What do you do to get in touch with other people when you are new in a new city ? And when your language skills are work in process?
This is only the introduction of what I hope to be a long series of various testimonies of my efforts to build a normal social life in Berlin.
When I moved here, I didn't know anybody, except my landlord and maximum two people I've been recommended to get in touch with via some friends who used to live in Berlin. As my stay started with a one week international conference, I was able to move faster and screen in only a couple of days the best resources and international networking opportunities. And, among my first discoveries was the East Comfort Boat, a weekly place of meeting for internationals in Berlin.
Then, I discovered two valuable resources for obtaining information about the cultural events going on in the city: Exberliner - whose real estate agency helped me in an amazing time to find the best place to live ever in this city - and ToytownGermany. Exberliner is organizing periodically contests for free tickets and I was twice the lucky winner - for a jazz concert and for an experimental theatre performance.
During the summer, I was travelling across Germany while improving my German skills via various classes for foreigners, but I didn't feel an alien, as long as I found how easy is to start your life in Berlin without being a fluent German speaker. Of course, when it is about finding a proper job, the language skills are compulsory, but this is another story.
In the next six months, I expanded first my knowledge about Germany and Berlin, with disparate and nonpermanent contacts with other people. But I was more and more familiar with the places and the resources available for people like me.
The first months of the autumn I used to practice my German mostly at the parents' meetings and with my new neighbours. I was unusually shy - aware of my clumsy and bad accent German - but after a while I took the risk - of my dialogue partner, dazzed often by my strange sentence constructions - and the courage and talked in German. A funny observation: I found the native speakers more tolerant and appreciative of my efforts, while the speakers of German only were more tempted to correct me instantly, blocking my incoherent flow of thoughts. Now, I am extremely relaxed and smiling even I realize how challenging might be to have a conversation of more than 2-3 simple sentences. Until I found some people able to spend one hour per day talking with me, I was happy to practice my German with shopkeepers or other people looking for various locations - poor them, I am sure I misguided many of them and I am virtually apologize for this, now!
In the same time, I started to explore the Meetup network opportunities. I am member of several groups and a permanent attendee than helped me to know new people while participating to various social and cultural events. For my German interests, I get involved for a couple of months this year with the Xing groups in Berlin, and went together to a couple of Stammtisch - a German concept I will talk about on a later post - parties or cultural events. Even it is mostly dedicated to business networking, there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people in town, sharing cultural interests. At the invitation of a friend, I became member of Internations, organizing various gatherings and a monthly going-together, always in very fancy and fashionable locations. On LinkedIn there are also a couple of groups dedicated to the expat' dialogue, but I haven't fully explored the opportunities. Meanwhile, I found on Facebook discussion groups and institutions offering news about events - movie festivals, art shows. Now, I can rely on a healthy network of friends and acquaintances, with whom I share information of interests and sometimes a glass of red wine.
In addition, I kept myself all ears and eyes and identified - reading the billboards or various leaflets you can find in the restrooms - other possibilities to expand culturally - with social consequences, of course: several cooking classes to the Volkschule from my neighbourhood, exhibitions, concerts, a Chinese painting class, Spanish lessons.
What was a bit surprising for me and I would like to explore more - from the knowledge point of view - is the surprise of many people I've met when discussing about what I am doing in my spare time in the city. "How do you know about so many things?", is the most frequent question I am faced. I think it is simply a matter of knowing what you are interested in and having a minium literacy of Google and Internet in general.
And this blog might be an opportunity to share "all I know" about Berlin, in a single glimpse.
Be back soon.