Category archive


New to the city or just thinking about teaching English in Berlin? Here you’ll find everything you need, from the best places to work (and play) to advice on navigating Germany’s famous bureaucracy.

Teach the Rainbow: LGBTeachers on the Importance of Queer Visibility in ELT

in Berlin/Professional Development

To celebrate Pride Month and the Berlin CSD/Pride Parade (which is today, by the way!), ELTABB has asked queer teachers in Berlin for their thoughts on LGBTQIA+ lessons and visibility in the ELT classroom. We hope that this article will open the door to more positive and effective discussions on the matter as well as cultivating more inclusive teaching. Plus, we want our queer members, peers, and colleagues to know that we see you and support you!


Name: N/A

Pronouns: she/her, they/them


How do you identify? Bisexual/pansexual/queer

What do you teach? Freelancer at secondary and higher institutions.


Are you publicly out at work?

Partially at one place but not officially at the others.

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

Not really. I have adapted a listening comprehension exercise from a report on singular “they” but that’s really about it.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I haven’t yet because I try to avoid even having a situation of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia in the classroom because I have no training in handling these situations effectively. Also, since I’ve dealt with biphobia and bi-erasure in my personal life, I don’t want to put my LGBTQ+ students in any uncomfortable, invalidating, or even threatening situations.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

That’s a hard one because I have no idea myself. I did read one piece from Tyson Seburn on using LGBTQ+ issues as debate topics, and he claims that doing so could result in “the othering (and potential demonizing) of the LGBTQ+ individual.” After reading that, I have decided to not have students discuss or debate these issues but instead give them the chance to shed light on certain LGBTQ+ subjects by giving informative and factual presentations. So far no one has volunteered, unfortunately.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

Too many! For me, the first step is to ensure the acceptance, safety, and security of the queer educator (at least from higher-ups and colleagues). I’m sure there are peers, like me, who are afraid to fully come out because they aren’t sure how their institution, bosses, colleagues, or students may respond.

If queer educators feel safe then I feel that they can also ensure the acceptance, safety, and security of their queer students thus nurturing an inclusive yet educational environment. Moreover, general training on inclusive education is something I personally wish I had and feel that all teachers should have.

Name: Jean

Pronouns: she/her

How do you identify? Queer/lesbian

What do you teach? Mainly general English, occasionally Business. Beginners and upwards.

Are you publicly out at work?

Yes, if the occasion arises. However, in the classroom, this has rarely happened so far, so I prefer to be out by talking about my life and what’s important to me, e.g. going to CSD or other queer events and including people and events in my lessons that give LGBTQ+ people a presence, e.g. talking about Ireland’s openly gay PM,  Obama’s law on equal marriage, or the bathroom dilemma for trans people.

But I think my own sexual orientation is less important than what I do with my students. I think it’s OK to be seen as a heterosexual woman who includes LGBTQ+ stuff in her lessons. I think we all have a responsibility to do this regardless of how we identify – just as I think it’s vital to talk about racism as a white woman.

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

I have an article on “Pink Money,” i.e. the spending power of LGBTQ+ people, and our contribution to GDP, which I have used in lessons on the economy. I also have a very popular “Pub Quiz” lesson which includes questions like “Which European country has an openly gay Prime Minister?” or “When were the Stonewall riots?”

And I have a wonderful collection of postcards: some of scenes from Pride Marches or same-sex couples holding hands. I use these in many ways, e.g. to engender discussion or to teach a specific language structure (e.g. There is/are).

The overall reactions have been positive. I think that if you present these things with confidence then the straight students enjoy an opportunity to indulge their (secret?) interest and the queer students feel seen.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

Not directly, but if any phobic comments are made in the classroom I try to address them on the spot or turn the issue into a lesson at a later date (e.g. bring an article about a person who has suffered homophobia and have a discussion about it).

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

Present LGBTQ+ people as a part of the landscape as often as possible. Let’s ALL be brave every now and then: perhaps during Pride Month or when something important happens in the world – include it in a lesson!

Furthermore, course books are notoriously LGBTQ+ -blind. How about sending an occasional email to a publisher to demand more inclusion?

Name: N/A

Pronouns: he/him

How do you identify? Bisexual/polysexual

What do you teach? Higher education.

Are you publicly out at work?


Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

Yes, in thematic courses. Not negatively; however, many had little idea about LGBT+ culture.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

Some bisexual erasure/biphobia. I told students about how I personally felt as a bisexual.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

Be open about their own sexual orientation if possible,  plus support LGBT+ students in coming out/being out.

Name: Justin

Pronouns: he/him

How do you identify? Gay

What do you teach? Everything.

Are you publicly out at work?

I’m out in the sense that I don’t hide it.

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

In Business English the only time that it has been a dedicated part of the lesson is when we talk about diversity and inclusion. The learners tend to be interested since they know I’m out, and I treat the topic in a professional way. I also get the impression that there’s value-added.

I’ve never had any negative experiences with that topic in the classroom (to my face).

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

In my role as a language school owner, we received vague negative feedback about a trainer, which we *suspected* may have been due to sexual orientation but it couldn’t be proved. This unfortunately forced us to replace that trainer with another one and the topic was unable to be directly dealt with (due to the vagueness of the request).

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

It is important that, from the start, all trainers (no matter the orientation) state their pronouns as well as ask the learners for theirs. This sets the tone that you want to be inclusive and respectful. It might spark a conversation and it may be uncomfortable, but we all have to grow in certain ways. It is also a good linguistic link as well as a teaching and learning opportunity.

This article ran previously (however, the message is still fully up-to-date).

Here are some ideas for making your lessons more inclusive:

MaWSIG Panel webinar: Making materials that reflect the realities of marginalised groups

Teach the Rainbow: Insights from LGBTeachers about Queer Visibility in ELT (Part 2)

in Berlin/Professional Development

For Pride Month and CSD, we’re here and we’re queer! In case you missed the first part, ELTABB has collected interviews from queer teachers in Berlin telling us their thoughts and experiences on LGBTQIA+ visibility and representation in ELT.


Name: Shaunessy

Pronouns: he/him

How do you identify? I try to avoid identifications of any kind, but I fall into the “gay” category.

What do you teach? I am an editor at a German educational publisher in the Foreign Languages for Vocational Education department. I also taught, mostly adults and often in-company, from 2000 to 2007.

Are you publicly out at work?

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

As a teacher I rarely, if ever, made a lesson around LGBTQ+ issues. I was out, though, and would occasionally mention my relationships or my participation in a gay event, going to a gay club, etc. I never had a bad reaction from any clients in Berlin or Brandenburg.

It is fairly easy to portray same-sex parents, couples, etc. without making a big deal out of it.

As an author and publisher, I have been responsible for bringing the first LGBTQ+ themes/portrayals into our programme. Unfortunately, not many Bildungspläne (educational plans) allow space for dealing with the issues in depth. But it is fairly easy to portray same-sex parents, couples, etc. without making a big deal out of it.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I don’t remember any. I think my students perceived me as a self-confident gay man and so wouldn’t have dared say anything anti-homosexual, so “handling” the problem begins with your own self-worth. If anyone had said anything anti-LGBTQ+, I would have stopped the lesson to teach about this.

I’ve also not had any incidents at my current employer. My boss has never objected to the LGBT content I’ve introduced.

However, just because there are no ‘incidents’ does not mean that I get the same respect I would get if I were straight. Anti-homosexual conditioning goes very deep, and it’s clear to me that when I speak, my “gay” voice doesn’t command as much respect or status as a straight voice would. Together with my foreign accent, it’s a double-whammy against me. And I don’t have a wife and kids elevating my status.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

They need to be ready to deal with anti-LGBTQ+ statements when they occur. So, they need to have thought in advance about what it means to be L, G, B, T, Q, gender non-conforming, etc., and WHY it is ok to be so, why people ridicule us, why we deserve respect, and why we deserve protection. And they need to be able to articulate this.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

One problem appears to be a lack of materials. Recently the Tagesspiegel reported on a study in which schoolteachers of all subjects said they were in need of material for dealing with the anti-homosexual bullying that they witness on a regular basis.

My assumption is that they feel they need, number one, instructions on how to deal with incidents when they occur, and number two, subject-specific material they can base lessons on. But the study also found that many teachers were woefully ignorant of the presence of LGBTQ+ students at their school, assuming it to be a problem of adulthood, so Aufklärungsarbeit (educational work) is also needed.

Name: Kevin

Pronouns: he/him, they/them

How do you identify? Queer

What do you teach?

Adults, mostly Business English (in-company), EAP (English for Academic Purposes), and ENSP (English for No-specific Purpose)

Are you publicly out at work?

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

It’s no secret to my students that I have a husband, so if a student asks, “What did you do at the weekend?”, they will get a queered response. So I would, in general, casually include queer topics in the classroom. For me, queer in the context of teaching is best understood as a verb, and it’s something that we do in our lessons not what we are in our lessons.

Queering is a way of challenging (hetero)normative standards, and there is lots of research showing that those standards are harmful to learners. I’ve used images showing women in different clothes and asked students to imagine the lives of the people shown and discuss what those ideas are based on. It’s more about asking questions than leading someone somewhere.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I didn’t as a teacher but as a student when I was learning German. A classmate brought up the issue that queers don’t exist–I mean literally that–but the teacher (who identifies as queer) didn’t intervene. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to alienate the other student, and my argument was that he shouldn’t alienate me. His reaction was a choice. These are always choices. And how and why we as teachers make choices has an effect.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

The first thing is to be sensible about safety. You have to use your common sense about the potential danger of the environment, and what sort of material can be used. For this reason, the questioning process that lies at the heart of queer methodology as espoused by the likes of Cynthia Nelson is so useful. It’s an approach that works with any material, really.

Check the support you are going to get from heterosexual colleagues.

Also, check the support you are going to get from heterosexual colleagues. If you know the agenda you’re putting out is OK with your employers, then that agenda may be OK in your class. For example, if you want to share a queer text in the classroom, discuss it with employers and colleagues and ask if they have ever done something similar.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

I suppose for years academics like Heiko Motschenbacher or Ashley Moore have tried to raise the lack of queer visibility or lifestyle in textbooks, so the onus has been on individual teachers to create their own material. Again, lots of research shows that how people are represented in course materials is key to learners’ understanding of how they are perceived and valued in that culture; it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine what not being represented feels like.

Therefore, I would say that at least in some way the question of dealing with the material gap has to be looked at. Should, for example, English language teaching associations offer a resource centre for people who wish to use queer materials in the classroom? Also, of course, that queer teachers offer each other.

Name: Allia

Pronouns: she/her

How do you identify? Queer

What do you teach? Everything and everyone

Are you publicly out at work?

I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve ever shied away from. I talk about LGBTQ+ issues all the time, I always have some element with regard to gender stereotypes, and I do workshops with GLAAD. I’d like to think it’s obvious, but maybe people don’t know.

Do you teach LGBTQ+ lessons in the classroom? If yes, what have you taught? How did your students respond?

Yes, most of the time they are put under the umbrella of larger topics such as gender issues, rape culture, or hate crimes. What I’ve noticed is when I put it under the umbrella topic the students respond positively meaning they are more willing to engage in the topic.

When put under the umbrella of larger topics, students are more willing to engage in the topic.

One example is from my college-level argumentative writing class when we were talking about the power of visuals. I had put up a series of pictures of those who have been murdered for being LGBTQ, such as Matthew Shepard or Amber Rose. I had students identify the people in the pictures to see if they could remember who these people were, but then it turned into a conversation about LGBTQ treatment in the justice system, the media and a discussion of hate crimes.

Have you experienced homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in the classroom? How did you handle it?

I was teaching at a charter high school in Compton, and we were doing a lesson about gender stereotypes. A student was sharing her experiences when another student insulted her mumbling “d***” under his breath. The student who was sharing got upset and started yelling.

To deescalate the situation, I told her that her anger was not unjustified and asked her to leave the room as I would deal with the situation. While she was gone, I addressed the other student in front of everyone, and, instead of reprimanding him, I just asked him a set of questions like, “What does the word mean?” and “Where did you learn it from?” He started answering the questions and eventually explained that he heard it from his father who would also frequently use the term “f*****”.

In the conversation, the student realized that he didn’t really feel this way, and that it was his father’s influence. This then carried on into a conversation among the rest of the students reflecting on their own upbringing, experiences, and things that had been passed down from their parents. Later, I pulled the student aside and said that it was his choice to either apologize to the individual or apologize in front of the class. The student ended up doing both.

What steps can teachers take to ensure safe queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

To ensure safe queer visibility, a teacher has to create a conducive environment for learning and discussion. That could look like creating a mission statement together as a class (or class rules). It can be teaching students how to respond to an individual coming out as LGBTQ+.

And it can also be including information in your syllabus, for example, on LGBTQ centers in addition to mental health and homelessness resources. Also, students will mirror the teacher’s behavior.

What problems should be addressed in regard to queer visibility and representation in the classroom?

Everything! But if I had to pick two, I would say the lack of visibility and an unwillingness to fully dive into the topic.

We hope that you have found these interviews thought-provoking yet inspiring because, let’s be perfectly queer, this is only one step in guaranteeing positive LGBTQIA+ visibility and representation in the ELT world and beyond. If you want to know more, here are some useful links for you to peruse. And Happy Pride!


The Digital Classroom has Come to Stay – Here’s Why You Should Embrace it

in Berlin/Professional Development

While there are definite advantages to good old-fashioned in-person lessons, the digital classroom offers a vast array of benefits for ESL teachers as well. In this article, Berlin-based online tutor Liam Porter is showcasing the convenience of teaching English remotely and sharing some practical tips.

Teaching English in Berlin: mind the gap!

As an English teacher in Berlin you are probably being stretched thin. You are limited in your earning power by the number of hours in the day. Your students will rarely all live in the same city block. Traversing space on the BVG eats up time to be potentially earning money elsewhere, not to mention your leisure time. Many must drive as much as teach in order to increase their catchment area.

Unless enjoying rare pampered status, most ESL teachers bounce from office to office like travelling salesmen, sitting in cafes during that two hour break on Wednesday with nowhere to go and nothing to do. You tap around on Google calender trying to suppress posing yourself the question, “Isn’t this actually worse than minimum wage?”.

Why not stay home and set up your own digital classroom instead?

With none of the disadvantages mentioned above, an online teacher additionally gains access to a huge pool of potential work. Much of teaching online takes place on platforms such as Learnship and italki.

Teaching online, you might never need to leave the house again.

Students come not only from across Europe, but the market is ever more channelling unfulfilled demand from the East. Teaching online, you might never need to leave the house again. This liberation from commuting will not only increase your earning potential, but it will reduce your costs in ink, public transport and – in summertime – laundry days.

One can go further with online teaching. Learnship and italki are limited by their business models. They provide the administration for booking students and the payroll: quite necessary ‘middle-man’ functions for any language school… yet are they still necessary in the age of savvy customers with search engines at their disposal?

Pick the best learning platforms

In Germany, a search for the keywords “Englischunterricht online” or “Nachhilfe” throws up thriving sites like Superprof, Preply, and Mylingotrip (and of course, Ebay Kleinanzeigen). These platforms do nothing more than take a commission: from the student, and not from the teacher. They then simply link the contact details of the learner with the ad-poster. Unlike the employer business model of Learnship and italki, these sites leave it entirely up to you how to run your course and what you charge.

A digital teacher therefore has the chance to teach students beyond his own city and charge beyond typical Berlin rates. Geographical limitations dissolve, and your teaching performance also loses constraints. Say goodbye to never having a wet pen in the classroom (and never a black one); turning up late and out of breath due to unexpected delays; or being unable to wander from a set lesson plan, if the planned topic has little appeal to the student.

Use clever software to enhance and personalise your online lessons

Most language lessons require students to convey aspects of their lives in a foreign language that the teacher will lack personal experience in. This is something which is inherently difficult to do.

Yet with creative use of software, one can make the desktop into a theatre of visual input; far more easily eliciting speech from the student who lacks confidence in explaining what he knows in spite of the restrictions of a foreign tongue.

Make the desktop into a theatre of visual input.

The next time your student answers the question of where he comes from, you can immediately throw the very town he grew up in onto the screen in photographic detail. When you ask, “What are your hobbies?” you can, in a matter of seconds, find a video showing exactly their brand of car, snowboard, or sewing machine in action. If they have recently watched a show on Netflix, and they want to practice speaking about it, you could go to exactly that platform to show the same scenes they are trying to account.

The right equipment and decorum pays off

The full exploitation of this new horizon of teaching online requires some adaptation on your behalf. You should certainly have digital versions of your books, requiring scanning and software know-how. You ought to have a good quality audio/visual setup and a quiet keyboard and mouse. A drawing tablet is an excellent investment, as is a ‘gooseneck’ webcam mount to avoid noise conduction.

Cosmetic changes, such as using an attractive desktop wallpaper, subconsciously add value to your lessons.

You should take care over the appearance of your room – which is your classroom now – and over your webcam manner; you must get used to seeing your own webcam feed on-screen (I recommend the MPC media player) while interacting with another person. Cosmetic changes, such as hiding your taskbar and desktop shortcuts, and using an attractive desktop wallpaper subconsciously add value to your lessons.

In my experience, my investment of money and care into the presentation of my lessons has been a virtuous circle, reigniting my pleasure in my work and motivating me to work smarter.

Take charge of your time, money and teaching style

As an independent online teacher you must get accustomed to being entirely responsible for your own successes and failures. This also means being entirely free to teach how you wish.

For me, this has been the most valuable part of my move online: not merely the end of frustrating obligatory commutes, the increase in earning potential, and the increase in working comfort, but the opportunity of taking my teaching into my own hands, and to deliver my lessons in a way that is ever more authentically personalised to the student.

Want More Fun Getting Things Done? 5 Great Coworking Spaces for Freelancers in Berlin

in Berlin/Professional Development
Photo: Sandra Roggenkamp

Coworking spaces have sprung up like mushrooms in Berlin over the last 10 years. Here’s why and in what ways you can benefit from them as a teacher.

A lot of English trainers are freelancers, and there are plenty of reasons to love being one. It’s awesome managing your time and schedule the way you want to. Being able to work from home in your pyjamas with your favourite beverage in front of you. Or treating yourself to that lovely extended weekend getaway because you don’t have to show up somewhere at 9 am the next morning. Plus, when you are your own boss, the only one who can boss you around is, that’s right, your own humble self (and you can always file a complaint without dreading the consequences).

But before this turns into an ode to quitting your day job to join the freelance tribe, let’s not forget what most members of that tribe already know: sweet freedom has its downsides, too. One of them being the amount of focus and discipline it takes to follow through with your plans in the face of ever-increasing worldly distractions. Be it your smartphone buzzing with notifications every two minutes or that deli piece of Donauwelle whispering, “You know you want me now” from the depths of your fridge. Maybe it’s your partner and kids asking for your attention. Or simply the all-too-familiar surroundings that just won’t prompt you to sit down and get things done.

Join the inofficial alliance

Professional procrastinators have known this for a long time – it’s way easier to motivate yourself when there are others around working on their projects as well. Even if what they do is completely unrelated to what you do. Their simply being there and being busy can make all the difference in terms of motivation and productivity.

That’s why I call those folks the Secret Society of Temporary Colleagues and I’m happy to be a member of the club. For example, they helped me write the first part of this article. I’d been meaning to start off at home for quite a while, but something always seemed to get in the way and only the wind knows for how long that would have continued.

So seriously, here’s to you, SSTC workforce!

Getting yourself out there

You can meet those magical, obliviously helpful people in public places such as cafés, libraries, and, most importantly, coworking spaces. While all of these are beneficial, the latter have a number of advantages you won’t find elsewhere. Coworking spaces usually not only offer cheap or free trial days, but many also organise networking events and meetups. Some even allow you to use them as your business address.

But the best part is, you are meeting like-minded individuals who are there to work and move foreward just like you. The networking aspect can actually help you land jobs! One Eltabber reported that she finds a lot of work simply by eavesdropping and engaging in conversation with the people sitting next to her.

Think of it as the lonesome mountaineer’s shelter on the way to the summit. You escaped the grim weather just before dark to unexpectedly meet fellow travellers with similar destinations…who might become companions on the way. Now if that’s not a reason to celebrate!

My Top 5 Spaces in Berlin

So here’s my list of personal favourites. We designed the ELTABB journal in two of them (yep, they inspired us).

1) KleinMein

This little hidden gem near Frankfurter Allee has everything you need for a fruitful day. A pleasant, peaceful atmosphere, a tasty mediterranean menu and friendly international staff. It’s a café with a coworking space nicely tucked away in the back, so you can enjoy some privacy with your freshly-brewed Greek mountain tea. Membership isn’t required. You can buy tickets for one or three hours (5 and 10 euros) or a day pass (15 euros). If you buy a ten-day-pass, you’ll get an extra day for free. Tickets include a drink of your choice and water’s on the house.

2) Unicorn

This is definitely one of the bigger players! Yet they appear friendly and customer-oriented with very flexible, transparent pricing. Unicorn offers spaces in Mitte, Wedding, Potsdam and Lisbon. You can get daily access for 69 euros per month, a day pass (16,50), or just a half-day pass for 10 euros. Free water and hot beverages are included, members get discounts on food as well. Reservations are not necessary, so why not pick the cheapest option, drop by for a couple of hours and check it out?

3) Wonder Women

Wonder Coworking on Prenzlauer Allee is just for women (and their kids). Super-friendly owner Shari offers fixed and flexible desks, free hot drinks, filtered water and fresh fruit. There is a playroom for your toddler (she has a little baby daughter herself) and also a small library with books covering business topics and feminism. They offer regular events, workshops and after-work hangouts as well. Book a trial day for 5 euros and feel the wonder!

4) Tuesday Coworking

Hygge is the word to describe Tuesday Coworking. This is a cosy place in a quiet part of Schöneberg. They offer different rates for fixed, flexible and part time desks, starting from 85 euros per month. There are additional goodies such as free use of meeting rooms, free printing, hot drinks and 24/7 access. The owners are very community-oriented and regularly organise events covering a wide range of topics from social media to gardening. So if you’re looking for an extended living room, this is for you! You can book a free tour and trial day on their website.

5) Happy Pigeons

The pigeonry is located in Prenzlauer Berg and probably comes as close to the ‘mountain shelter’ metaphor as it gets – you can actually live there! Since a lot of people who are new to the city have difficulty finding a place to stay, this might be a real option (short- or even long-term). If you feel you are not enough of a hippie to live in a community with raw vegans and yogis, just stick with the coworking space. Their prices are reasonable (42 euros per month for a part-time flex desk, 75 for a fixed one, 10 euros for a day pass) and you can show up for a trial day anytime during opening hours.

For more spaces in your kiez, best search on the internet. You should be able to find something in your area, usually with reviews.

What’s going on online?

For those who want to connect on the web, there is a virtual space for freelancers called Coworkies. This international community dedicates itself to networking across countries and has its own job and events database. For the best of both worlds, Meetup is a great starting point as well. Moreover, there are local groups offering coworking sessions in different places several times per week. Signing up for an event automatically enables you to join discussions and contact other group members, making it a whole lot easier to stay in touch with new friends.

So enjoy getting out there and immersing yourself in the world of collaboration and networking!

Here, you can read more about teaching English as a freelancer in Berlin.

Zeitreise: Living in Berlin as an English Teacher in the 90s

in Berlin/History
Photo: Sandra Roggenkamp

What was life like in post-wall Berlin for an English teacher from abroad, in a time before the internet and social media? How have things changed since then? Does British politeness go with Berliner Schnauze? Paul has the answers.

It’s a crisp winter evening, and I’m meeting Paul Hewitson at Café Bleibtreu near Savignyplatz, where he hosts his weekly English Stammtisch. He’s a bubbly, cheerful guy in his 60s. When I asked him for an interview about the old Berlin for the history section, he immediately said yes. Actually, what he said was, “Old? I can do old!”

So we take a dive back in time, as he paints a picture in front of my eyes. How he came to Berlin with his wife in 1990, just one year after the wall came down. That he stayed for two years, living in the East, but working in both parts of the city, mainly near Ku’damm. About his students from East Berlin, who were incredibly sociable and great writers – but terrible at pronunciation, due to a lack of exposure to British radio and television.

And how things had changed when he came back after spending 14 years in other parts of Germany and abroad. He winks, “Es war alles besser damals!” That’s such a German thing to say! His mischievous smile tells me that he doesn’t mean it, though. But it’s safe to assume that life was way different back in the 1990s.

Steady jobs instead of freelancing

For one thing, freelancing was considered the exception. Working as a teacher normally meant full-time employment, so that 80 per cent of English trainers held steady jobs at companies. That did not rule out flexibility, though. While working for Linguarama, Paul took his job with him from Düsseldorf to Stuttgart before settling down in Berlin.

He still rhapsodises about this, and I can see why. The job came with the opportunity to teach at fancy summer schools in England every year, all expenses paid for by the company, followed by rooftop dinner parties at Christmas time. The nostalgia is palpable as he wallows in memories of custom-tailored one-to-one lessons and gourmet buffets in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Meeting fellow teachers and other expats

But now, on one of the bigger questions of our time: was there social life before social media? The answer is: Yes, definitely! There was just no tweeting about it. Rather, English trainers would meet up casually after work and gather in groups to go to pubs and restaurants together. Companies actively promoted this, so that there was an established culture of after-work-socialising among teachers.

To liven things up, there was another group of expats, namely gasworkers from Northern England who had been invited by the German government to harmonise the gas systems between the East and the West. After work, they would go to Irish pubs. Maybe to meet teachers and brush up their language skills, but more probably to watch footy on telly and have a pint or two.

It would have been funny if there had been a Berlin Association of English Teachers and Gasworkers. Only that the gasworkers were done working at some point and headed back home.

Much if not all of the above had changed when Paul returned to Berlin in 2006. This time, he came without work and soon realised that full-time employment had given way to freelancing. Thus, job security had not only vanished, but taken with it the old social networks as well.

Finding ELTABB

Luckily, Paul found ELTABB and became a member. “That was a smart move! I didn’t know then how smart it was,” he laughs. He got his first job by word-of-mouth recommendation from another member, doing level tests of English on the phone for a small company. Gradually, more freelance work followed. After some time, he was put in touch with the manager of a major oil company in Schwedt. Being then hired as an in-house trainer for two full days a week turned out to be a stroke of luck, and he hasn’t looked back.

One thing Paul highlights is that his success was a two-way street. He’s always been very happy to be able to return the favours he received and support his colleagues as well. Having been part of ELTABB for twelve years now, he especially likes the regular social events and, in recent years, the increasingly younger average age of the members.

What about Berliners?

Finally, I ask him what he thinks about living in Berlin – a place that is full of notoriously grumpy Berliners. Funnily, he has never had reason to complain about the locals. That’s because he appreciates their directness. Like the taxi driver he described his destination to because he did not know the exact address. The man interrupted his empurpled soliloquy mid-sentence, muttering, “You wanna talk or you wanna go?”
Or the woman in the line at the post office replying to the lady in front of her, who had just apologised for stepping on her foot, “I still have another one.”

There is only one thing that bothers him about Berlin, he says. “The inability to queue! If I ever get into an argument, it’ll be because of queuing!”

Paul has been teaching and travelling  across three continents over the last 30 years. He loves a good story and always has one more to tell, just in case you thought you’d heard them all. You can read an interview with Paul as ELTABBer of the month here.

Find more stories from yesteryear with one of ELTABB’s first members here.

Go to Top