Berlin's vibrant party scene and low cost of living has made it increasingly attractive as a student destination. But limited job opportunities mean most graduates are forced to leave the city, despite wanting to stay.
Anybody who lives in Berlin knows that it's good for a party. But what about an education?
It may not be considered the epicenter of global academia, but Berlin ranked eighth out of 98 cities worldwide as a top city for students, according to a recent British survey. Munich was the only other German city to make the grade, in at number 13.
Berlin's liberal atmosphere and cultural climate are two major factors which make the German capital so appealing for students. Still, it appears there is a distinct conflict of interest between easygoing college life and the tough realities of the job market following graduation.
Berlin's multicultural, relaxed vibe and vibrant party scene attracts students from around the world
Marco came to Berlin from Italy on the Erasmus program, a European Union student exchange scheme. He'll be studying industrial engineering at Berlin's Technical University (TU) for the next six months.
"I chose Berlin because of the city. I think it's the youngest and fastest city in Europe, I think it's perfect," he said. "Right now if I try to compare the German life with the Italian life, here I notice that welfare is higher than in Italy. So people are richer and prices are low."
Prices are indeed low in Berlin. So low, in fact, that every person interviewed mentioned it at least once, usually in the context of cheap rent and cheap beer.
"In Paris, you're lucky if you have a 10-square-meter room and it's very expensive. Here for 300 or 200 euros you can have a big room in a big flat. The food is less expensive too, the beer is less expensive. I think a lot of things are less expensive," said Thomas, another TU student.
Like Marco, Thomas is also part of the Erasmus program. He moved to Berlin a few weeks ago to study landscape design.
"I think it's one of the most international cities for students now in Europe. All my friends say I'm very lucky to be in Berlin because for young people it's very famous," said Thomas.
Olaf Reupke coordinates exchanges for overseas students at the Technical University. He says Berlin's attraction lies in its growing diversity.
"Berlin itself is so multicultural; there are so many different people from all around the world living in the city. Every year there are more courses being held in English, because there is an internationalization going on everywhere, and we want to be a part of it," explained Reupke. "And there's a huge party scene, which is very important for students."
The cost of living may be low, but many graduates are forced to leave Berlin due to a lack of job opportunities
Cheap and party - two words synonymous with Berlin, it seems. In surveys, Berlin gets top marks when it came to high quality of life and low living costs, especially in comparison to pricier European capitals such as Paris and London, where students pay thousands more per year. It's just one more reason why many students want to stay in the capital after their exchange program is over.
But not everyone wants to stick around. Tanya from Mexico City is studying for her doctoral degree in international criminal law at Humboldt Universityin Berlin's Mitte district. She said it is difficult for foreigners to build social networks in the city.
"I want to go back to Mexico City. But for studying and student life it's great because there are lots of concerts and nice things to see and do," she said. "But it's difficult. I like it here, but to have a group of friends that are German, sometimes it's more difficult for us."
Making friends is just one of the challenges students face. TU student Max Tieger explained that Berlin's economic advantage also has a downside.
"The conditions just at the university are worse compared to any other city, because Berlin is a very, very poor city. They don't have very good equipment and the auditoriums are always completely overfilled," he said.
In addition to poor facilities, Berlin ranked poorly regarding reputation and interest from international employers who tended to give preference to graduates from elsewhere. So why did Tieger decide to stay in his hometown instead of going abroad?
"Because a lot of my friends are studying at TU and, in the field of business and engineering it's ranked fourth by employers," he explained. "In business and engineering, what the employers say they like is the very international experience we have here."
But according to Olaf Reupke, students are sometimes better off returning to their home country after graduation. "They want to stay but the job market is very competitive because in Berlin there's a huge unemployment rate and most of the students want to stay and do an internship. That usually works, but to find a steady job, that's really difficult," said Reupke.
One of Reupke's colleagues, Beatrice Vinci, agrees: "It's a wave. You come here as an exchange student, you enjoy the nightlife, it's very cheap to live here. But when you want to go further, then someday you will leave Berlin."
Author: Melanie Sevcenko / Helen Whittle
Editor: Kate Bowen