First We Take Berlin…
ALL PHOTOS (unless stated otherwise): Unsplash
How the German Capital Is Proving an Ideal Spot for Musicians
THERE are certain cities in the world…
that prove ideal and truly alluring for people. Depending on what you want from your life; there is somewhere on the planet you can go. In terms of music; there is always that conflict between desire and affordability. A lot of us would like to fly off to L.A. and spend a few years there – if only for the great weather and landscape! I would like to spend a bit of time in Melbourne and go to New York; maybe bed-down in London for a bit and then head to Manchester – if I could do that within the spaces of a few years, that would be cool. All of that sounds ideal but the sheer cost of ambitions tend to pull most of us back! I always monitor where musicians go and why they decide to settle in a particular part of the world. Many still go to the more predictable and familiar areas of the world – New York, London and Los Angeles are favoured spots. More and more, I am discovering artists, especially British, are relocating from the U.K. and moving to Berlin. I ask musicians, when interviewing them, why they are drawn to the city. It seems, on paper, a random choice for someone to go to. The answer I get back is always the same: it is less expensive and the way of life there is calmer and easier to deal with. In essence; many feel Berlin offers the same sort of cosmopolitanism and culture as, say London and New York, without the constant crowds and sense of suffocation.
Rents are high over this way: it is far less aggravating and stifling over in Germany. I have never been myself but, from every account I hear; the German capital is a lot more accessible to artists. Rent prices are still forcing a lot of people out of London. Many would argue you could go to Manchester or Brighton would be a more local option – if you are in the U.S.; surely there are other, nearer-by areas you could go to?! Costs are not the only thing ambitious musicians are wary of when choosing a lifestyle. In fact; it is not only fresh artists moving to Berlin: many established and settled artists find the appeal of Berlin too much to resist. I can understand why people would want to go to London and settle there to further their music. The city offers opportunities and endless venues; there are fantastic stations, labels and avenues in London: do artists get the same options over in Berlin? Although there are no stations quite as high-ranking and popular as BBC Radio 1 or 2; there are some great local brands such as radioBERLIN and Star FM; FluxFM and 98.8 KISS FM Berlin that offer artists a platform and a voice. Radio On broadcasts to Amsterdam and London and is an insomniac’s dream: a twenty-four-hour station that started from pirate roots; it has grown to become one of the most in-demand options in Berlin.
Radio Rixdorf leans more towards the alternative and unique – favouring unusual sounds and that which strays away from the mainstream. Reboot.fm is a fantastic station that offers great music, information and news. You can toss RadioBerlin 88.8 Statdtstudio and Pirate Cat Radio into the mix! Savvy and knowledgeable artists can make the most of the radio stations in Berlin and be involved with the best in the U.K. and U.S. The Internet means any artist can interview with any D.J. around the world. Streaming services and music-sharing websites mean music can get into the hands of British and American producers without the artist being located there. In terms of festivals; there is Lollapalooza Berlin (8th and 9th September) and Fusion Festival 2018 (to the North of Berlin). Berlin has a great mix of venues, too: from underground spots like Monarch and SO36; Loophole and 8mm – one can find something more overground and varied in terms of the musical options. The underground clubs provide Electronic and Dance; some Punk and Pop: venues like Quasimodo provides excellent Jazz whilst Piano Bar Van Gough provides a subtle and sophisticated blend of piano music and cocktails. Berlin provides that balance of energy and spirit; quieter, calmer spots where one can relax. I know areas like London and L.A. offer the same split but, when you look at Berlin; everything seems different and more appealing – not that I will ever change my mind regards London!
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
There are a few downsides to Berlin that I can see. It is good there’s an influx of varied artists heading over that way. British bands and solo artists are heading that way; original groups and dynamic producers are living there – artists and talent who have been in the business for years/decades are adding their voice to Berlin. I feel the scene is diversifying but, at the moment, there is still a heavy leaning towards Dance and Electronic. We think about Berlin and hear electronic buzz and sweaty dancing; pummelling beats and something youth-orientated. There is truth to that but, more and more, something new is being added into the scene. I worry there is still an over-dependence, in terms of the venues and stations, on E.D.M. and Trance. Maybe that is a sign of the demographic and tastes of Berlin: a younger crowd who yearn after liberating and propulsive music. There is a building Jazz scene but there are genres that hardly get a voice in – Hip-Hop, Rap and Rock are not as big as they are in other parts of the world. One can argue Hip-Hop/Rap is strongest in the U.S.; Pop and Alternative better here, maybe – Australia is an underrated gem that gives attention to all genres. Berlin is not as broad-minded and busy as London – one of the benefits of a huge population that sources from various nations and races. Berlin does have diversity but, compared to London and New York and it lacks the same punch and scope. That is not the fault of Berlin: it is a smaller city and, as such, needs more foreign recruitment and influence.
The affordable rent and prices are tempting artists to the German capital. A sixty-square-metre place, with living-room and plenty of flexibility, will set you around about 600/800 Euros P.C.M. 600 Euros is around about 528 of our British pounds. That may sound expensive but you match that with the same flat/house in London and the saving is immense! This website gives a clear breakdown of food and rent costs; it throws in all the utilities so that musicians wishing to live there know what they are getting themselves into. Even considering somewhere like Manchester and it seems Berlin is quite a good choice! There are expensive parts of Berlin but districts like Mitte, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf provide fantastic cafes and coffee houses; brilliant history and monuments; technology and a clash of more traditional houses and new-builds. You can do the research yourself - but, if one accuses the Berlin music scene of lacking huge diversity: you cannot claim the topography and geology of the city lack that needed variation! Young and affordable areas of Berlin, like Friedrichshain, can offer quiet and solace for those who want to escape from the energy and options of the locality – the engaging crowds and party atmosphere. London, in my view, is rife with choice and ideas for those who are fussy and not quite sure exactly what they want.
You can go to the South for Grime music and great clubs; choose a spot in the North and find more community and familial vibes – embrace the trendiness of the East and something cooler and more cutting-edge. Berlin has the same broadness but, if anything, provides less stress and struggle in the most built-up and packed areas. Even the centre of Berlin seems less daunting and fearful than an average night down in Piccadilly. For those songwriters looking for inspiration and new direction; Berlin’s museums and art galleries like East Side Gallery and KW Institute for Contemporary Art show the dichotomy of classical and modern – ample fodder and ammunition for hungry artists! This link/website shows the quick pros and cons of living in Berlin:
- Very multicultural city where you're more likely to meet a non-German than a German in some areas.
- Diverse cuisines that's delicious and affordable. Berlin's the place to try out Michelin-starred restaurants without costing an arm and a leg.
- Low cost of living means that you can easily and comfortably live in Berlin for less than 1000 Euros a month.
- Easy to get around with: transportation, bike, car-sharing.
- A great place to collaborate on creative projects. It's a hub of designers, programmers, developers and artists. A lot of people are freelancers so they're open to new projects and trying things differently.
- There's something to do to suit every lifestyle. You can go clubbing on a Sunday afternoon or spend an evening doing a screen printing workshop.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
- Red tape and bureaucracy. Although this can be experienced in other cities, the fact that a lot of people who work in government jobs don't speak English means an extra hurdle to get over.
- Berlin doesn't have much of a corporate or business industry. Which means that finding a job can be a bit tough if you're not fluent in German. Although startups offer a lot of native English jobs.
- Because the cost of living is low, so are the salaries. When compared to other German cities like Hamburg, Munich and Dusseldorf, Berlin salaries are usually 20-30% lower. When you're living in Berlin, you're here to enjoy the city rather than to save a lot of money.
- Berliners can be a bit impolite. You won't get a thank you for opening the door for someone else. And you can forget about smiles and small chitchats when it comes to customer service. This doesn't apply everywhere and it is slowly changing for the better.
- The city isn't appealing in winter as it's cold, windy and very gray.
Many can argue the impolite nature of (some) Berliners is matched by those of London – maybe, the low wages would put some people off. The bad weather and greyness of the city (during winter) means many might want to go somewhere warmer and more colourful when it gets cold. If you think about low wages as the biggest downer of the city: the majority of good points and benefits explains why people are flocking there and changing their lives. The lower rents and inspiring population – despite some ruder elements – outweighs anything negative and offputting.
Musicians can look at sites (like this and this) to get a more detailed impression of the German capital. Berlin does have its drawbacks and limitations but, when artists compare that to larger cities in the U.S. and U.K. – they find the positives are huge and there is plenty of potential. The furore and ambiguity surrounding Brexit might make it difficult for some to relocate to nations like German, I think the pantomime politics of the U.K. is leaving many in no doubt: things are crumbling and the nation is losing its identity. Germany has its conflicts but, by comparison, it seems more stable and all-inclusive as Britain…and the U.S., for that matter! You can call the people less-than-polite but the government in Germany wants the nation to grow and integrate with the rest of the world. Can we really claim that is the way things are over here?! Berlin is not powerful enough to make every musician abandon their home and go over there. What I AM noticing is more and more musicians seeing all the benefits of Berlin and finding the temptation impossible to refute. I will go and visit the city and see what all the fuss is about: so many musicians prefer the way of life there and what is happening right now. You can scoff and feel Berlin is inferior compared to bigger cities like London but, when you see the number of musicians/artists going over there, there is clearly something…
MAGICAL in the water!