Choose your weapon – about the battle in the traffic of Berlin

Berlin is a big city by its area. It is much less dense built than other very populated capitals of Europe – like London or Paris, for instance. That means, that in comparison with its population the distances are long – and the infrastructure is, well, rather unfinished. People in Berlin are also very mobile. In fact, 88 percent of the people move between different city districts on a regular workday. These people make an average of 3,4 trips within the city daily, and spend around 70 minutes a day on the road – walking, on the public transport, bicycling or driving. Choosing your means of transportation, however, is not a random coincidence. Your vehicle is a part of your image – it’s a statement, an outlook on life, an opinion about the state of the world. It is about being green or not.

Obviously, bicycling has become the ultimate embodiment of a nature-conscious and sustainable city boy or girl. In comparison with Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Berlin is still not a real bike-city. But the tendency is, that the popularity of bicycling increases continuously; between year 1992 and 2008, the amount of people driving to work with bicycles increased from only 7% to 13%. Even though walking or running would actually be much more ecological – there’s no need for a lightweight aluminium framework production in that – bicycling has overtaken the status of the über-coolest mode of transport. The faster, more beautiful, exquisite retro fixie-bike one has – the more hip and Berlin one is.


But lets not forget, that even though people stubbornly state otherwise, Berlin is still located in Germany – the cradle of profitable automobile industry, respected car brands and autobahn of unlimited speed. It means, there are a few Auto-people in Berlin as well. Therefore, in the everyday traffic there is an encounter of two cultures: the eco-people on their bikes and the nature-spoilers in their cars. And it is not just the ecological aspect that seems to divide these two groups. Biking seems to stand for youthfulness, whereas car driving is for the fifty-somethings. In addition, biking is very Berlin, whereas car driving represents the origin of the German car industry, the German south – and an average Berliner really doesn’t like Bayern.

So there is a continuous struggle of power on the streets of Berlin. Sadly, this encounter actually happens in the traffic. And because it can’t be very verbal – as the car driver is fortified in his Mercedes squatted by the loud Schlager from the radio – the struggle has to be fought in the means of physical capture. Who gets the pole position at the traffic light, is the winner.

Everybody knows, that this kind of powerplay can only end up bad. And in particular, bad for the bicyclist. Too many times as I’ve been driving my bike I’ve also been overwhelmed by the risks that the car drivers take. I have been cut in on the street in order to be left behind in the traffic light line. I have been almost run over because somebody looked out if there are cars coming – but not bicycles. I have got a concussion and a memory loss because somebody in a parked car opened the door to the street right infront of me. And I’m not saying, that all the car drivers drive bad or don’t look out for the bicycles. Surprisingly, many of them actually do. But if only, lets say, a fifth of them don’t, it ends up with way too many dangerous situations a day. Sometimes it is about the bicyclist not following the rules. Nevertheless, given the circumstances, I think nobody enjoys an accident in the traffic, and therefore driving a car over somebody is not a way how you educate people about traffic rules.

Berlin traffic

Every four minutes the Berlin police gets a call for a traffic accident. Every 31 minutes somebody gets hurt. Every two hours a biker gets hurt. At this point, you would think, that it is because the bikers drive like crazy with their fast bikes. Well then, think again. In 2012, of all the traffic accidents in Berlin, altogether three percent were caused by bicyclists. This can be compared with 70,72% – the number how many of the accidents were caused by car drivers. But when you look at the figures of how many people were actually killed in traffic accidents, they speak for themselves. 35,71% of all people killed were bicyclists. 40,48% were pedestrians (who actually only caused 1,03% of all the accidents). It is pretty easy to do the math.

But that is what many people in the traffic don’t understand. The fact, that struggle of power, winning or being the king of the road are very insignificant things. Even if a car driver would actually know he is right, does that help to get yourself together when the fixie-bike is resting on the bonnet and the hipster driving it under the wheels? Worth of thought, I would say. And as long as the bicycle roots of Berlin are being developed – and as an urban planner I know it takes time – the two power players, the bikers and the motorists, will have to drive on the same lane.

There is one thing, however, in which the bicycles are always wrong. And that is not wearing a helmet. Cliché or not, it really does save your life. And after a 900 euro bike it really doesn’t even cost anything. But as said before, driving a bike is about coolness, and somehow coolness and stupidity go hand in hand in this case. But I guarantee, that it’s a nice moment to revive on the street noticing, your helmet broke into two halves and protected your skull of doing the same. At least you will get the chance of getting up and letting that car driver learn his lesson. Had I not lost my memory in my accident, I had surely done that. On the contrary, I am also happy to be educated in case I’m driving my bike against the rules of the road. But I hope to learn my lesson by means of verbal battle – not being run over. Because how can I do better next time if I’m already dead? Drive safely, people.



Daten zum Berliner Verkehr, Kenndaten zur Mobilität by Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung Berlin:

Verkehrssicherheitslage 2012 Berlin by Der Polizeipräsident in Berlin:


What’s my worth? – a review about how much a freelancer should charge

“If you charge too little, you are just digging one big hole for the whole creative industry, and especially the people entering it after you.”

Despite of the main topic sounding rather pathetic (or at least that of a 20-year-old girl with a broken heart), I am not going to write about love, body or female rights. Not that those wouldn’t be great subjects. But instead I’m going to actually literally ponder the question – how much do I cost. As a designer.

Lately, our design collaborative (which is a neater name for a small freelancer-based business) has got some call for offers for pretty nice assignments. Big ones, as well. While preparing our offers with creative ideas and uncompromisingly well-thought design, the most difficult thing in the end always seems to be: how much do we charge?

As a young entrepreneur, a starting novice in the city of startups, it’s surprisingly difficult to find the golden path in the price range. First of all, you want each and every potential job – because you need to gain more experience and engage with new customers and contacts. Second of all, you are still pretty excited about getting the chance to do cool assignments – so excited that you could as well do them for free!

But that’s not how this world works. You need to be professional and you need to be aware of your talent and value. If you have a master’s degree and a list of projects on your CV – the most stupid thing is to undervalue yourself. Even, if you would lose the assignment. But there are good reasons for that, I have noticed.

Your rate this time might be your rate the next time as well

First of all, if you charge way too little, you will be stuck in that price. Lets say that the company you are doing the work for likes the cooperation, and they want to give you another assignment – at that point you can’t suddenly add 30% to your previous price. So the amount you charge is rather permanent.

The price has to be right and we are responsible for it

Second of all, if you charge too little, you are just digging one big hole for the whole creative industry, and especially the people entering it after you. It’s too late to whine about the creatives or graphic designers or illustrators or whatever freelancers to be payed way too little when the rates have already been hauled to way too low prices. Price competition is ok and a part of the system, but it is dangerous to start doing assignments for super sale just to gain the customers. Suddenly the customers are used to the low prices, and it’s much more difficult to drag the prices back higher again. We are all responsible for our worth together.

Work = money

Thirdly, you just need to be payed for every hour you work. There’s nothing to add to that. It’s work – even if you work as a freelancer. You need to be able to live, to pay your rent and to buy hypo-allergic food for your dog – exactly like if you would work as an employee.

The boring side costs

In addition, it’s not just about the money you get from the job and which you actually get to spend on shoes and booze. When you work as a freelancer, you have a bunch of flowing costs and social walfair costs that are on your responsibility. This is what many freelancers, especially the rookie ones, often forget. Just like all people, you will also get older (we tend to forget this every now and then) – and at some point you want to retire and need some pension. Even if you would work as a freelancer for a short time, it’s a part of your working life and a part of the time when your retirement money is built up. You also need to pay your health insurance. Well, at least everywhere else except in Scandinavia. You have your unemployment benefit costs. You have your working space and work equipment cost – even though you would work from home office, your computer takes electricity, you have to print every now and then and you should pay your program licenses (although equipment and programs you basically get back as tax deductions). Oh, and last but not least: as a freelancer you are also entitled to have a couple of weeks off every year.

So in that rate you charge, you need to have not only your personal salary but also all these extra costs counted. You also need time for administration, and that time should be payed by your costumers as well. So, when people find the amount you charge outrageous, they should think again who pays their health insurance.

Finding the right rate takes some time

We are still adjusting our final rate. For instance, little by little you learn how much time you actually need for certain tasks. What comes to the rate: we have heard from our potential customers, that our price is way too low. And we have heard that our price is much more than they are prepared to pay. To be honest, I have noticed that a professional customer would never find our rates too high. They know, what sort of costs a company – or a design collaborative – may have.

To help you other rookies count your price, I want to share a pretty good check list and formula for

How much should a freelancer be charging per hour:

1. Your monthly salary = a

Decide how much you want to, need to and are entitled to earn a month. This of course, is the difficult part, but do not undervalue yourself.

2. a x 12

Multiply that number with 12, and you get your yearly salary.

3. 12a + b + c

Add the other costs you have as an entrepreneur (for instance accounting costs, equipment costs, travel costs, workstead rent, softwares, fonts, telephone and internet costs etc.)

4. / 1380

Divide the number with the number of active working hours per year. I think this amount depends on the people, but I have heard that 1000 hours a year is a pretty realistic amount for a freelancer, because you need so much time for organization, meetings, administration or travel. I, however, find that 20 hours a week is rather little. I think that 30 hours a week is a more realistic amount, which would be around 1380 a year (when 4 weeks holiday and 8 days sick leave – which is the average amount of sick leave days – are deducted).

5. x 1,2

Now add your social costs like pension and health insurance. I personally count around 20%. How to use this money depends on the country. In Finland, for instance, there is a mandatory entrepreneur retirement insurance, which is 22,5% – and you need to pay this amount forward. In Germany, you assumably just save it on to an account for rainy days – so choose your savings account wisely.

6. x 1,1

To this amount, you can add 10% for entrepreneur’s risk.

7. That’s how much you should charge an hour.

The result is your total rate per hour, which your customer pays you for your active working hours in that project. The amount is probably much bigger than what you have been charging so far. At least in my case, it was like that. I want to note, that I have made this calculation with the background of working in Scandinavia and Germany. So it works as an example for walfair EU countries. I have no idea what’s the case in China, Turkey or US. But I hope rather similar.


How to learn German? – my 14 tips to end up as a winner despite the Lernschwierigkeiten

After writing in my last post my critical opinion about the use of learning German, I promised to share my tips about how to actually learn some German.

After visiting Hamburg a couple of years ago as a tourist (touché at all you Berlin-fans, Hamburg is a pretty cool city as well!) I noticed that Germany is an interesting country that would give some good perspective to my studies. So I applied to a university in Hamburg for an exchange year – without knowing any German. In the end, I ended up moving to Germany. After just one and a half years of living here, I would speak pretty good German. So good, that I could write job applications and do job interviews in German – and actually get the job. Many people ask me how did I learn it so good. Here are some tips how I learned to speak German.

1. Get on it intensively. After making the decision that you want to learn German (or any other language), take a hard core intensive course in it. “Lack of time” is no excuse. I took my first course in German when I was working full time, and every Monday to Friday evening I spent 4 hours at the course after work. Fun? No. Useful? Yes.

2. Go out there. The best way to learn German is going to Germany (well, maybe Austria and Switzerland will do as well). You need to hear the phrases over and over again. In learning German the best tactic is the tactic of exhaustion; after hearing a phrase often enough, in the end you will remember it. You can learn German in a non-Germanic-country, but because we tend to have our popular culture mostly in English (the internet, movies, music, literacy…), we are often lacking the German input.

3. Introduce yourself to Til Schweiger. In case you can’t go to Germany, get involved with the German culture. Movies are a great way to do this. What I did was, that I watched German movies or tv shows with subtitles. I would simultaneously hear German and link that with the translation. It doesn’t feel that efficient, but unconsciously you are learning the language as you watch some quality German entertainment.

4. Study, study and study. After a couple of intensive courses, don’t just leave it to that. You will be needing professional help in learning the grammar. If you are still studying, take advantage of the supply of the German courses at your university (that’s what I did). The teachers are very qualified. In addition, you get a lot of useful study material. Community college courses are good as well, if you are not enrolled at a university. To learn the whole grammar I took altogether six courses in German. And what is more, don’t just sit at the lectures. Be active and do your homework as well.

5. Challenge yourself. This is a boring tip, but a very useful one. Do small exercises for yourself regularly. Use short German texts for this (e.g. newspaper articles, instruction manuals or short stories). First of all, make direct translations. Translate each and every word of the text correctly using a dictionary and a grammar book. This is super efficient, although translating one sentence takes 15 minutes. After that, pick all of the words from the text which are new to you. Write them down one below another as a list, and then write the translations next to them one below another. Then, try to learn every word on the list. It actually doesn’t take that much time.


6. Repeat. Repetition is not only useful in German techno music but also in learning the language. Repeat words. Repeat a word you learn out loud to yourself. Repeat it again. Actually, repeat it 10 times, despite the surrounding people looking at you weirdly. Also, write words down. I used to carry a piece of paper with me, where I would write down words I have learnt or words I need to check in the dictionary when I get home.

7. Don’t panic. Words like Streichholz, Schlittschuh or Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung may seem intimidating, but don’t get depressed. First of all, German is full of compound words; chop the compound words to smaller parts, and it all makes more sense (for instance: Schlitt + Schuh = Schlittschuh). Secondly, learn to pronounce the basic sounds: sch, str, g, v, w and h. They are always pronounced the same way, and when you can pronounce them you most probably can also write them. Knowing the prononciation also helps you understand some words which are similar to the English language – when they are written they look completely strange, but correctly pronounced they sound exactly like their English counterpart (like Haus or Eis, for instance).

8. Speak German. Pretty weirdly, for me this task was the most difficult one. It took me about six months before I started to speak German. I kind of could had spoken the language before that, but I was too embarrassed. On the other hand, it takes some time before you can build sentences which make sense. Don’t let that discourage you. Wait some months, observe the language although you don’t speak it, and at some point you can start. Also, when you listen to people, try to notice some phrases they use often, and find out what they mean (for instance, I noticed that “genau”, “schönen Abend noch”, “Darf ich bitte mal durch” and “das ist geil” were pretty frequent in the common language).

9. Be all like a German. Change all your electronics’ preference language to German; use your mobile phone, computer and tab in German. Especially if you are in Germany, do things that the Germans do: watch Bundesliga (in German), read the menu in a restaurant in German even though it would be in English as well, relax every Sunday evening by watching Tatort – even though it wouldn’t make much sense first. Fill up your brain with German – like I said, it’s the exhaustion tactic which works out the best.

10. Learn the grammar. What makes German difficult, is the grammar from hell. Or that’s how it feels like at the beginning. Before learning German, I already spoke English and Swedish as foreign languages. German made those languages look like children’s play. But the truth is, German is a very logical language, almost a mathematical one – there are very few exceptions to the rules (this all adds up to the German mentality, which is very mathematical and efficient as well). There is no shortcut in learning the verb conjugation or the declension of nouns (yes, the horrible accusative, dative and genitive). You need to learn them by heart. But when you learn the declension tables once, you have already got pretty far.


11. Concentrate on essential things and save time. A couple of hints concerning the verb conjugation and noun declension; in nouns, you only need accusative and dative at first, so leave genitive for later. In verbs, nobody really uses the simple past tense or the pluperfect tense in the common language, so leave those out at first and just concentrate on the present tense and the present perfect tense. In subjunctives, learn Konjunktiv II, but don’t even bother to spend any time learning Konjunktiv I – it’s useless in the common language.

12. Do not care about die, der and das. This is a thing that made me very confused. How can I decline the nouns if I don’t know which gender the words are? The answer: it doesn’t matter. More important is, that you learn the declension of accusative and dative, i.e. the noun cases. If you decline die Badewanne accidentally as masculin, it’s just like whatever – people will understand you. It’s just great if you decline nouns, although you would mix masculin with feminine or neuter with masculin. I was told that it is very important to learn every word with its article in the first place, but in the end I found that a bad advice. If you follow the advice 2 (“go out there“), you notice you will learn a lot of words without ever hearing the articles (that is, because you hear them already declined). Don’t worry about it. At some point you will start to get the feeling about the genders of the words, and you start to know if they are die, der or das. But it takes a year or two before that happens. Which is ok.

13. Learn the word order. The word order of the German language is not very complicated. Google the instructions, and learn them by heart. Basically, main clause has a direct word order (subject before predicate) – unless it’s a claim sentence or a question, in which case predicate is always the second word. Subordinate clause has an indirect word order – which looks mostly like this: conjunction + subject + movable word + predicative. If you don’t know what conjunction or predicative (grammar words) are, learn it. You need them in every language.

14. Cheat. Before becoming a pro in German, you will need to be creative and cheat. Every time you don’t know a word, describe it in other words or with your hands or body. Also, don’t care about saying an English word somewhere in between every now and then; Germans often understand English. Don’t hesitate to build words yourself – as I said, German is a logical language, and sometimes you actually end up building a real word accidentally. There are also a lot of words in German which are almost exactly like in English. When you know English, you probably know what E-mail, einchecken, chillen, gambeln or Liste mean, for instance. And don’t hesitate to ask people what words mean or why something is said how it’s said. Sometimes (mostly) even the Germans themselves can’t explain why they say things how they say them. In fact, after getting good at German I have noticed how much Germans make grammar mistakes in their language. And that, is just another proof, that German is a difficult language, and even being mediocre in German makes you an Übermensch.

Yes, you should learn German when living in Germany

Learning German is not just cons but a lot of pros as well – just like learning any other language.

Because I live in Berlin (i.e. the capital of Germany), I have seen, heard and experienced the storming discussion about whether or not we expats should learn German. That topic is without a doubt a very persistent one in the debates of the Germans and internationals living here. But in January it definitely got some more kick, as Julie Colthorpe wrote the article RANT! “Sorry, no German!” in the Exberliner about her fretfulness towards the expats running around Neukölln without any intent to learn the local language.

Obviously, somebody would react soon and find Colthorpe‘s text outrageous. So predictably, Lauren Oyler, an American living in Berlin for 7 months, wrote a response “Wie bitte?” Ranting back at Exberliner. Sadly, instead of being a sympathetic explanation for why some people actually can’t speak the language yet, and maybe being a cry for help for the Germans to understand the struggle with it, it was the complete opposite. It was an angry and nonchalant manifest about why learning German seems pretty unimportant. And that exactly is the unresponsive attitude that makes people irritated about the expats of Berlin.

In her text Oyrel states: “It’s a paradox, sure, that being constantly abused for speaking little to no German can make a potential Berliner less willing to stick around and learn it, but the harsh economic reality is this: it’s just not necessary.” It is very difficult to understand, that somebody would find learning any language unnecessary – let alone learning a language of the country you live in.

First of all, learning languages can never be unnecessary. Learning a new language is an adventure to be able to understand another culture better. A language tells about the people speaking it – it has even been stated, that language affects on the logical behavior of its native speakers (for an example, read the article Does Language Shape what we think? by Joshua Hartshorne in Scientific American). German is a rich language with a wide range of words characteristic only to the German language. For instance, I constantly run into a situation where I try to find a translation in my native language for a new German word – without success. The word only exists in German, and instead of translating it to my own language and understanding it through that, I actually have to learn the whole meaning of the word and therefore expand my comprehension of language and the surrounding world as a whole.

Secondly, the talk about the language skills of the expats is mostly concentrated on whether or not it is ok to only speak English in Berlin. In countries of native languages with a big hinterland – like USA or Australia – learning other languages has never been that much of a requirement of survival. But I don’t see Norwegians, Serbians, Libyans or Vietnamese running around Berlin expecting everybody to talk to them e.g. in Norwegian. Someone speaking a language with very few native speakers would never expect that they could use their native language in another country, like the native English speakers – yet understandably – do. This in a way is simultaneously the bless and the curse of the English language.


There is no doubt, however, that the international atmosphere is a big part of the history and existence of Berlin. But it doesn’t make it unnecessary to learn German. Learning German gave me the chance to understand not only the cool kids of X-berg, but also that 80-year-old woman needing a helping hand or the person who cleans up the staircase of our building every Tuesday. Knowing Berlin means being able to communicate with its people independent on their age or background.

I do understand though, that it is at times hard how the Germans expect one to be perfect with the language immediately when they land at Tegel. I have been in situations, where I felt uncomfortable because of not speaking flawless German. Therefore, the locals also have their responsibility – they have to be understanding, encouraging (not switch to English after listening the not-so-good Deutsch for two seconds) and very patient when people do speak German.

I also think that the moment of denial and disgust towards the German language is a natural chapter in learning it. Everybody trying to learn German should expect to have a hate-love-relationship with the language. At times it’s difficult and depressing like the Berlin winter, at times it’s fun and fascinating like the idea of Berghain at 9am on a Sunday morning. But every person willing to learn German will learn it, and at that point it makes one value it. However, even knowing German, you can always speak English every time it’s more convenient.

  • In my next blog post I will share, how I learned to speak good German in less than two years.

Why I would have dinner with a laborant rather than Kate Upton

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” ― Isaac Asimov

I love science. It’s great. I like scientists as well. I think that scientists are unpretentious – the only thing they can brag about is a research they have actually conducted and of which they have got some great results. They can’t just boast about stuff they do – they always have to show proof in the form of scientific articles. Harsh.

Lets compare scientists with actors, for instance. Actors lie for their living. They study at a university, but in the end they barely study anything scientific. When they burst into working life, it’s all about fame and glam. That’s when they start posting on Facebook about up-coming theater shows, about-to-be-filmed movies and strange cultural interdisciplinary exhibitions. At least that is what my Facebook actor friends do (and there are lots of them). It’s all cool (I am, after all, a great friend of culture and arts as well). But it’s all so spectacular and glamorous. It’s all about fame and being known, looks and movie ads. Pretentious.

Scientists, on the other hand, have barely nothing to brag about. First of all, very many of scientists will never become famous. They work in a group of multiple other scientists on a project, which takes 15 or 35 years to finish. One of the scientists is the main-guy, the representing scientist, who takes all the props if the project ends up becoming outstanding. The others stay unknown. Many of the research projects never get into the limelight, however, because they are about things that are considered dull in the public. Scientific news are lacking mainstream appeal, even though they are the future of our health and environment. They are the cure for cancer, and yet people seem to be more interested in stars of the Twilight saga.


Solar Burst: Solar material dances on the sun in this image of a mid-level flare from NASA’sSolar Dynamics Observatory taken May 3. Image courtesy SDO/NASA, source

Just to name an example, on the home page of CNN today you can find headlines with Kate Upton (wait… who?) being the new it-girl and a 7-month-old baby water-skiing on a Youtube video, but barely no information about scientific achievements. In the end, playing a supporting role in a Cameron Diaz movie and appearing in a super bowl advertisement (that’s what Kate Upton presumably did) brings much more fame than finding the new 3D technology to treat atrial fibrillation (like found on the home page of today, the article here).

But that is exactly what makes scientists so cool. They don’t brag. They are humble in what they do, and yet they make remarkable findings which enable us the life we live. Although, there has to be some sort of glam scene in science as well. But still, the scientists seem to keep it pretty good to themselves. Because now I know, who is the new it-girl in the curvy bikini scene, but I’m still lacking the information about who is the it-girl of science at this very moment. I should know it, though.

Pictures, above: New mutations that are absent in parents but appear in their offspring account for at least 10% of severe congenital heart disease, reveals a massive genomics study led by researchers. Image by Patrick Lynch, Yale University, source

Pictures, down below: Kate Upton licking an ice cream on the cover of GQ Magazine July 2012 issue.




New 3-D Technology to Treat Atrial Fibrillation

Non-Inherited Mutations Account for Many Heart Defects

National Geographic: Space Pictures This Week


The first Rails Girls Workshop in Berlin

A video of the first Rails Girls Berlin Workshop. Rails Girls started in Helsinki, Finland. From there the community has spread to numerous cities in Europe, South and North America and Asia. The first workshop in Africa is also being planned, I’ve heard.

Rails Girls Website here.