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Nothing says Christmas like a beautiful tree lighting up your home. Did you know this tradition stems from Germany and was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the mid-1800’s when they were depicted in a drawing standing around a Christmas tree – thus a worldwide trend was started and now we can’t imagine the festive time of year without a twinkling tree.

One of the biggest questions in 2019 is real or fake – which one is better for the environment.

According to the Huffington post ‚The short answer, which may come as a surprise to some, is a real tree. But it’s actually more complicated than that. It ultimately depends on a variety of factors, including how far you drive to get your evergreen and how you dispose of it at the end of the holidays ― and, if you choose an artificial tree, how long you end up using it. ‚ and if you would like to learn more about the arguments for and against please see the article.

FUN FACT – In Berlin used Christmas trees are recycled as food for the elephants at the Berlin Zoo, so your beautiful tree makes a healthy snack!

However you decide, Berlin offers you options for both.

Real Trees – available at all Hardware Stores such as OBI, Toom, Bauhaus, Ikea. You can also rent trees in a pot and have them delivered and picked up again.

Mitte – Weihnachtsurwald

Prenzlauer Berg – Der Tannenmann

Charlottenburg/Wilmersdorf – Tannentraum

Zehlendorf – Werderaner Tannenhof

Fake Trees: Available at all Hardware stores such as OBI, Toom, Bauhaus, Ikea, also at all the big department stores for example Karstadt, Galleria Kaufhof or KaDeWe.



About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.



Winter clothing for children (and adults) is taken very seriously in Germany, mainly because it can be very cold and people like to enjoy the outdoors in all weather. If you are coming from climates which have mild or no winters then this will be new to you. It’s time to get your family winter ready!

Berlin can get cold in winter with temperatures dropping well below freezing and if you are lucky there can even be snow on the ground for weeks at a time. However, all buildings are well heated and therefore especially for kindergarten and school children, the so-called ‚onion look‘ otherwise known as layering is the best bet.

One piece snow suits (Schneeanzug) are a good investment for smaller children, they can dress normally underneath and pull this on when going outside and it is a good item for children to be able to put on themselves. For older children, from around 6 years old a pair of snow pants and a jacket are often more appropriate.

Tights (Strumpfhosen)- are for both boys and girls, they come in all kinds of colours and thickness. They are worn under trousers or dresses and for smaller children in KiTa children will wear them around in place of trousers when playing inside.

Bodys (Bodysuits/Onsie) – Until children are out of nappies, they wear bodysuits under their clothing. Germans like to keep the kidneys warm and these ensure the childrens backs are not exposed to the cold. This is basically a t-shirt (short of longs sleeved) which is connected by snaps at the crotch. Littlies who sleep at KiTa will most likely sleep in this item and tights for their afternoon nap.

Warm winter boots (Stiefel) – essential item for children playing outside in cold weather as gumboots, although great for keeping feet dry, they can’t keep them warm. It is worthwhile to invest in shoes which are both weatherproof and warm.

Hats, scarves, gloves (Mützen, Shal, Handschuhe) – all these items are a must-have, having a couple of each is highly recommended as they are also the items which seem to easily go missing at KiTa and school.

Slippers (Hausschuhe) – all KiTas and many schools will have children wear slippers when indoors, especially in winter to keep the spaces the children are in clean.

Rain pants (Matschhosen) – another must-have for those wet days when it is not cold enough for snow gear. KiTas and schools will require children to have a pair there at all times.

Thermals (Thermo-Unterwäsche) – for those really very chilly days, thermal underclothes are very good to have – mainly if children are playing sports outside or for playing in the snow and skiing.

All of these items can be purchased new or secondhand. There are many great secondhand stores around Berlin and it is very worthwhile especially for small children 0 – 6 years to not have to buy everything new as it is usually only worn for one winter.



About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.



That stores are closed on Sundays and on German public holidays. In case of emergencies, you can always go to the airport and use the grocery store there. It is more expensive, but it is open on Sunday! You can also purchase foodstuffs at large gas stations and at main train stations “Hauptbahnhof”.- more info in our ‚Grocery Shopping‚ article.

That you have to bag your own groceries and have to pay for your own grocery bags.

That you may have to weigh fruits and vegetables before you bring them to the check-out in many German grocery stores. There is a number listed for the produce that you have chosen which can be matched with the number on the scale, making it easier for those who do not know the German name for all the fruits and vegetables.

That you shouldn’t touch and select produce offered at the speciality fruit and vegetable stands at the Farmers Market. All you need to do is say what you would like and the quantity and the vendor does the rest for you.

That you need a Euro 1 or 50 cent coin in order to free the shopping cart from its stand at the grocery store. This is the way of making sure that all carts are properly returned without having to hire someone to retrieve them from the street. You’ll get your EURO back when you return the cart to its stand. You can purchase a small ’shopping cart coin‘ in the supermarket for your keychain, this will save a lot of hassle!

That you have to introduce yourself to your neighbours, it isn’t the other way around. In fact, it is very appreciated if you hang a note in the foyer for the neighbours to read, say you are moving in, your name and apologies if there is any disturbance on moving in day. This will make for a good start to the neighbourly relationship.

That you should treat your movers to coffee, soft drinks and sandwiches if you want to keep them happy at your home working – Do not serve beer! And the acceptable tip for your moving crew is Euro 5-10 per person, per day.

That tipping in a German restaurant is up to 10%. A tip is already included in the price of your food in most restaurants and German waiters and waitresses earn a salary. A small tip can be given to taxis by rounding-up to the nearest even number. And a Euro 10 tip (per person) to your garbage men and your mailman at Christmas time is standard practice.

That your German washing machine could take up to 1.5 hours to complete a single wash or even longer! Also, top-loading washing machines are virtually unheard of in Germany.

That people follow the rules, all the time! and if you don’t you will be made aware by complete strangers. It’s not just you, it happens to most ex-pats.

About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.



Welcome to Germany, what do you know about life in Germany? Is it all oompah music, steins of beer, Lederhosen and large portions of Meat & Potatoes? Well yes, there is that too but there is so much more to learn about those quirky german ways and soon enough you’ll be following the rules whilst wearing lederhosen, dancing to oompah music with a beer in your hand!

  1. What do you mean there is no kitchen?! It’s no joke, many german apartments/houses come without an inbuilt kitchen. This will appear as a shock to most ex-pats as a kitchen would seemingly be just part and parcel of a rental. But in Germany, this is most often not the case. The theory is, it stems from the fact that germans rent for longterm, meaning for the rest of their lives (well not always but sometimes!) and therefore they want to pick a kitchen which is theirs and consistent with their own style. So you may find yourself having to purchase a kitchen – however, it has become more common in the past 10 years for there to be a kitchen already installed.
  2. Introductions, where do you begin? When being introduced to someone, it is common to shake hands as a greeting and to introduce yourself by saying your last name. Germans will feel embarrassed if you introduce yourself with your first name. It is also common to shake hands when saying good-bye. When being introduced to a mixed crowd, always shake the hand of the woman first – erst die Dame – Ladies first. And be careful not to cross your arm over another couple shaking hands – this is bad luck in Germany!
  3. Introductions continued! – Always address Germans formally with Frau (Mrs./Ms.) and Herr (Mr.), or should the person have a title such as Dr. be sure to use it. The formal “Sie” and the informal “Du” (as in French vous and tu) sometimes cause confusion. Germans are very careful with offering someone the “Du” form, and the offering is always done by the older person. Adult women are always addressed as “Frau” whether married or not. The term “Fräulein” is out and is never used.
  4. Prost! A toast to your new life in Germany – be careful, a possible faux pas is lurking – When toasting, be sure to look the person with whom you are toasting directly in the eye, otherwise, it is 7 years of bad luck, and bad manners. “Zum Wohl” means “cheers” or more literally “to your health”.
  5. Sundays are for rest. There is a multitude of things you are not supposed to do on a Sunday, mow the lawn, vacuum, any kind of handyman jobs and you are not allowed to hang your laundry outside on a Sunday – historically to keep churchgoers who walk to church from being exposed to this unpleasant sight!. This can be expanded into the topic of „Ruhezeiten”, or quiet times in Germany, are every day from 13.00 – 15.00, including Saturdays, all day on Sundays, and every day after 22.00. You are not allowed to “make noise” during this time (e.g. mow your lawn). However, you are allowed to have a party (i.e. make noise) once a month!! It is customary to announce your intentions to make noise to your immediate neighbours or better yet, invite them to your party!.
  6. Happy Birthday! …. Now that you know how to say cheers and when you may party, the next important point is: Birthday celebrations, in Germany it is the responsibility of the birthday boy/girl (this also applies to adults!) to organise the celebrations. This means you give (i.e., pay) for your own birthday party/dinner. Often times, the one celebrating a birthday will bring cake and drinks into the office to share with colleagues.

Now, of course, all of these points are general and it will depend where you are living in Germany. Often Berlin is thought of as much more liberal than say a small town in the South but it’s always good to know the general rule.

Berlin was founded in the 15th Century by Albrecht der Bär on the banks of the river Spree, it went on to become the capital of Prussia and a central player in the formation of the German Empire. Berlin was divided by a wall for 1961 to 1989 after WWII and upon reunification, the city started to flourish again.

In the 21st Century, it is the capital of Germany and one of the most interesting and beloved cities in Europe. Home to almost 4 million people, of which it is estimated 30% are ’new Berliners‘ from 190 different countries around the world. Berlin is a melting pot of people, culture, music and it is set in beautiful leafy streets and surrounded by forests and lakes.

Where you choose to live will depend on various factors, work, family, lifestyle and we hope to give you an overview of what the districts have to offer. Often ’new Berliners‘ have only heard of one or two districts but Berlin really has a lot to offer and as the city continues to grow it is often good to look outside just the usual choices.

This is an overview of some of the main districts in Berlin:

Mitte – this district is the centre of Berlin and home to some of the most iconic attractions like the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden and the Reichstag. Home to many shops, restaurants and opportunities for nightlife. This area features mainly apartment living. Mitte is an area which is very popular with young professionals, the apartment prices are high and there is plenty of competition for rental properties but the lifestyle payoff is good.

Prenzlauer Berg – this area is located directly next to Mitte and is equally as popular for living, working and lifestyle. Prenzlauer Berg has been beautifully flourished since the fall of the wall, with many pre-war buildings restored to their former glory. It boasts great restaurants, cafes and boutique shops. It is hugely popular and this is reflected in the apartment prices and hardly any availability and huge competition for both potential renters and buyers. Apartment living is the mainstay here, occasionally if you are lucky, you can find apartments with a roof terrace or a small outdoor space

Kreuzberg – Kreuzberg an inner-city district, neighbouring Schöneberg and Mitte. It is home to young families students, artists and a very multi-cultural population. There are many restaurants around Kottbusser Tor. It is famous for the Bergmannkiez area, which is known for quirky shops and cafes. After the fall of the wall, it was a place in which counter-culture flourished but now it is trendy and a very popular place to live.

Oberbaumbrücke linking Friedrichshain & Kreuzberg

Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf – this is the former centre of West-Berlin and is often referred to as City-West. It is home to the famous Kurfürsten Damm, KaDeWe, Bahnhof Zoo and the stunning baroque Charlottenburg Palace with its stunning gardens and park. Traditionally this is a very elegant neighbourhood and it boasts beautiful buildings and tree-lined streets. There are plenty of excellent restaurants and cafes and extensive shopping too. This area is also good for family living, there is a selection of international Kindergartens and good schools.

Zehlendorf (Nikolassee, Schlachtensee, Wannsee) – this district is on the south-west edge of of the city. It has lakes, forests, cultural landmarks and is thought to be the most affluent of districts in Berlin. Zehlendorf is made up of neighbourhoods of mainly singular and terraced housing and occasional apartment blocks. Zehlendorf is well connected to the city centre by the AVUS autobahn, this is a huge advantage if you want to have a quieter lifestyle in a house with a garden but are working in the city. Wannsee is a popular destination on a beautiful day, for swimming, a cruise on a boat over the lake, walks in nature and cafes – it is also home to many important landmarks and boasts a high quality of living.

Steglitz – Steglitz combines proximity to the city centre with nice residential areas. The main attraction is the Botanical Garden, which houses 20,000 plants from all over the world. Schlossstrae is the districts main shopping street and a bustling local centre with all the high street shops, restaurants and cinemas. A beautiful quiet and green residential area called Friedenau also falls within Steglitz, while another sub-district called Lichterfelde to the south is characterised by 19th-century townhouses.

Charlottenburg Palace in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf

Templehof-Schöneberg – this district is nestled between Mitte & Friedrichshain in the north, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in the West and Zehlendorf in the South. Schöneberg is a bustling inner-city district with a very multi-cultural population. It has lovely little neighbourhood centres such as the Akazienkiez, trendy cafes and is home to the famous Rathaus where John F. Kennedy proclaimed ‚Ich bin ein Berliner‘. It is known for its lively gay scene, which has historically been based around the Nollendorf Platz. Schöneberg is an area which has remained one of the more affordable inner-city districts. It is well connected to Mitte by the S1 train and the U7 with City-West and also Neuköln.

About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.



30 years ago the wall which divided the city and the people of Berlin was finally brought down, reunification was able to take place – physically and in the hearts and minds of the German people. A dark period of history was finally over and this week Berlin will celebrate!

The week of 4 – 10 November marks the 30th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall: the capital city will be transformed into a large open-air exhibition and event location. In over two hundred events at seven original sites of the Peaceful Revolution, visitors are invited to learn, remember, debate and celebrate.

For more information on this event visit: ttps://mauerfall30.berlin/en/

(Source: ttps://mauerfall30.berlin/en/ )

About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.

Winter is approaching and due to the cooler weather, we are also starting into the time when people start to get the sniffles around us. It’s important to keep yourself and your family healthy during this coldest of seasons.

Influenza vaccine (Grippeschutzimpfung) is generally recommended for all people. It is covered by health insurance for certain people. Those who are definitely advised to vaccinate are people over the age of 60, people with chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases or asthma, employees of medical institutions and people who regularly come into contact with many people at work.

The flu vaccine should be given every year, preferably in October or November. After vaccination, it takes about 10 to 14 days for the body to build up sufficient protection against infection. Even a later vaccination at the beginning of the year is usually still useful. Especially if the flu epidemic has not started or just started

Please check with your health insurance provider if this is covered for you and contact your GP for further details.

(Source: https://www.impfen-info.de/ )

About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.

The German health care system is one of the best in the world. Everyone is required to be insured and this insurance covers a large range of medical care across the board from General Practitioners, Specialists, preventative measures to dental. Depending on where you are coming from you may find the German System very extensive, it offers some excellent options for not just the treatment but also prevention of illness and general wellbeing for body, mind and spirit.

There are two types of insurance in Germany, Statutory Health Insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) and Private Health Insurance (Private Krankenversicherung). It is mandatory to have medical insurance, which insurance you are eligible for depends on your income.

The criteria is as follows, Statutory Health Insurance is compulsory if you are:

  • in paid employment or in vocational training, including trainees and apprentices, and earn less than €57,600 per year (2017 figures);
  • pensioners who have been insured for a sufficient period of time;
  • receiving unemployment benefits or assistance;
  • in some form of youth assistance (Jugendhilfe);
  • students in an approved higher education institution;
  • farmers or assisting family members;
  • artists, writers and those in publishing professions (under the Artists Social Welfare Act);
  • have no other access to healthcare services (under certain conditions).

Spouses, civil partners and children (up to age 23, or 25 if studying) of someone covered by state healthcare insurance are eligible for family co-insurance in certain conditions, without having to pay contributions, provided their income does not exceed €415–450 each month, depending on the situation (casual or regular, respectively).

(Source: https://www.expatica.com/de/healthcare/healthcare-basics/a-guide-to-german-health-insurance-693463/ )

If you earn above the 57,600€ a year then you are open to choose Private Health Insurance. The benefits of private health insurance can definitely be Doctors/appointments being more readily available and access more senior staff at hospitals. Private health insurance is more expensive and it requires you to pay for spouses and children separately. Once you have been privately insured in Germany, it is difficult to almost impossible to change back into the Statutory Insurance – this is important to consider this when deciding whether to choose private insurance because if you have a change in financial circumstances you are bound to the higher premiums.

It is always advisable to look into various Insurance companies and see what they offer, make some comparisons and consider if they have specific offers which are compatible with your needs. Especially if you are looking to ensure a partner/spouse and/or children that you are being offered the best package. Under the Statutory Insurance families can often be insured with the employee.

The costs of Statutory health insurance are 14.6% of your income before tax (this is subject to change) – you pay around half of this and the employer pays the rest.

The costs of private health insurance are determined by various factors including your gender, age, current health and also your medical history. It is also important to note, if you are privately insured you will be billed by the doctor or medical institution and then subsequently reimbursed by your insurance, so there will be a time period in between where you are out of pocket until the reimbursement.

There are websites which offer comparisons of the different health insurance companies, you will need to enter in your data regarding your income, family situation, etc and they will give you an overview of the costs and what is offered.

For example: https://www.check24.de/gesetzliche-krankenversicherung/ or https://www.gesetzlichekrankenkassen.de/

About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, I have German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.



We would like to inform you about a new app designed and offered by the TK Health Insurance regarding your medical records.

One of the main objectives of the „TK-Safe“ digital medical record is to link health information for the benefit of patients. This way, previous treatments, diagnoses and examinations can be combined to form an overall picture which is useful for the patient. Experts agree, that in the future, this will enable better collaboration between doctors and clinics. Thus far, this crucial information is decentralized amongst different doctors and institutions. With TK-Safe was developed in collaboration with IBM Germany, using this APP patients will be able to share this information with the attending physician. Thus, important information about their medical history can be incorporated into the treatment.

The new electronic health record also makes an overview your of vaccinations possible. In addition, there will be the opportunity to upload important documents such as x-rays, medical reports or more detailed findings – for example from the hospital – into the electronic medical record. „I can also activate individual services, such as reminders of my vaccinations and preventive appointments,“ adds Beke Reimers. Finally, there is a central place where you can safely store your digital medical records and retrieve them anytime. 

The use of TK-Safe is voluntary and free of charge for all TC-insured persons. The digital file is provided by IBM Deutschland GmbH, all data is stored encrypted on German servers.

By downloading the app and registering for TK-Safe, you can then immediately have the TK account data, such as the hospital stays from the past four years, transferred. So, you can start with an up to date file, all the important data on diagnosis, treatments and fees are clearly „stored“ in one place.

To use the SAFE APP you will need to be registered for ‚Meine TK‘ and then download the APP in your app store.

*Text translated/edited from German – source: https://www.tk.de/techniker/magazin/themen/spezial/das-magazin/tk-safe-2048362

About the author

Hi there! I’m Juli, German roots but I grew up in New Zealand and have been living in Germany since 2004. I love sharing my passion for Berlin and all it has to offer with new ‚Berliners‘ and through my work  as a freelance Relocation Consultant with IRC I have the opportunity to do so.

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