Giulia Pines' first piece of advice to readers of Finding Your Feet in Berlin (Berlin Story Verlag) is not to take her advice. It sounds contrary, but her point is a good one: only you can define your Berlin experience, and only you will know what advice fits you and your goals. It is a refreshingly open-minded and honest opener for a guidebook:
"Use it as a companion," Pines advises her readers, "but don't assume it possesses the power to dictate exactly what your experience of Berlin will be, or that it can tell you exactly how to live once you get here. Berlin is changing so fast these days...you may find it hard to keep up, even with the help of a book such as this one. Embrace it."
The parts of the book you will want to embrace most religiously are those detailing the steps necessary to get legally settled in Berlin. After briefly covering Berlin's history and taking readers on a tour of 12 Berlin neighborhoods, Pines walks Berlin new-comers through the paperwork needed to secure a visa, find an apartment, or apply at a university. Though Finding Your Feet is Berlin specific, much of the information applies across the country and would provide a helpful reference for people planning on moving anywhere in Germany.
It is obvious that Pines loves Berlin and has spent the years during which she has lived there deeply exploring all it has to offer--or as much as one human can manage to explore in a lifetime. Each Berlin neighborhood guide offers the area's best and worst kept secrets, as well as outlining the "vibe" and the costs associated with living there. Without them I never would have known that Spandau has a strange bat-filled attraction known as the Fledermauskeller or that the residents of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg meet once a year for an epic vegetable battle on the Oberaumbrücke.
Though that special Berlin vibe is what pulls most transplants into its folds, Pines was motivated by the language. Wanting to experience something different and interested in learning German, she decided to make her move in 2008 and has been living in Berlin ever since. Of her choice of cities she says, "...if it was going to be Germany, it had to be Berlin," echoing the sentiment of so many that Berlin is the city in Germany.
Pines also makes detailed recommendations for city tours, Berlin blogs, books, bookstores, museums, clubs, supermarkets, and restaurants. For just 192 pages, Finding Your Feet manages to cover a lot of ground.
Finding Your Feet in Berlin is well-researched and insightful. Several times the author's personal biases come through in a way I found mildly unpleasant (German grammer is "flawed," the public transport honor payment system is "out of order," and small German refridgerators are incompatible with "real" cooking), but at the same time it is the personal touch, the personality, of the book that makes it worth reading, and no one agrees with everyone on everything. The intended audience is highly specific: young, possibly a student, possibly an artist or a freelancer of some sort, probably hip--though anyone looking to move to Berlin will benefit from the information therein.
"In an era where everyone is connected and nothing remains undiscovered for long, Berlin can offer a respite: a place still in the midst of its own discovery, doing just fine at a more laid-back pace quite contradictory to the rest of the world, and even to the rest of Germany."
Want your own copy of Finding Your Feet in Berlin? Thanks to the publisher, Berlin Story Verlag, we have two copies to giveaway to two lucky readers. To enter, you'll have to answer a couple of trivia questions--but don't worry about getting them right, this is supposed to be fun--as well as tell us which Berlin neighborhood is the best. On November 2nd we'll announce our winners, as well as tell you which Berlin neighborhood Young Germany readers like best. TO ENTER VIA COMPUTER CLICK HERE. TO ENTER VIA MOBILE CLICK HERE!