11 more things I know about Berlin

A bar on top of a shopping centre car park… and a bar at the back of a garden centre. Only in Berlin.

After 63 days, 100ish falafel balls, 50-odd meals out in the sunshine, 30 bang-on-time train rides and absolutely zero bike-related near-death-experiences (see below), we’ve reached the end of our time in Berlin. And what do we think, now that we’ve actually lived it like true Berliners rather than overexcited tourists taking photos of Checkpoint Charlie?

Berlin is bloody brilliant. Best, funnest, happiest, loveliest city in Europe. And of course the most efficient.

We were here back in April too, but now we’ve had a chance to really live here and get to know the city, we’ve got a whole new load of things we now know about it…

1: Bit of an odd one, this: packaging

You know those packets that have peel-off lids – like for sliced meats and chicken breasts? And you know how you always grab the tab to peel, and then the tab breaks and you have to open the packet with a knife or your teeth instead? NOT IN BERLIN (and possibly not in the whole of Germany)!!! In Berlin, you grab the tab, pull back, and the whole lid peels off. Wondrous. In no country have we ever experienced this actually working.

Talking of packaging though… bottled drinks are notoriously (among the two of us) hard to open. And the “tear strip” always half-comes off with the lid.

2: Cheapness schneapness

We’ve decided that our last post about Berlin was wrong: the city isn’t that cheap. Accommodation is cheap, as are kebabs. But a decent meal in a nice restaurant isn’t that much cheaper than London. And groceries here seem to cost a bomb. Public transport isn’t cackle-with-glee reasonable either.

3: Spicy my foot

If you love Thai food, steer clear of it here. Same goes for Indian food, and anything that’s meant to be spicy or even just a little bit the other side of bland. Germans are known for having very little tolerance for spice in their foods, which is fine – and indeed preferable – for their native cuisine, but not so great for ethnic meals.

4: Dream dogs

You will never, ever, ever find such well-behaved dogs as you do in Berlin. Barely any of them are on a leash, yet they’ll wander happily alongside their owner, stop automatically at a road crossing, and even wait patiently outside a store (still leashless) while the owner goes in and does the weekly shop. They’re also the happiest-looking, most well-treated dogs we’ve ever seen.

5: New York bars, eat your heart out

There are so many cool bars underground/on top of a car park/at the back of a garden centre/behind a garage it’s unreal. But none of them are too “try hard” (like in London or New York): they’re really laid back and friendly, and the drinks are never extortionate either.

6: Nude sunbathing… an experience

If you want to try nude sunbathing (“When in Germany”, etc.), don’t go to the nude sunbathing section of Tiergarten unless you’re male, heavily pierced and own a dog… or if you enjoy feeling like an outsider.

7: The joys of cycling

Cycle paths are everywhere, and there are clear indicators for how to proceed even when you’re at the busiest of multi-way junctions. Cars will always wait for you to turn/cross at every crossing too.

And if you’re still worried about cycling, you won’t half feel like a moron when you see little kiddies biking behind their parents with tassles on their handles, dolls in their baskets and pretzels in their mouths. Or when you see mothers with a baby in a sling and a kid strapped into a seat on the back.

8: Google Maps: lies, all lies! (Sort of)

The place is HUUUUUGE! Don’t just guestimate how long a journey will take you by glancing at Google Maps: it gives absolutely no indication of scale. An eyelash-length trip will end up being about six miles in real-world length.

Also, DON’T use the journey planner on Google Maps: for some reason it doesn’t acknowledge U-Bahn train journeys (which are often the quickest and most direct). You’re best off using www.bvg.de to plan your public transport journeys instead.

9: F**king showoffs

I cannot overestimate just how bad they all make us feel with their INCREDIBLE English. When we met the Berliner host of our Airbnb apartment, he spoke in perfect English. We asked him how, and he said, “Well I spent a year in England when I was 18; it must have been a very formative year.” FORMATIVE?!! Another German we know used the word “anodyne” the other day. 

It makes us shocked and appalled by our own terribleness at other languages.

10: Digital nomad heaven

If you’re a digital nomad, prepare to find fellow nomadic buddies here: everyone stops by Berlin. We’ve had an absolute blast eating, drinking, crazy golfing, museuming, wandering, biking and general Berlin-ing with them all.

11: Work/life = nailed

If New York and London are too frenzied and harried for you – and if Vancouver is too laid-back horizontal – Berlin is the place to be. Here you get the impression that people get shit done (indeed it’s the top location for startups outside of London), but that they have a nice balance of work and lifestyle. 

This isn’t a “burn the candle at both ends” type of city (although gosh can they party hard); it’s a place where everyone’s working hard but taking long leisurely lunches, cycling their kids to school, doing heaps of family stuff on the weekends, and walking at a speed that implies intention but not desperation.

What have I missed? What did I get wrong? Tell me in the comments!

  • Kelly

    Now I regret not going to Berlin while we were last in Europe! Also….. “anodyne”?

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Yep, anodyne!

  • I thought the tear-off strip was supposed to come off – what I hate is when it breaks & comes half-off.

    Re: #8 – we were late to a class because the two sides of THE SAME STREET had completely different numbering systems! NOT LOGICAL.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      I always thought the strip was meant to stay on the bottle… you twist the lid off the strip. Have I been wrong on this all along?!

      But you’re right: the ultimate worst is when the tear strip comes half-off – and that’s exactly what happens with the German bottles! Blog post duly fixed!

      The Berlin street-numbering system is a disaster. I’d totally forgotten about that one!

  • #3. You must not have stayed or visited Wedding in Berlin.

    Turkish ethnicity.

    Pop your brain spicy food. Perfect with the local beir.

    You didn’t mention the bizarre almost connections between the S and U bahn.

    And the very strange beir with a shot of sweet liquor (red order green). And another Berlin only, CurryWurst.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Dammit – we never went to Wedding! Now we know where to get our spice fix next time!

      Love the other points you mention too. Re. currywurst: I think the most impressive thing about this dish is that it has its very own fork! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currywurst_fork

  • Nice one! I have never really had any interest for Germany in general. Just a big flat country with motorways. I was driving in Germany ones and my GPS said: “Turn right and follow the road for 654 kilometers” (going north from Munich).

    But through a coincidence i ended up there for a weekend there last February and absolutely loved it. The underground bars and clubs, the fairly cheap drinks (might be because i am Swedish…) and cool people in general.

    I didn’t find as not cheap (again, might be because i am Swedish…) as you did, but anyway, it is now on my bucket list to live there!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Hey Gustaf,

      We’d also love to live in Berlin. I might need to learn a bit of German first though… as great as it is that everyone speaks English, I don’t half feel embarrassed about it.

      Glad you had such a great time there too!

      • I studied German in school for 5 years, but that was a long time ago though. Hopefully a crash course will bring it back. That is for later though, enjoying my life in South East Asia to much at the moment.

  • Nice remarks!
    I don’t agree with points 3 and 9 though. If you get to know the city really well, you get the real deal spicy food, especially Vietnamese.
    And it’s really not everybody that speaks English that well. Once you live in the city you realize that every little burocratic errand that must be ran becomes a nightmare if you don’t speak German.
    On the other hand, I couldn’t agree more with points 4 and 8. Dogs here are amazing. And Google Maps made me walk like 2 hours more than a couple of times 😉

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks Olivia! We’ve heard from a few people that Berlin really does have great spicy food… I think we need some tips on which food places to visit next time!

      If Rob and I are ever able to own a dog, we’re getting a German person to train it!