Bartend Berlin, The Expat Way

People are moving to Berlin in droves, the hype is almost unbearable and it seems like utopia is in tangible reach. What does the reality of a non-German speaker moving to Berlin to tend bar look like? Does the bubble burst six months later and a line of disappointed mid 20’s slink back home, tails tucked between their legs?
Each year, more and more young English speakers move to Berlin. Like the 21st century version of a pilgrimage, 25 year olds flock the city en masse. Come summer time streets burst with people in tank tops, beer in one hand, enjoying the sun. At this moment in time, Berlin is Europe’s cultural capital and around 40.000 people move here annually.
The question of why has been asked so often, it seems almost irrelevant. What’s more interesting, is the how. How does one move to a foreign country without speaking a word of the native language? Tending bar without being fully able to communicate with the locals, it is really that easy, pack up your bags and go? In Berlin, it is. It is utopia or so they’ll have you believe.
English Only Please
Oliver Ebert, owner of Beckett’s Kopf, believes that it comes down to what language the city’s new inhabitants speak: “English is a world language. German and French aren’t. The French define themselves through their language and protect it accordingly whereas Germans feel validated when they use English.” It’s that almost desperate need for acceptance which lends Berlin its undeniable quality. Even Ebert’s own bartender, Harry Glockler, who was elected MIXOLOGY BAR AWARD Newcomer of the Year 2013, is English yet was hired under the condition that he would learn to speak German. He still hasn’t. These days, there’s no necessity for it.
In fact, it can be of great advantage to have international bartenders. David Wiedemann, owner of Reingold, mentions a Bulgarian bartender who is in his employment and how much of an asset he’s become. With English skills gained in Las Vegas he is the main point of contact for Eastern European tourists, which has been great for sales.
Bars are hiring and as Berlin’s popularity grows personnel is needed. Any owner would be naive to look at the German market only, it simply isn’t large enough. When searching for qualified team members their mixologist skills, a self-assured appearance and work experience will always be what’s most important. If the candidate speaks German, great, if he or she doesn’t, we’ll work around it. Donald Burke, manager at The Bird and soon to be proud co-owner of Bar Sinister, believes that coming to Berlin as a non-German speaker with English skills makes for better hiring chances than a German, who has little to none English skills. English is a world language, one that’s more important to master than German. Even in Germany.
In the newly opened Chelsea Bar owner Vincent Albert Wager lists his bartenders, realizing that most are in fact, native English speakers. While all get by with basic German, they are not fluent. It’s not just language skills which set the international bartenders apart, it is their approach towards the customer. Germans are not necessarily known for their willingness to chat to complete strangers and yet Vincent notes that “one of our most popular bartenders is originally from Yorkshire and she has a genuine interest in people. She’ll take the time for a chat and get to know her customers. For reasons that need no explanation the patrons react to this very well, immediately feel at home and end up staying for that extra drink.”
The famous German Bureaucracy
While the past 10 years have seen an increase of rent that ranges from 90% in Berlin’s old east, to 40% in the west, it’s still not an expensive city. The average 38m² room or studio apartment in a central neighborhood costs around €560. About 27.4% of monthly wages is spent on rent, as compared to London’s 59%. On average, one would pay 134% more on housing in New York City, and 38% more on food. Although no regulated minimum wage exists in Germany, a rough estimate shows that bartenders should be able to earn between €1,600 and  €2,500/month. Food is plentiful and going out to eat is not a luxury but a way of life. Walk through the Mitte and rapid Italian chatter mingles with English, long drawn out French vowels and Swedish melodic lilts. The rest of Europe has conquered Berlin, dilapidated buildings are our skyline no more.
Roll Out the Welcome Wagon
A shift is in the air. While only several years ago angry natives lit cars on fire in Prenzlauer Berg, frustrated at the increase of rent prices and blaming the hordes of Swabians for it, Berliners seem to, if not exactly welcome, at least have started to enjoy the perks of outside influences. Many of the exciting things happening at the moment are the brainchild of Berlins’ newest inhabitants. One only needs to glance over to Kreuzberg where The Bark Market held the city’s collective breath captivated for the month of March. Burke notes that the hallmark of any true metropolitan city is its function as a melting pot. Part of that characteristic is the constant influx of new residents who are hungry for large ideas and projects. It is only natural then, that many events and openings are being hosted by the newbies who have the drive and hunger to prove themselves.
Moving to Berlin as an American you’ll have the option between an employment, student, artist and language visa. All come with different stipulations but what they have in common is the fact that you must register and you must, under any and every circumstance, be insured. EU residents are slightly better off already as they have a work permit built into their nationality but must be the proud owners of insurance as well. In some rare instances non-German insurance is accepted. Canadians have the bonus of the Youth Mobility Visa Germany which allows Canadians between the age of 18 to 35 to live and work in Germany for a year, after which they can apply for a regular visa proving that they’ve been paying taxes and have self insurance.
The pulse of the city is changing. We’re opening the gates and making it that much easier for newcomers to join our ranks. Moving to Berlin as a non-German speaker has never been easier, bars have never needed more personnel and been so eager to hire international bartenders. And while Berliners might never be the first ones to ask you about your life, start chatting and we’ll join right in.


Foto: Reichstag via Shutterstock; Union Jack via Shutterstock; Post-Production: Tim Klöcker

Comments (1)

  • Gonzatti

    Thanks for the great article.
    I’m moving to Berlin next month and want to bartend.
    Reading this article made me more hopeful and excited!


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