Buskers on trains and outside of stations. Homeless guys hawking those random newspapers as a way to make a living. Occasionally overcrowded streets and traffic. There are things that happen in Berlin that happen in every major city. And yet, there are things that are very distinctly Berlin. It’s been exactly one year since I moved to Berlin, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know this city quite well. Here are the things that I’ve found to be weird, quirky, and cool about life in Berlin.
Dogs in Berlin walk off leash. They wait patiently (and sometimes impatiently) outside of stores for their owners while also off leash. They get to come inside restaurants and sit at the dining tables. And they get to poop wherever they want. Berlin dogs live a great and free life and seem super happy and well-behaved because of it.
Not Saying “Excuse Me”
Berliners do not say excuse me. In fact, I don’t think it exists in their vocabulary. You might spend a few seconds dodging a Berliner who’s barreling straight toward you, who then proceeds to bump into you with a bag, bike, or shoulder and you will not hear an excuse me. A Berliner steps on your foot? Too bad for you. You will get no sympathy or even an acknowledgment of the crime against your personal space.
Berlin Glass Deposits/Pfands
In Berlin, drinks at bars are very cheap compared to other big cities. And there are refunds for returning beer bottles for recycling. However, this is no excuse for charging a deposit of anywhere from .50 to 2 EUR for the pleasure of drinking out of a glass. Sure, if you remember to bring your glass or bottles back to the bartender you get the deposit back, but it’s a GLASS not an apartment, why do we have to pay a deposit? I’m guessing it’s to compensate for stealing and/or broken glasses, but honestly, if you’re gonna take 2 EUR for a nice glass that probably cost between 1-2 EUR, half the time I just want to keep the glass as a party favor.
Paying for Water
It’s a running joke that in Berlin, beer is cheaper than water. But it’s true. At restaurants, they hoard tap water here as if this major city were the desert or third-world country. Let’s be clear, tap water should be free, and it should not take any amount of begging or pleading to get it. Waiters get so huffy when you ask for leitungswasser in Berlin, sometimes I want to be like “Oh, really? Is it that difficult for you to go to the sink and fill a glass with water? Maybe you should get a different job then.” Sorry, not sorry.
Paying for Ketchup/Mayo
Much like paying for water, you have to pay for your ketchup, mayo or any other condiment you want to go along with your pommes frites or food in Berlin. At a Mexican restaurant and want some salsa with those chips? That’ll be an extra .50 per salsa. Even at fast food places like McDonald’s and Burger King, you’ll still be paying extra for your sauces. Given all of this stuff is free in the U.S. and cheap in the groceries stores here, I don’t understand. When eating, accompanying sauces should be a right, not a luxury item.
Burgers and HipHop. Thai and Techno. To have a successful party here, clearly it involves finding that perfect food and music mash-up. I’m eagerly awaiting the next hot event. Will it be Sushi and Samba? Fried chicken and Electropop? Who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see.
With undercuts or without, they are everywhere. Dudes run around Berlin looking like Pebbles from the Flintstones because: fashion.
Späties With Seating
Spätkaufs are the favorites of Berliners everywhere. Think liquor stores (west coast) and bodegas (east coast), spaties are the small corner stores you run into when you want a soda, snack, or a beer. But unlike liquor stores and bodegas in the U.S., many Berlin spaties have benches and tables outside for you to sit and have a drink and/or snack.
When visiting Berlin, be prepared to pay cash for everything, even at stores. It’s as if credit cards were never invented here. Even debit cards here have the very antiquated name of Electronic Cash. And forget about making easy payment online. You have to use a long combinations of numbers and letters and six-digit codes just to make a payment.
Given that I’m used to seeing two officers in a beefed up police car speeding down the streets of LA, it’s very strange to see how Berlin police get around. They roll deep in large vans filled with anywhere from 8-12 officers.
When I first moved to Berlin, I seriously thought everyone was smoking weed in public. On the train, at restaurants, bars, public benches, people were taking out papers and rolling something. The only time you see this in LA is when someone is rolling a joint. But here in good ‘ol Berlin, people like to roll their own cigarettes. I don’t smoke, so I don’t know why smokers like rolling so much here because it seems like a lot of work to go through every time you wanna smoke a cig, but hey, Berliners are gonna do whatever they want.
In LA, protests are generally stationed outside of a particular building, with protesters walking in circles, chanting, and holding up signs all day. In Berlin, every protest I’ve seen involves a police escort no matter how big or small, and it’s a walking protest, not stationary. Maybe it’s because these protests generally are about larger issues (immigration, LGBT rights, etc.) than protesting a particular business or government entity, but when I lived in Friedrichshain parade protests as I like to call them, seemed to happen every other night.
Many toilets in Berlin are not your average toilets, they have what I refer to as poop platforms. The toilet is not a bowl filled with water (like in America) as it is a large relatively flat dry-ish surface with with a hole in the front of it for everything to be washed forward and down into once you’re done doing #2. For obvious reasons, toilet brushes are an essential element of every bathroom in Berlin.
Apfel Schorles are the jam here. Everyone loves them. Different from normal apple juice, but also different in taste from American sparkling apple cider, outside of cola, when not drinking beer, Berliners love their apfelschorles. It’s a little weird, but cute since most Americans love of apple juice dies by the age of 12.
German sleeping pillows are very large and very square. I am yet to figure out how you’re supposed to sleep on them because when you put your head down half of your torso fits on top of them as well. They look like they’re made to be used as beds for dogs or small children’s entire bodies, not for the heads of regular adults. I don’t get it. Give me a nice head and neck size rectangular pillow any day over these German square monstrosities.
Fries here are served with forks. Tiny wooden pitchforks. Given that fries are the perfect finger food for dipping into those expensive sauces mentioned above, I don’t understand why you’d want to eat them with a fork, except to keep your hands clean. I’ve always looked strangely at people who use utensils unnecessarily. Things like burgers, fries, and non-floppy pizzas are meant to be eaten with your hands. Stop being all dainty and get down and dirty with it.
No Shower Curtains
If you’re lucky enough to land an apartment in Berlin with a bathtub, chances are the shower head is in the middle of the wall facing out into the room, not into the length of the bathtub. Because of this, there is no easy way to set up a shower curtain when your bathtub is open on two or three sides. How people shower in tubs here without getting water literally everywhere is beyond me.
No Kitchens or Closets
When renting your own apartment here, you’ll see two things that to an American will induce a hearty round of WTFs. “Kitchens” are often an empty room with a couple of cords and pipes jutting from the walls, that you have to completely build and furnish yourself. Berlin recently passed a law that landlords must at least give you a sink and a stove, but that’s it. Also, there are no built-in closets anywhere. You’re left to either live super minimally, or purchase a wardrobe, cabinets, drawers or devise some other clever storage solution so your place doesn’t look cluttered.
Bringing Young Kids to Bars and Beer Shops
Ok, so in America, rugrats are generally relegated to stay at home when their parents are going to hang at a bar or going to a shop that exclusively sells alcoholic beverages, like say, BevMo. But in Berlin, I’ve been at bars and beer shops where there were children sitting with what I’m guessing were apfelschorles or colas (because Berlin) while their parents drank beers. I even was at beer shop where a little boy who couldn’t have been more than eight, was thoughtfully offering his father suggestions on which beers to buy.
Berliners hate the police almost as much as Black Americans do. You’ll regularly see graffiti that says, “F*ck the police,” “Police are the real terrorists,” and my personal favorite, “Friends don’t let friends become cops.” Though I’ve never had a bad experience with the police here and they don’t at all make me feel uncomfortable, Berliners attitudes toward police authority in general makes me feel comfortable living here, because you know, solidarity.