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Zurich versus Berlin: Which German-speaking city is better to live in?

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Zurich versus Berlin: Which German-speaking city is better to live in?
Residents in Zurich are the "most satisfied in Europe". Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

After Swiss-born Eurovision winner Nemo told reporters he preferred Berlin to Zurich, we compare the two European cities, taking in living costs, quality of life factors, and cultural highlights.


Nemo, who took the top prize in the Eurovision song contest at the weekend, comes from the small town of Biel in the canton of Bern in Switzerland, but splits their time mostly between Zurich and Berlin, German news outlet Tagesspiegel reported on Monday.

Both major cities in central European countries with German-speaking populations (although of course in Zurich the dialect is Swiss-German or Züritüütsch), Zurich and Berlin have some obvious similarities. On the other hand, Zurich has been ranked the world’s most expensive city for years, whereas Berlin maintains a reputation for being affordable and a hub for arts and culture – still managing to hang onto its reputation as “poor but sexy”.

Of course affordability is just one of many factors that make a city attractive to its residents, and both Zurich and Berlin have a lot to offer.

The Local takes a look at some key stats and lifestyle differences to offer a comparison of the two cities.

‘A creative city that is constantly changing’

According to the report inTagesspiegel, Nemo called Berlin their “secret favourite” compared to Zurich, adding: “I love Berlin so much because it's such a creative city that is constantly changing.”

Coming from a 24-year-old singer, it’s perhaps no surprise that Berlin was their top choice. Germany’s political capital has also long been known as a capital of arts, culture, and radical acceptance.

Nemo said as much in their comments: "Berlin lets you be who you are. It's a city that's fun."

Nemo at the airport

Nemo arrives at Zurich Airport in Kloten after winning the final of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) 2024. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/KEYSTONE | Walter Bieri

As a non-binary person, Nemo likely also enjoys Berlin’s notorious inclusivity. With loads of LGBTQ+ clubs and events, as well as specific events for virtually every demographic imaginable, Berlin prides itself on being a place where residents can do and be as they like.

But that’s not to say that Zurich is so close minded. In fact, the Swiss capital also boasts the best quality of life for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as older people, in all of Europe.

But if you’ve already grown beyond your twenties, you probably want to consider a few factors beside a city’s party scene before you consider moving there. Especially for people looking for a place to settle down, factors like cost of living or availability of work become more important.

Cost of living

As mentioned above, Zurich consistently ranks as the world’s most expensive city to live in

Berlin, on the other hand, is very affordable, compared to many major cities in Europe.

According to the site Numbeo, which gathers user-contributed data on cost of living across the world, as of May 2024 most living expenses are about 40 percent lower in Berlin than in Zurich.

However, local purchasing power is nearly 30 percent lower in Berlin according to the same data, which suggests that most Zurich residents don’t mind the city’s high price tag because they take home larger salaries.


Quality of life statistics

It’s not only the costs that are high in Zurich. In fact, one thing that might be higher is residents’ satisfaction with where they live.

According to the 2023 Report on the Quality of Life in European Cities, published by the European Commission, Zurich out ranked 82 cities across Europe in most quality of life metrics.

With 97 percent of survey respondents saying they were satisfied with Zurich, it was the highest ranked city, just ahead of Copenhagen in Denmark and Groningen in the Netherlands.

More than 90 percent of Berlin residents were satisfied with their city, which is a respectable score, but was less than the nearby city of Leipzig.

In particular, Zurich residents tend to be happy with their jobs, public transport, healthcare services, air quality, and their finances.

Interestingly, Berliners came in one point higher than people from Zurich on job satisfaction.

One aspect of life where residents marked Berlin quite poorly: “The time it takes to get a request solved by a city's local public administration”, with a satisfaction rate of 39 percent.

READ ALSO: 'I've waited four years' - Foreigners in Berlin furious over German citizenship delays

Rave the Planet

The 'Rave the Planet' techo parade in Berlin in July 2023. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Where do the trains run on time?

One thing that Nemo admitted they don’t like about Berlin was the number of strikes.

"What really annoys me is that you can never be sure when you will arrive somewhere because there are so many strikes," Nemo told the German Press Agency. "That's why I've now bought a small scooter to get from A to B faster."

Fortunately for Nemo and Berliners alike, transportation strikes have simmered down, at least for now, as most of Germany’s bigger transportation workers’ unions have reached agreements with their respective employers.


That said, delayed trains and buses are not an uncommon occurrence in Berlin, and across Germany trains are delayed much more often than in Switzerland.

In fact, in 2023, Swiss media pointed out that eight of ten of the country’s most often delayed train routes actually came in delayed from Germany. 

READ ALSO: German trains 'responsible for Switzerland's worst delays'

Other similarities and factors to note

One more commonality between Zurich and Berlin - they're both international urban centres, attracting foreign residents from around the globe.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS - Zurich's foreign population climbs to record high

While the influx of foreign residents certainly makes both of these cities more flavourful and interesting, it also comes with a major downside. Both cities are suffering from a shortage of housing.

According to Switzerland's Federal Statistical Office, in Zurich only 0.06 percent of apartments were vacant in the summer of 2023. In Germany's popular cities know the situation is not much better.

Home to around 1.4 million residents, Zurich is less than half the size of Berlin in terms of population. And according to World Population Review, it is a bit more dense as well, with approximately 4,700 residents per square kilometre as opposed to Berlin's 3,800.


Famously built in former swampland, Berlin's surroundings are flat and partially forested with an abundance of lakes in the surrounding region. The Spree River flows the through the city centre, and is connected a series of urban canals. 

Zurich, on the other hand, is set between wooded hills, just north of the Alps. It's 408 metres above sea level and much of the city follows the Limmat River, which flows out of the lake that shares its name with the city.


Comments (1)

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Gary Karr 2024/05/13 18:14
"Both capital cities of central European countries with German-speaking populations (although of course in Zurich the dialect is Swiss-German or Züritüütsch), Zurich and Berlin have some obvious similarities..." ... this would be news to the people in Bern that Zurich is the capital. :-)
  • ben.mcpartland 2024/05/14 08:11
    Thank you, the article has been corrected

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