I can still remember the first time I was left alone in an office around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It was late summer in 2013, and it was the first time I was really working in Berlin. I was excited about everything I was doing and on the first week there, I was left alone in the office wondering why was I the only one there, in the middle of a workday. This was when I knew something was different about working in Berlin.
For a few weeks, I wondered about this, until I thought about all the people I used to see around parks having barbecues and enjoying the sunset on a weekday. First, I imagined they were on holiday, or they didn’t have a job. But I was wrong. It took me a while to understand that it was the other way around. They had jobs, they were just leaving them early and enjoying their days.
When I realized that, something clicked inside me, and I believe I was never the same. This was one of the things Berlin taught me about work, and it is a lesson that I don’t think I will ever forget. Working here in Berlin changed a lot in the way I think, in the way, I process information and how I split my work life from my personal life. Nothing will ever be the same after these years of working in Berlin.
Working in Berlin taught me that it’s possible to work to live and not live to work.
You probably don’t know that but, before coming to Berlin, I was working in São Paulo with advertising. And advertising can be really complicated when it comes to have boundaries between your work and personal life. There are countless stories about people dying, and you really feel it while on the job.
So, I have been working as an Art Director for some years, and I was used to the day to day life in Brazil. I was never a workaholic, but I was always leaving work around 8 in the evening. It wasn’t uncommon to leave work after midnight. Working on weekends was something I always dreaded, but that happened way more than it should. These things don’t seem to happen because everybody has a lot of things to do. People in Brazil tend to work differently. It is not that we are not productive, we just do a lot of things at the same time.
I moved to Berlin with these experiences in mind and expecting Germany to be like that. After all, most people have this vision of Germans being addicted to work. German workers are one of the most productive people in the planet and I seriously thought this happened because they never left work. I was wrong, really wrong.
One of the first times I realized how wrong I was, something happened on the office and I believe that I was the only person there that cared about it. At least, enough to remember it to know. So, the project my team was working on that time was late. It was late because we had some issues with the planning and not because we weren’t doing our work properly. It was a management issue and not something that we could take care of easily. So, we were late and, one day, one of the top managers in that company decided to gather everybody and do a speech. One of those speeches you see in movies before the final match. One of those inspiring ones where the coach convinces everybody to do their best and go the extra mile.
The problem here is that the speech from this former management of mine wasn’t like that. He said his words and, after a while, one of the developers said no to everything he proposed for us to do. And the manager was proposing for us to stay longer at work and work weekends and fix everything that was badly planned. And the developer said no. And, together with him, everyone just said no. We didn’t spend any moment after hours, and I was speechless. In my former experience, this wasn’t possible, and I don’t think most people in Brazil would have the guts to do what that developer did. He is still a hero of mine even though he doesn’t know that.
In Berlin, I learned that it is possible to work to live and not live to work. And even though this concept was always in the back of my mind, I had to come to Berlin to learn this by myself. It was a weird lesson but an essential one.
This might be a German thing, but people here have this thing about really planning well what they want to do, how they are going to accomplish it and how it might be if everything goes wrong. In the beginning I hated the fact that we were having meetings to organize more meetings to define other things. But now I believe that it works. At least, this is the experience I have here in Berlin.
One of the first cultural shocks I had when I started working here in Berlin was the fact that some co-workers had time to do barbecues after work. How can they do that? I kept imagining. Really, I never imagined that I could leave work and still have time to go to a park with a grill and some beers and enjoy a sunset and some friends. If you lived in São Paulo as long as I did, you can never imagine something like this happening.
Working in Berlin taught me that you don’t stay over time. Here, people are productive and are focused on their work during the time that they have to. Once it is over, it is over. I don’t even remember listening to co-workers talking about anything related to work while we had some beers after hours. Berlin taught me that work is work and the rest is something else. And that is OK.
There is something that I still suffer every day I get to work. Here in Berlin, people sit on their desk, turn on their computer and start working as soon as possible. I keep trying to do that, and I keep failing. I need my time to digest what I need to do. Furthermore, I need my time to go grab a coffee and see what is happening on the news. People here think different. One day I will change or my co-workers are going to get used to my way. I believe a middle ground will be easier, but we never know for sure.
During these years in Berlin, I learned that it doesn’t make any sense to waste your time working your ass off for money if you won’t have time to spend it doing something you like. It doesn’t make any sense to spend your evening inside the office if you can be outside enjoying your friends and family. Time is short, and you should be able to enjoy it as good as you can. Even if you have to pay your bills. Work is work, but life is more than that.
If you want to have some experience working in Berlin with design at startups or agencies, the best places for you to check for openings are Jobspotting, Berlin Startup Jobs and Design Made in Germany. You will find your next job there.
Sometimes you might have to stay over time, but this is the exception and not the rule to follow. I never saw anybody being proud of working too much here. I never saw somebody exchanging their private life for some extra time at the office. These were some of many cultural shocks that I had when I moved to Berlin from Brazil. Here people get things done and move on to the next big thing. Be that a barbecue or something else.
And I don’t even want to start talking about vacations. This is so different from anything I had in Brazil that I cannot even create an argument about it. I’m just glad that I’m here and that this is how it works here or else I wouldn’t be able to travel with Fotostrasse.
Working in Berlin taught me that there is more to life than work. Berlin taught me that our time is precious, and I will carry this as long as I can.
What is your experience working in Berlin? Did you have the same cultural shocks coming from your city to Germany?
Share your story in the comments below.
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