Involve, Uncategorized

Digital, fast & unbureaucratic: the experience applying for emergency funds left Berlin freelancers impressed (& confused)

Not only has Germany reacted fast in curving the public health hazards of COVID-19, it has also been quick to support vital components of the local and national economy. Public authorities across the country have broken very German traits and habits by forgetting budget balancing golden rules and making sure all actors, big and small, receive emergency funds until the economy kickstarts again.

Berlin is no exception to the rule. In record-time, Berlin setup a straightforward application process, under IBB guidance, to help freelancers and small-companies out-there.

On 27/03 at 13h, this tweet launched an unprecedented frenzy of applications from nearly 400 000 applicants within 24h

The scale with which this support mechanism was conceived & implemented is simply unheard of, and a far cry from what everyone would expect from German bureaucracy. The general sigh of relief and overall enthusiasm was shared among friends, social media and reported in the media too. But how unGerman was this whole thing exactly?

Asking around self-employed friends, it became evident that this was defying everybody’s expectations.

  • Not a single document to upload
  • No proof of lost income required
  • Only a dozen fields to fill in with basic data

This made me curious and wanting to dig deeper. How was everybody’s experience? To that purpose, i published a poll online to gather a few data points.

Click on the image to see the poll live.

Here are some learnings. If you are in a hurry, you can get the quick facts hereunder and/or read on for details.

TL;DR: the quick facts

German version available here.

Corona zuschuss poll results infographics
Click on the image to access the original file. German version available here.
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Involve, Uncategorized

A meta-guide for freelancers in Berlin to face the Corona lock-down

The German federal state and Berlin have taken unprecedented steps to help self-employed people during this crisis. The situation is evolving fast and it’s hard to keep an overview.

This post aims at providing as many resources as possible to let you sail through the storm. All the best and good luck.

Updated 31.03: to include Entschädigungen nach dem Infektionsschutzgesetz.

Updated 01.04: to include FAQs on Soforthilfe 2, and a poll i made to measure the success rate of applications. Please fill it in if you have made an application, only 5 easy questions, less than a min!

Updated 02.04: to include updated rules on Soforthilfe 2 stated by the IBB.

Updated 03.04: to include updates rules on Soforthilfe 2 and how the money can be used.

Updated 07.04: to include resources provided by the senate/city and updated information on ALG2.

Updated 08.04: Soforthilfe 2 is now called “Corona Zuschuss”.

Updated 10.04: Including infos about reducing Krankenkasse contributions with KSK, TK and others. Also including new contact info to IBB.

Updated 15.04: Including an handy “how-to” video to fill in the ALG2 application form.

Updated 19.04: Including link to a petition to remove restrictions on how Corona Zuschuss money can be used.

Updated 24.04: Including a special support program for live music artists and more crowdfunding options.

Updated 26.05: Visa holders may receive support money until September now, without worrying about their residence permits.

Updated 24.07: New aid packages will be made available to support artists and cultural organisations. This time it will be done via sector specific processes. Info about those here.

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Seriously now: why is internet so bad in Germany anyway?

Judging by the amount of posts in the various Facebook groups and the comments’ section on this very blog, newcomers never cease to be baffled about how poor access to reliable internet is in this country. Whether it’s at home or on mobile, it’s hard for some to move to the first European economic power and experience internet like it’s 2009.

This happened to me too naturally. It’s more expensive, slower than back home and don’t get me started on how it takes to even open a line. This made me curious: how did this happen? I mean surely, reliable and fast internet is key to economic success. How has Germany let this develop?

Come with me on a journey of poor technological choices, lobbying and weak political will.

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Portraits series

“But somehow I feel that there’s a sense of freedom in the air”

The Berlin Expat portraits series aims at putting in word the realities of being a foreigner here. Sometimes, a biased opinion is needed to get a clearer picture of what Berlin is like.

Fourth post of our series “Berlin Expat Portraits”, we meet an Argentinian person after their Italian roots.

Introduce yourself in a few words

My name is Ivan, I come from the Patagonia Argentina and I’m 29 years old. 
I enjoy photography very much but I don’t practice it on a professional level as I feel I like it best as just a hobbie. I shoot almost exclusively film both 35mm and medium format.
I’m in general terms a very social person and quite easy going although I’ve been told that people’s first impressions of me is that I’m very serious.. I guess it’s just my “concentrated face”.

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Celebrating 8 years and launching something new

Wait? Already?

It’s already been that long. 8 years of sharing my humble experience about bureaucracy in Germany.  It’s crazy to think about that i started all of this, and continues to do this as a solo operation, a side project. I never imagined that it would take me this far, becoming some sort of authority for newcomers in Germany. Funnily enough, it sometimes leaves me with the feeling of being a masked internet watchman. I can attend expat events where nobody knows me IRL, secretly filled with the satisfaction that i might have helped a few persons in the room. Or at least, that’s what my foolish pride thinks. 🙂 

A brave vigilante comes out of the night to fight bureaucratic terror 🙂

It hasn’t always been easy to respond all comments and publish regularly. Time is a limited commodity these days. Yet, it seems to make an impact for many of you. The response continues to be great with more and more users seeing this blog everyday (about 2500 unique visitors per day). And as Germany continues to be attractive (and confusing), i suspect that SiB will continue to serve well in the next coming years.

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10 things most German banks won’t tell you about your mortgage

Once leading a simple life of little means, some of us are now facing the realities of adulthood. Enough with wasting money on rent, it’s time to buy property to call “home”. The prospect is exciting but the road is long, and the hurdles numerous. Some of them are particularly harsh on foreigners like us; language barriers and lack of local rules/market knowledge for example. It’s just simply not nice to feel ignorant or fooled by the bank mortgage specialist (I’ve been there, i know).

While it is a regulated market, bank will sometimes withhold information that could be beneficial to you. Here is a selection of what you should probably know about before you apply for a mortgage, and after too.

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4 ways you can legally decrease your rent in Germany

Time has taken its toll on Berlin’s once famous affordable housing market. Like many other up and coming cities before (Paris in the 60’s, San Francisco in the 80’s, Brooklyn since the 90’s), the German capital’s attractive lifestyle has brought many newcomers wanting to have a piece of the pie too.

This has a triggered a sharp increase on the demand side in a city where landlords use to struggle to even find tenants ever since the end the beginning of the cold war. As result, rents have steadily been going up at rate that often goes faster than the average income. This is very concerning when in average, people spend 35% to 40% of their income on rent alone in Germany.

This impacts locals and expats alike but the good news are that there are ways to decrease your rent when the conditions are right. This takes a bit of courage and a bit of knowledge to pull off, but it is possible to fight back! Landlords will try to deny, to impress or to pressure you. However, the following ways to decrease your rent in Germany are perfectly legal. So put on your on best David suit, it’s time to fight again Goliath!

Disclaimer 1: In this post, i use landlords and Hausvewaltung interchangeably.
Disclaimer 2: You don’t live in Berlin? No problem! All the tips i’m writing about here are also applicable Germany wide (except point 4 which works mostly for bigger cities.).
Disclaimer 3: It’s a long read, but it’s worth it to save some €€€.

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“Expat” or “migrants”? How should we call ourselves & why you might be wrong

expats or immigrants, what's the difference

Some things in life have become so familiar to us that we don’t even question it. I’m thinking about queuing 2 hours for Berghain, waiting too long for a Döner at Mustapha’s or giving up on the idea of ever buying real butter (no margarine) at Lidl & Aldi. Those things exist and we won’t challenge them.

One could also say the same about how most of us define ourselves. The term probably comes up in your conversations once in a while back home or here.  We are expatriates, expats part of the expat community.

  • “What does it feel like to be an expat?”
  • “Aren’t you tired about all those expats ruining the city?”
  • “I can’t believe how many expats just don’t want to learn the language! Right?”

But why exactly do we favor that term? Surely, as foreigners, if we left our countries in search of a better life abroad, should we not be immigrants? It would seem to make sense after all. So who is an expat? Who is an immigrant? What does that say about us? And is there a better way to call ourselves? These things have been in my head for a while now, and i will make my own attempt to try to answer to these questions.

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Picking the right language course for you

In the past few years, there has been an abundance of new ways to learn a new language. Numerous apps are promising to make you speak a new language in only 2 weeks for example. (We all have seen that ad: “A normal guy learned 7 languages in just 1 year!”). This requires a lot of self-discipline, something we all too often lack.

To add a learning routine in a busy lifestyle and committing to it in the long-run is hard to do alone. That’s why a lot of us are still going to a good old-fashion language school. A motivating teacher and a bit of peer-pressure can sure do marvels to get from A1 to B2 in no time. We talked about language in schools in Berlin in this post but i have seen on Facebook groups and forums many questions on how to pick the right one.

I took those questions to one of the best language schools in Berlin to get some answers. This is what Sprachenatelier had to say about it:

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The impact of the airbnb ban in Berlin – 6 months after

Expats and locals alike have been experiencing the increasingly difficult challenge to find accommodation in Berlin the last few years, especially in the more central and trendy areas of the German capital. Alongside topics like gentrification & start-ups, housing capacity shortage has been in everyone’s conversations, which naturally lead to question the impact of short-term rental platforms like airbnb on the current situation. In other terms; how many flats are being repeatedly put for rent by owners as holiday rentals when they could be made available to local long-term tenants?

A first attempt at objectively measuring the extent of the problem in Berlin was made by Studio Karat through their dedicated website: Put together thanks to data provided by the platform itself, this allowed for a data-driven analysis of the situation.

On 01/05/2016, a new law was voted by the city Senate in an effort to limit the effect of such platforms onto the long-term local housing market. Named “Zweckentfremdungsverbot” (law against misappropriation of housing space), this regulation threatens anyone who puts an entire flat* for rent with the intent of generating profit with a fine up to 100 000€ per violation. Any commercial exploitation has to be sanctioned with a special permit from the city. This move received acclaim from many local actors who saw the end of abusive listings. However, since this law passed, we can still see many listings on airbnb up to this date.

It is therefore quite interesting to again have a look at the data today, and the story it tells us: did the new law have the desired effect of reducing unwanted listings?

Studio Karat released another data-driven study on their blog and gives us a few clues on the answer.

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