a collection of notes to help new members to our group get settled
The first thing you should do before (or when you arrive) is contact the Welcome center in Potsdam. The purpose of this organization is to help foreign researchers get settled in Potsdam. They will help arrange many of the thing listed below. They are really nice and answer to a lot of question: http://www.welcome-center-potsdam.de/. They also make monthly meeting to help people finding contacts and schedule regular outings.
This sounds trivial, but more often than not does it cause confusion in the beginning for new PhD students. The most important is to communicate often and short as opposed to letting issues stack and write page-long emails/hourlong meetings. DO NOT worry about anyone getting too many emails from you, new students typically think they send too much but we have yet to see a situation where that got out of hand.
Same with asking questions, getting new PhDs on track is the #1 priority in the lab, even if there is a deadline coming up or we are busy (which we always are) with something else, feel free to interrupt and ask “stupid questions”, dont be ashamed. Also plan brainstorms to find topics often and exploit “too much” of the lab's time on this (make sure you think about the topic before though, dont just sit and hope for ideas to come). Those who appear busiest tend to have good input for you finding a research topic.
In the lab, we made some art form of making emails the shortest possible–only containing relevant bits. You do this by:
(apply all of the above rules)
You can schedule Patrick pretty much any time he is free, but it is your job to make sure it is free:
There is lots of administration information available here: http://www.berlin.de/labo/
If you are from the EU, it will be quite easy for you. The first thing you have to do is to register to a city hall (Bürgeramt), saying you are living in Germany. They will give you a piece of paper (called an Anmeldung) that you can open a bank account in Germany. You have to know that in Germany there is another card system, called EC card. Many shops take visa, but not all (for example Ikea and MediaMarkt do not).
Some conventional banks have cheaper accounts:
There are a bunch of Direktbanks without physical branches that serve us modern computer-friendly folk well. One suggested was http://www.comdirect.de/ particularly because is part of the Cash Group that has a lot of ATMs with free withdrawals.
You can get the Anmeldung as soon as you arrive by giving an address of someone in the team if you don't want to wait to have found a flat. But you are obliged to update your address with the Bürgeramt within a couple weeks of moving.
If you are not an EU citizen and staying longer than three months then you must obtain a residency permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) from the foreigner's office (Ausländerbehörde). There is one is Potsdam and in Berlin. More info here:
If you wish to drive in Germany a foreign driver's license is only valid for six months. After that you must exchange it for a Germany “Führerschein”. The process is called “umschreiben” and is done by application to the Führerscheinbüro. More info here:
For finding a place, Berlin is quite cheap. I can recommend you a collocation (called WG or Wohngemeinschaft). If you enter WG Berlin in Google you will find a lot of websites. It is convenient because you don't have to take care about internet etc, it is nice to find friends at the beginning and you can share a place with German people (if you want to learn German e.g.) … But if you want a flat alone, I'm sure Germans from the team can help you calling etc.
# LOCATION/AREAS I personally live in Tiergarten now (Pohlstraße 77 if you want to look it up) which is lovely central and well connected in the city, likes about the area: insane connectivity to multiple U bahns. not crowded with tourists (we are on a dead-end street and just next to the key route tourists venue on). close to both Tiergarten and Gleisdreieck park which is awesome for running. Downs: the cool bars and places are not in Tiergarten but a little further out (which I find ok; 15-30min by public transport). People think it is an old-mans-neighbourhood (image). But actually it is awesome, in particular with young children and gets me to HPI in around 40 min.
The key parameter to optimize for is connection to the S7/RB21 (same line bigger stations) as it gets you straight to griebnitzsee or the S1 which does the same thing with one change. It tends to get more frustrating when you have additional busses or U bahns to take. That said, if you are the sporty type you can also go by bike from my place in around 42min ;)
Secondary parameters are the vibe of the area. Here a brief overview: Kreuzberg: hipster, pretty active outgoing scene which is loud in the weekends. Considered a “cool” area Neukolln: hipster, bit less mad than Kreuzberg but also reasonably alive in the weekends. More bar, less club than Kreuzberg. considered “new cool” Friedrichshain: bit further out but also very active club scene and insanely busy on weekend nights. As a consequence also filled with tourists Mitte, Tiergarten, Schöneberg: close to the center, image of old people’s area or where ambassadors live. Well connected to the hipster areas but certainly not part of it. Be careful to avoid the main tourist attractions. Patrick is living in Mitte as well (you judge whether that is a pro or con ;) ) Charlottenburg: quite popular in the lab as well, somewhat less lively area but well connected to HPI and has plenty of asian restaurants. Little further out from the center Prenzlauer Berg: old hipster, this is where Yuppies live, fancier housing, nice restaurants/cafes but more overpriced and further out from HPI. Grünewald: far out from city, close to HPI and as the name suggests close to the forrest between Berlin and Potsdam Steglitz: further south, more likely connected to the S1, kind of nice area but hassle to get to the action in Berlin kind of close to Potsdam as well though.
Potsdam: none of us lives here but theoretically an option to consider. Obviously not the Berlin vibe but actually quite a beautiful city as well, if you were to decide for this, make sure you are still on the S7/RB21 otherwise it can get arbitrary hard to get to the lab ;)
There is plenty more bezirke (neighborhoods, ask me about others if it comes up), typically further out or less attractive for Potsdam transit
# PORTALS/WEBSITES https://www.immobilienscout24.de wg-gesucht.de
I am in a rental apartment (as opposed to a sublet student room), if I remember correctly found via ImmobilienScout24: My girlfriend took most of the website hunting action back then (we signed the contract two days before the CHI deadline haha) so I can check more with her. A very popular option is also wg-gesucht on which we have been searching plenty as well. WG means wohngemeinschaft which comes down to shared housing, most of the options are therefore catered towards student housing in a shared messy apartment, but by filtering cleverly you can get to some pretty nice apartments as well with the upshot that you probably have more to spend than any student which makes you top off pretty much all competition. These websites are pretty much all in German, sometimes they have an English option but that narrows down a lot of the search space as well (so I would not recommend that). If you need any help with filters or texts on the pages, let me know I am happy to help translate (albeit with a Dutch accent ;)). It is highly advisable to also write inquiries in German as some of these landlords are known to simply put non-German requests on a secondary pile and you can imagine the consequences…
In particular for the WG-Gesucht but also for many ImmobilienScout apartments, there are besichtigungstage (visiting days) for the rooms, they want you to hand in documents in person (income statement, copy of ID, statement that you have no crazy debts) the way this goes is that the landlord or person who rents the place out stands there and a large number of people try their luck, they walk through the apartment ask questions if applicable and hand over their documents if they want to be considered. The manual nature of all this makes it hard to apply from abroad. When I came in from Singapore I first went in a temporary room and then searched as I came here for my first place. That said, this may be too much hassle with a kid as well, so it may be advisable to shoot for the rooms that do not have these bizarre visiting days. Try to get a response from landlords directly where possible. Anything in the system turns you into a number out of MANY (presumably less troublesome in your position but very hard for me back then)
# RENTAL CONTRACTS Our landlord was willing to prioritize us if we signed a 3 year contract immediately (which was an interesting guess as the girlfriend I moved in with was in a relationship with me for around 6 months at that time). Apparently this is not legal (I heard later). It is a fair thing to be a little wary of those odd clauses some arrogant landlords may put you up with. give yourself a day to run it by someone before rushing down a signature if there are weird statements.
# MY STORY So I came to Berlin 4 years ago. I came over from Singapore so at first had a hard time finding anything from abroad. I eventually got in touch with a student who had an on-campus student dorm which he was leaving for half a year (internship) so I could take it for that time. From there I searched hard and managed to find a room in a shared apartment with one guy in Neukolln. This was ok, but >1hr of commute which was annoying and it was rather small but cheap (if I recall correctly 250e per month). Then the girl who turned out to be my girlfriend graduated in Hamburg and moved in at first to my small room. We then looked actively for options. This was SUPER HARD because I have a shitty stipend and she was just graduated (or technically in contract negotiations with her new employer) so we had the worst possible documents. We went to MANY of those apartment visits and most of the time were there with >30 others. On a regular basis the landlords would be a little cynical and tell us that we have no real chance anyhow so why do we hand in the documents to begin with. So this continued for like 2-3 weeks until my girlfriend was in a visit where we had absolutely no chance. The landlord told us that and said that we could leave our contact details so he could notify us if he ever had something that makes more sense considering our position. We did so but obviously considered it a lost shot. Then 1.5 weeks later he called in the morning and said he has an apartment available for us in Tiergarten, but only if we would swing by during the day and sign right away as he had to leave in the evening for Frankfurt (where he was based). Anna went there checked it out, told me it is the most awesome place we have seen so far so was pretty convinced but we had to make sure we could transfer immediately a deposit of 3 months rent (2000+ euro which neither of us have lying around) this is very common, we asked her mother to transfer to her and then we paid it on to the landlord. And I had to come to sign as well (which I hated as it was two days before the deadline) so I came late at night 22:00 and signed right away after which he drove off and our deal was sealed. We moved in immediately.
Take-away messages: try to get in direct contact with landlords as opposed to some random profile business, start searching well before you move, be ready for a large deposit, prepare all required documents upfront and have them ready (in physical) whenever you meet a landlord.
During public holidays HPI will close (meaning door locks don't work so don't try to get in -work from home or enjoy the break-) therefore make sure you know about these days. Easiest is to use this link to put the german holidays in your calendar
https://p29-calendars.icloud.com/holidays/de_de.ics (download the file and open it to add it to your calendar)
if that fails, here is a more detailed description to get the holidays in (use Brandenburg, not Berlin–some holidays differ)
Common for all new students:
For new PhD students, postdocs and interns:
For new Master's students
For new seminar students or other: