Friday, September 18, 2009

The Case for Berlin

Before moving to a new place, you have to establish your priorities; what exactly do you want from the city you'll be calling home? Beyond the adrenaline rush of changing trains at peak hour or grabbing a cab with friends from the club to the after-hours, you've got to factor in cost-of-living, employment possibilities and earning potential, cultural offerings and entertainment, and transportation costs to other places. Unexpectedly, Fraulein Berlin plead her case for becoming my next home base while I visited last weekend.

For a few years now, I've been dedicated to marrying São Paulo, that raucous, gaudy Brazilian gal who pussy-whipped me good-fashioned when we first met back in '05. I've been there four times already, the longest for two months. I've made friends, researched the job and housing markets, and have a pretty good notion of how much it would cost to see my Fly Mother at Christmas. In the face of Berlin's possibilities, however, Sampa's starting to seem slightly like an overpriced, if exciting, fling.

First, there's employment and cost-of living. In São Paulo, a full-time English teaching position (40 hours a week with very little time for writing) at a language institute would pay about $1000 a month. Rent in a large studio or small one-bedroom apartment in a centrally-located, working class neighborhood would run minimum $400 and easily $500 a month. Working part-time at a language institute in Berlin can net about 1000 to 1500 Euro a month (that's part-time, I said), with studio apartments near subway stations clocking in at 350-400 Euro. Teaching Spanish would earn me even more in both places, but $10 per hour versus 25 Euro for figure it out.

Secondly, and very important for a Fly Brother like myself, is ease of travel. São Paulo has the busiest airport in Latin America, but it's a three hour, typically $200 flight away from the next largest cultural capital, Buenos Aires, and often domestic flights to places like Salvador da Bahia can run into the $300 range (on the plus side, hops to Rio are usually quick and easy, either by air or land). A round-trip ticket to Miami for mid-October: $718. Sampa-Tokyo: $1700.

Berlin, capital of smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-Europe Germany, is a little over an hour by air to London, two to Istanbul. Lufthansa's offering flights to Orlando for 499 Euro, Cairo for 279, Joburg for 589, São Paulo for 669, and Tokyo for 649 (I'd be getting paid in Euro, remember). Travel within Europe and even out of Europe—unparallelled. And if I need to pop up to Stockholm to film a toothpaste ad, down to Lisbon for a conference on Portuguese-English literary translation, or over to Londinium for a weekend of debauchery at one of these off-the-hook places my Londophile ("Anglophile" seemed a bit off-kilter and wrong) readers keep trying to sell me on, I can do it for stupid cheap.

Lastly, there's the feeling of Europe giving me a much larger platform from which to launch a sustainable career as a writer, photographer, bon vivant, or whatever the hell else I choose than South America. While SP has an established and burgeoning artistic milieu, the exposure is much more limited and the pay for creative jobs is atrocious.

I'm still going to Sampa for a few months after my trip to complete the first draft of a novel set there, and maybe the opportunities that present themselves during those months will trump Berlin's argument. I'm very sure that the exhiliration of my social life there will make it exceedingly hard to pull away. And I hate cold weather, so even sometimes-chilly SP has that going for it. In the end, though, I'm thinking a move to Europe would be sacrificing one great thing for many good things that could potentially become great. As they say in Spanish: unos por otros; not quite literally, one thing for another.

But then, I may decide to move to Hong Kong after a week there in October.

Sampa image by Scott Zimmerman.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click.


Cynthia said...

I think Berlin sounds great! I was talking to someone on my derby team who is half German about how I am missing Germany so much lately.

I say do it!

rhonalala said...

I met a few expats in Berlin (from London, Canada and the US) and they all attested to the great opportunities the city presented to them from cheap rent to great social scenes.
Also, you might be able to take advantage of getting free German classes (you cannot survive Germany without German but you seem to pick up languages quickly) because you teach English at the school.
Also check out airlines airberlin and germanwings for cheap domestic flights.
I totally understand your desire and love of Germany. I will most likely be returning next year for work as I love it very much but live in the STR region.

Nikita said...

I totally feel you about the Europe vs. Latin America thing. In Mexico, I loved the culture, the language, the food and dancing... But Europe (France in particular) just felt like HOME. Hong Kong is great, exciting, and all that other stuff, but I still frequently find myself thinking about what life would have been like if I had moved back to France this past September... I haven't connected with Hong Kong in the ways that I have connected with Europe and Latin America... But then, what do I know? I've only been here for 6 weeks! You will see for yourself!

Look forward to meeting you so be sure to hit up a sista when you are in town.

Ali la Loca said...

In a nutshell, this is why we're not relocating to Brasil right now. Salaries are low, in particular for middle/mid-upper management jobs (you struggle salary-wise until you become Diretor, then you're rolling in the $$) and art/creative pursuits. Cost of living is comparatively high, especially in Sampa/Rio, and there is the whole violence issue. Basically, we've got Brasil on the radar for family trips, summer stints outside the US, and - when we've got some good cash in our savings account - early "retirement".

Just think - if you live somewhere like Berlin, you can make enough teaching to bank a month-long trip to Sampa each year (on a cheap ticket, nonetheless) to recapture your inspiration and live it up before heading back to the cold!

PS - have you heard about the free concert Juanes is doing in Havana? I thought about you when I heard of it.

Fly Brother said...

Cynthia: I think I'm gonna! ;)

Rhonalala: I took Germanwings to Istanbul - 49 Euro one-way. I hear the English-teaching market is tight, but I think with my experience on the university level, I should be able to square something. I hope!

Nikita: Well, I'll only be in HK for a week, but for me, places are like people in the sense that, when there's the potential to fall in love, I feel it immediately. I think it's the combination of culture and access that's the main selling point for Berlin. You gotta show me all the hot spots in the Kong.

Ali: You be feelin me for real! As much as I love living among Latin Americans, struggling like many of them do to eke out an existence is not the idea. I kinda feel like I'm cheating on my girl Sampa, though. Seriously. But I could definitely hang around for a month pre-Carnaval every year, soaking up the heat, going to samba school ensaios, recharging. It makes sense. How's SF coming along? (Was unaware of the Juanes concert...I've not been good about keeping up with Colombian news, though I did hear about this most recent tiff with Vzla all the way over here in Turkey).

Nikita said...

FB, for sure i will be taking you to all the hot spots so be prepared!! what dates will you be here exactly, again?

Ali la Loca said...

We leave in 2 days. It hits me in short bursts, occasionally, that we are moving...but still hasn't hit me. Seems like I'm getting ready to move into someone else's life! Very excited, though...I can't wait to touch down in SF and see our new house.

The Juanes concert actually features Miguel Bose, which is a coincidence given your soundtrack on here right now. Juanes has really ruffled the Miami Cuban community b/c of doing the concert in Havana, but it seems like a very cool lineup and event.

Ali la Loca said...

Ah, re-reading your reply I thought of this regarding cheating on Sampa...a classic line I've heard in clubs throughout Brasil when I say I have a namorado/marido:

"Não tem problema, não sou ciumento!"

sherene said...

I think a stint in Europe is well worth trying out, esply with a strong Euro. Brasil will welcome you back with open arms should you decide to run back to its warm weather and sexy party scene - not like you can't change your mind after a year or two! And I would imagine partying in Sampa on a Euro salary, whenever you visit, would be massive fun.

And, damn, I'd love to go for a Juanes concert!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I agree that with the very strong Euro you can't go wrong.

And I've heard very, very good things regarding Berlin and the arts.

good luck with finishing your novel.

Anonymous said...

Buenos Aires inhereted many cultural aspects from Europe.
The luxury apartment rental Buenos Aires I stayed in was very similar to the one I´ve been in Germany!