Berlin – techno music capital of the world and queer metropolis, urban playground for cosmopolitan adventurers, and birthplace of the European hipster. You can’t wait for your first trip to the German capital? You’re filled to the brim with expectations of a couple of crazy, wild, and unforgettable days in one of the coolest cities on earth? Rightfully so, Berlin will probably live up to it. Careful though: while Berlin sure is one amazing place to visit, a lot can go wrong here and many things work a little different here than what you know from home. So just to make sure you’ll have an absolute blast on your trip, here are a few things you should know before travelling to Berlin for the first time:
Cash is king
Isn’t it convenient these days, that you can pay for anything using your credit card? New car? Take my visa! A pack of chewing gum? Here, let me tap that. Lovely indeed, but not a reality in Berlin. Why? Because cash is king here! Most places do not accept credit cards (even corporate stores and franchises at times) or have a payment minimum of € 10 or more. It’s probably a mix of neurotic self-monitoring, fear of identity theft, and distrust of big money corporations that leads to Germans clinging to their coins like Scrooge McDuck. In the age of big data and large-scale privacy breaches it’s probably a good thing even. Also, Germans have never heard of such a thing as foreign currencies, so make sure to carry cash (in €) at all times.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
Nightclubs that are open through most of the morning, pubs that serve drinks 24/7, public transportation all through the night – one might get the idea that in Berlin everything is available at all times. Well, think again. Although Berlin has a somewhat strained relationship with morality, one commandment is more sacred than anything: All shops remain closed on Sundays. It doesn’t matter if you want to shop for groceries or a new outfit, not on the Lord’s day! The same thing counts for public holidays, which is why you might experience horrific apocalyptic scenes at grocery stores right before a long weekend. If you haven’t done your errands by Saturday night, you will starve to death on Sunday. At least there’s always beer at the späti ...
Bottles are no trash, dude!
Germany is the land of big ideas: enlightenment, humanism, bottle deposit. This nation is world champion of trash recycling, so the average German spends about a third of his lifetime sorting garbage by size, color, material, smell, and age – probably. Even more confusing to the rest of the world is the bottle deposit system. In order to understand it you need at least a Harvard master degree. Plastic bottle containing water: deposit. plastic bottle containing juice: no deposit. Glass bottle with beer: deposit. Glass bottle with wine: no deposit. See where this is going? One side effect of the fact, that Germans have found a way to bureaucratise even drinking, is the emergence of bottle scavengers: low-income or homeless people gathering bottles in order to earn a little money. Thus, it is courtesy to leave your empty bottles (only those with deposit, obviously) not in, but rather next to a public trash can. This way, they can be collected without having to dig through the garbage first. So when you throw your empty bottles into the trash container, you shouldn’t be surprised to see strangers lowering – you’re making someone else’s life harder. In short: returnable bottle belong next to the trash can.
You might have heard about Berlin’s disastrous attempts to build a new airport, but the real joke is its public transportation network: an operating company that has turned its incompetency into an ad campaign, construction sites and rail replacement services as a permanent solution, and a daily biotope of drunk ruffians and collective body odour. Still, without public transportation Berlin would fall into chaos and using it is actually quite efficient and handy. There are many important rules (like: there’s a reason why the entire metro is packed, except for this one carriage…), but one overpowers all others: Always have a valid ticket! Vending machines can be found at all stops and instead of turnstiles there are regular surprise ticket inspections performed by orcs straight out of Mordor. When caught without a ticket you’re forced to stump up € 60, and for being caught fare-dodgeing repeatedly you can actually go to jail. There were times when fare dodgers made up one third of all prison inmates in Berlin. Let’s not get into whether that makes any sense, but you better make sure to buy a ticket.
On the cycle lane you’re fair game
There are very bicycle-friendly cities, such as Kopenhagen. And then there’s Berlin, where everybody rides their bike, but doing so is actually living hell. More than 70% of Berliners own a bicycle, with more than half a million using it every day. The network of bikeways is poorly developed and more often than not in a terrible state. Crossing a busy intersection on a bike here is about as safe as slacklining over a crocodile pond. You could argue that in times of climate catastrophe and overcrowded cities, cycling mobility might actually be a good thing worth developing, but politicians are such good pals with the automotive lobby that we all know: this is never going to change. Thus, cyclists have to fight for a tiny bit of space every day. If you mingle around on a bikeway, take your selfie right on the cycle lane, or don’t know a better place for a walk than the obvious bike path, you’re fair game – and deservedly so. So make sure to stay off cycle lanes (unless you are a bike or at least riding one currently)!
No paparazzi, please
On a day or night out in Berlin you will see people or things that may surprise or impress you, things your may find weird or inspiring. Queer lifestyles, alternative subcultures, peaceful stoners, ravers in a k-hole, or leather-wearing people on their way to a fetish party – Berlin offers the kind of freedom and open-mindedness that lets people explore their personality, express themselves freely, and experiment with lifestyles. You might find this very inspiring and you may even think an impression of this would look, like super awesome on your insta channel. But behold, 21st century traveller: do everyone here a favour and leave your phone or camera in the pocket! One of the reasons why people feel they can express themselves more freely here, is because they know that Berliners don’t care and won’t upload their antics on the internet. You can only truly live in the moment if you know it’s gonna pass – and not be available on social media for the rest of your life. So before taking anyone’s picture, ask them if it’s ok. And if taking pictures is prohibited somewhere, please respect this rule – it’s for the sake of everyone’s privacy and freedom (and yes, that also counts if you consider yourself an aspiring photographer. Everyone does, by the way).
Don’t be that idiot
At first glance, Berliners tend to seem a little gruff. That combined with the free, open-minded spirit of the city might give you the idea, that everybody can do whatever the fun they want in this town. To a certain degree this is actually the case; however, most people in Berlin still share certain values of respect. What that means for you: Go have an awesome time here, discover the city and yourself, but don’t act like an idiot. Always keep in mind: That wall you’re taking a leak at belongs to the home of a family with little kids. That door you’re vomiting in front of is the entrance to a dozen apartments. That kebab you’re devouring in a crowded subway might not seem all that tasty to everyone else around you. There are people living in this city, and it’s they who made this town the awesome, cool place you’re currently visiting. Have regards for the locals, don’t leave behind any trash or destruction, and approach people in a friendly way – rather than annoying them with inappropriate behaviour. As tourists, Germans travelling abroad often act like the bull in a china shop – be a bigger person than them and treat locals and their home with respect.
Picture: Datei: #181022248 | Urheber: DisobeyArt – fotolia
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.