Essay 1 of 2
Reading time: 5 minutes
Photography: Melinda Greenacre
By Alice Austin
In April 2016 I ran into a brick wall at my job at a PR agency in London. I was 25 years old and had been working in PR and Marketing in London for four years. Although I enjoyed it, it was hard work. I was paying £750 a month for a room in a flat in Dalston and was earning just under double that each month. Add to that public transport, cost of my phone and cost of the gym, I was living on a budget of £120 a week.
I thought about money most of the time. Being included in a round at the pub brought me out in cold sweats. Every time I woke up after a night out my first thought would be “How much did I spend?” I was living in the best area in London with absolutely no means to be able to enjoy it.
Then on a Tuesday in April 2016 I was told my contract at work wasn’t going to be extended. After four years of working I was still struggling on no pay at the bottom of the heap at a PR agency.
The next day my routine carried on as usual; I got up at 6am for a client event, ploughed my way through my morning tasks that always left me close to a meltdown, got snapped at by a colleague, more work piled on and I was asked to stay late. All the while I thought about my next move. The idea of getting another job in London to go through the same rat race made me feel exhausted and depressed.
That week I thought through my options. I could move back in with my mum in South London and save up money for… what? A Masters? A TEFL Course? Going travelling would only mean returning to the same problems. Then it hit me: I should move country. Specifically, to Berlin.
I went for a week last summer to visit my friend who was freelancing there. Unless I was mistaken, it was a dream life.
I decided to spend every available minute applying for marketing jobs in Berlin – I was pretty sure that moving to Berlin would solve all of my existing problems.
I called my mum first and then my dad. “I’m moving to Berlin!” “Erm okay! Do you speak any German?” They said. “No”, I said.
I quit my job 6 weeks later and moved to Berlin on July 13th 2016 to start a new job as a marketing manager for a start-up. I was ecstatic and triumphant. I had solved all of my problems, not to mention escaping the UK post-Brexit.
I’ve been living here for 7 months now and I can happily report that yes, moving here has solved all of my problems. Here’s why:
Problem 1: No money
As previously mentioned, the cost of living vs. my low wage in London left me close to an anxiety attack every month. My twenties were meandering by as I clung on to a social life without any funds to do so.
My room in Friedrichshain is bigger than my entire flat in Dalston, all for 450 euros a month. Rent control means it won’t be increased until the lease is renewed in 5 years’ time which is a weight off one’s mind. Phone bill – 12 euros a month. It’s 80 euros a month to use all public transport in Berlin and in summer it’s the perfect city to cycle around.
Problem 2: No time
In London my time was crammed into frantic slots. A pint with an old friend was crushed in after work, after which I’d rush 45 minutes away to meet friends for dinner. Knowing I needed to get to a 6am gym class, I’d bid my pals farewell, pay the £30 a head bill and squeeze on to the inferno we call the Central Line, only to wake up and do it all again.
In Berlin I get up at 8am to start work at 9:30. Public transport is reliable and, as there’s no real ‘centre’, never particularly busy. The best part is having a short journey home, so if I’m meeting friends at 8pm I have an hour to watch an episode of Broad City and prepare tomorrow’s lunch. After a month of this lack of rushing I felt noticeably less stressed, like my heart wasn’t stuck in my lungs all the time.
Problem 3: Social life
Socialising in your mid-twenties in London can be a straight up slog. As soon as I began working full-time all spontaneity flew out the window and my Wednesday nights were booked up for the next 6 months. People get tired of travelling all the way across the city and couples move to Zone 5, so nights out become less frequent.
You don’t move to Berlin to stay in on a Friday night. Since I moved here, virtually friendless, I haven’t had one night where I didn’t have something to do. This is probably a mixture of the fact that the night life is world-class and the fact that, if you’re open to it, the amount of new people you meet is exponential. Everyone invites everyone to everything. Ever tried squeezing your twenty-something arse into a new friendship group in London? Jog on, mate.
Problem 4: No pressure
Because of the insane rental costs in London, buying with a partner is the only option for most people to get on the property ladder. As a result, couples will buy together as soon as possible which creates a level of social pressure to do the same.
Here relationships are rarely defined or clear cut. The term “heteronormative” is bandied around like an insult. The result is a total removal of any social pressure on your relationship status, which I didn’t realise was a huge relief until I’d moved here.
Problem 5: Room for creativity
Back home my head was so full of work and socialising I had no time to do anything extracurricular. Here I have infinitely more time and head space to do the things I’ve always wanted to do.
I have German lessons twice a week, sometimes I play football with work on a Monday, I gots a knitting club, I baked some muffins once, I go to a writing workshop on Saturday’s and I created this well good non-fiction zine.
So there you have it. All of this without having to worry, even for a minute, about money. So if you’re experiencing your own personal Brexistential crisis and want to join the rest of the ever-growing British population in Berlin then move on over! You won’t regret it.
NB: I have loads of lovely new problems to indulge in so stay tuned for essay 2 of 2: Problems that have arisen since I quit my job in London and moved to Berlin