Berlin Loves Immigrants! Here are some tips and resources to prove it.
For those who are either moving to Berlin for the long(ish) run or just trying on the city for size, here are some web resources that might take the bureaucratic sting (among other pangs) off of a big but worthy transition.
Welcome to Berlin: A snap-shot of finding an apartment, employment, locating anti-discrimination resources, seeking counsel, starting school, getting health-insurance, taking the metro, and getting a residency permit (and more), courtesy of the city-state government of Berlin. The PDF is available for download here in the following languages – English, German, Arabic, French, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.
Laws and political initiatives: For those just weighing options or planning the next step, the portal ‘Migreat‘ will help you (quickly) narrow down possibilities. More detailed information can be found through Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), one of the best sources for up-to-date laws and initiatives affecting (im)migrants, such as: Germany’s Blue Card and Getting an EU Blue Card in Germany. Visit their website for more information here. Similarly, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office provides a nice break-down of visa regulations, work permit requirements, and other general information for the traveler, student, temporary resident, or immigrant.
Runner-ups: The Berlin Ausländerbehörde‘s (office for foreigners) FAQ – found here – is something everyone should glance over before heading to that dreaded visa appointment (if applicable); this Venture Village/Expath article on how to stay in Germany for non-EU citizens is also full of succinct tips (the Expath site, in general, is quite useful for all immigration-related topics in Germany).
Learn German in the big city: Learning the dominant (eek, we know, but it happens to still be true) language of your chosen city is not only about some lofty concept of ‘integration’; it is about making tangible connections between neighbors, food vendors, bank tellers, bureaucrats, fellow bus passengers (though good luck with the drivers) and beyond. It enriches everyday life. A good place to start: this article from our friends at Slow Travel Berlin which summarizes all multi-medial resources we could think of to get this language down, many of which are free or tips-based.
Runner-up: BAMF (Germany’s federal office for migration and refugees) has a list of targeted resources here.
Seek advice: Getting advice on anything from finding a job to filling out an apartment application is generally free to immigrants and temporary residents, if you are in the right place. Beratung is a very important word in German, meaning something between counseling or an advisory service that can be legally, economically, socially, or professionally oriented. Berlin’s commission for the integration of immigrants offers free advisory sessions with no requirement of status. Universities often offer special advisory sessions for international students, as do various NGOs. Caritas Migration Services has six centers around Berlin, which provide advice and support to those immigrants who are planning on staying in Germany for approx. longer than two years.
Runner-up: The AWO (Arbeiterwohlfahrt Bundesverband e.V) is another large provider of advice to immigrants of all ages and stories.
Public initiatives: Berlin offers a plethora of initiatives that are geared toward integration, inclusion, and diversity. Groups like Migrantas, Route 44, Deutsch Plus, Vielfalt Entscheidet, and with Wings and Roots all challenge the dominant understanding of belonging in Berlin and beyond. BAMF keeps a tidy pool of so-called public integration projects that give tips on everything from ‘integrative’ sports teams to knitting courses for immigrant women.
Learn the jargon: This is nearly the same thing as “know your rights” in Germany. Berater will help you understand bureaucratic terminology but simple translation of concepts is not always possible. When in doubt, go to an advisory session with a German-speaking friend or call ahead to schedule an appointment with an English interpreter on site, if the English of the social worker or counselor is not sufficient. For a thorough list of translations of bureaucratic terms, primarily related to studying in Germany but applicable to many situations, click here.
Make friends (maybe even German ones!): Berlin is a transitory, international city, and finding a German pal can feel like picking a needle out of a haystack. But it is possible! There are a myriad of groups available to meet people around the city, often while practicing languages (Erste Nachhilfe), giving back (Gute Tat, Give Something Back to Berlin), or joining a like-minded crowd (Meetup) along the way. If these groups are too expat heavy for you and your German language goals, what about joining a local sports club (Berlin Sport)? The integration projects we talked about might also come in handy here.
Give yourself a pat on the back (immigrants are awesome; this is not and will not be the easiest thing you have ever done): International Organization for Migration’s uplifting campaign and priceless resource, Migrants Contribute, will not only make you feel good about yourself but connect you to some lovely stories, images, and audio related to migration both to and from developing/developed countries (the arbitrary usage of these terms aside).
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