A person moves to a new country, a new city. He knows no one and has no family in this country. The language is weird and bureaucracy is extremely difficult to cope with. He left his old life behind in order to create a better life for himself. He wanted to be happy and safe. He wants to have a roof over his head, a place where he can lie down at the end of the day and a job that he can be happy with. Then he finds himself lost. Where to start? Who to talk to? He has no EU citizenship? What are his rights and obligations? How can he get a visa to stay in this country?
In Berlin, this person is not alone. Germany in general and Berlin in particular, are popular destinations for immigrants (not to mention refugees from all over the world). There is a wide variety of visas to choose from, great welfare system (for EU citizens, not for the whole world, of course), and most important – supportive system of people who went through the same process and willing to assist in various ways. To see this in a making is truly amazing.
Starting point: Facebook
From meeting new people from all over the world to research and asking for support – Facebook had changed our lives in so many ways. When I have decided to move to Berlin, I searched the net for answers about visas, apartments and any piece of information I could find, even though I felt I know the city, since I visit the city at least three times a year. Yet, visiting is nothing like moving. I realized that as soon as I started searching for information.
As an Israeli citizen and Hebrew speaker, I found myself privileged. It starts with the fact that Israel is on the list of ‘Favorite States’ (i.e. their citizens can ask for visa from within Germany and don’t have to wait for a visa in their own states), continues with the fact that there are approximately 20,000 Israelis in Berlin and there is a massive community support for new comers and ends with incomprehensible amount of Facebook groups for Israelis in Berlin. There are groups for all Israelis, for Hummus lovers, for young families, for wise immigration etc. I found endless route of information and many new friends, who were willing to help at any time with advice and hand.
In time, after I moved to Berlin, I have found more and more Facebook groups I could use as a new resident to the city. I found a WG-apartment with two flat-mates in Friedrichshain, yet I had to find some basic furniture for my room. I asked for the advice of my friends and they recommended the best place to find furniture outside the streets: ‘Free your stuff Berlin’ Facebook group.
Free Berlin Groups
‘Free your stuff Berlin’ was the first one, as far as I know, to organize giving free stuff in Berlin to the non-German public. Currently there are almost 50,000 people and 11 admins in this group, who keep it clean of any promotion or non-relevant posts. This is a very active group and it’s hard to keep up and actually manage to reserve the piece of ‘stuff.’ You have to be very fast in order to do so, but if you’re lucky – you get it…
At some point, almost a year ago, a young guy asked in the group why people can’t have the same concept for free advice. Since I know there are so many ‘Israelis in Berlin’ groups, ‘Americans in Berlin’ groups and a few ‘Expats in Berlin’ groups, I was sure that each nation had a Facebook group. Well, apparently not. So I suggested forming this kind of group with him. One year after – we already have more than 9,300 members in ‘Free Advice Berlin,’ from all over the world, asking questions about life in Berlin and giving ex-new-comers, as well as Germans, to give back to other people and provide recommendations of free/cheap of services they already know in Berlin. As the mother group, the four admins are doing their best to keep it clean from rent posts, spam and promotion. The group even has a monthly meet-up event to get to know each other and create new friendships. You can see the next event and attend here.
People don’t have to be alone when they are moving to another country by themselves. Berliners are very friendly and helpful. Just give it a try 🙂