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‘Sex is easy to find in Berlin’: Foreigners on love, hook-ups and friendship in Germany

Language is a barrier and Berlin is “Never Never Land” – but our readers say there are also positive parts to meeting people in Germany, including the fact non-romantic love often blossoms.

'Sex is easy to find in Berlin': Foreigners on love, hook-ups and friendship in Germany
Many people in Germany form relationships online. Photo: DPA

It’s hard out there when it comes to dating, but it’s not all doom and gloom: that’s the picture The Local found as we investigated what it’s like for internationals forming relationships in Germany, whether it’s hook-ups, marriage or lasting friendships.

SEE ALSO: It's not impossible: The ups and downs of dating in Germany

There are 20.5 million single people in Germany, with many looking for love. Around 9.6 percent of the population is browsing for dates – or casual sex – on apps, as well as a host of other online sites.

We wanted to find out how internationals in Germany are getting on in their quest to build relationships. Is it difficult finding love? What about sex? How do you stay in relationships? How do you form friendships?

Lost in translation

For Trish, a Los Angeles native, Berlin is like “Never Never Land” when it comes to romance.

“People move here for different reasons,” the 28-year-old tells The Local. “A lot of them never grow up. This Berlin lifestyle of freedom and openness I think makes it difficult to date here.”

SEE ALSO: 10 reasons why should date (or even fall in love) with a German

Trish has spent time in other German cities, including Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia, which she says is a “much easier” place than Berlin to date successfully because it's smaller in size.

When it comes to the dates she’s had, Trish has used Bumble – the app which allows women to make the first move – but it’s not been such a great experience for her.

One match lied about his height, another had a “really high voice” when they met, and the third man put her off using the app for a while.

They were speaking to each other on a video call before arranging a date, but when Trish introduced him to her dog, “he disclosed that sometimes he’s into bestiality”.

“At first I thought he was kidding but he was completely serious,” she says.

Trish has also been asked out by a guy who approached her while she was locking her bike, but he ghosted her (didn't get in touch with her again) after one date.

A red rose and feather in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Every person Trish has gone on a date with in Berlin so far has been German.

The events manager said communication could be difficult at times, with things becoming lost in translation. One German guy who she had jokingly called a “dork” had translated the word to mean “idiot” in a very literal sense.

“He was very offended and thought I was insulting his educational background,” she says. “I find little things like that are very difficult.”

A positive that Trish has found from her dating adventures is the friendships that have formed – even with potential romantic partners.

One man messaged her on Instagram. “We had a short romance and now we’re good friends,” she says.

Language tandem success

Rebecca, 33, from San Francisco, has been in Berlin for six years. Like Trish, she finds men in the capital sometimes have “Peter Pan syndrome” but looking back, she says, overall it was a positive experience.

“Despite frustrations, I enjoyed dating in Berlin as it was a way to meet a lot of interesting people from all over the world – a friend once joked to me that my love life looked like a meeting of the U.N.,” she says, highlighting the capital's diverse population.

SEE ALSO: One in three Germans says sex with a friend is okay: Survey

Rebecca met most dates through sites like Tinder or OKCupid. A great result of dating was that meeting up in different locations allowed her to get to know the city better.

Photo: DPA

But she found men could be “quite flaky”. “I was ghosted for the first time ever in Berlin by a guy I was dating for seven weeks and he just stopped returning my texts.”

The freelance writer also found dating improved her German because she spoke the language when messaging people.

Rebecca is now in a stable relationship and met her partner through a language exchange after three years of using online dating apps, proving perhaps that love does really strike at times you don’t expect.

“Us chatting for a half hour each in each others' languages turned into a serious relationship,” she says. “At the time, neither of us were specifically looking for a relationship and it just grew into something spontaneously.”

'Men are too comfortable these days'

Barbara is looking for a partner after her marriage to her German ex broke up in 2011. The 72-year-old lives in Frankfurt and says it’s a very single friendly city and “a comfortable environment to be in”.

Barbara, who’s from South Africa but has lived in Germany for 20 years, says she’s tried online dating but didn’t have much success, often finding her inbox filled with men from far away countries which isn’t what she’s looking for.

She finds dating frustrating. “Partly because I know a number of single men but none of them make any effort to have a relationship in any way, even though I think we get on well.”

“I think men are too comfortable these days.”

Barbara says a great point about Frankfurt is that it’s a good place to be social to meet friends. She advises people who are new to the country to get out and join cultural associations.

“In Frankfurt we have a number of these things like the Newcomer’s Network. There are lots of organizations to join to meet people,” she says.

When it comes to the romantic side, Barbara is feeling optimistic about the future. She’s met someone through a business networking site.

SEE ALSO: How I made friends during my first year in Germany

“I’m hopeful that the relationship will go somewhere,” she says.

'650 matches on Tinder and nothing has worked out'

For Gi, a content marketing manager who works at a start-up, serious dating is near impossible in Berlin, although she says “sex is easy to find” if you’re looking for casual hook-ups.

The 30-year-old, who’s originally from India, but came to Berlin via Munich and Dortmund a few years ago, describes the German capital as an “expat city”.

“There’s a huge batch of people who come in and go out,” she says. “They get lost in the city but becoming part of the city doesn’t really allow a relationship because you have so many options to choose from.”

Knowing that there’s someone else out there is a “disadvantage”, says Gi, because you can never “give yourself completely to one person”.

Gi was in a stable relationship when she lived in Dortmund for six months but both didn’t want to do long-distance when she moved to Berlin.

The differences in the way people treat each other in parts of Germany was also apparent for Gi.

She says in Munich a guy she used to date would offer to pick her up and open the door of his car for her. In Berlin, after one particularly bad date, Gi's 'match' asked her if she would pay for his travel ticket because “he’d come all this way” to meet her.

Gi is a fan of Tinder, where anyone can make the first move. “I’m still not culturally ready to say hi to somebody first,” she says, thinking about apps like Bumble which encourage women to message first. “I come from a conservative country where we learned men are the ones who speak to us first.”

Similarly to others we talked to, Gi has met good friends through online dating. On Tinder, where she listed herself as bi-curious, she met a woman who’s now a great pal. She’s also become friends with other men and women this way.

Photo: DPA

“If you don’t know anyone in a city, Tinder is the only way to meet people,” she says. “In Dortmund I knew absolutely no-one and Tinder was my solace.”

Although she's been single for two and a half years, Gi says it’s not all bad.

“I do have hope but I’m not so sure about Berlin: I have 650 matches on Tinder already and nothing has worked out,” she says.

“It’s difficult but it’s not sad, what’s meant to be will be,” she says. You are so full of love, with a big friend circle, you have work, you are clubbing. And sex is very easy to find in Berlin.”

Coupled up and on the lookout for friends

Sarah, who comes from northern England and has been living in Bremen, northwestern Germany, since 2016 has had a different experience.

The 32-year-old moved to Germany with her partner, who got offered a new job there. Bremen, Sarah says, is a small city, and “not crazy busy compared to Hamburg”, which is nearby.

She also finds that Bremen isn’t as diverse as other cities in Germany, and fewer people speak English.

That can make it difficult to make friends but Sarah has found attending language schools and using online resources, such as the expat networking platform InterNations helps. She has also met people through her partner’s work.

Photo: Depositphotos/frantic00

Sarah, who's a freelance digital marketer, finds that Bremen can also be quite a transient place, perhaps reflecting a trend in Germany, due to the number of people who come for jobs or to study.

“Particularly with people who I’ve met, they come for a job and then often move on,” she says. “That’s kind of difficult when you’ve built friendships.”

As far as the type of city that Bremen is, Sarah describes it as “cosy”, where people, on the whole, prefer to go out for dinners and drinks rather than all-weekend benders.

She has single and coupled-up friends. But doesn’t feel it’s the kind of place where people openly show they are loved up.

“If I look around I don’t see so much romance going on,” she says. “You don’t often see people walking around holding hands. I don’t see so many German people being affectionate in public.”

'Directness can be hard'

Michael, from Australia, ended up meeting his wife in Germany.

“I was complaining about the weather in Stuttgart on Twitter,” says the 38-year-old. “She replied. I went for coffee with her. I had lost my wallet and I was an hour late. Amazingly, we're married.”

However, he says it can be difficult dating in Germany, especially if your language skills aren’t up to scratch.

“You can feel left out in group conversation, especially outside the big cities,” he says. “Also if you come from a culture of overbearing politeness, like me (Aussie/British), the directness of German women can be confronting at first.

“I couldn't live without it now, however.”

Photo: DPA

He recommends the best way to meet people is to get out and talk to different groups and attend meet-ups.

“Leave your expectations at the door, and go in open-minded,” he says. “Germans are a distinct people, with a distinct approach to life.”

We first published this article in February 2019

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For members


Moving to Germany: How I’ve kept my long distance relationship alive during the pandemic and Brexit

When Charlotte Hall first moved to Berlin, she thought her partner back in the UK would come soon after. But Covid-19 regulations and new post-Brexit laws have led to a more complicated situation.

Moving to Germany: How I've kept my long distance relationship alive during the pandemic and Brexit
Charlotte Hall with her boyfriend James in Berlin in January 2020 before the pandemic hit. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hall.

On a sunny day at the end of August 2020, I moved to Berlin from England for my year abroad. In the summer glow of buzzing streets and parks, Covid seemed like a fever-dream I’d woken up from as soon as I left the airport. 

Besides masks indoors and the clubs, which had opened as beer-gardens and pubs, it was more or less business-as-usual in the capital (at least, so far as a stranger to the city could tell). Perhaps this is what lulled me into a very – I repeat very – false sense of security concerning the pandemic. Though, perhaps I was just blinded by the excitement of being somewhere completely new after six months of being indoors. 

The plan was: I would move into my apartment in Neukölln, start establishing my life here, and a couple of months later, my boyfriend, James, would quit his job in the U.K. and move out to join me. I’ll admit right now that I was being naive. I just had no inkling, at the time, of exactly how naive. 

READ ALSO: Love in the time of Corona: How couples in Germany can connect during a time of flux

Of course, this didn’t happen. Within a matter of weeks, the infection, case and death rates were skyrocketing in both England and Germany. In the UK, numbers overshot the figures that had scared us in April by almost double, then triple – and that was just the beginning of October. England started going into lockdown and travel abroad was banned. 

Germany also began to think about tightening measures, and travel was strongly discouraged unless essential.

The combination of – and I emphasise, necessary, Covid-19 restrictions banning all international travel out of the UK and the final Brexit deadline coming into effect on December 31st 2020 has been a fatal one for our reunion. 

At Christmas, sandwiched between 10-day isolations either side and a relay race of Covid tests – I was able to go home and then return to Berlin a month later. The privilege of my German passport (thanks mum) and my Anmeldung (the crash-course in German bureaucracy most expats will experience upon first moving to the country) were what made this intra-pandemic round-trip possible and legal.

For James, it’s a different story. With no official registration in Germany, and no claim to EU citizenship, he’s not allowed to cross the border at the moment. 

READ ALSO: Post Brexit visa rules: How can Brits move to Germany in 2021 and beyond?

When he does, it will be on a 90-day visa-free visit. The pencilled-in date for lifting travel restrictions in England is May 17th – which will make it almost six months since I have seen my boyfriend in person and almost 11 months since I lived with him. 

Charlotte Hall and James. Photo: DPA

‘What if we just get married?’

Needless to say: it’s been difficult. 

We are, of course, not the only couple whose shared lives have been completely uprooted by the pandemic. Plenty of couples grappled with being thrown into, essentially, long-distance relationships, even when they just lived on opposite sides of town. The Brexit element just adds a prospective longevity to the situation that hangs heavy on both our hearts. 

During a phone call, James exasperatedly suggested “well, what if we just get married?” Which was, of course, a joke – not to mention the least romantic proposal I could possibly imagine. But it sums up the bizarreness of the situation pretty accurately.

Sustaining a relationship across Brexit-borders, during a pandemic, requires a lot of creativity, and above all, an openness to digital improv. Another delightful element of the post-Brexit world is the humongous VAT and import tax on mail. So you can go ahead and ignore the listicles online that advocate for love-letters and regular gifts-by-mail to spice up long distance relationships (unless you have some money to throw away). 

READ ALSO: How to cope with stress and anxiety during the corona crisis in Germany

From video-call Valentine’s brunch to (more-or-less) synchronised date-night cooking, arguing over text, simultaneous series-bingeing and sleepy late-night calls that end in one party snoring into the mic, my main advice is: fake it til you escape it. Simulate a life of togetherness as much as you possibly can. It’s a bittersweet loving, for now.