According to Numbeo, you can maintain the same standard of living in Berlin (£2,177.74) for half the price compared to London (£4,200.00), assuming that you rent in both cities. The consumer prices in Berlin are 30 per cent less, and the rental costs are almost 70 per cent lower than in the UK’s capital. A Berlin colleague of Scott’s, Art Director Jonathan Stuart, moved from Dalston to Hackney, Clapton and Forrest Gate, in the space of 12 years. He concedes: “I don’t think I’m going to go back to London. It’s so cheap to live here. It feels like the parents have gone away, and left the kids to do what they want. It’s perfect for young, creative people. London has a real buzz to it, but when you live there, that buzz can turn into pressure.”
This lack of pressure is what convinced Kavita Meelu to stay in Berlin, too: after initially planning to only stick around for a six-month jaunt, she’s now been here for over six years. “I moved here thinking it would be a nice little break – London was very much the centre of the universe for me and I had no interest in leaving.” After working in politics and advertising in London, she is now a successful street food entrepreneur, having founded and developed some of Berlin’s most-frequented culinary events, including Street Food Thursday and Burgers and Hip Hop. “I always had a dream that I wanted to do something with food, and in London, there are just too many restrictions, both financial and social. The idea of failure exists much more in London than it does here. Failing in front of your community is harder. In Berlin, the barriers are so much lower. Everything is cheaper here, everything is more easygoing. The people are super open-minded. People come to work at 10 o’clock, and have an hour and a half lunch. It’s all chilled."
Kavita and her fiancé now rent a 110 square metre apartment, in a sought-after district, that costs the same amount of money as her 9 square metre room in Notting Hill did. She once calculated that, if she were to move back to London and have the same quality of life that she does in Berlin, she would need to be earning £230,000 per year. “Capitalistic pressures are an issue in London, and that changes your quality of life. I didn’t realise that money and status were an important thing for me, until I moved here. You just become a part of that system – you’re not even aware of it. In London, within 30 seconds of meeting someone, you ask them what they do, because you think their job is going to define them, and you’ll be able to categorise them. After some years here, I’ve learnt that you just don’t ask people that, because anybody could be anything, but it doesn’t tell you who they are.”
Michael Salu moved to Berlin in part to be able to wear many professional (and creative) hats. After working as the Artistic Director at Granta in London, he now works for himself, running a creative consultancy, an event series, writing and working on films. He moved to the city six months ago. “Coming to Berlin has given me room to breathe. When you work for yourself in London, it’s very stressful. It takes away your ability to be creative.”
In the last two years, London had become unrecognisable to him. Community spirits vanished, neighbours were replaced by out-of-towners who made him feel unwelcome in his own neighbourhood, people on the street stopped making eye contact. “I always thought I would be the last person to leave London.
The pace of London is very dynamic but the city started to feel very one-dimensional. I was watching a cultural vacuum – my environment was disappearing in front of me. The variety of the London I grew up with and loved doesn’t exist anymore. The city has gorged on itself, an absurd amount of greed has allowed outside investment to rule everything. I don’t see what the gains are, especially when you think about what cuts have been made elsewhere. People are being sold a lifestyle that they’ll never be able to afford. I think it might end up as a very expensive ghost town.”
He, too, feels that Berlin will be changing rapidly in the near future, going in the direction that Dalston and Hackney were heading towards over a decade ago. “East London, 10-15 years ago, that’s what Berlin feels like now. We’re creating a layer on top of a Berlin that already existed, and we’re taking advantage of Berlin’s economic status. Since the wall came down, it’s been trying to regenerate itself, and a lot of people take advantage of that. And you can tell that quite a few Berliners are irritated by that. When I first came here to visit, there were hardly any expats here, and you had to speak German. That’s completely changed.”
The recent general election was a huge factor in Michael’s decision to leave London: “I was looking at the situation we were in, and not surprised by the outcome of the election. I can see why people voted that way, but it made me feel even more uncomfortable. I don’t feel a part of the country I grew up in. It’s a lot more than just rent prices. I’d rather be an alien in another country than be an alien at home.”
This article originally appeared in The Observer, here.