What it's like to be British in Germany

What it's like to be British in Germany
Written by
Grace Payne
Published on
November 28, 2023

Living abroad isn’t always easy—especially in a historically homogenous country like Germany. But it can be hard to find some real talk amongst all the dreamy imagery. Introducing What It’s Like, a new content series. Diverse perspectives sharing candid conversations about what it’s like to be ________ in Germany. 

What it’s like to be British in Germany

Meet Grace, originally from Harrogate, England. 🇬🇧 Currently living in Berlin.

Tell us a bit about you.

I moved from London in 2018. I am not from London, but after University we were very much told it was the only place to go if you want to 'make it'. I had a job at an in-house advertising agency and was working around the clock for very little money and was suffering from a pretty horrendous depressive episode. When I decided to move, I did it alone. 

I knew only a handful of people in the advertising world in Berlin and didn't have a job lined up, so it was a real risk in the eyes of my family. 

Why Germany?

Weirdly, it was Germans who brought me to Germany. I had a bunch of German friends in various friendship groups and as soon as I started teasing the idea of leaving London to move back North, all of them totally independently suggested Berlin. They told me the end of summer was a great time as tourists would be a little less prevalent in the city and exploring would feel more relaxing. 

I can admit now that I really didn't event have the brain space to consider much else. Trusting the word of my friends was easier than thinking about it too hard, and at that point I really had no idea if I would 'move' or just got to blow off some steam. Not only that, but this was when Brexit was a hot topic and the idea of just being able to pop off to Europe was looking very questionable. I didn't need a visa to go, but I was very conscious that if I didn't give it a go, then I would be missing the chance to travel so flexibly in the future. It sorta felt like fate if you believe in that stuff.

Tell us about life in Germany.

It's absolutely wild to me that it's been nearly 5 years since I moved. I really hadn't expected to ever say that, but I am so glad that I can. The first year was crazy, I had no idea what to expect, so that meant everything was a bit of a shock. About three weeks after I moved over, a friend I had briefly met in London messaged me on Instagram, asking if I had moved or was on holiday. I wasn't sure how to answer, so I think I said "sorta both" and lucky for me, she was a straight-to-the-point sort of gal. She told me that she had a freelance job for me, that I started in two days time, and that it would last a minimum of six months. My move becoming official was kinda decided by that message if I am honest. 

I made a lot of amazing friends at that job—friends for life, even. Lame as it might sound, I think your first friendship group when you move has a real hold on you. Especially if you're an emotional gal like me. A lot of them were expats as well, but from all over the world, and my tiny British mind was kinda blown. I learned A LOT from meeting these people and while I was internally freaking out, I was also having an amazing time. That's not to say I didn't have a few wobbles. Moving to a new country is honestly equal part thrill and fear, and I wish I had leaned into those moments a bit more now. 

What has been hard for you, living in Germany?

I moved so quickly and with so little planning, I dug my own grave a few times. That being said, I think these things trip up a lot of Brits.

Pretty much everyone can speak English but don't rely on that. My first big confidence wobble happened in a supermarket. I simply didn't know what anything was. I couldn't read the instructions. I didn't know how to ask for what I needed. In the end, I put back all my shopping and went home and ordered takeout and had a little cry. I was soooo frustrated about not being confident communicating (something anyone will tell you I have no issue with in English). Put in the work and get a tutor, get Duolingo, ask a German friend to give you some key phrases. Whatever your method, don't sit on learning the language—at least enough for daily errands. I'm guilty of not using my German enough out of embarrassment, but honestly it's not worth worrying about. 

PLUS: it gets you mad bonus points to show willing and effort. All that considered, people will still laugh or pull faces or pretend they don't understand you when they really do. It's okay to find this annoying but use it as fuel to learn more. It is more frustrating when people act like you're just another ignorant tourist, I can promise you that. 

Work out your paperwork. Germans love it. I hate it. It doesn't make sense to me, and my own disinterest in paperwork has got me in a fair bit of trouble. Find out what you need and just get it done. It takes forever, and Germans love an appointment to review how badly you've filled it out, so always take a blank spare to correct mistakes. Not having it sorted causes more problems than good, so just bite the bullet. GET YOUR TAXES STRAIGHT. This is not like dealing with HMRC. Make sure you know what you require and tick the boxes. I had massive confusion about registering as a Freelancer, and it nearly cost me a bundle in fees. If you're not good at these things, call in help.  

What do you love about Germany—what makes you stay?

Living in Berlin, I found a lot of like-minded people. I love the expats and the locals equally, the city just has a really fun but relaxed energy that I desperately needed after London. They prioritize self-care and not just in terms of face masks and spa trips once every 3 months. They really place value on making time for yourself and doing the things you enjoy over all else.

I love that the push towards sustainability and local produce means food generally tastes really fresh from the supermarket or in restaurants, and there is a real push against waste. 

On the sustainability note, you can also recycle much more, much easier. Plus, Pfand exists which is the gorgeous bottle return scheme that allows you to get some cash back for recycling. People also leave bottles out on the street for the homeless to collect the money, and I think that's really great. 

I think people are very home proud here, and that's something that means a lot to me. People take care of their spaces and host dinners, all while being incredibly stylish. It's a massive mood. 

Another thing I like over England is people are so much less interested in 'what you do' and more interested in 'who you are'. In England, so many people would ask how much money I made or use job titles for social status. That really doesn't happen as much to me now, and I love it. It's all much more enjoyable, and having the most expensive things isn't a priority, so you can focus your spending on experiences (or in my case tattoos). 

How has it been, being so far away from home?

German snacks kinda suck. Everything is paprika flavoured and it's not good. Bring supplies. 

Find a good pub, bonus points if it does a Sunday roast. I would suggest St Barts for a roast, just saying. There are lots of bars and lots of clubs in Berlin, but a night at the pub or the closest thing you can find to one will do wonders for calming stressful moments. 

A bit of a bleak one but an important one. If five people say they want to come visit, maybe one will. Make the effort to schedule regular calls with family and your closest mates, but don't miss out on meeting new people wherever you've moved because of it. 

What's a piece of advice you'd give to other Brits thinking of moving here?

Test drive moving with a holiday, find your way around and form some landmarks you can rely on keeping you grounded (a good coffee shop, a fun bar, a nice park, etc..) 

And… humble yourself. You can't strut around thinking you're all that because you're a 'top lad' at your local in High Wycombe. I see too many people who burn out because they can't muster up the ability to say they simply don't know stuff. 

Read more of the series here. 🌎 If you’d like to contribute your story and experiences in Germany, we’d love to feature you! Write to us at hello@getworldify.com.

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