Monday, 17 June 2024 09:04

Creative young Brits are quitting London for affordable Berlin

Tuesday, 04 August 2015

The building that houses Agora, tucked away in a small side-street in residential Neukölln, in an old lock-making factory, is easy to ignore.

Outside a handful of people in their late twenties and early thirties are milling about, smoking, working on their MacBook Airs, chatting. On the short walk from the front gate to the front door snippets of three different conversations in English can be heard. Inside is a sea of laptops on desks, with 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, because the woman behind the counter doesn’t speak German.

Dani Berg manages Agora’s “food platform” (which includes pop-ups and “performance series”), as well as the cafe. She moved to Berlin just over a year ago, after spending a decade in London.

“The first time I visited Berlin was eight 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.”

Her 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 sprung up 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.

Berg 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 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. I 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 rents are increasing (despite a recent price 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 more than 3.5 million, marking the 10th 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 a year, rising to just under 13,500 as of November 2014.

Scott van Looy, a technical architect from the East End of London, 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 to navigate 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.”

According to Numbeo, the online cost-of-living database, you can maintain the same standard of living in Berlin (£2,177) for half the price of London (£4,200), assuming that you rent in both cities. The consumer prices in Berlin are 30% less, and the rental costs are almost 70% lower than in the UK’s capital.

A Berlin colleague of Van Looy, art director Jonathan Stuart, moved from Dalston to Hackney, Clapton and then Forest 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 more than 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 & 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.”

Meelu and her fiance now rent a 110 sq metres apartment in a sought-after district that costs the same amount as her 9 sq metres room in Notting Hill once did. She once calculated that, if she were to move back to London and have the same quality of life as she does in Berlin, she would need to earn £230,000.

“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. 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; 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. “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, myself included.”

The last mayoral election was a huge factor in Salu’s decision to leave London: “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.”

Source: The Guardian

Google+ Google+