Friday, 30 November 2012

11: How to make a career of Hartz IV and other useful work tips


If you’re broke and you are coming to Berlin, the good news is you won’t need much money. The bad news is you won’t be able to make any, so if you have a job at your point of departure, keep it: Your pounds, dollars or yen will pound quite a trail for you in Berlin. 

If you are a EU citizen however, then the best job you can do is to learn to fill out a benefits form. Germany’s social welfare system is very generous and surprisingly unscrupulous, as thousands of Italians, Spanish and Greeks have found out in the last four years. You don’t even have to develop a sad face to get benefits in Germany. You don’t have to sign anywhere at a given hour and look solemn. You just have to be European and move here. 

 Santa Claus for Europeans: Peter Hartz, the man with benefits
Should you decide that benefits are the way for you (of course, if you do, make sure you say that the market decided for you), there are even private consultants and schools who will teach you how to fill out forms and make a career of being sustained by the state. 

If Hartz IV, as the dole or unemployment benefit is known locally, isn't for you you'll need to try the working world. The main obstacle to getting any kind of paid work in Berlin is drugs the language. This rules out 98% of paid employment.  As you’re reading this blog, you’re probably unemployed enough to be able to waste your time doing so. If you’re so unemployed because you don’t speak German, here is what you could do with your 2 per cent hope. 

You could apply for an internship and clean up hard-drives or copy and paste for the next three months. Interns run most businesses and there is of course interesting work to be had as long as you don't expect your employer to fulfill his basic duty of paying you. More on internships here.

If internship sounds like business studies and you need something more reassuring, you could try and become an English tutor and join the world’s most over-saturated sector. There’s about 16 English teachers per German resident in Berlin: even if every German wanted to read Milton in the original Middle English and retire to write verse in iambic pentameter, English teachers would be out of work. 

There is of course construction and au pair work too. The latter will mean full immersion and should be seriously thought through before proceeding. If you’ve mustered enough German to get through a ten-minute interview and think you know Berlin’s landmarks, you might try tour guiding or rickshaw driving. If you think you can show Bavarians their country’s capital, good luck. Otherwise you will have to rule these out.

When I first arrived in Berlin, I was a young graduate with little experience. Keen to be able to stay at any cost, I applied to work in dozens of German bars, where I was always politely turned away to the sound of distant sniggering.  I’d lumber around Berlin with my bike and some wet CVs, before marching into meet potential employers with my catchphrase: “I look you have CV work give here, goodbye.” 

My attitude was not lost in translation and eventually a cheerful expat woman from Cork took pity on me and hired me to work part-time in an Irish bar. Irish bars are generally a shelter for souls between lands and they require chirpy pint-pourers willing to work long hours. Such institutions also introduce you to the expat community, karaoke dos and Irish stag nights, all of which, in pint-sized doses, are a lot of fun. 

One key trick you’ll want to learn if you too are handed the apron at the Irish house of ales is to drink without being caught. Whether you like being drunk or not, the work cannot be done sober. Of course, drinking on duty is not allowed, but rules have a different meaning in Irish bars to say, German streets. Rules are just another St Patrick’s hat, grand piano or stag’s head in an Irish bar -- deco that can be moved around and rearranged. Swig and swine with decency at your mercy. 

Either way, it's a lose-lose situation. If you opt not too surreptitiously drink on your shift, your colleagues will be suspicious and deny you a place in their sub-managerial circle of dressing room bitching. If you do decide to drink, you risk being fired. It’s a tough game to play and you’ll have to find your own balance. I lasted two months before being shown the door. 

As I surveyed other work opportunities, I felt increasingly alienated from the world of the paid and prosperous, lulling about Craigslist classifieds like a rat queuing to squat the gutter at Mcdonalds. I went to job fairs for English language candidates and found out I wasn’t sales-driven enough.  I was offered a boiler-room market research job, calling people to ask if they are smokers and if so, what do they like to smoke. This was easy after a while as all smokers pick up the phone and cough. Cough meant cash. But despite the breakthrough, I only lasted two days in the role.

For you to avoid the same crash course, here are some sources you may find useful for work:
  1. ExBerliner Classifieds: Berlin’s expat mag gives you the Anglo lowdown on the city and its classified section offers everything from au pair work to entry-level porn star vacancies.
  2. Craigslist: you’re bound to get caught up in a scam or two here but half the fun is deciphering the real from the crazed. Expect low-paid editorial, translation, manual labour and teaching jobs intermixed with offers to become the next president of Togo.
  3. Remember: you don’t have to be able to read Kant in German you just have to avoid sounding like a cunt in Germany. So prepare a one paragraph speech, have it proofread and certified and send it to as many employers as you can. Stay mute and fake it until you make it. There are thousands of bars and cafes in Berlin and despite the fact that most want you to speak German, if you can make a good cappuccino and smile through the unknown, you could make it.
  4. Try the Irish Bars and tell them your Uncle Paddy was a teacher in County Cork.
  5. Same goes for catering agencies (except the bit about Uncle Paddy)
  6. Keep an eye on expat websites like toytown.de, thelocal.de, and Spiegel Online International for sales job briefs and translation openings.
  7. If you’re IT-gifted, Silicon Allée, Berlin’s start-up scene has hundreds of openings for bright, fresh minds willing to drink cold coffee from a tin of baked beans and spend long nights staring at pixels.
  8. Build. Everyone else is.
  9. Go on the dole, Hartz IV. Again, everyone else is. 
  10. NB: Remember – if you live in Kreuzberg, try not to work at all.

Friday, 23 November 2012

10: Sacrifices to the German workplace


The German workplace is a terrifying arena.
When I was offered the chance to intern for an online news site, I naturally accepted. 



Where Berlin wakens from its slumber.

On my first day, an editor asked me if I could translate something for an English pull-out. “Of course,” I lied. Two minutes later an email arrived in my inbox carrying something far worse than a virus - copy in German. About Merkel’s cabinet reshuffles. Or cabinet shuffling. Or Merkel being shuffled around the cabinet. I entered the whole text into Google Translate, with whom I had become close friends in a short period of time. He agreed that it wasn’t Merkel being shuffled around the cabinet, but was short on further details. The friendship certainly could have been stronger if Google Translate could actually translate, because word-for-word translations are useless in German. You end up with texts that read:

Previously, the ratings agency ailing of Cyprus downgraded credit ratings of New York junk because of the Fitch banking of systems.

I looked around and saw everyone in the compact office typing away. The editor had mentioned that it “shouldn’t take me longer than 45 minutes to translate the task," an estimate surely based on the assumption that my German was fluent.

Presumption is the mother of all fuck ups, son.

 
 I swiftly sent an SOS message to my girlfriend and forwarded her the translation. I typed an email loudly to cover for my absence of work and waited. Sweat filled the absence of labour while I familiarised myself with the magazine’s surroundings - filter coffee, tube kitchen, cheap art prints and ageing skin: the office had all the reassuring aspects of locations I’d worked in before, except the coffee had so far been free here.

The translation came back perfect half an hour later and I forwarded it to the editor ten minutes ahead of schedule. “Great work, Ex” came the reply. “Here are a couple more.”

The European Central Bank and Eurobonds, obviously two of my favourite subject as a film and music gigger. I felt like a blind man looking for lost coins on a beach: the whole process was a lottery. Each time I ended up with a sentence like:

The bank, which is bond issuing, when times of risk are high, which currently is this time is, when embroiled in conflicts is, EU.


I knew that the ECB’s policy had polarised Europe, but I felt something must have gotten lost in translation.  Sweating like Hitler at a Black Panther’s Bar Mitzvah, I took refuge on the smoking balcony in the German section.

I had been avoiding this haven of false peace since I’d arrived fearing walking into the enemy’s grotto alone. Five Germans from the video department, sat smoking together, only confirmed this fear. I watched them carefully from a distance as I approached, confident I could hold my own in German for the length of a cigarette.

“Hallo,” said a friendly type.

“Jah, arm, Hallo,” I replied, uttering a noise similar to that made by a blender in spasm.

 I pulled out a cigarette and lit it so as to fill my mouth and auto-deprive myself of speech. I waved back at the friendly co-smokers and concentrated on the horizon, keeping the smoke in my mouth all along, only waving and smiling as they left.

But two more came. The new arrivals had questions too.

“Wer bist du?”

Wer bist du…wer bist du…got it, who am I.
“Ex,” I replied with an outstretched hand.

“Ja, okay. Aber was machst du eigentlich hier?”

Er?

“What are zyou doing here?” said a man with glasses, pointing first to the terrace and then to me, as if his question required a physical explanation to be understood.  I watched his finger breakdance between us as his explanation petered out.

“Smoking,” I replied.

The Germans looked at each other confused and speculated on what kind of species I was. The bravest of the pack then asked me again: “Are zyou from, wie sagt man, print?” pointing to the other side of the building like a Berlin Wall guard signalling across the frontier.

“Yes, genau,” I said affirmatively.

“Ah,” he gasped with relief. “Okay.”

And that was it. I’d survived my first encounter in the German workplace. It had carried hints of blatant xenophobia and potential misunderstanding, but we’d all returned to work unscarred. By the end of my work experience, I could make jokes about how full the ashtray was and discuss the weather or the slowness of the lift. But overall the Germans would see me coming and all be on the phone when I passed through their offices. If I found myself smoking with any, we’d simply point at the full ashtray and laugh about how hysterically full it had become.

But as I grew into the job I realised getting there was a far bigger challenge than smoking. Every country has its lift and subway etiquette, but Germans have a unique lift salute. You can’t break the ice with a lazy “Good morning” while waiting for the lift.  Ice doesn’t break in Germany - you’ll be left cold.

For good lift etiquette simply stand back from the lift and make a feasibility study to best engineer your approach as soon as the lift doors open. Enter quietly and stare only at either the lift buttons or the ceiling. Remember; do not look at the other people in the lift. If you have some paperwork at hand, I encourage you to consult it. As people leave the lift and turn out of view, you will hear them say “tschüss.” This is not an invitation to a tropical chewing convention: This is where you spring into action. A chorus will soon echo this “tschüss” and you want to make sure your effort is fine-tuned to theirs. In Germany, it’s all about how you leave the lift, not how you get in. Nobody wants to say the last thank you at a dinner party, and lift salutes engender a similar form of competition in Germany,

Once you arrive at your arbeit station, your holy grail, you’ll want to treat it with respect. Maybe name it and offer it quarterly sacrifices. Don’t, for example, sprinkle your croissant on the desk (especially if you’re late and forgot to lift salute). You could consider buying some wet wipes to polish your computer screen to show your commitment to desk-hygiene.

Working nine to five anywhere is bad enough, but there is an ethic in the German workplace, an attention to duty so meticulous and punctilious, it far outweighs the general devotion shown to labour by mankind. Five minutes late is a different sort of crime in Germany than, say, in Tanzania. Germans abhor lateness and even if they should say things like “Make no worries for yourself. We understand it iz possible, due to unforeseeable miscalculation of estimates, to sometimes late be,” they find the idea of tardiness disgustingly decadent and perverse. The goal of 100 percent,  24/7 punctuality, the antithesis of the siesta, lies at the heart of the German national spirit, like a permanent zeitgeist that transcends generations. Germany is a nation where announcements for jobs are made months in advance. Festival line-ups are planned by the decade, childbirth by the century.

Should you ever be late, don’t explain why to anyone. As long as you aren’t blind or recently paralyzed (the long term disabled have no excuse), Germans will feel you had a reasonable chance to reach a given meeting on schedule. Germans, note, also use different definitions of time. An appointment can be scheduled contempus (CT) and sinetempus (ST). If it’s 8 a.m. CT, they mean 8.15. If it’s 8 a.m. ST, get there at 7.50 and lift salute.

Do not mention public transport or children in your excuse should you be late; you should have made an adequate plan B, C and D for both. The only way to be late in Germany is if you are an artist, in which case you should always attempt to give off the impression that your delay was merely a philosophical transition you undertook that was necessary before you entered the Now.
 

Germans like to operate on a calculated schedule, whereby the variables are known and pre-quantifiable, with little margin for diversion or surprise: like a software code. The country's social DNA is an operating system with enough bureaucratic numbers to fill a maths manual, enough paperwork to wipe out a rainforest and enough files to give any hard drive a headache.
Germans do not like to be caught off hand or be surprised. It deranges the pre-ordained timetable of forthcoming events.

“Why iz something new to happen when it is to program instead possible?”

Something unknown could come forth with millions of new variables, insurmountable misunderstandings and unpredictable futures. If there is a need for a surprise, then better to place it within a given schedule or season such as Christmas or New Year to reduce the potential for awkward unforeseen wonder. At best surprises should be conducted by alerting everybody concerned in advance and reminding everyone to act surprised.

Friday, 16 November 2012

9: Crap art exhibitions

If sports are for drunken wife beaters and art is what you crave, then you’ll definitely feel at home in Berlin. From the moment you step foot in the city you will be part of the world's creative avant-garde. Of course, as a member of this movement you will be expected to be able to talk about how wonderful and brilliant all art is. This is absolutely crucial. 

Even if you are not prepared to talk about art, you will have to learn to swan through exhibitions in dimly-lit cellars and cobwebbed, cold lofts with heavy eyes. NB: make sure you issue gasps of surprise at regular intervals. This is an expected courtesy in any world gallery, but no other world city has more art space per square metre. If you don’t like modern art, don’t move to Berlin. 

You will often be invited to gallery openings, which you must call by their French name, vernissages. Chances are you will be notified of the latest vernissage through a Facebook invite. All artists have Facebook pages and you will soon find yourself being blackmailed to 'LIKE' their digital alter ego. Clicking 'Like' will get you further invites, not liking will mean you will generally be ignored, so I would suggest an indiscriminate policy of either always LIKEing, or never LIKEing. Anything in-between gets political. 
 
 When you are at the vernissage's venue, behave as follows. Hold your chin for pensive poses, occasionally changing arm and pointing to detail from a distance. Never comment on anything; remember, artists are sensitive and they’re everywhere in Berlin. Be wary of their hidden sensitivity at all times. 

Whatever you do, do not try and understand the art you see. When you have no idea why something is hanging somewhere in the street, don’t presume to find a deeper meaning. Remember: all art is valid in Berlin. A shit-stained cloth that reads murder is deep, not daft.

Berlin has galleries everywhere exhibiting everything and quite often nothing. Sometimes everything is exhibited through nothing. Often nothing is saying everything. Large walls with bits of cloth, metal and chocolate wrappers may be advertising the apocalypse, you'll never be sure: Clarity is taboo. Installations are a favourite and you shouldn’t be surprised if these involve you getting naked and mentally self-flagellating. 

If you don’t see the point of much of the art you are looking at, chances are it’s your fault and you’re not looking hard enough. If you can’t see that a white wall is a lot fucking more than a white wall, then you obviously know nothing about art. 

Look harder, for goodness sake. If you can look no further and are called upon for comment, use words like arty, original and penetrative. Berlin is one of the most open and tolerant societies in Europe, where few artists are subjected to any kind of criticism, so if somebody asks you if you like their art and you hate it, try one of the expressions from the list below. 

“I haven’t seen something like this for years”
“Your art is truly astounding”
“This sends a real fuck you to the traditional art world, definitely”
“Your work is so full of ideas it’s hard to look at.”
“Did you do this yourself?”

If you find your sense of taste frustrated beyond acceptable limits, try being the Banksy of the moment. You don’t even need to prepare to do this, you can become an artist with whatever is in your pocket (and if you have a hat, even better). Simply empty the contents of your pocket and rearrange them dramatically with small, esoteric notes scribbled onto the back of your cigarette packet or nose tissue, preferably inside your hat and in front of the event’s main exhibit. For example, you might take a condom, a cigarette (butt), a business card and a rolling paper, arrange them before the main exhibit and call your stunning breakthrough piece ‘Many words for modern’. 

If you are caught you will have to see out your culture jamming and pretend you are the Jackson Pollack of smoking paraphernalia. If somebody asks for more, tell them the hat represents the post-modern human psyche and that the contents are mere particles captured from a fragmented reality. 

Should an audience gather and you find yourself running out of words, move your arms in dramatic yet ostensibly threatening thespian waves and make for the drinks counter. If you are further disturbed for details of your mood shattering reflections, tell the whipper-snappers that every artist is allowed his private time with some Whiskey. 

You might be reading this thinking “I’ll just avoid the exhibitions." But the fact is it isn't that simple. The reason Berlin has so many galleries is because everybody in the city is a brooding artist: Berlin is a fishnet roaming for lonely souls and drifters. Oscar Wilde said that when people disappear they often reappear again in San Francisco. Berlin is similar: nobody really knows why they're here, but everybody came for a reason.

From mumbling comic strip writers to silent filmmakers, the city is a haven for self-exiled creators: vagrant painters, body sculptors, analogue photographers, breakthrough porn-stars, middle-aged S&M masters, political exiles and apocalyptic writers.  

Chances are most new friends you make will be artists and at some point they will invite you to their shows. The more you practice the above rules, the more you will be able to attend such venues and be a ‘yes man’ guest of honour. You will get free drink and have the chance to meet pretty German people who want to talk about nothing other than art. You may even find a beautiful partner who knows of other similar venues or sprays stencil in abandoned buildings on Sundays

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because somebody is an insurance salesman, they are not an artist. They might be peeing on walls with beautiful urine calligraphy in their free time. 

Deep, not daft
 To prepare yourself for being an artist in Berlin, start practicing moulding mud and making things out of your garbage.

You could also take some buckets of paint and let them drip dry slowly over your clothes. Paint-stained clothes are a great give-away that you’re an artist. 

If you try the above and find yourself becoming dedicated and ready to make a stronger artistic statement, try stapling your lips to animal hair or blogging about your vomit for the next two months. 


More background on being an artist in Berlin available here.

Friday, 9 November 2012

8: Why Germans never lose at sport

Germans like to play all kinds of sports and generally they win at any they compete in. Success, unlike in England, is not a trip to the quarterfinals of a major tournament followed by each of the fallen-from-grace star players shedding tears, dropping their pants and abusing air hostesses on the flight home. This isn't even a ritual in Germany. 

No, for Germans, even reaching a World Cup Final is mildly disappointing; like walking to the South Pole only to find it’s just your freezer enlarged and full of penguins. From cross-country skiing to rock climbing, Germans break world records like the Sudanese do peace agreements. Germans are medal hoarders from athletics to netball, via ice hockey, handball, yachting, tennis, and table football.

Only Brazil has reached as many World Cup finals as Germany (seven), but in Berlin bars, such success is relatively muted. At best Berliners fly small flags off the side of their cars, wear an old scarf, or get rowdy in young groups. Few will build up their chances before a tournament, only to pile drive through the opposition and beat the favourites in the final. Hungary 1954, Germany 1972, Italy 1990: It’s a list waiting to be made longer by German efficiency.

So efficient they don’t even do rounds. They just see a route to the final and lay down tarmac. Winning is not a competitive act for Germans, it is an innate, automatic epilogue. And sport, with its precise rules and boundaries, offers the Teutonic character, forever ready to gauge and dissect any given quandary, the perfect outlet. Opposition teams are mere equations waiting to be exposed for German national sides. Three World Cups and 3 European Championships (7 finals), often against far better opposition, is but the über-outcome of the national logicgeist.


But unlike most European nations, who happily vaunt any slim victories over their neighbours for decades after, Germans almost apologize for winning. They forget lost finals as if they were failed exams or childhood diseases. Semi finals and quarterfinal defeats at major championships are buried like stacks of old porn. As part of my initiation into German society, I’ve had the displeasure of watching Germany sail through several tournaments with the air of spectators watching an old replay. The fans simply nod to each other each time their team scores, acknowledging the inevitable. 

Odd one out


Like most other northern Europeans, Berliners like to watch their national team in beer gardens. Your best way to integrate into this bundesfest is to buy a Berliner and nestle quietly into a good observation point. Do not get too excited about minor successes on the football field. While winning a throw-in or a free-kick on the edge of the halfway line in a tough game represents a beer-raising “Go on!” in England, in Germany anything short of hitting the post is not worth muttering about. Chants tend to begin at around 3-0, unless it is against a sensitive opponent, in which case these may be replaced by muted cheers or the adversaries' revolutionary anthems translated into German.  

Although they love it, Germans cannot face paint properly, so they settle for a symmetric tricoloured flag painted discreetly on either cheek- outrageous enough: full body paint is something other countries do – countries whose people dance in bars late at night with each other’s mothers and drink coffee from small cups.

Of course, expecting Germany to lose at anything is ridiculous, so you’ll have to get used to Germany winning. If you support England or any other highly inconsistent excuse for a football team, watching Germany run riot over opponents who just knocked out your team will hurt. Remember this rule steadfastly: never compare your own team to Germany.

 The worst thing is Germans don’t even like winning; it gives them something else to apologise for. This is perhaps why they find it fashionable not to be into football. The German fear of being associated with nationalism produces an almost schizophrenic reaction towards the national football team, whereby many pretend they don’t care about FIFA and UEFA tournaments because they are just unnecessary shows of nationalism. But as Germany approaches the semis, the tournaments are suddenly very necessary and valid, and closet hooligans are suddenly at hand to cheer. Up to a point, Germans would rather pick a fight with a redemption-carrying balloon than have to be in the winning spotlight. But at the same time the national team's assiduous preparation and competitive spirit means they inevitably do.

There is a reason why Germans rarely ever lose on penalties too. It lies in the name. The English call it a ‘penalty shot’, as if the finest gift in the opposition’s area were a curse. The Germans call it an elfmeter, an ‘eleven-meter,’ like naming a flight route after the distance it covers.

Because a lot of trendy Berliners think football is for nationalist thugs, they have developed a passion for their own vegan-friendly game – hacky sack. This is like playing football with baby socks filled with sand. Everyone is incredibly good at it in Berlin, especially girls. 

Hacky sacks, for those who haven’t played, are made of sand and cloth and are the size of a tangerine. The hack is incredibly difficult to control with your feet, but you’ll need to use your arms, eye-balls and shoulders to make any headway. Only play hacky sack if you know how to, or you’ll end up just being your own ball-boy to the sound of “keep trying.”

Probably the thing Germany as a nattion loves best about sports is organizations, foundations, associations, clubs, federations, governing bodies, syndicates and anything that offers them the chance to have a continuous bureaucratic organism that requires regular administrative attention. 

So administering sports bodies is perfect. If you ever asked yourself how a Swiss has ruled the world’s football governing body for years, ask no more. Only a German-speaker sees admin as pastime and not a chore. The natural order, the chaos of nature and spontaneity, is too much for a psyche loyal to hunting precise science.

As many sports such as football and Formula 1 already have old existing governing bodies, Germans have developed a number of sports of their own. Look no further than chessboxing and tractor pulling for classics.

Friday, 2 November 2012

7: Super Safe City - Who is going to stab me?


If you come from a city where murders are featured regularly in your local newspaper with gruesome detail, you’ll find Berlin quiet and remarkably safe. That is not to say that there aren’t murders: there are, and brutal. Only recently a man locked his child in a room, hacked up his wife and then threw her body in pieces from his terrace onto a busy street in broad daylight.

But such crimes are rare and make front cover news for weeks.

Crime just hasn’t taken off in Berlin. When I arrived, I asked myself the same question I ask myself when I arrive anywhere - Who is going to stab me? 

The first thing I do when I arrive in any new city and look at the map is swiftly locate the drive-by zone or murder-mile. For Berlin, this is somewhere in the northeast, but it is a tame and cohabitable ghetto compared to its international counterparts. There’s a distinct lack of urban rudeboyness. Why is the city so safe?

This is hard to answer. In the 1970s, Germans who didn’t want to do military service could move to West Berlin to be exempt. The German military considered that Berliners had seen enough war for a generation and many pacifists settled west of the wall. The result is that even with the high levels of poverty, Berlin’s residents just don’t have the DNA for car jacking and street shootings.

Hamburg is doing great, but Berlin, for all its talk of aggro, just hasn’t got an edge in the same way London or Paris does. The bikers can be a scary lot and the occasional crew of neo-Nazis or Turkish youth can bring a more streetwise bowl out of the most secure. Even AggroBerlin, Berlin’s indigenous gangster rap, does a good job of setting the tone but the streets, full of flower motifs and loved-up graffiti, ultimately  ensures it falls on deaf ears.  

Germans just don’t really do crime, or at least not the ones I know. When I interned for a German newspaper, temporarily aspiring to become a journalist, one of my main duties was to monitor police press releases. Over three months, I don’t remember more than a handful of murders. But I learned that Germans commit odd crimes overall.

Around Christmas 2011 for example there was a punch poisoner disguised as Santa Claus roaming around Berlin’s Christmas markets offering strangers a toast with his giftschnaps, or mulled wine spiced with the date-rape pill. He nailed a dozen unsuspecting takers, mainly women, telling them that he’d just become a father and felt like celebrating. Nobody was however severely hurt.

Soon after, the North Korean ambassador was arrested for fishing without a permit on the banks of the River Spree but was cleared after proving he had diplomatic immunity. Other than a man walking into a bank with a gun and demanding to borrow €3, few other crimes are worth mentioning here. The crime I counted the most was video store robberies: there were at least three of these a day. Then of course there was Yvonne the runaway cow, a legend among contemporary German outlaws, who made headlines when she escaped from her farm and half of Germany’s media for days. 


One man's right to fish: His Excellency Si Hong Ri takes time out from the stress of denying mass starvation. 

 In early 2012, dogs started dying in parks in Friedrichshain  and Kreuzberg. Theories began to run wild about the culprit's identity in the local media, with one neighbourhood paper describing the offender as a “danger to both dogs and mankind.”

The dog poisoner, probably aware that Berlin has more dogs than any other Western city, had placed all canine owners on alert: let it off the leash and I'll cull your canine with poisoned bait. Six dogs down and no one knows who the ‘evil goodie man’ is. 

But crimes against humans in Germany happen to refugees or migrants at the hands of the police or far-right extremists. Dozens of Africans have lost their lives in German police cells in the last 20 years, an asylum centre has been burnt down and racist attacks are on the rise. The old east, once the bastion of socialism, is now sadly the cradle of German nationalism. 

Unless you are a refugee locked away somewhere, you will never hear about these. They happen behind closed doors.

If you are white, you’ll be safe in Berlin.  Some areas have higher crime rates than others, but few have a pervading sense of menace or impending danger. Muggings do occur around Alexanderplatz and the centre, but violent assaults are rarer than, in say, London or Paris. Wedding and Marzahn can be rough but not Camberwell or Bronx rough.

If you are assaulted, it’ll probably be by a load of bare-foot square-pattern headscarf-toting hippies armed with a dubious understanding of post-structuralism and hyperactive Facebook accounts. Germans are so legal that fare dodging on the tube makes you feel like a gangster, jay-walking draws sniggers and pissing on a tree will force passers by into a citizen's arrest.

There are however a number of crimes you will have to commit to truly be part of the city’s underground energy. You will need to squat private property, if not permanently then at least as part of some artist or events collective. You will occupy vacant grassland for guerrilla gardening. You will paste posters beside signs that read ‘No advertising bills.’ You will write slogans that say ‘All graffiti is noble’. You will shout far more than you normally would. You will abide religiously by the A-Z of Kreuzberg.

You will smoke marijuana and consume occasional harder drugs when appropriate. And finally, you will throw Molotov cocktails at the May 1 riots and sleep on public buildings at Occupy protests.