Home to the highest population in Germany, Berlin is no stranger to history, culture, and nightlife. Constantly ranked highest among favorite world cities, Berlin may not be the stereotypical destination for volunteering abroad. Even so, Germany struggles with many pervasive social issues in need of volunteer assistance. If you’re looking for a place where you can volunteer abroad and have an immediate impact, while enjoying all the amenities of home and potentially earning college credit, look no further than volunteer programs in Berlin.
Volunteer Programs in Berlin
As the capital of Germany, and considered the heart of Europe by some people, Berlin is home to a plethora of volunteer opportunities that primarily span the social work sphere. Here are some of the most popular ways to volunteer in Berlin:
Teaching English. As one of the most important subjects for German youth to learn as they progress through school, native English speakers who are willing to volunteer in Berlin as English teachers are in huge demand. Since Germany a global economic leader, English is needed to effectively communicate in the business world, which is continually being internationalized. Volunteers who choose to teach English in Berlin typically become teachers at primary schools. Due to the standard of education provided in German schools, some teaching placements may require volunteers have a TEFL certification.
Childcare. Working with children can be a great option for volunteers seeking a super immersive experience while volunteering abroad in Berlin. Volunteers who choose to volunteer in childcare or other projects for children will be able to do a variety of things, from organizing special activities to working at daycare centers to simply playing with children from disadvantaged communities. One great aspect of volunteering with children in Berlin is that volunteers will often get a chance to participate in unique cultural events and gain insight into German culture that other projects might not allow for.
People with Disabilities & the Elderly. Another common way to volunteer in Berlin is to work with people with disabilities or with elderly populations. Volunteers that work at center’s for people with disabilities will likely focus on empowering individuals with mental and physical disabilities, by teaching and assisting them in becoming more independent in their daily lives. On the other hand, those who choose to work with the elderly will primarily focus on general care assistance and providing comfort to elderly individuals.
Life in Berlin
Berlin is one of the most “happening” cities in Europe, serving as both the seat of government for Germany and home to some of the best nightlife. During time off, volunteers will have a good number of activities to choose from and sights to see, from Berlin’s robust art scene to Mies van der Rohe’s landmark Neue Nationalgalerie.
Quality of Life. As the capital city of a leading world country, Berlin has quite a few perks. Therefore, those who choose to volunteer abroad in Berlin can pretty much count on having any amenity they have at home. Although Germany has a different set of flushing options on their toilets, there will be everything from an impeccable public transportation system to comfortable housing available to volunteer in Berlin. Overall, Berlin is home to a decent quality of life and plenty of lifestyle luxuries.
Social Life. What city comes to mind when you think of the term “the city that never sleeps”? New York City? Los Angeles? Maybe even Hong Kong? Forget all of those! Berlin is the city that never sleeps as it is home to the best nightlife in Europe, from insane techno clubs to chill beer gardens to classy opera houses. Not only is the city alive at night, but basically 24/7. Cafes are always bustling and museums abound. As for Berliners themselves, they live by the creed “live and let live”, and put more stock in who you are as a person rather than personal wealth. In general, Berlin is a great place for any kind of social activity.
Costs & Affordability
Since Berlin, and Germany in general, is pretty touristy, most things are expensive by global standards. However, if you keep a couple things in mind and stick to a budget, living without killing your wallet is possible as a volunteer in Berlin. The most important habit to form while volunteering in Berlin is staying away from touristy areas and high-end restaurants. Instead, find out where your German friends shop and eat, because sticking to German locales will help you save lots of money in the end. In Europe, groceries are generally affordable, and this is the same case in Berlin, so stick to making meals from inexpensive ingredients and you, and your bank account, will be all the happier for it in the end.
Accommodation & Visas
Depending on the organization or volunteer program you choose, housing options will vary. Some volunteer programs in Berlin put volunteers up together in bungalows, while others place volunteers in homestays or in independent group living situations. Accommodation can make or break any international volunteer experience, so make sure to ask your program provider what kind of housing you can expect before you leave. If you want a more immersive volunteer experience in Berlin, participating in a homestay is definitely recommended.
If you’re an American citizen and volunteering in Berlin for fewer than 90 days, a visa is not required. However, if you want to stay beyond those 90 days, typically a work visa is required and can be complicated to obtain. If your volunteer program in Germany is longer than 90 days, you’ll need to provide evidence that you are working for a local organization and go through a lengthy process through a German Embassy. Long term volunteers should work with their host organization or program provider to get everything needed to volunteer abroad in Berlin legally.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteer programs in Berlin provide volunteers with a very unique service adventure abroad. Along with being one of the safest places in the world, Berlin also offers some great amenities and luxuries that aren’t commonly found in popular volunteer locations around the globe. Despite such infrastructure already being in place, volunteers can still count on making an immediate impact in their volunteer work and will leave with a heart full of satisfaction.
Some challenges that volunteers might face while volunteering in Berlin include the cost of living and being generally perceived as “just another tourist.” For volunteers really keen to become a part of the local community, it can be frustrating to constantly be spoken to in English or to be touted loudly by taxi drivers. Since there’s no “I live here” badge or face tattoo quite yet, this can be an ongoing struggle, especially for long-term volunteers.
With a bit of “go with the flow” attitude, volunteering in Berlin will be a life changing experience that will stay with you forever.