Jason Kirkpatrick: Arcata and Berlin Just Different, Not Better Or Worse Part 2 – August 9, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Community feeling

This is hard to come by in many big cities, and Berlin is likely the same. However, Berlin definitely has a “Kiezkultur”(neighborhood culture) that many big cities don’t have. Within most Berlin neighborhoods, there is everything one could need or like, and many Berlin residents almost never leave their Kiez. This has been true for me, whether I lived in the Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg/Neukoelln districts.

However, I do mostly go along with the stereotype that Americans are more friendly than Germans, on the average. I found it quite pleasant to be called “Honey” and “Sweetheart” by some older lady bus drivers recently in California, and most German bus drivers don’t seem to be concerned at all with their passengers.

I do get to know staff at my nearby shops or cafés in Berlin, but that warm greeting from a first visit to a cafe is something that is to be found often in Arcata, and almost never in Berlin.

Humboldt State University vs. Humboldt Universitaet (Berlin)

At HSU I did my B.S. and Masters, and was A.S. President. Recently in Berlin, my flatmate was student body president at one of Berlin’s biggest three Universities, which includes Humboldt Universitaet. My impression is that at HSU, one really got a lot more personal attention from their professors, which for me was invaluable. I had a number of classes with only 15 students, and we had great discussions. In Berlin, there are lecture halls with seating for up to 1,000 students, which I find horrible.

While HSU is supposedly “affordable,” higher education is still basically free in Germany, whether you are doing undergrad or becoming a doctor. It’s even free for students from abroad coming to German public universities, which is amazing. They have some student fees adding up to a few hundred dollars a semester, but for this you get free public transportation, and a few discounts around town.

Berlin even offers begruessungsgeld (welcome money) to German students who move there, about a hundred dollars or so. Germans and many Europeans don’t pay as much heed to which University one has graduated from, as most European ”Unis” are well respected. For HSU students, I would highly recommend doing a year abroad, anywhere you can.

Job opportunities and rent prices

This is a sore spot for both Arcata and Berlin. Berlin has 15 percent unemployment, similar to much of Eastern Germany. The Berlin economy is recovering, but it is definitely a jobless recovery.

Rents in Berlin are the cheapest of any capital in Europe, but in the last year rents jumped in my kiez 17 percent! This is because it was a cheap area full of migrants, and lately young arty and styley types of 20- to 30-somethings have moved in from all over.

I live in trend kiez kreuzkoelln, but other areas have seen rising rents too, without comparable rising wages or even a German minimum wage to help meet rising costs.

On the other hand, German unemployment is better than that in the USA, and there is no cut-off date for receiving it. Many in Berlin are forced to leave for places like Hamburg or Munich to get a decent job, just like many Arcatans head to the Bay Area to seek more lucrative work. Buying a house with low income is out of the question in both places.


I am too young, at age 42, to know much about that, but I must say that even though I still love Berlin, I often consider moving back to Arcata for retirement.

Arcata is just such a lovely place, with incredible nature abounding on all sides, fantastic food and a great quality of life. There are tons of places to take great walks.

Though Berlin has more public support for the arts, Arcata has a fantastically thriving arts scene, quite incomparable for a place of its size. Germany has public funding for retirement homes, but still I would choose Arcata as a winner in this category.

So, that’s my brief comparison for “best city in the world.” I would say that there is no hands down winner, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to spend eight years so far in both places. At this point, I am looking forward to spending more time in the future in both places.

Jason Kirkpatrick is currently working as a documentary film maker. His new website is blackhelmetproductions.net

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