Moving to Berlin for the second time round seems like a piece of sausage.
The first time, I had a couple of friends already there, but they had what I didn’t have – a life. In the first few months of living abroad, obtaining this precious thing was my ultimate aim, and I went about my work ruthlessly… er, I mean, engagingly. Thankfully there were some people in this town who were crazy enough to like me for that, and believe it or not, they’re not too hard to find.
Abroad, alone, and with absolutely nothing to lose. In the right hands, these three setbacks can be weapons of mass abduction, capable of ensnaring unsuspecting acquaintances-to-be. How? With a bit of guts, a lot of patience, and no shame whatsoever. Berlin is the perfect city to push the boat out in as it is flooded with choice in terms of things to do. Daily. If you’re not in Berlin, then try not to allow your burning envy stop you getting inspiration from these cunning tricks.
[Note: no strangers were harmed in the making of this article. Hopefully.]
The village idiot – know exactly where you’re going? Ask somebody anyway. Drop a couple of chatty comments, about being new/not from here, where you want to go and perhaps even why. That may sound a little desperate, but a one-line one-answer request for directions isn’t exactly a conversation-starter. This also goes for standing in queues and checking that you’re in the right spot – I’ve often done this at the box office at theatres, which often turns out to have young, curious students loitering about.
All by myself – haven’t got anyone to go with you to that concert? Then put on your best smile and go alone. Travelling around in packs doesn’t make you approachable, and definitely won’t give you an excuse to casually catch a stranger with a little comment or two. Some of my favourite events to go to alone are jazz jam sessions – almost every decent jazz bar or club in Berlin has them, including A-Trane, B-Flat, and Badehaus. Although live music also has that intimate feel, the to-ing and fro-ing and casually competitive spirit of jam sessions makes it easy to get in the swing of it. And that swing might just give you enough momentum to start up a new tune with your neighbour.
Friends of friends – he may be a cleaning fanatic and tells you off for using the scratchy side of the sponge on crockery. But being your kooky (and not altogether completely freaky) flatmate’s plus one to a house party may well be your ticket to a new and unexpected friendship.
Internet dating – well, not really, but Facebook groups (especially ones made for newcomers, such as Neu in Berlin) can be a really effective way of introducing yourself to a lot of other lonely people. Or you can skip the awkward selection process and match your interests with whole groups at http://www.toytowngermany.com. Wanted to get out of a city for a hike? Well, you do now, because there’s a whole forum thread devoted to that weekly get-together (and many more).
Jump on the tandem wagon – this is the perfect give-and-take scenario to form the basis of a healthy, albeit stammering, relationship. Sometimes this is a great excuse to keep in contact with whoever you’ve pounced on in the queue (see above), but this isn’t the only way. Many linguistically-lusty people put up advertisements in universities, magazines, or online (of course there are Facebook groups – is there one thing in this world without a Facebook group?). For beginners there’s the highly entertaining St Gaudy Café language exchange, complete with themes such as ‘murder mystery’.
Be a team player – this is quite an obvious one, but here’s an extra nudge in the right direction in case you’re nervous (I wasn’t nervous; I was deathly afraid). Often this will involve you taking up something you’ve never done before – my discovery was the weekly swing dance classes at Jeder Ist Tanzbar. Apart from sports, which can be too competitive for the likes of us couch potatoes, choirs are a good way of meeting a large crowd. If you’re in Berlin, try the Sing-Akademie Berlin where they let you start without an audition, which you only need to do if you actually want to perform in a concert (I ‘started’ for about four months). Or, not being the showbiz type, maybe some good deed-doing will help you find some people to talk to. In Berlin there are quite a few Oxfam shops, but more excitingly there’s the English Theatre Berlin. At ETB they give you two valuable things: firstly, experience working at the bar and box office; secondly, free entry to the play showing on the night you work. You can do as many or as few shifts as you like, and occasionally there’s a free drink for your thirsty work.
In summary, it is possible. You will not have to mime ‘All by myself’ along with Bridget Jones whilst swigging out of the bottle, unless it’s with your new friend who you pestered for the time last week. But perhaps it isn’t entirely accurate to say newcomers have nothing to lose in finding new pals – maybe, just maybe, you will have to sacrifice a teensy morsel of pride and dignity and your respectable sense of shame. At least at the beginning.