Neelay Mehendale

Neelay Mehendale ©  © Neelay Mehendale Neelay Mehendale © Neelay Mehendale

Age: 31 years
Origin: Pune, India
Location in Germany: Berlin
Profession: Postdoc Student in Chemical Biology, Berlin

Neelay's Life in Germany

In 2018, I took my first-ever solo international trip covering Italy, Sweden, and Germany. In the five days that I spent in the German capital Berlin, it felt like an international city brimming with life. It was buzzing with energy: a true melting pot that is so inclusive and has something for everyone. I felt instantly liberated. What also stood out was the city’s well-oiled public transportation - one of the best that I had seen on my travels.

Germany’s uninterrupted scientific research funding

Neelay Mehendale in front of the Branderburger Tor.
Neelay Mehendale in front of the Branderburger Tor. | © Neelay Mehendale
My firsthand experience travelling in the city helped me decide my future course of action about moving to Berlin for post-doctoral research. With a professional focus on research in biology, I was drawn to Germany due to its robust scientific research system and consistent funding opportunities. For these reasons, I decided to move to Berlin after receiving my acceptance at the Leibnitz Foundation, a little more than a year ago.

My adventures in Berlin continued after I moved to the city – I hung out in bars on weekends, met interesting people at the city’s numerous flea markets and made friends from various backgrounds including Vietnamese, Turkish, Israeli, Brazilian etc.

Learning to navigate in a truly international city!

I learnt basic German back home when I was still with IISER, Pune. Upon encountering native German speakers in Berlin, I quickly realized that the language I had learned in India felt distinctively different. I realized my German language skills were not enough to get around the bureaucracy – in Bürgeramt, banks and so on. For instance, I faced challenges due to my lack of language skills, but fortunately, my colleagues proved to be incredibly supportive. Upon moving to the city, I had no friends and felt unfamiliar with the surroundings, but my colleagues stepped up to assist me with the essential bureaucratic requirements for registering myself in the city. Now, I take weekly classes offered by my workplace, and I honestly find it quite helpful in my day-to-day life in the city.

A newly minted Berliner with a twisty handle-bar moustache seeks out social life!

Neelay Mehendale ©  © Neelay Mehendale Neelay Mehendale © Neelay Mehendale

After setting myself up as a newly minted Berliner, I went about building a social life in the city. When I moved in, I had a twisty handlebar moustache, and it became a conversation opener. People would approach me and talk to me in bars, and I made so many friends like that. Since I had a brief stint as an actor in the Netflix film Cobalt Blue, many of my Berlin-based followers on Instagram reached out to me after realizing that I’d moved to the city. That helped me make friends too. Berlin has that effect on you – it brings people together.

Neelay Mehendale practising music.
Neelay Mehendale practising music. | © Neelay Mehendale
Forming an Indian Classical music troupe

I’m a trained Indian classical Hindustani musician who used to perform back in Pune. In Berlin, I’m trying to form a group with community musicians who can be my accompanying artists on stage with skills in tabla, harmonium etc. It has been hard to find trained classical musicians, but I’ve had some success. I did find some people, but it feels like I need to cast a wider net. Ultimately my aim is to set up a platform for like-minded musicians. I do not want to limit myself to Hindustani music; I would love for some Carnatic musicians also to be part of the group. It’s my way of giving back to the city and I want to practice my craft.

Between my busy work, research and weekends dedicated to socializing, Berlin has been keeping me on my toes. I plan to stay in the city for at least another five years and I know Berlin will reveal itself in different ways to me.

Summer, my favorite time!

Summer is my favourite time in Berlin. Over and above exploring more of the city and its parks, and lakes, and having a beer in its Biergarten, I want to travel outside the city and enjoy Germany’s nature. I visited Rügen last year and it was nice. Tschechischer Schweiz (Böhmische Schweiz) is next on my travel list.

Rapid fire with Neelay

What cultural differences have you experienced in Germany?
Initially, I felt the classic stereotype that “Germans are stoic and don’t open up easily” at my workplace. But then I realized how it’s true about me too: I don’t open up to people too easily either. Although my colleagues and I have bonded really well, I do think people here are way more reserved than I expected them to be!

What do you enjoy most about living in Germany, and what do you miss the most about India?
I enjoy the ease of doing things, clean air and water, and the freedom Berlin offers. Prenzlauer Berg where I live is buzzing with people and reminds me of Pune.
What I miss about India is definitely the abundance of taste and healthy food. Plus, Pune’s climate and my family.

How would you describe Germany in three words?
Reserved, unyielding and rule followers.

More Indians in Germany


Prathap Nair is a freelance writer based in Düsseldorf, Germany.