Ok, to Berlin, I think I’m gonna divide my thoughts on it in 2 or more posts, not only due to the city’s major importance due to the current state of things in Europe, but also because I really liked it. Maybe it’s due to being summer already and perhaps a trip during winter would have made me feel quite differently about it, but I only experienced it during 2 shiny weeks and I actually fell in love with it.
So where to begin? I took a flight there, as I had already explained, which was the cheapest and quickest way to get there. I usually rather not fly, but take trains, coaches or share rides, you know, carbon footprint and being able to discover more and meet more people, but due to the sheer distance it was easier to just take a goddamn flight and land directly there. I had already heard about Berlin and everybody told me it was quite open, multicultural and cosmopolitan although I didn’t think it would deviate so much from my own preconceived ideas of the german way of being. In a sense it doesn’t, I mean, it’s organised, well laid out and planned, services work very well and all that, but on the other, it embodies quite a big variety of cultures, languages, nationalities and interesting things to do.
There I went to meet Raquel, a portuguese friend of mine that set out to live there a few months ago.
Since she was working and I had much work to do as well we ended up not going out that much, besides some days spent in some of their awesome parks and a few walks during night. I was also in a small electronic music party near the river in the middle of the city, organised by friends of Lisa who lives with Raquel. That’s how I got to go there. It was pretty cool, quite good ambience, music and people dancing barefoot. It all ended around 3am when the cops went there to close it, not due to noise or anything particular, just because so. Like in most of these small private parties people quickly packed everything, collected the garbage and we left, leaving the spot as it was before. No one would have said there were about 50 or 60 people dancing and drinking for almost the whole day. Of course, knowing where I was going to I didn’t take my camera with me. Which is a shame in a way, but freeing in other.
One thing really cool about Berlin is that with so many different people around nobody really cares. People drank on the public train & metro without a problem, I actually smelled weed more than once while waiting for the S-Bahn (their name for the surface train) and I’m pretty sure I saw somebody high as a kite on acid or something freaking and laughing with the train window for the whole trip (I mean, train trip). That was in a way unexpected, because one thing would be saturday nights or holidays, other thing is that while you’re going on a morning ride to work during week days.
But all is cool. I never felt in danger even though it’s such a big city and we did use mostly public transportation, even during night, it all just felt very safe.
I really enjoy parks and there I did too, the way people gather in these public spaces to spend the sunny days really appeals to me. You can see people having picnics, playing sports, doing activities, playing music, reading, or just talking. Many people use bicycles which is also pretty cool. This previous photo was at Treptower Park, which was very near (like 2 S-Bahn stops) from Raquel’s place. It’s also a huge park, very cool to hang out.
And the thing is, you never quite feel like you’re in a huge city, it feels like you’re in mid sized neighbourhoods. This has to do in my opinion with the way the city is laid out. It’s very spacious, you don’t have huge buildings where people live as “packt like sardines in a crushd tin box” (yes – I love radiohead – I’m a reasonable man, get off my case, get off my case), the streets are well laid out, there’s plenty of green spots to cut down the pollution – you can actually look at the sky during night and see stars!!
It isn’t expensive too, I think it’s quite on par with Lisbon and some things are even cheaper, which is amazing, taking into account how much you can earn there and what you can earn in Portugal.
There’s good places to eat almost everywhere, and due to the gentrification some neighbourhoods have turned into hip places for cozy, hipster like, well decorated restaurantes and coffee/bars, packed with an amazing array of various tastes for whatever likes you might have.
We went to Mauerpark twice, one just for the flea market and another to spend the whole day there. I actually bought a new lens – a Tokina 28mm f2.8 – in perfect condition for 60€ and a new pair of shoes, in second hand both – now regarding the shoes, you might say, yuckkk, but I say 8€ for a Vans pair in excellent shape is quite good, and somehow you’re not buying something new, which is good again, regarding resources, environment and all that – plus they look like they were worn a couple of times and no more than that.
After it we had lunch at a very cool caffee, Krone, right in Oderberger Straße. It’s not that it’s expensive, but it’s not the cheapest place too, although their roasted sandwiches are really tasty as well as their tomato soup. If you’re passing nearby (either because you’re visiting the flea market or Mauerpark) I would tell you to go there and have a taste! It’s worth it.
Mauerpark, besides the flea market that happens every sunday (starts really early and goes until 4 or 6pm), is very cool in the sense that people gather there to have a beer on the grass, sing karaoke, or listen to the many people playing solo, in bands, and performing (either dance or other things).
It kinda looks like a summer festival all by itself. But it’s just a regular sunday afternoon. If you want to chill or get to know people that’s definitively a spot worth visiting.
One other thing I was quite surprised by was the level of social/democratic participation. While I was there an important referendum, brought about by ordinary citizens, asked the question if people wanted some parts of the Berlin Tempelhof complex to be used for construction of housing buildings. Berlin Tempelhof is an old airport that was converted into public space (the surrounding areas where the landing lanes are) and is currently sort of an open space park where people can do sports (from kite skate, windsurf, rollerblades, bicycles, to regular jogging) and also do picnics, with a designated area for barbecues. It’s not fancy at all, but the thing is once the lanes were closed, people started using it in other creative ways and it became sort of a place where you can see people mixing together and enjoying outdoor activities.
There’s also some bars/food stands on the edges of it, where you can enjoy a beer sitting in those comfy beach chairs.
What I thought was amazing was that the Berlin city hall had, since some years ago, plans to build residential buildings there, in a way to keep up with the ever increasing number of migrant people arriving every year to Germany’s capital and the following shortage of affordable housing solutions. And although that is a valid point, people didn’t want to give up on what they made of that place. Some people with whom I talked said it’s not only the fact that it’s a public space, open air, but also because it’s a place where you can see people from all backgrounds and nationalities enjoying, so it’s also a stepping stone to integration, one of the successful examples they had and that they didn’t want to let go of. So people organised, gathered the necessary signatures and called for a referendum on the issue. Now, if you’re in Portugal or some other southern country, I don’t think you would believe that this could happen. Or if it can happen, and somebody doesn’t find a way to go around such decision, you really don’t think people will take the trouble of calling for a referendum, doing all the paperwork and informing people about it, so that they go voting. But here they did, and a whooping 65% of the voters said they didn’t want a single percent of it relocated for housing construction, they voted to keep it 100% open public space. And I find that amazing.
It kinda shows also why some countries are in the state they are and others are doing fairly well. I mean when people withdraw from the public sphere of politics, stop being citizens, the path is open to whoever is in control take advantage economically of it, and I think that southern countries have a big problem to overcome, when it comes to democracy, it’s that we really don’t care much or can’t be bothered to care about it. We leave it in the hands of the same old farts over and over again and we truly believe “there’s nothing we can do”. On other hand, police repression and political demagogy help create this idea, that either people who are manifesting are social parasites or that there’s no other way of doing things. Nonetheless, the result is the same, inertia. On other hand, I really don’t care much about it anymore, because I also see people not caring at all, so why would you? Why would you put time, effort, energy and get into a stressful, war-like, state of mind for the sake of helping people (in an abstract sense) who don’t wanna help themselves? And this is not to say that there isn’t social participatory movements in these countries, and people who try to do things and take matters into their own hands, it’s just that they can’t seem to mobilize enough people, so it’s always a marginal percentage of people that do it even though everyone whines and complaints about the same things.
We’re done with Berlin for this first post, but as I said I’ll write at least one other post about it.
I also promised to talk a bit about freelancing through the internet so here it goes.
Like I said I use several platforms, from elance.com, to oDesk (which was recently bought by elance although it keeps its own website), to peopleperhour.com and freelancer.com. The first one where I enrolled was freelancer.com and then found out about these other ones.
Right now the ones I enjoy the most are, in no particular order, Elance.com, Peopleperhour and oDesk, but truth be said that through one simple job I had through freelancer I actually made a lot of contacts and got a lot of work from it, although nowadays I don’t seem to be able to land any job there.
Why do I like the other ones more now?
Well, elance is very clean and sleek, I like their interface and I like their system of working. Peopleperhour is also clean although it doesn’t look as professional as Elance, it’s good nonetheless. oDesk is the simplest one regarding graphical design, but on other hand it’s quite streamlined.
So how do you start there? Well first you have to sign-up as a service provider. It’s a fairly easy process where you set-up a professional profile page, stating your areas of expertise, skills, your rates, what have you done, where have you worked, any relevant information about your skills and including samples of work done. Also, you upload a profile picture to make it all more humane.
As I work in the area of image editing I also put up links to my own portfolios, in this case to http://www.micaelnussbaumer.com . Where people can take a look at a more presentable way of showcasing my skills.
One of the things I like about elance.com, and it goes with their more “professional” approach to the business of outsourcing, is that they provide a series of ways to make you more tangible. They offer free identity verification through the uploading of a government issued document followed by a confirmation through a Skype system. You can also upload certified documents and have them certified for legality by them (at the expense of a fee). And as in oDesk and freelancer.com you can also take “exams” in your area of expertise.
Any of these platforms provide security measures that ensure you won’t be ripped off in case you work through them. This goes either with software that keeps track of your activity once you log into it (and assures that you’ll be paid the hours you log in, according to the contract in hand) or either through escrow payments (which are payments that are in deposit, assuring you the client has paid the funds ahead), that are maintained with the platform until completion of the job. In case of elance and peopleperhour they have a department for setting any problem that may arise but I sincerely never had to resort to such measures. In oDesk although they offer the option to have a deposit made before starting the work they don’t have a system to workout these situations. They do offer payment protection regarding hourly work logged into through their software, which works very well. Peopleperhour on the other hand doesn’t have a hour logging software. Elance offers both systems in a very streamlined and workable way.
So once you’re registered, you search their job feeds (or input any keywords related to the skills you have) and see if you find something that would fit your skills and liking and that paid what you want. Of course when starting, since it’s a system where feedback from clients is very important, it’s normal you won’t be able to land the pay that would be fair (mostly because since you don’t have feedback no-one knows if you’re reliable or deliver what you promise), but once you start getting feedback it becomes much easier to find work. Unless of course you have an extensive portfolio, testimonials or reviews on other platforms (such as linkedin) to testify for your skills.
Each job that gets posted is composed by a brief (stating the scope of the job), usually with a budget and a time-frame, along with any directions or specifications. I do image editing so they’re usually accompanied by samples of the images to be worked and references to the final look wanted, I guess it would be essentially the same either if you’re a designer, a writer, a translator or a programmer but with the relevant samples towards those specific kinds of project.
Once you see a job that would be fitting you write a small cover letter/proposal, where you state your experience and links to relevant portfolios, along with any relevant information regarding the project at hand. Usually I do a generic introduction and then add a personal text that relates to the job at hand exclusively. I try to keep it small and concise, because most people who are posting jobs get like at least 60 people writing them proposals. Most of these platforms have ways in which you can give more “attention” to your own bid. Peopleperhour and freelancer.com let you pay a small sum to get your proposal on the “top” and elance.com allows the use of more connects (the exchange coin for proposals you have available to submit) in order to make your bid go on top.
After this first contact if the people on the other end is interested they’ll write back and usually there’s a back and forth of questions, further briefing, clarifications, payment terms and once you reach an agreement you start working on the project.
Since feedback on the work done is so important you’re left in a position where goodwill, clarity, timely responses and so on become important, because they’ll affect the ratings clients will give you. Most of them also allow you to reply to feedback that was given (so in case someone gives you a bad rating which isn’t fair you can reply to it and it will be visible). Of course the more work you do with better ratings, the more easily it becomes to land new jobs.
Some of these one time jobs become longer term collaborations when things go well and you get along with the person on the other side. It all depends.
Mostly I think you have to trust a bit and also be professional in what you deliver, if you do that, I think you can land many more jobs and maybe create a steady income. Because people usually know people and all that, so you can end up working for other people you didn’t even met through these platforms.
Of course besides having a profile there and completing jobs, you have to have a way to get the money to your bank account. If I’m not mistaken, all these platforms allow to withdraw directly to your bank account, but usually the fees for that are a bit high. One other option that’s available and is the one I use is withdrawing the money to paypal and then to my bank account. I do this mostly because since I have a bank account in euros I can’t receive in other currencies without huge fees being charged, so I take it to paypal, where I convert the money and then pass it on to my own bank account.
Needless to say that writing and understanding english is a must. Both for using the platform correctly as well as to be able to land jobs. If you do, and you’re searching for options regarding freelancing work, you might be interested in signing up and taking a look around, making some bids and see what comes out of it. In the beginning I would also advise you to explain that you’re new to the platform, being that the reason that you still haven’t got any feedback, but that on other hand you have experience on it and backing that up with a portfolio, samples or testimonials.
If you have any question regarding this, please feel free to drop a comment and I’ll try my best to help you,
See you soon for the 2nd part on Berlin, have fun!