Berlin has put itself on the map as the place to be. With its vibrant nightlife, complex history and culinary specialties the city is unlike any other. It’s a city that welcomes foreigners and makes us all want to say “Ich bin ein Berliner”, but let’s face it, there are some differences you’ll encounter as an international in Berlin, here are the 13 signs that tell you you’re an expat in Berlin!
1. Being on time is being late
Berlin may be very different from Germany, but punctuality is considered rather important. Pünktlich sein (being punctual) in fact means being early, aim for 15 minutes in advance of the agreed time. With a good excuse, it is possible to arrive 15 minutes late for social occasions, but Berliners won’t be happy with you and they will for sure make you feel it. The only excuse that will get you off the hook is the public transport system, BVG, as it is the only thing that’s not always punctual in Berlin.
2. Musicians on public transport
Talking about public transport: if your daily routine includes taking the same S-Bahn (tram) or U-Bahn (metro) you’re likely to run into the same street musicians. They will board punctually at the same station and depart the metro or tram a few stops later every day around the same time. Even showtime in public transport is ‘on time’ and after a week you know their repertoire by heart.
3. You learn to appreciate the history of the city
Berlin and its people have been through a lot. Amongst other, two World Wars and the Cold War. The remains of these tragic times have shaped the city and can be seen on every street corner. There are tours, museums, and signs on the streets to remind people. The Berlin Wall in the eastern part of the city is largely intact and a big tourist attraction. Berliners are very aware of the past and are great advocates to better the future.
4. Berliners are open-minded, but still German
Berlin is the city of self-exploration and self-expression, so anything goes. It will be difficult to amaze a Berliner, the chance that he or she has actually tried it themselves is for sure there. However, Berliners are still German. And Germans love rules, regulations and values, whether they are social, law-bound or can be placed in any other category. This can be very confusing at times for an international on the quest for him- or herself.
5. Learning German isn’t necessary but highly recommended
German is a precise and hence difficult language to speak. Immaculately, yet it is worth to learn it. Berliners speak English but you will rise in their esteem if you speak (flawless) German; and you will be less seen as an outsider. Since German bureaucracy is a tiny bit complicated (and 98% is in German), speaking the language is no luxury to try and talk an officer out of giving you a ticket or in order to fill out a form.
6. Befriending Germans takes time but is worth it
In the beginning of your stay in Berlin you will mostly have international friends. However, after learning German Berliners will open up to you more, nevertheless do not expect miracles. Germans are reluctant opening up to foreigners, you have to win their trust first. Once you do though, they are friends for life.
7. Smiling in public is for clowns
Berliners are serious people. Smiling in public is of course not forbidden, but it seems as if it is limited to those who have made entertaining others their profession. That doesn’t mean they aren’t happy, but having a grin on your face in public, just seems rather profound and not in line with keeping your business to yourself.
8. Berlin is in a constant stage of change
Berlin is never finished, there’s always a road that needs improvement or a building that has to be built. Berlin had its fair share of history: It was bombed in the Second World War and consequently the city was divided by a wall in the beginning of the Cold War. The city had to be rebuilt from its own ashes several times, and this mentality stuck. As an expat, you get to know the city quite quick with all the D-tours and the many alternative routes you have to find.
9. Culture is thriving
Micheal Müller, the current mayor of Berlin, insists on investing in the city. This means money for social, architectural and cultural betterment. Partly because of this Berlin’s cultural status is gaining importance worldwide for the past years. Artists and ‘free spirits’ move to Berlin to grow in their profession and as a person.
10. Love for techno music
When going clubbing, internationals will realise quickly that Berliners have a love for techno music. The best clubs in Berlin will be mainly for techno lovers. The underground scene in Berlin is often the starting ground for new techno artists and sub-genres.
11. Beer is a religion
Berliners, and for that matter Germans in general, take beer seriously. The policy on beer is quite liberal: it can be bought everywhere. In train stations, in night shops, on any street corner. The beer isn’t small either. Beer is usually sold in half liters. Germans are generally quite capable of finishing a few beers, and if, as an international, you stay long enough in Berlin you get quite experienced at beer drinking too.
12. Culinary specialties
Kebab is very popular in Berlin, there is a kebab shop on almost every corner. And if you’ve never eaten it before you went to Berlin, you will quickly get used to eating a turkische Pizza after a night out. But Currywurst is a Berlin specialty that will quickly win a place in your heart and/or stomach if you live in Berlin and enjoy the nightlife. If you’re vegetarian … well Germany may be the wrong country for you. But do not despair, vegetarian and vegan dishes are making their way into the hip life of Berliners.
13. No matter where you are, Berlin will always be your home
Living outside your home country is always an experience, and living in Berlin is no exception to this. But when you move on you realise how much the vibrant open atmosphere of Berlin has changed you and Berlin will for always be in your heart. The good thing is that it feels mutual – you’ve become part of Berlin too and you’ll always look for an excuse to return.
Guest Blog by Britt van Hees
Being an expat in Berlin is different from being one in Belgium. See How!
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