Expat Bastien Allibert started writing the blog „Settle in Berlin“ (SiB) in 2011. He covers all conceivable topics related to arriving in the capital and claims to be „the galaxy’s most comprehensive guide to settling in Berlin“. Berliner Sparkasse spoke to him to find out what got him going and what sets him apart from the competition.
The blog Settle in Berlin has about 2,500 visitors each day. 10,000 people so far have left comments on blog entries on topics as diverse as filling in forms, buying a nice bicycle and the best apps for learning German. This blog is seen as a leading source of trustworthy material for new arrivals in the capital.
I am from Toulouse, in the south of France. I came to Berlin for career reasons. It is the top location for start-ups and networking in Europe. My line of work is software development and product management. However, for the last two years I have been working full time on the blog. I also came to Berlin because of its quality of life and because I wanted to develop my German skills.
I came to Berlin in 2011 and was a bit overwhelmed by the German bureaucracy, finding out which documents were required for various things, dealing with the Bürgeramt and the like. Friends and colleagues who had just moved here kept asking me for advice, and I kept helping them through the same stuff as I had gone through. I then decided to share my experiences online to save time. I kept adding more articles, answering more questions from followers. What started as a humble record of my struggles is now a resource used by thousands of people every day.
SiB is here to make your first bureaucratic steps in Germany less of a nightmare. No post has elicited as many comments as the one about 'Anmeldung', the registration process. This is perhaps the most important step to take upon arrival. You need to register your residence with the local authorities. If you don’t, you can’t register with the tax authorities, enrol at university, get health insurance or even open a bank account. My dream is a fully digital bureaucracy in Germany. Until then, I try to help with my guide on how to navigate the 'Anmeldung'. I also developed a web app to allow users to fill in the 'Anmeldung' form in English. German bureaucracy does live up to its bad reputation, and it is particularly hard if you speak no German at all and have no German friends to help you.
As many people do, I only planned to come to Berlin for a year or so and then to move on. As many people do, I got stuck here. I met a lovely Danish woman, we have two children now. So I broadened the topic spectrum, now also providing advice on questions such as marriage registration and how to claim parental benefits.
Word has got around by now, but let me stress it nevertheless: the days of cheap rent are over in Berlin. Therefore, the days when you could live in Berlin with a part-time job to cover all your expenses are gone. You will need to secure a proper job to establish yourself long term. Therefore, my blog has several articles on job hunting.
Many underestimate the importance of being able to speak German. When I came here, my grasp was limited to very bad German from high school. „No problem“, I thought. It is perfectly possible to get by with English. However, this has drawbacks. Firstly, you will be stuck in the expat bubble and find it hard to establish contact with native Germans. Secondly, it limits your options on the job market if you only speak English. Yes, you probably will find a job even if you do not understand a word of German, but your lack of language skill will probably impede you in moving up the ranks.
My articles are based upon thorough research and, most of the time, first-hand real-life experience. Bringing you the best of both worlds, so to speak. Moreover, I answer any question posted in the comments section to provide further assistance, to the best of my ability. Being a trusted source in the long term is more important to me than short-term profits. So where there is monetisation, I do it transparently, never tricking my audience into paid options. No banners or popup ads interrupt the reading experience. It’s about education first.
I never push visitors to my blog to accept help from a certain provider. I always give options; for instance, I explain to them step by step how they can do things by themselves. However, for those who have less time for this and maybe some money to spare, I say: „Here are partners who will help you to get things done faster for a fee.“
Some newcomers still think, „Finding a home will be easy as pie, right?“ But after ten months, they are still sleeping on their friend’s sofa. How come? To answer this question in a humorous way, I released the browser game Berlin Flat Quest, in which only the very best will manage to get a flat. The player first picks a character. For instance, you can be a „student“, a „wealthy south German“ or a „Brexit escapist“. Then you pick your employment status and say whether you have a name that sounds German or not. With each feature, your chances rise or fall. In reality, many doors are slammed in the faces of people who are looking for a flat in Berlin. The game basically trains people for this situation.
I understand that „Settle in Berlin“ is seen as a trusted source by many and I want to keep providing this service. This is a lot easier now that the blog generates a bit of money too. This is why, especially when answering comments, I do my best to acknowledge my limits. I do so by telling people I don’t know the answer or that they should meet with a specialist instead, especially on legal or visa-related matters. Many people write to tell me that I helped them a great deal; that keeps me going.
Read more interesting articles here.
Residence permit in Berlin
Living and working in the German capital.
Your first to-do in Berlin:
Opening a bank account
Buying a flat in Berlin
This is how to get your own home!