One year in Berlin, one year at Red Hat

In March 2011, I signed my contract with Red Hat and moved from Zurich to Berlin, as posted here in April 2011.

After one year it is time for a review of my “new life”. At once, a lot of things changed in my life: New Country, new City, new Appartment, new Job. Quite a lot of stuff.

At my former job, I had a notice period of three months which gaves me some time for the planing of the move. A lot of burocracy was waiting for me, both in Switzerland and in Germany.

Getting an appartment
The first challange was to get an appartment in Berlin. I went to Linux Tag 2011 in May to have a look to quite a few appartments. It was not that easy as I was told from different people. Gentrification is not only a problem in Zurich, but also in Berlin.

The chicken and egg problem. In order to get an appartment, you need a “Schufa-Auszug”, a paper that “certifies” your creditability. Usually it is only possible to get this paper when beeing a resident in Germany. How to get a resident without an appartment when you need a Schufa-Auszug to get an appartment when you need a residency in Germany and therefore need a Schufa-Auszug?

So I went to a Schufa-Shop and it took me 30min of explaining the clerk that the processes at real estate brokers ar completly idiotic but I need the paper. So I finally got the Schufa-Auszug with my old address in Zurich.

Finally I was able to sign a contract with a land lord. The appartment and its location is very nice and very close to the excellent public transport (although, Berliners grumble about the S-Bahn trains, it is excellent compared .i.e to Munich).
As you can see in the picture, it is close to Alexanderplatz, the new City center of Berlin, just two underground train stations away to the west. Two underground stations to the east, and I find myself in the Party Neighborhood (Kiez in Berlin-Speak) at Simon-Dach-Strasse. Walking south, crossing the Spree river and I find myself in the vibrant Berlin Club scene.

A special feature of the appartment is the roof top terrace where neighbors meet for partying. Quite uncommon for Germany: There are washing machines available, so I dont need to buy one. Also quite uncommon in Germany: The appartment has a kitchen, no hassle to buy the stuff.

Preparing the move
The usual stuff like getting rid of old stuff and putting the rest into moving boxes is straight forward, as well as finding the movers. More complex is the coordination of the due dates for all the stuff.

Paper work part one
Since Switzerland is not in the customs union of the EU, it adds more complexity. I need two papers: The stamped registration form of Berlin, and the stamped levaing form of Zurich.

Getting the first form is straight forward: Just do a online-reservation at the registration office (Meldeamt at Bezirksamt), getting there and walk out after 10 minutes. Myth busted: German bureaucracy is always complex

The latter one cost a shitload of money. You get it from the Zurich tax office, but only if you pay the guesstimated taxes upfront, in cash!. Of course this means you need to fill out a lot of forms upfront, what an annoyance. Myth busted: Swiss bureaucracy is alwas easy.

The next task was then to get a health insurance. Since a lot of Germans are living in Switzerland, I just some good advices upfront, easy stuff. Now it was time to cancel all contracts such as Internet access, mobile phone contract, insurances and getting new contracts in Berlin.

I had a early start at Red Hat, so I left Switzeland on 26th of June, went to a training in Farnborough, UK spending the weekend in London and getting straight to Munich for another training and finally arrived in Berlin on 05. July 2011. In fact I was homeless for 1.5 weeks, sleeping in hotels. The first two days my furniture has not yet arrived, sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag.

Paperwork part two
Soon after the registration in Berlin, I got my tax payer ID number. I also needed to fill out a form with a rather complex title “Antrag auf Bescheinigung für den Lohnsteuerabzug” (something like application for a certificate for the income tax deduction). I needed to show up at the Finanzamt (Tax Office) and unlike the forms title suggests, it was painless.

Another important task was the application for change my Swiss driver license into a German one. The pitfall is that one needs to apply in the first six months after immigration or to jeoppardize the whole licese. Well I had to wait more than two months to get the license exchanged.

Left wing politicians do not like the word. From my point of view, foreigner should assimilate them reasonably. For me that was very easy since Switzerland and Germany has a lot in common. The same political and cultural values and – for northern Swiss people – the same language (well, kind of). Of course I needed to adapt my German getting rid of typical helvetisms which are not understood in Germany or understood in the wrong way which can annoy some Germans.

In meantime I got assimilated even better: I watch soccer matches 😉

The foreigner
Everyone is a foreigner, nearly everywhere (unknown quote). So yes, I’ living as a foreigner now.

Almost everyone welcomed me in Berlin and other German cities where I was working and I quickly got new friends. The average German is generally more open minded and cosmopolitan than the avarage Swiss (especially when comparing Berlin with Zurich)

When I’m looking back to Switzerland and see how some people treat Germans: Its a shame! I wish that this mind will change in Switzerland and Germans are treated the same friendly way as I’m treated in Germany.

Living in Berlin
The crazy thing about my working contract with Red Hat is: I got offered to be based on a choice of four locations where Red Hat has offices: Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Berlin. I have already visited the first three cities multiple times, but I was never in Berlin before, just heared its a nice city. Well, Munich is beatiful but expensive and the Airport is only reachable by air. Stuttgart is a bit boring, Frankfurt hmm… So I was taking the risk and choose to move to Berlin without much knowledge about the city.

Well, I’m now living in Friedrichshain, just north of Kreuzberg.

Berlin is cool! I mean: Really cool! I guess you can not find any other europeen metropolis which offers a greater diversity of culture, food and of course people. Going to clubs in Berlin on weekends is a delight. You can find clubs for almost every style of music.

Culinary: Well, the Currywurst and Döner Kebap was invented in Berlin, but this are not the real highlights. In the Simon-Dach-Kiez as well as near Alexanderplatz one will find restaurants with food from allover the planet. Thai, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Italian… you will find them all. There are even Swiss restaurants, but I never made it yet.

Public transport: Awesome! A S-Bahn train every two to five minutes, same applies to underground trains. During the weekends, S- and U-Bahn are operating the whole night, without any idiotic night-surcharge, and of course there is a train every approx. 15min. From my point of view the public transport in Zurich looks like a really bad (but expensive) joke.

Long distance high speed ICE Trains are also awesome. Berlin-Hamburg (approx 300km) in 1:39h. Zurich-Geneva (approx 300km) in 2:43h

home sickness
The first few weeks have been very hard for me. Yes, I had home sickness. I left all my friends in Switzeland and I miss the beautiful old towns of Zurich and Winterthur as well as the mountains. What I really miss is the “third dimension”, it is all flat here, the highest elevation in Berlin are the Müggelberge (Berg means mountain, what a fool) with 114,7m above sealevel. Before I left Switzerland I was not aware about how beautiful the Alpes are, it was just a matter of course to always have them in sight.

In the last 12 months I have been visiting Switzerland three times. I have enjoyed those trips, visting my old frieds, having a BBQ country side and strolling trough the old towns of Winterthur and Zurich.

Whats the better country for a living? Germany or Switzerland?
This is a question I hear all the time. My answer is always the same: Neither of them are better, those countries are just different, but not that much.

My job as Senior Linux Consultant at Red Hat
When Red Hat approached me, I first was surprised, then I got a contract and I got it very fast 🙂

It is a very interessing and challenging job. As a consultant I’m visiting a lot of customers to help them with particular technologies in their projects. Every customers has its own processes and infrastructure, so I need to adapt very fast.I also travel a lot, customers are usually located in central europe, mostly in Germany. Somethimes it happens that I can travel a bit further, for example, my customer engagement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was an impressive experience.

Travelling means to see a lot of different locations, that makes it even more interessting. The drawback is being only at home for the weekends.

At the end of the day, Red Hat was the best that could happen to me, a open source guy. Lots of nice and very competent and open minded collegues in a international team and the possibility to always get in touch with the latest and greatest technology in the open source world.

Having fun? Yes, sure…

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