Things I've Learned Since Moving to Berlin

East Side Gallery Sunset

I’ve lived in Berlin for a bit more than six months now. Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned:

  • It is possible to survive a summer without air conditioning. It’s also possible to go all summer without a mosquito bite.
  • I don’t miss having a car. Public transit is great here so I typically only need one to haul things like furniture. And I can rent one on demand pretty easily with apps like DriveNow.
  • I really enjoy bicycling to work, but don’t ride for fun as much.
  • You can take beer almost anywhere. The only downside is you’re supposed to take the bottles back. It’s an endless cycle. They’re worth €0.08 each and it’s not cool to throw them away in your building’s bins.
  • You need less stuff than you think. No, even less than that. There were a lot of things we moved but didn’t use or have room for. This same philosophy applies to daily life in Berlin. Not having a car means carrying what you need with you. “Do I really need this jacket?” is a good question to ask yourself if it’s going to warm up later in the day. At first, I carried a backpack with my laptop, etc. to/from work on the bike, but leaving things in a locker at work proved to be a liberating alternative.
  • You can order cocktail supplies from Amazon. You can also get them at the grocery store or even at a späti if you are willing to pay a bit more for the convenience.
  • The paperwork thing is for real. Without fail, I am always in the middle of some bureaucratic battle involving paperwork, waiting, mailing more paperwork, and waiting some more.
  • I thought the cluster of buildings Google Maps showed as the Bürgeramt were abandoned based on the plant life. I turns out that they just don’t mow/trim things very often. Efficiency?
  • Every so often, someone on public transit will surprise you with something crazy after you thought you’ve seen it all.
  • Things they don’t have here: garbage disposals (you dispose or organic waste in a dedicated bin), right turn on red (more about this below), stop signs at every intersection (the rightmost person goes first if there are multiple vehicles), overly attentive waiters.
  • Obey the traffic signals. There’s a reason most Germans wait patiently for traffic signals even when there is no opposing traffic coming. The Polizei will eventually get you if you don’t. I stopped before going right on red while biking and some police on bikes came out of nowhere to cut me off and stop me. I’m not 100% sure from my still fledgling German skills, but I think I have a ticket coming in the mail for that soon.
  • You don’t need German very often until you need it. Older people often speak less English and some government officials seem to stick to it even when they know you’re struggling. I’ve gradually gotten less embarrassed about trying, but I still mess up daily. It’s humbling but rewarding as I slowly progress.
  • Before moving here I knew Berlin had techno on an endless loop in clubs every weekend. But I didn’t know that some clubs occasionally have daytime parties, which means I can spend a couple hours there during my son’s nap. #dadlife
  • People get really excited about seasonal produce here. And for good reason, it’s delicious! You will know what’s in season by suddenly seeing it EVERYWHERE. Asparagus, strawberries, and chanterelle mushrooms have been some of my favorites so far.
  • In the US, we call the sport “soccer” and table game “foosball”. In Germany, they call the sport “fußball” (fussball) and the table game “kicker”.
  • Skinny(ier) jeans are functional as well as fashionable. For example, looking cool while not getting your jeans caught in your bike chain.
  • People either stare at you or don’t notice you at all. Either way, you can be yourself without caring what anyone else thinks. Someone is always weirder than you.
  • I love this city even more than I thought I would. I remind myself every day how fortunate I am to live here.