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,, 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.


  1. oh man that is fucking hilarious
    and acutely accurate
    its spelt dole though!

  2. Dear Mr/Mrs Anonymous,
    You are a good reader. Welcome back anytime

  3. Hey-Ho,indeed nice tipps.I should try them next time.
    I'd like to complete no3.:italian restaurants are as the french say "la creme de la creme"(NOT!Especially,if you want to be Cinderrellaaa, just hit the italian restaurant).
    Now,I'll just enjoy my "Skiing"through your posts.It's wonderful the way you colour your berliner(german) stories,make my mind is cristal clear:))though I don't believe in the german stereotypes.Keep it up!

    Liebe Grüße aus die Munich forever verliebt:)

  4. Cool article, congrats!!!! :)