An increasing number of Londoners are moving to Berlin. Known for its low rent and laid-back attitude, it's no wonder that the city has become a haven for the burnt-out. Johanna Kamradt spoke to some of those who have recently moved to the German capital, and found out how it compares to their former London lives.
Tucked away in a small side-street in residential Neukölln, in an old lock-making factory, you wouldn’t think of entering the building that houses Agora lest you knew it was there. Outside, a handful of people in their late twenties and early thirties are milling about, smoking, working on their MacBook Airs, chatting. The short walk from the front gate to the front door provides me with snippets of three different conversations, held in English. Inside is a sea of laptops on desks, a co-working space, with said workers fuelled by cortados, flat whites and a daily changing menu, written in English; a woman with a strong German accent orders a coffee in English, as the lady behind the counter doesn’t speak German.
Dani Berg manages Agora’s food platform (which includes popups and performance series), as well as the café. She moved to Berlin just over a year ago, after spending a decade in London. “The first time I visited Berlin was 8 years ago. People told us not to come to the district I now work and live in, Neukölln, as it was considered to be dangerous, and it wasn’t even in the guidebooks or anything. Now it’s filled with tourists and expats”. For her, the decision to leave London was mainly a financial one. “I was working seven days a week, and paying £800 for a shared flat in Lewisham. We kept moving further and further into South East London, until I felt I needed to leave entirely. I’m part of a big exodus; I know many people who have moved from East London to South East London and then to Berlin. The New Cross to Neukölln Express”.
Agora is one of many co-working hubs that have recently multiplied in the city, created for the ever-growing startup community (by 2020, an estimated 100,000 jobs are set to be generated by Berlin startups). Agora is one of many expat-bubbles, catering to the ever-growing number of digital nomads. Dani is well aware that she and the people surrounding her are contributing to the change that Berlin is currently undergoing, something that some Berliners aren’t too pleased about. “Occasionally, you get, “What the fuck are you doing here, you’re ruining everything,” when people overhear you speaking English. I do feel bad about, it, all the time; I’m part of the problem, doing to Berlin what forced me out of London. But not bad enough to leave. I didn’t have that much time to “be” much of anything in London. It was just exhausted all the time. You go home to your expensive flat, but end up just sleeping in it, and then go back to work. There’s just more time here.”
Berliners are noticing how rapidly the city is growing and changing, and how much rent prices are increasing (despite the recent rent cap). Berlin is now the third most-visited city in Europe, having surpassed Rome, with only London and Paris ahead of it; many of these visitors are deciding to stay for good. With 45,000 new inhabitants in 2014, Berlin’s population is now just over 3,5m, marking the tenth year in a row that the city has grown by a similar amount. In 2013, an estimated 10,000 Brits were living in Berlin – this number increased by 35% within just a year, rising to just under 13,500 as of November 2014.
Scott van Looy, a Technical Architect from the East End, moved to Berlin in 2012, to work for a British company. “[In Berlin] there’s a sense of people doing things for themselves, for all the right reasons. In London, it’s office work, bars, sleep, repeat.” In the last three years, however, he too has noticed the city changing, with chain shops edging out small independent stores, and it becoming easier and easier to navigate your way through life in the city without speaking German. “The problem is this: people like myself are moving over from London, and snatching up flats swiftly after seeing what they think is a bargain. But in reality, what we perceive to be a bargain is still an inflated price for locals, so prices are being driven up.”