Oh those Berlin expats, always adorably messing up their lives. Like an episode of Girls that stretches on to infinity, the life of a Berlin expat can be miserable, but it’s chock full of comedic gold. Just look at us trying like a dummy to talk to the bureaucrat with our pathetic A1 restaurant and nightclub German. Look at us crossing at the red light like a jerk. Are you trying to yell at us to stop because there’s a car? Sorry, we do not understand this strange, strange language in which you speak.
Take a few common club grievances, add some commiseration over the endless winter weather, sprinkle some Club Mate on top and watch your site grow faster than germs on an U-Bahn.
Like many internet success stories, Thaddeus-Johns’ started with a conversation she was having with her friend, Lauren Oyler (also a Berlin-based writer), about why there should be a site for people like them.
“We were sitting in a cafe called Dritter Raum sharing stories and we kept on saying, “Oh that’s so Berlin,’” she said. “I just assumed these were such cliche experiences that someone must have taken the piss out of them.”
Instead of writing the stories down, Josie, who is a freelance journalist, chose to match them with GIFs. The first post to go viral was a loving tribute to those roommates you see after three solid days at Berghain:
The day she posted it, the site’s traffic jumped dramatically, presumably because everyone knows someone who treats the famous Berlin nightclub like a hostel.
Surprising site success
Josie couldn’t believe the stats. “I was like, ‘I have to leave my computer right now and go down to the cafe because Google Analytics is making me scared of the world.’”
The website’s success arguably has a very simple explanation: it’s cathartic to see one’s own experiences universalised in a GIF. As Jonah Weiner writes of the GIF in Slate, “A function of animated GIFs has to do less with consuming new information and more with reliving and exulting in shared experiences, where zero setup is needed because a familiarity with context is assumed.”
“It’s now not just about my experience, but about what everyone perceives as the expat and the young Berlin experience,” Thaddeus-Johns said.
When someone tells you about their latest startup
Though there are over 494,000 expats living in Berlin from countries around the world, everyone can commiserate over the ridiculousness of certain scenarios – whether they’re bargain-hunting in Mitte (as if), listening to someone pitch their fascinating startup idea (oh, sure, right) or enjoying Berlin’s incredible dating scene (no comment).
Most folks get the jokes, though Josie is aware that she’s an easy target for the haters. “If those anti-expat people are going to hate anybody, it’s going to be me,” she said. Thankfully, the worst hate mail (if you can even call it that) she’s received were the words “son of a bitch,” in German, and a mysterious note that simply read “English?”
There was also a befuddling response to a post about bringing a native German-speaking friend to the “Anything-Amt” (AKA, the panic-inducing bureaucratic offices where an expat must speak perfect German or risk being skinned alive).
“The point of the post was ‘oh my god German people are so great because they can help you out with the language. They’re like these magical, fire-breathing dragons!’” But a few native speakers online told her they didn’t get it. “People somehow took it as an insult.”
Those with thin-skin are in the minority, though. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the number of regional copycat accounts alone – including When You Live in Munich, When You Live in Leipzig and When You Really Live in Berlin – should be quite flattering.
Thaddeus-Johns primarily posts user submissions these days. Anything with cats, Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Lawrence or babies is automatically posted. Ditto viral videos. “Like the lamb skipping through rooms, that one did really well.”
Though she’s received some generous offers (she wouldn’t divulge the particulars), Josie’s not working herself to the bone trying to secure deals. For now, she has shunned advertising. “People in Berlin see through it and it’s not what the GIF blogs are about.
Most of all, Josie hopes the site will help her land more writing gigs. “What I really want to do is gain exposure,” she said. So far, it’s working. (Clearly, the next thing they should teach in journalism school is how to match a reality TV GIF with a joke about vegans.)
The site is celebrating its six-month anniversary with a party this Friday 19 June. “Ready your artistic statements,” the event’s Facebook page reads. “Berlin’s stereotypes are going to be hit hard.”