July 15, 2013
“The fact that Berlin is cheap means that you are free here.” For Ben Jones, founder of ‘Big Blog Map’, the only price to pay to live in Berlin is bad English…
Berlin in summer is the best place in the world. What’s my favourite thing about this city? The fact that it’s cheap. The fact that Berlin is cheap means that you are free here.
I’d just come back from a post-uni year travelling South America. Being a British guy with a recently acquired degree, my destination would surely be London and my aim to start my career. I knew I didn’t want that. London is a great sea of culture, music, business and art, but you always have to tread water to stay afloat. Trying to do an ‘interesting’ job probably involved months of searching and maybe a handful of unpaid internships all while crashing on friends’ floors. Even if I did manage to land a graduate job, I would probably be poorer than I had previously been as a student here, thanks to the joyless obligation of council tax, public transport, student loans and extortionately high living costs and rent. At the time, I couldn’t entertain the possibility of moving back to the city in which I was born, so I moved to Berlin without exactly knowing why.
I arrived by bus the Valentine’s Day 2012. It was still frozen and within the first ten minutes in my new home I slipped and fell in the snow. I’m grateful that the remaining hours of my first week improved after I met my couchsurfing host: a man with hot tea and an orientation of the places that would give me my first glimpse of Berlin’s ubiquitous underground. Two weeks later I got lucky and found a beautiful WG (shared flat) with four fantastic women in the trendy neighbourhood of Neukölln. I realised just how cheap this city was when I handed over my first month’s rent, two hundred and twenty euros.
In Berlin you don’t have to be what you do to earn money. Back in London, you’re an accountant or a translator or maybe on a graduate scheme. In Berlin, you may be working in a café half the week, but actually you’re a folk singer or a video artist or, like me you have some projects on the go. People are able to give more time and energy to their passions, because they need to work less to stay alive.
I studied Philosophy and Economics, but in the last year I’ve learned to code and now I’m working as a freelance programmer in addition to my own baby, the Big Blog Map, a social network for travel bloggers and their readers. There was a long time when I wasn’t earning money, but I was able to live on about €500 a month. A good meal in a restaurant is €5 and a beer is €0.70. You can always have fun in the city that describes itself as ‘poor and sexy’. The fact that I was able to have a ‘career break’ at the ripe old age of 24 was fantastic.
Whether it’s because of the price, the history or the economic opportunities, Berlin collects interesting people and places. I live next to a disused airport, hear at least 6 different languages a day and drink coffee in a bar that has a bathtub inside. I have entered a club at 7.30 in the morning and had the honour of seeing David Hasselhoff in the flesh. For me the most special places are those that are abandoned, Tempelhof Airport park along with every cosy living room in Neukölln that pretends it’s a café.
Are there any downsides of living here? My English has become somewhat retarded. As a natural response to having non-native speakers as company for the last 3 years, I have subconsciously learnt to shorter, simplify and enunciate. I have become extremely sparing with my use of the past and future tenses, opting instead to use time phrases to indicate the when. “Tomorrow we’ll pop to the lake and we’ll probably drink some beers after we’ve finished” will become “Tomorrow we go to the lake and we probably drink some beer when we finish”. My friends come to visit and laugh at me, but if this is the price I must pay to live in Berlin… meh.
In anticipation of the summer vacation, be sure to browse the ‘Big Blog Map’ for insider informations of travel blogs from all around the world. And to find out more about the founder, visit Ben’s website.