would be getting back. He was in awe. I heard the German tax system is one of the most complicated in the world. I believe it, they make everything else complicated, I cannot imagine the tax code is untouched by the level of bureaucracy and red tape in this country.
Navigating Germany is quite hard, I am lucky to have a German helping me. I would recommend befriending one as well, if you do not have a job that will help you navigate the complexities of getting acquainted with the nuances of the country. I just hope the mail comes, I really hate working for free.

How To/ Uncategorized

Working In Berlin – Update

With my last post, I had mentioned that I had issues with my visa in regards to getting a job. For Americans, we do not have this working holiday visa that Australians and Canadians have, so if we want to work, we have to get a good paying job for a visa. I finally get an email saying to come down and bring my passport. We get there, and my visa is waiting for me for the company I had applied to some time ago. I was a bit worried, because I had not heard back from them, and was not even sure they were hiring. Low and behold, they were waiting for me, and welcomed me to start as soon as possible.
This week is my first week. I am in a sales role for an upcoming travel start up company in Berlin. Their largest competitor is Airbnb ( a place that I applied with before). They are Germany’s answer to social travel. I was under the impression that I would be working in account management, and not spending my time cold calling people for this company. That was not the case.
I am happy that I finally got a job, and do not have to worry about being allowed to stay here, but I must say after two years of not working….this was a definite jolt to the system. The company is new, and they really do not seem to know what they are doing in regards to customer retention. In the week I have been here, many people have yelled at me for calling them over and over. I try not to take it personally, but it can be hard. I have not cold called since 2004 LOL. I vowed never to do it again, but I can no longer survive with just staying at home and complaining all the time.
I am working on a three month contract. I am unsure if I would choose to extend this contract, or continue to a new company that will value my skills. I do have a Masters degree in business. I am sure I can do much more than cold call. However, I have to learn German to get the good jobs. Understandably so.
As much as I complained about being home, now I long for those times. I hope it gets better.

Kimmy B

How To/ Tourist Trips/ Uncategorized

Sprichts du Englisch?

Been having a bit of writers block, but I figured I could write about this topic. It seems like many people are starting to travel abroad to Europe (Americans I mean). Most start with London. I do not blame them. It is easy. The native Language is English, and London is overall a great place to visit. People seem to be intimidated by Germany. This I can understand. I really did not know what to expect while visiting. Most media about Germany is very negative in the states. While, the history about the place is very bad, I will say it is not a bad place to visit (the big cities of course). The other pressing issue with visiting is the language. Many people ask me about learning the language. Germany can be intimidating if you do not know the language, and I think that is what can keep people from traveling to the country. I live in Berlin, and I have to say it really has not been a problem. If you are just visiting, not knowing any German is fine for a city like Berlin. Neighborhoods like Kreuzberg would be perfect. So many Americans and native English people live there, and the bars and clubs know this, so many of them have great English skills.

Mitte is another great area for English speaking. It’s really a tourist area mostly, and lots of hipsters go there to drink. It is in what used to be East Berlin. I would recommend visiting that area while in Berlin, if you want to get around with no German.

Living in Germany I feel is a different story. After a while (for me that was almost immediately) the Germans want you to try to learn to speak German. The attitudes about learning are very sharp. People often assume that since my boyfriend is a native Berliner, that he would be teaching me German all the time. However, we speak English together. He does not really have the patience to teach me. We try from time to time, but overall, English will probably be what we speak together for quite a while. I understand this though, it is hard to explain the rules of English as well. I could never be a teacher. I have been here for 7 months now, and yes, one does have to pick up some German if you plan on trying to really live a life here.

In the meantime, for those who want to visit Germany, I think Berlin would be a great start. Knowing German isn’t required, but I would always recommend you pick up some before you go. I feel it is just common courtesy to try. Some words to start could be:

Sprichst du Englisch? (Do you speak English?)
Danke dir (thank you)
Bitte (you are welcome) *in most cases. Could also mean, what?
Wo ist (insert what you looking for) = Where is … ???
die Toillete (the toilet)

These are really basic sentences. Usually just use the first one to figure out if you can even carry on a conversation. Most younger Germans learn English in school, so most times things will be fine. Just take a chance and go.. Berlin really is an awesome place to visit.

How To

How to Make an International Move

I am unsure if I could give really good advice, I can only tell you from experience what I have done and what you could do to avoid the issues that I had in regards to moving from the United States to Europe, more specifically Germany.

***Most Important***
Find out the immigration policy for the country you want to go to. Try to get an appointment at the local consulate if possible.

Tickets
1. I saved and found a business class ticket to Germany. I paid about $2100 dollars for business class one way, and coach class. It was cheaper to purchase round trip tickets and break everything up. My ideal flight would have been with Lufthansa. I flew their business class before, and it was awesome. The food was good, the flight attendants were nice. I slept so long during my 12 hour flight. This time I flew with US Airways. I have Gold status with them, so I figured I could get as many suitcases on the flight, and I could use upgrades and get miles.

Apartment Hunting
2. I was lucky to have a boyfriend already living here. To be honest, I don’t know how one could live here without knowing someone, unless you are being recruited by a great company willing to help you through the process of finding an apartment. Apartments are cheap, and you can google many websites to find them. Do not use Craigslist.org to rent apartments in Berlin. I don’t know any Germans who have even heard of the website, so anyone on their, I am positive it has to be a scam. We currently have a one bedroom for 400 euros a month, and we are moving to a two bedroom for 700 euros a month. Prices are going up generally, because more people are moving to Berlin.

Job Hunting-
3. I would start the job search before I go. I did this, but this was from the outside looking in. I have learned so much while I have been here. But, do yourself a favor and check around in the job market. Many companies do Skype interviews I have noticed, so that may help move the search along. As an American, you may find it hard to get a full time position and a company to sponsor you. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get a Visa. I wonder with Germany, because they have a shortage of skilled workers, but they do not make it easy for people to come and live here. Start with toytowngermany.com and go from there.

Packing-
4. I packed the essentials. I tried to put as much as I could in my suitcases. I had a sneaking suspicion that my stuff would take a long time to come. I shipped with UPS. My stuff never came. I would suggest shipping with DHL. Make sure to get insurance. Label everything with contact information. The rest of my things I gave to good will or sold on Craigslist. I didn’t have much. I had a little loft in Los Angeles, so that was easy. The rest I just gave to charity.
Make sure to pack your important papers with you. You birth certificate, college degrees, social security. Keep them on you, because if you put them in that box, and you lose them, it’s pretty hard to get reprints of everything.

Save
5. I worked hard to save money before I came. Just have a nest egg so if anything goes wrong you can go home if you want, or pay what you need to pay. I am taking a nice cushion of several months salary.

Language Skills
6. You would not really know it, but I took German classes for almost a year before I went to Germany. I thought this would help. However, you really just learn the structure and grammar, you don’t learn enough to have conversations. The only thing that has helped is talking IN German to other Germans or folks that speak German.

Social-
7. It is important, even if you are moving for a relationship like me, to have your own people to talk to outside of your relationship. I have been attending meetups, and any other social group I find. Eventually you will find a group of friends to call your own. It really does take time. I am still working on it.

Well this is so far what I have learned about this move. If I get any more tips, I will write a part 2 of this.