Ever since I wrote my rather long-winded confessional about why I moved to Berlin, people have written and asked me how I made friends as a stranger in a foreign land. Some lonely person even arrived on my blog by Googling “Moving to Berlin with no friends.”
If you don’t feel like reading that confessional, here’s my story in a nutshell:
I quit my job, sold everything that I owned and left a great job in Toronto all to move 6,400 kilometers across the planet to start fresh. I came alone, without family, friends, or a significant other. In fact, I didn’t know a single person in Berlin! I’d never even been to Berlin for that matter. To add to this, I was unemployed and didn’t know how to speak German.
Making Friends in Berlin
So there I was in Berlin, flying solo, completely alone, single, and free!
In the beginning, I kept myself busy doing tours of the city, traveling, having long Skype dates with friends at home, and meeting up with Toronto friends who happened to visiting Berlin (there were strangely loads of them). Then a time came when I finally needed to focus on making new local friends and fully embrace my new expat lifestyle.
Here are my top three ways to make new friends when you move abroad.
1) Enroll in a Language Class
If you move to a new country and don’t know the language, one of the very first things you should do is enroll in a language class so you can better immerse yourself in the culture. It will help make your transition easier if you can communicate with locals in their native language.
The great part about enrolling in a language class is that you can become friends with your fellow classmates who are most likely new to the country as well. You can study together or just hang out doing other things. You’ll share a common bond and can support one another as needed, especially when you find yourself missing home.
The other great thing is that once you have a basic command of whatever language you’re learning, you can begin speaking with locals and open up even more opportunities to forge new friendships.
I started a one month German intensive course 2 months after I arrived in Berlin with Sprachnatalier. Unfortunately, most of my classmates were young students from Spain and Italy who were only in Berlin for about four weeks. While I made some new “temporary” friends, I didn’t establish any of the long-term relationships that I so desired.
But hey – my Spanish friends taught me to drink wine like real Spanish people do, mixing coke with red wine.
Read about why I think it’s so important to learn German in Berlin.
2) Find a Local
The theme song from the famous American 1980’s sitcom Cheers sums it up perfectly – “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” Whether it be a nearby bar, café or restaurant, find a place that you can call your own, where they know your name, how you take your coffee, or what type of wine you like to drink.
It’s imperative that the place you choose is not touristy but more of a neighbourhood establishment where you can meet people who actually live in the area and who you’ll likely see again.
A visiting friend introduced me to a chilled out local wine bar shortly after I arrived in Berlin. After a while, I jokingly came to refer to this place as my “second home.” I’d walk in, be hugged, kissed, and handed a glass of wine, all without saying a word. I then befriended the staff and through them was introduced to some German women (who are now close friends) and even a guy that I dated for a while.
It wasn’t easy. I can’t tell you how many nights when I walked into that bar alone. It was embarrassing! Feigning confidence, I’d walk up to the bar, sip from my glass of wine, and smoke my cigarette while surveying the crowd around me. I’m sure those who observed me thought me weird or even worse, “looking for a good time“ but I persevered and kept going back until I started meeting people.
3) Harness the Power of the Internet
If you’re looking for love, there’s always online dating sites or apps (ahem, Tinder!) but what about if you’re just looking to just make new friends and not hook-up (not that there’s anything wrong with that)?
I’ve always been a big Twitter user. After moving to Berlin, I used Twitter’s search feature to find active local users like Sandy and Nicole. For the first while, I sat back and watched their conversations. Then through my rather intense stalking efforts, I discovered who they talked to and starting following them as well. With time, I became less shy and entered the fray of conversation, finding out what cool things there were to do that weekend, and when/where people were meeting.
For example, I met a bunch of people through a “burger tour” of Berlin that was organized by Adam from Travels of Adam and Georg from Digital Cosmonaut. We met up every 2-3 weeks at a specific burger joint to chow down on burgers and meet other foodies.
Another way to find locals in your area is to research blogs/web sites for your chosen city. Before arriving in Berlin, I already knew that some of my favourite sites were Slow Travel Berlin, uBerlin and Travelettes. Email them or ask for advice and suggest meeting up or in the very least, follow them on Facebook or Twitter to see what events they are attending and if there’s an opportunity for you to attend and hopefully meet as well. Over time, I met or worked with various people from these blogs.
As the community in Berlin is so active, there’s always something going on whether it be a party, conference, or even an impromptu Mexican picnic at Tempelhof with other expats.
Another great tool is meetup.com. You can search through their directory to find groups in your area like expat communities or groups of like-minded people with a specific interest like cooking or music. I once went to a party on a boat (again alone) and met up with a bunch of other Internationals in Berlin. Other group options are New in Berlin and Berlin Expats. I also once had fun on Canada Day attending a Canadian expat meet-up at a Canadian pizza place.
Another option is Internations, an expat community with chapters all around the world including Berlin.
By far, the very best way to make friends in Berlin is to come out to the monthly meetups that I co-host with my buddy Adam. To see when new events are being held, join our meetup group that now has more than 2,5oo members!
Alternatively, join our private Facebook group where you can ask questions about Berlin, find others to hang out with, and more!
Just Get Out There
Of course, there are tons of other ways to make friends like through work, sports leagues, the gym (I go to Lady Company), local charities like Vostel.de, and even cooking clubs. The possibilities are endless and you need to do what works for you. The ones I listed above are just what personally worked for me.
Regardless of your situation, you need to be flexible and open-minded. There’s no time to be shy as you need to put yourself out there even when you feel uncomfortable. It might not be easy but with a positive attitude, patience, and time, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by a group of close friends.
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